pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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I Am Sending You

Reading: Matthew 10: 1-23

Verse 16: I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.

Jesus is sending out the twelve to “drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease”.  In this passage today, they are being sent to fellow Jews.  Jesus calls these the “lost sheep” – tying back to why He had compassion on the crowds in Matthew 9:36.  The twelve are first to preach that “the kingdom of heaven is near” and then to heal diseases, raise the dead, and drive out demons.  The authority Jesus gives them to perform miracles will lend credence to the message they bring.

As we go out into the world, we go for the same reasons.  We go to share the good news of Jesus Christ as we work to heal a broken world.  Each of us who knows Jesus as Lord and Savior has a story to tell that will be good news for others.  Each of us can love and serve others too.  We may not be able to work miracles, but by caring for basic needs and by giving of our time and talents we do bring healing.  It is through our loving acts of service that we too gain footing to share Jesus with the lost.

Jesus warned the disciples: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves”.  There is a defenselessness that comes to mind with this statement.  It requires trust in the Shepherd.  He goes on to advise them to be on guard against men.  Jesus warns them that persecution is going to be a part of the journey.  He also tells them that the Spirit will be with them.  The Holy Spirit will give them the words to say.  And then Jesus encourages them, stating that “he who stands firm to the end will be saved”.  Keep the faith, I am with you.

We too are sometimes sent to people or places that make us feel like sheep among wolves.  We too must trust into the lead, guidance, and protection of the Holy Spirit.  In those uncomfortable or outside our comfort zone times, if we keep the faith the Spirit will give us just the right words to say as well.  May we be like the twelve, trusting He who sends, going forth to share the good news and to bring healing to our broken world.  May our light draw others in to Jesus Christ – the One who saves.


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The Gate

Reading: John 10: 7-10

Verse 9: I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.

Jesus desires to be our gate in life.  He desires to be present in our going out and in our coming in.  In the sheep analogy, the sheep would go out of the gate during the day.  The shepherd would rise from being the literal gate and would lead the sheep to food and water.  In our lives, Jesus leads us to the things we need for our daily lives.  This does include the basic needs but also includes our work, our schooling, and our other activities.  Then at the end of the day, the shepherd leads the sheep back into the fold at night.  The shepherd again became the gate, guarding the sheep.  In our lives, Jesus wants to also give us safe and good rest each day.  As we pass through His gate, He invites us to lay down our burdens and anxieties so that we are free of them.

We notice in this scenario, when it really plays out as intended, that Jesus the Good Shepherd is always with us, the sheep.  That is how God wants it to be.  That is how our relationship with Jesus is intended to be.  As we go out into the world, Jesus goes out with us, leading and guiding us through life.  Each day Jesus leads us back home and protects us during our rest as well.  But we, like sheep, occasionally wander and we get lost.  It is part of who we are.  In spite of our overall desires to stay in the flock, at times we do not.  The good news for us is that Jesus is like the shepherd in the analogy – always watching over us, always working to gather us back in, always guiding us back home.

Jesus said, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved”.  May we ever enter in through Jesus, He who leads to salvation and our eternal rest.


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Know and Follow

Reading: John 10: 1-7

Verses 3 and 4: …the sheep listen to his voice… his sheep follow him because they know his voice.

In a devotional I read, there is a story about sheep following their shepherd.  As the writer sat and observed, a real shepherd walked along a very narrow and dangerous path along a steep ridge.  One after another, several dozen sheep dutifully followed along the path.  One after another they walked along a path that none would have taken on their own.

This little snippet reveals much about the typical shepherd-sheep relationship.  First, the shepherd was willing to lead his flock through dangerous placed because he knew greener pastures lay ahead.  Second, the sheep knew and trusted the shepherd.  The sheep know their shepherd’s voice and will follow him where he leads.  In fact, sheep will run from a voice they do not know.  Third, the shepherd cares for his sheep.  He is bringing them to a place with good food.  He will protect the sheep, both along the journey and once they arrive. He will keep them together and will defend them for wolves, robbers, …  He genuinely cares for the sheep.

