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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Our Shepherd(s)

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse 1: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want”.

Psalm 23 is probably the best known Psalm. Simply reading verse one triggers our memories and, for some, we can recite the remaining words. It is like saying, “Our Father who art…”. Like the Lord’s Prayer, Psalm 23 is a powerful reminder of God’s love and care for us. David uses a metaphor that was very familiar to his audience: God as shepherd and us as sheep. As this metaphor is used throughout the Bible, we too are familiar with it.

The opening three verses pour out God’s love and care. The shepherd provided all that was needed for the sheep. They had no sense of want. That too can be our experience when we trust fully in God. Living in trust we become content with our lives and with our daily portion. A good shepherd worked hard to find water and green pastures each day for his or her sheep. They also found a safe place for the sheep each night, enabling them to find rest and renewal for the day ahead. Our loving and caring God does all of this for us too when we trust in his love and care. When we wander off like a sheep, when we start seeing a greener pasture over yonder, when we think maybe we should be the shepherd – then we begin to experience feelings of unease and stress and anxiety. These feelings remind us to return to our proper place, to our right place, in our relationship with God.

That is what the second half of verse three is all about. When we allow God to lead, when we bow and let God be in control, then we are guided to walk the “path of righteousness for his name’s sake”. When we walk as God intends us to walk, we glorify God. Adding a New Testament lens to this classic Old Testament writing, we follow Jesus as his disciples, walking out our faith as we follow in the footsteps of our good shepherd. Doing so we bring glory to his name. In all we do and say and think today, may we bring him the glory.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for always leading and guiding me. Your ways are fulfilling and peaceful, restorative and righteous. Lead me each day to walk faithfully with you. Amen.


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Sheep of His Pasture

Reading: Psalm 95

Verse 7: “He is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care”.

The opening five verses of Psalm 95 are a song of praise. The psalmist encourages us to sing with joy to the rock of our salvation and to come before him with thanksgiving. The words recognize the presence of the King of Kings in all of creation. In verse six there is an invitation to kneel and worship the Lord our maker. There are many days when we are right here with the psalmist, praising God joyfully.

But all days are not sunny and bright. All days are not filled with joy and praise. It is on those days and in those seasons that we must remember our foundation, our rock. The God who created the whole universe is the God who also created you and me. This God does not change. All of this world, including all of humanity, was created by a loving God to be good. Some days and in some situations that can be hard to remember. Sometimes situations and sometimes people make it hard to remember our foundation, our rock. Yet we are called to remember. We are ever wooed by the Holy Spirit to draw close to God, to stand upon the Lord our salvation.

In verse seven we read, “He is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care”. Yes, God is our God. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture, kept safe, protected, cared for by our good shepherd. Celebrate that. Cling to that. Shout out a song of praise. Whisper a desperate prayer. He is our God. Always. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, it is so hard to see your children hurting. Bring them strength, remind them of your deep and abiding love for them, place their feet back upon the rock. Help me to remind them too of your love. May my words, actions, and prayers draw back into your pasture the sheep that are hurting and the sheep that have gone astray. May it be so. Amen.


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One Day

Reading: Psalm 84: 8-12

Verse 10: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”.

The pilgrims are on their way to Jerusalem! There is joy in where they are headed. They are going to be close to the God they love. As today’s passage opens, the people are petitioning God to hear and listen with favor to their prayers. This joy on the journey, this sense of anticipation – is it what we have when we walk out the door as we head to church?

For the pilgrims, the joy is not just in the journey. Being there is God’s house is really the point. Verse ten illustrates the value placed on being in the sanctuary: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”. There is delight found in the place of the Lord. There is a sense of peace and strength in God’s house. Do we reflect this attitude on Sunday mornings? If we feel blessed to be in worship, then yes we do!

The psalmist also names the popular alternative. One can choose God or one can choose not to. Instead, one can live a wicked life. This is a life centered on self, filled with gluttony and greed and the pleasures of the flesh. The ego dominates and shows itself in pride and jealousy and anger. The psalmist would rather be one day with God than to spend a thousand days in the tents of the wicked. Yet those tents are crowded. The things of the world look good to those who do not know God. To the faithful, yes, they are temptations.

