pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Guiding and Leading

Reading: John 10: 1-10

Verse 4: “When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice”.

In today’s application of the shepherd-sheep metaphor, the focus is on Jesus, the shepherd. In today’s passage Jesus claims to be both the gate and the shepherd. There is both an eternal and a temporal component to both of these roles. Transitioning from talking about spiritual blindness with the Pharisees, Jesus begins his next teaching by noting that some do and try to enter the pen by evil means. Their goal is to rob and to steal. Perhaps foreshadowing the ending verse of today’s passage, is Jesus saying religion can steal joy and can rob people of what God really intends faith to be all about?

Getting into the heart of our passage today, Jesus states that the shepherd enters through the gate as the watchman opens it for him. Using only his familiar voice, the shepherd calls out to his sheep and they follow him out of the pen. Only the sheep belonging to the shepherd will follow. To the other sheep his voice is that of a stranger and it represents danger to them. So only the shepherd’s sheep know his voice. As Christians, to be followers of Jesus, we must know his voice and discern it from all of the other voices we hear. We learn it by being around it, over time becoming familiar with it. We learn to trust it through the ways it leads us to green pastures and safe waters. We follow because we learn that his voice keeps us safe and protects us. In verse four we read, “When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice”. Once Jesus has called us and we know his voice, he walks out ahead of us, setting for us an example. He calls out and invites us to follow. In this life Jesus’ voice, the Holy Spirit, leads and guides us. Following that voice, we are blessed in this life and are guided towards the next life as well.

Jesus also stated that he is the gate. At night, the sheep must pass through the gate to find safety and rest. It is the only way in. Then the gate is shut, guarding the sheep, keeping them safe during the darkness, preventing the thieves and robbers from reaching them. Jesus remains present to us in Spirit in this life, doing just these things. He also lifts our burdens and cares, giving us rest. His Spirit prays for us and speaks to us, reminding us of his words. It is a shield about us, protecting us against the attacks of the evil one. As we near the end of our road and transition into the next life, Jesus is the gate to eternity. He will judge us worthy of heaven or deserving of hell. He will open the gate of one for our eternity.

As we follow our good shepherd today may we take some time to rejoice in his leadership and in his provision. May we praise the Lord for his love and care for each of us, the sheep of his pasture.

Prayer: Loving God, as I stop and look back over each day, I praise you for all the ways you led and guided, provided and protected me. It is my greatest joy to praise you and to give you thanks for who you are to and for me. Amen.


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A Faith Story

Reading: John 9: 1-25

Verse 25: “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see”!

The gospel lesson for this week reads like a short story. There are lots of twists and turns. The story begins as the disciples bring a blind man to Jesus’ attention. They want to know whose sin caused the blindness. Jesus shares that there is no one to blame. He tells them that the man was born blind so that “the glory of God might be displayed”. To facilitate this happening, Jesus makes some mud, places it on the blind man’s eyes, and tells him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. In Jesus’ day the pool would have been used for ritual cleansing. Miraculously, the man can now see.

Because the healing occurred on the Sabbath, an investigation begins. The man is brought in and questioned. He explains what happened. The Pharisees are divided: “No one holy would heal on the Sabbath”… or… “No one could heal if not holy”. They ask the man for his thoughts on Jesus: “He is a prophet”. The parents are then brought in to verify that this is their son and that he was indeed born blind. They confirm this but will not venture into speculating about Jesus. They are afraid of being put out of the synagogue.

The man who was born blind has no such fears. The religious leaders state, “We know this man is a sinner”. They want the man to go along with them. He does not. The power of his healing is greater than the power of control that the religious leaders are trying to use. All he knows is that this man put mud on his eyes and healed him. He says to the religious leaders, “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see”! He acknowledges this simple truth about Jesus. It is his personal experience. It will become part of his testimony and part of his faith story.

Thinking of our own faith journeys, when has Jesus brought healing to you? Whether it was physical or emotional or spiritual or relational, we have all been touched by Jesus. Our experience is part of our story, part of our faith journey. Ponder your line: “I once was ___ but now I ___”.

Prayer: Lord God, I once was stuck living in the world too. I once lived for popularity and the approval of man. Now I find my trust and my contentment in you. Thank you for setting me free. Amen.


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Justice, Mercy, Humility

Reading: Micah 6: 4-8

Verse 6: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God”?

Our passage today begins with God reminding the people of all that God has recently done for them. God gave them leaders and brought them out of slavery. God guided them to the promised land, performing righteous act after righteous act all along the way. How could the people be so disconnected from a God that has shown them so much love? Yet if we took a few minutes to reflect on how God has led us, guided us, blessed us, forgiven us, rescued us… we too might be a bit ashamed of how disconnected we can be from God for periods or even seasons in our lives.