In our passage, Jesus is using the shepherd-sheep analogy to illustrate our preferred relationship with Him.  Jesus wants to be our shepherd.  He wants to lead us to “green pastures” – to life in the full.  He wants to protect us from the dangers and temptations of the world.  He was even willing to lay down His life to do so.  For our part, we are the sheep.  We need to know His voice.  We study His voice in the Bible and we learn to recognize it when the Spirit nudges and whispers to us.  We come to be able to differentiate Jesus’ voice from the many voices of the world.  These other voices are voices we should run from.  Once we come to know Jesus’ voice, He wants us to follow.  He will lead us well.  For our part this means doing what Jesus did and loving as Jesus loved.

May we know the Good Shepherd’s voice and may we follow where He leads.


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He Restores My Soul

Reading: Psalm 23: 1-3

Verses 2b and 3a – He leads me beside still waters, He restores my soul.

Psalm 23 is well known.  At its core it speaks of resting in and trusting in the Lord.  The Psalm uses the common shepherd-sheep analogy to illustrate our relationship with God.  In a society that was highly agrarian, the original readers would have related well to this analogy.  Today many would have to google it to find a video that explained it.  Articles are just too much.  (I am only half joking.)

The relationship between a shepherd and their sheep is exclusive.  The shepherd will do anything to protect and care for the sheep.  The sheep will only follow the voice of their shepherd.  This very well parallels our ideal relationship with God.

Just as it did in David’s day, life gets busy for us too.  Just as it did back then, the voices of the world were loud and called often.  Just as it was back in the day, we need time to step away, to find some solitude, to reconnect deeply to God.  In the Psalm, this place of quiet and solitude was out in a meadow beside some still waters.  One can easily imagine birds singing as butterflies flutter around.  Just envisioning it brings a lot of peace.

I try and get out to walk each morning.  It is just around the streets of our small community.  As I walk past homes and businesses, there is time to think and pray.  As I walk past churches and the jail and the courthouse and the schools, there is opportunity for specific prayers.  My walk is definitely not through green pastures and the still waters are puddles from melting snow.  But I am outside in God’s creation, enjoying the sounds of the birds, connecting with God in a time of quiet prayer and reflection.  It is good for my soul.

This day may we all find a quiet time and space to be outside in God’s beautiful creation, allowing God’s presence to restore our soul.


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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.


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The Flock

Reading: Luke 15: 1-7

Today’s passage begins with Jesus acting in a countercultural way.  He is associating and dining with those who would not be welcome at the Pharisees’ tables and who the Pharisees see as outcasts.  Who could you bring to the family dinner table or to sit beside you in your pew at church that would make others uneasy or would make them frown or tisk-tisk you?

Instead of arguing with the religious leaders, Jesus tells a story that all there could relate to.  Being a shepherd was a very common job.  Although it was a job at the bottom of the scale, all would be familiar with this occupation.  Each gathered there would understand that all the sheep in the flock were of worth and value.  So when one sheep goes missing, of course the shepherd goes and looks for it.  Naturally, the shepherd is happy when the sheep is found.  Although just a story, probably all there were happy for the shepherd too.

Now that Jesus has all in the audience to this common point of understanding, He adds an analogy.  He says that in the same way God rejoices when one lost sinner repents and is returned to the fold.  I think the Pharisees would agree with this concept as well.  If a fellow Pharisee sinned, God would rejoice when they made the requisite sacrifice, became ceremonially clean again, and returned to the group.  Their ‘flock’ is the circle of people who are just like them.

If you walked into church tomorrow with someone who had not attended in a while, the flock would rejoice and say, “Welcome back!” to the lost sheep.  While someone returning to church is a good thing, I think Jesus is making another point.  Jesus’ understanding of “flock” is much bigger than ours or the Pharisees’.  By ‘sinner’ Jesus means all people who sin, not just church members who sin.  Jesus’ vision of flock is ALL people.  Red and yellow, black and white, sinner and saved, believer and non-believer… all are precious in His sight.  Who is outside your circle that you need to bring in?