If we were to modernize the Psalm, what would we replace the tents of the wicked with? Today, for some, it is the cathedral of green pastures and little white balls. For others it is the sea of peaceful waters and sharp hooks. Still others prefer the sense of security and comfort found in the great comforter and soft pillow. Yes, these things do have their appeal. Yes, one sure can spend their days someplace other than in God’s courts. It is a choice.

The Psalm closes with this line: “O Lord Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you”. The world tells us to trust in ourselves, in our possessions, in our titles. But a thousand days of these things is not worth one day in the courts of the Lord. May we trust in the Lord. May we walk blameless today with our God. May we find the Almighty’s favor. Amen and amen.


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Bow, Kneel

Reading: Psalm 95

Today’s Psalm is an encompassing passage.  It reminds us both of God’s gifts to us and of God’s power as well as reminding us of our human state – bowing to worship God at one moment, testing God at another.  The cycle of obedience and disobedience is common to the Israelites and it is common to us.

When the chosen people are being faithful and obedient, regular worship is at the core of their daily life.  They often walked in a close relationship with God.  God was their Rock and they came to offer their thanksgiving.  The people extolled God for creation and for the blessings in their lives.  In this place, they felt they were “the flock under his care”.  I feel the same way when my walk with God is faithful and obedient.  When I am daily in the Word and when I am praying prayers that offer my repentance and thanks and that seek God’s will for my life, then I too feel God’s love and care surrounding me.  When I am here, you’d think I’d stay forever.

Sheep tend to wander so they are a good choice.  In the Psalm, the author refers to one of the many, many times that the Israelites tested God, one of the many times they were not obedient and faithful.  This too is my pattern.  Although living within God’s presence and protection is where the Israelites wanted to be and where I want to be, sin creeps in.  We find ourselves testing and trying God.  As Paul wrote in Romans 7:15, “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do”.  The power of the flesh is strong.  It is a daily, and often hourly or minute by minute, battle to be obedient and faithful.  It is a battle that we cannot win on our own.  It is a battle that never ends.

Thanks be to God that He is faithful and that His love and mercy never fail.  “Come, let us bow down in worship”.  Let us confess our sins with our lips and find God’s forgiveness in our hearts.  Let us offer our praise and thanksgiving!  “Let us kneel before the Lord our maker”.  In humble submission we bow, admitting our weakness, calling on God’s strength.  We kneel before our God, grateful to be in God’s love and care, for we too are the sheep of His pasture.


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Faithful Sheep

Reading: Jeremiah 23: 1-6

Jeremiah expresses God’s anger towards those who have allowed the people to wander from God and to be scattered.  There is the implication that the leaders have acted in ways that lessened the peoples’ faith.  “Destroyed” is the term used in one translation.  If we look back just one chapter, we find the story of evil kings who have lived far from God’s ways.  Not only did they not tend to the flock, but they led them astray, through idol worship and godless living.

God proclaims punishment on the poor leadership.  At the same time, the loving God promises to gather up the flock.  God will return the poor sheep to the pasture they were intended to live in – to faith in God alone.  God states that here, back in a right relationship with God, they will prosper and be fruitful and will increase in number.  God will bless them.  In this way God seeks to return humanity to the original intent: created in God’s image, living in Union with God.

This is God’s desire for us as well.  As the new sheep of God, we too are prone to wander, to stray.  God continues to work to bring us back to our faith and to dwelling in the pasture of God.  In Jeremiah we see the promise of a future King, one of the line of David.  Unlike the Kings of Jeremiah’s days, this King will rule wisely and with justice and righteousness.  This King will be named Jesus.

In Jesus, our good shepherd, we have the image and love of God lived out in the flesh.  Through a personal relationship with Jesus, we come to live in union with God and to understand God’s love for us.  In Jesus, we have a king we can look up to.  In Jesus, we have a king whose example we can follow.  And through Jesus, the gift of the Holy Spirit comes to continually shepherd, guide, and protect us, drawing us ever closer to living a life worthy of our King, Jesus Christ.  Each day may we faithfully follow Christ and His example, ever seeking to bear witness to God’s love and mercy.