Micah then asks an important, self-reflective question. In verse six he asks, “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God”? If we more frequently asked this question, we would be connected to God more of our lives. Micah goes on to ask if God really desires burnt offerings of calves or rams or if God really needs thank offerings equivalent to rivers of oil. Micah even wonders if the sacrifice of the firstborn child would cleanse the sin of his soul. Our questions are a little different but come from the same place. Is it not enough God that I’ve been to church two out of four Sundays most months? Is it not enough that I gave to the church some of what I had left at the end of the month? Didn’t I check off enough boxes to be blessed by you, O God?! The people of Micah’s day were going through the motions of being God’s people. They were all about doing.

In verse eight Micah reminds them and us of what God desires: “to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God”. These are ways of being. These are ways of the heart. When we are people of justice, mercy, and humility, we are closely connected to the core of who God is. May we be people who act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God and with our fellow humans. May it always be so.

Prayer: Father God, in all I do and say and think, help me to do it justly. In all I do and say and think, help me to lead with mercy. In all I do and say and think, help me to walk humbly, elevating you and others far above self. Draw me to you, O God. Amen.


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In the Midst

Reading: Jeremiah 23: 1-6

Verse 1: “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture”.

The overall theme of our passage from Jeremiah 23 is that one day the Lord will reign. In essence, we know the end of the story. Even though we know this, sometimes we endure hardship and suffering during the story. Jeremiah begins our passage by addressing the bad shepherds who are negatively affecting the flock of Israel. To these the Lord declares, “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture”. This word of warning comes with some explanation.

God is speaking to those who are leading Israel. The kings and priests are the primary leaders. These leaders have scattered parts of the flock. By not caring for and watching out for the most vulnerable of the sheep, they have driven them away. These have sought care and protection elsewhere. Unfortunately, they often find greater danger outside the flock. The hardening of hearts within the flock has led to destruction. Love and care and empathy for one another is a memory. When the leaders become inwardly focused, soon the people do too. God promises to bring evil on these bad shepherds.

This word from Jeremiah remains relevant today. On many days it seems that our leaders are more concerned with fighting each other than they are with leading and caring for the people. The cost of this is great. The more they fight, the more the sheep scatter and wander into isolated camps. The hurling of bombs from afar leaves no space in the middle. The two polarized ends see anyone not in their camp as the opposition. The arts of dialogue and compromise and win-win seem to be lost. But we must remember we are just in the midst of the story. Jeremiah also reminds us, “the days are coming”. Christ will reign. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, help us to see more than just ourselves, more than our own little camp. Open our hearts to the other, to sitting at the table even with those that we are not totally aligned with. Remind us over and over that there is but one God, one Christ, and one Holy Spirit. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Imitate Christ

Reading: Hebrews 13: 1-8

Verse 8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”.

Today we are first encouraged to love one another. This extends both to our brothers and sisters in Christ and to the strangers among us. We are reminded that we might be entertaining angels when we extend hospitality to a stranger, to those we visit in prison, and to those who are mistreated. True hospitality draws no lines and sees no barriers. It loves both friends and strangers alike.

We are next encouraged to be good people. We do so by honoring our marriages, by keeping sexually moral, and by being content with what we have. Our contentment comes from our relationship with the Lord, which we read about in the quotes from Deuteronomy 31 and Psalm 118. The first emphasizes the fact that God will never leave us or forsake us and the second reminds us that with God as our helper we do not need to be afraid.

Our passage concludes with a reminder of what Hebrews 11 and 12 have been all about: following the examples of those pillars of the faith that have gone before. Here we connect back to Abraham and Isaac and Enoch… with Peter, James, John, Paul, and the other early church leaders. Verse eight concludes with the greatest one to follow, the perfecter of our faith, Jesus Christ. In this verse we read that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”. Jesus loved all, was without sin, honored the pillars of faith, and gave the gifts of help in this world and an invitation to join him in eternity. The Holy Spirit is our ever present companion that never leaves us and always helps and guides us. Through faith in Christ alone we receive the promise of life eternal. It is the prize for which we run this race.

In verse seven we are encouraged to “imitate their faith”. When we strain forward, running the race like those pillars and especially like Jesus, we will help others to know the good news, to experience healing, to see miracles worked in their lives. In sharing Jesus’ light and love with others, we invite them into a relationship with Jesus Christ too. What greater gift can we offer to our friends and to the strangers in our midst?

Prayer: Dear Lord, you are the perfect example of loving God and loving neighbor. Give me the courage and trust to love you and all I meet today. May your love pour out into their lives today. Amen.


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Absolute Love

Reading: Hosea 11: 1-4

Verse 4: “I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love”.

In the opening four verses of Hosea 11 we hear from God as loving father. It is a role that we have all played as a mother or father and that we will continue to play if we have children, no matter how old they are. God begins by remembering the wonderful start of the relationship. When Israel was just a child, oh how God loved them. God, in love, rescued them from Egypt. But how soon Israel turned to Baal worship and to bowing before carved images. It did not take long for Israel to forget God’s love.

As parents we have experienced similar rebellion. We pour all we have into raising our children and suddenly one day they test their independence, they say they do not need us. We too are hurt and we wonder, how could they do this to us? We love them so deeply and we give them all we can. And then we are rejected, thought useless. Yet we still love our children dearly. It is the model we’ve learned from our God.

In verse three God returns to how love was shown, both directly and indirectly. God taught them to walk. Through great leaders and through the prophets, God taught Israel how to walk in covenant relationship with their God. At times, God even healed them without them knowing it. As parents we too make behind-the-scenes sacrifices and efforts for our children. Often they too are not aware of all that is done for them. In verse four we see again the heart of God. We read, “I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love”. Even though their arms were flailing against God, they were gently drawn back in. Even though their rebellion was still fresh, God drew them in with love. God took the yoke away, giving them freedom again. Lastly, God “stooped down and fed them”. When they could not do for themselves, God did. God loved them through their rebellion. God’s love continued to pour out upon the defiant children. All that could be done was done.

God continues in the role of loving parent. Today God loves you and I this same way. In spite of our sin and rebellion and independence, God still loves us absolutely. It is hard to fathom, but it is certainly true. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, I look back and see how very far from you my path has been. Yet as I look back I can see those people and those events that drew me back to you. Thank you for your ever present love that always reaches out and draws me in, over and over. You are an awesome and good God. Amen.


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Joyful Praise

Reading: Luke 19: 28-40

Verse 40: “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out”.

The parade that we observe today began with Jesus’ disciples singing joyfully as the approached Jerusalem. As His followers participated in a somewhat impromptu gathering, they did what Jews often did when approaching or ascending into the city: they sang a Psalm. The followers of Jesus were singing from Psalm 118 on this joyous occasion. Verse 26 reads, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. It has been implied that as the disciples neared the city, others joined in the singing and in the parade. Note the words in verse 38 from our text for today. It reads, “Blessed is the king who comes…”. It is a subtle but important shift.

In general, the Romans allowed the Jews to practice their religion. They were allowed to hold the three major festivals each year even though they drew large crowds. Large crowds meant possible rebellion so the Romans tended to be on edge during the festivals. Passover was approaching so the population of Jerusalem would be starting to swell. As long as the religious leaders kept the crowds under control, the Romans tolerated the festivals and regular practices of worship and sacrifice. Being able to keep things under control was essential to the religious leaders keeping their positions. Thus, as the crowd built, waving palms, singing, laying down a royal carpet with their cloaks, the use of the word “king” aroused the religious leaders. They asked Jesus to quiet the crowd. Jesus chooses not to. Instead, Jesus says, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out”. It is a reference to how all of creation glorifies the Creator. It is a way to claim who He was without crossing too far over the religious leader’s line.

Today, on Palm Sunday, we too may get caught up with the crowd. There will be lots of smiles and some joyous singing in churches this morning as the palms are paraded around. That joy is good for us in two ways. First, it connects us to our King, to our creator, to our sustainer, to our redeemer, through joyful praise. It is good and right to praise the Lord. Second, we need some joy as we step off into Holy Week. The joy of today reminds us of the joy that comes in a week, on Easter or Resurrection Sunday. It is important to remember that in the end, we are Easter people. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, like the stones, may I cry out. May I join the crowd this week in joyful praise of you, my King. Sustain me with that joy as I walk through Holy Week, bringing me at last to Easter Sunday. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Blessed Is He

Reading: Luke 19: 28-40

Verse 38: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord”.

In today’s passage we remember the triumphal entry. The people line the road leading into Jerusalem, praising God and shouting in loud voices, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord”. This line connects back to Psalm 118, which we read earlier this week. This is just one more connection back to the Old Testament. This connection reminds them of the glorious days when King David ruled the land. But the last few hundred years have been hard. For about 400 years there had been no prophet. The people long for the Messiah who will come and restore Israel’s greatness. The donkey instead of a great white horse, the rag-tag disciples instead of an army – these facts did not dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm. The disciples and the crowd “began to joyfully praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen”. In this they hope that Jesus will turn into their kind of king. He will not. It will not be so.

The path to get to the triumphal entry reveals something important about Jesus. Jesus instructs two disciples to go on ahead to get a young colt for Him to ride. The scene unfolds exactly as Jesus had said it would. Jesus knows how this last week will play out. And He still goes forward, drawing closer to His ultimate purpose.

At the end of our passage is yet another clash with the religious authorities. They ask Jesus to quiet the crowd. They are not caught up in the crowd, in the emotion. They fear the joyful parade might draw the attention of the Romans. That would not be a good thing. Jesus responds by saying that if the crowd were quiet, then “the stones would cry out”. He is implying that nature itself recognizes who is entering the city. There is also an implication here that the religious leaders are still missing out, still not understanding who Jesus really is. Their hearts are hard.

In the next verses Jesus goes on to weep over the city, to lament what is now “hidden from their eyes”. All because they “did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you”. Part of His weeping is personal too. In just a few days the religious leaders and the people will turn on Jesus as He is arrested…

For now, though, Jesus enters the city and teaches as before. He does what He has done but there is a bit more of an edge now, knowing what will come in the days ahead. As we look forward to the days ahead, may we also walk slowly through the week, feeling the emotion and the weight of it all. May the power of the gospel deepen our walk this week.

Prayer: Lord, draw me into the story this week. May I feel and experience the passion anew this upcoming week. Connect me to your story. Amen.


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Outside

Reading: Luke 2: 41-52

Verse 49: “Why didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house”?

The Passover pilgrimage is one of those yearly traditions for Mary and Joseph and family. Every year pick up cousin so and so in this place and then add in uncle so and so in that place along the route to Jerusalem. The caravan grows as it makes its way to the city. Yes, there have been changes – someone had a baby and someone has passed on. By 12 or 13 Jesus has gotten the pattern down quite well. It is no wonder that Mary and Joseph assume Jesus is somewhere in the caravan as they head home. After all, they did tell him that they were leaving that morning at 9.

In our passage Jesus appears to be disobeying Mary and Joseph. Instead of leaving Jerusalem He goes to the temple. In a foreshadowing of what it to come, Jesus amazes the teachers and religious leaders with His answers and understanding. But apparently the temple is not the first place Mary and Joseph thought of to look for Jesus. After three days of searching, they find Him. In response to Mary’s question about treating them this way, Jesus says, “Why didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house”? Of course – where else would He be? For now, Mary and Joseph do not understand what Jesus is saying.

In His Jewish upbringing Jesus would have seen the temple as the place where God dwells. At 12 or 13 this is a logical frame of understanding. To us it makes sense as well. In our worship and in times when we want to be alone with God, we too feel connected to God in the sanctuary or chapel. As Jesus grows, however, His understanding of where we meet God expands greatly. It is along the road, in the house, on the mountain, by the lake, beside the well, and about anywhere else you can name. Jesus does spend some ministry time in the temple, but the vast majority of His ministry is spent outside in the world. This puzzled the religious leaders of the day and it continues to puzzle many today. But the unquestionable reality is that Jesus Christ found the least, lost, and last outside of the temple, in everyday life. That is where we will find them too. So may we go out today to share the light and love of Jesus Christ with the world.

Prayer: Lord, unbusy me. Help me to get outside the walls more and more. Help me to be better at doing your work in the world. Amen.


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Love Overflow

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 3: 9-13

Verse 12: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and everyone else”.

As Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica in our passage today, he is writing to the community of faith. Throughout the Bible, God is about community. In the beginning, God lived in community with Adam and Eve. As the Bible progresses, God’s love story reveals that community is the way we are to live out our faith. Much of our faith continues to be practiced in community. Our sacraments focus on being a part of the community of faith.

Our culture today has a mix of community and individualism. Most of the things we do are done in community – family, school, sports, work. But within these is a sense or valuing of individual success or achievement. We hear things like, “they wouldn’t be the company they are without…” or “they would not be the greatest team ever without…”. In our culture we raise individual success over the group’s or team’s success.

In a way the same can be said of people in the Bible. For example, we could say that without Moses the Israelites would either still be wandering around the desert or they would have returned to Egypt. In the Bible, no individual is more important than Jesus Christ. No one was a better example of obedience to God. No one loved God and neighbor like Jesus did. Yet these individuals were different than the individuals that rise to the pinnacle of their fields today. Moses and other important Biblical leaders, and especially Jesus, were not about self and individual glory. They were about living in relationship with God and with their communities. They were not just leaders, they were humble servant leaders.

Above all, Jesus’ life revolved around love. It is the focus of our key verse today: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and everyone else”. During the season of Advent, may we spend time each day in the Word and will the Lord our God, growing in love. And may that love overflow to each other and to the stranger that we meet as well. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Dear God, may love be evident in our community of faith – in the ways we worship you and in the ways we love each other. May that love flow out into our homes, into our neighborhoods, into our schools and work places, so that all will know the love of Christ this Advent season. Amen.