pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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More Closely

Reading: John 10: 27-30

Verse 27: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me”.

Today’s passage begins with “my sheep listen to me voice”. Jesus is implying that His disciples and followers listen well to His voice. Although at times we do, it can be a struggle to always listen to Jesus’ voice. On day one the sheep do not know the shepherd’s voice. Didn’t happen by day 2 either. But over time the sheep would come to know their shepherd’s voice. The sheep’s connection to their own shepherd’s voice would grow to the point that the shepherd could call his flock out from a pen of many flocks that had sheltered together for overnight protection. The sheep would come to him as he stood out in the gate and then would follow as he led them to pasture.

Just as it takes time and training for the sheep to know and trust the shepherd, so too does it take time for a believer to really know and trust the voice of Jesus. We can easily have an acquaintance with Jesus and can recognize Him in the stories we read in the Bible and hear about in church. Where it gets challenging is when we are in a world full of sheep from lots of different flocks. When the voices of all those other beliefs and systems start to clamour loudly, we can be distracted and we can struggle to hear Jesus’ voice. As if this were not bad enough, Satan’s voice joins in. The great deceiver can whisper lies that sound like truth. This can be the source of our greatest temptation. Between all of these things it is not always easy to discern and follow the voice of Jesus.

The key is found in the sheep and in the sheep pen. In the noisy pen, amidst all the bleating of the sheep and through the voices of many shepherds calling out, the sheep can detect and go to the voice of their shepherd. We too can develop this ability. We develop our ability by listening over and over to the voice. We do that in our quiet time, in worship, in small groups, in classes, in personal conversations… With each experience hearing Jesus’ voice not only does our knowledge and ability to discern it grow, so too does our trust in Him. This leads to the “I know them, and they follow me” part of today’s key verse. Each day may we seek to know Jesus more and more. As we do, He comes to know us more and we are able to follow more closely. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, help me to discern your voice above all the others – especially mine. As I spend time with you, may I follow ever more closely. Amen.

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Our God Remains

Reading: Psalm 23: 1-4

Verse 4: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”.

Today’s passage is one of three this week that draw upon the image of shepherd and sheep. This is a common illustration in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. In today’s passage, God is the shepherd and we are the sheep. The opening three verses detail the care that the shepherd provides. “I shall not be in want” – God will provide for our basic needs. “He makes me lie down” – God gives us periods of rest. “He restores my soul” – God brings us back into right relationship with Himself and with others in our lives. “He guides me” to learn more and more about God. God, our shepherd, offers good, loving care to each of us, the sheep of His fold.

Because of this daily and constant care, we come to trust in our God. Over and over and over our God has been present. This develops a deep sense of trust and reliance. Because of the trust, we will go where we would not. Because of the reliance, we turn quickly to God when we feel uncomfortable or are in unpleasant situations. Verse four reminds us of this. At times we walk in the “darkest valleys”. The loss of a loved one, a move to a new community, the ending of a relationship or employment, depression, anxiety, addiction – they all can feel like the darkest of valleys. These are not places we choose to go. But God chooses to go with us. In those dark valleys, God remains steadfast and true. Even there our God cares for, provides for, gives us peace and rest, even restores us. Because God remains with us always, we can always say, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”. From our past experiences with our God, we can trust in Him.

Yesterday in church we sang a song called “You Never Let Go”. The pre-chorus contains these very words: “I will fear no evil, for my God is with me. And if my God is with me, whom then shall I fear”? Like Psalm 23, this song’s source, it is a great reminder that God remains present. The chorus goes on to remind us that “in every high and in every low” God never lets go of us. Whether today, tomorrow, or sometime down the road, when we find ourselves in the valley, may we always draw upon both the promises of God that we find in Psalm 23 and upon our own experiences of God’s steadfast presence, rejoicing in God’s love and care for us. You are our God. We will fear no evil. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, over and over you remain present. In the valleys you are there. When I stumble and sin, you remain present, calling me back into your presence. Even in the best of days, it is your hand that guides. Thank you, God. Remain ever present to me, each and every day. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Carriers

Reading: Acts 9: 1-16

Verse 16: “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles…”

Saul has become the face of the enemy for the early church. He has taken on the role of chief persecutor, judge, and executioner. Saul hears the church is starting to grow in Damascus, so he heads there, armed with letters of authority to arrest all the Christians. But on the road to Damascus, Saul meets Jesus. Jesus asks him, “Why do you persecute me”? Saul is struck blind and told to go into Damascus, where he will be told what to do. Saul spends three days fasting and praying.

The Lord also calls upon Ananias. He is a disciple in Damascus who knows Saul’s reputation. Jesus instructs him to go to the house where Saul is staying. There Ananias is to lay hands on Saul to heal him of his blindness. Ananias questions this idea – he knows who Saul is. But the Lord knows who Saul will become. The Lord says to Ananias, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles…”

Ananias is being sent to the enemy. He probably knows some of the people that Saul has arrested or killed. To go to him is risky. To heal him seems like the last thing to do. It calls on Ananias to trust God and to imitate the loving forgiveness of Jesus. It calls on Ananias to allow God to work through him. God has clearly chosen Saul to use for His purposes. Ananias will dutifully obey and go to heal Saul.

God has chosen Saul to be His instrument to carry the good news of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. This is a big audience. The Gentiles are all the non-Jews. This represents almost all of the known world since the Jews are a relatively small group of people. It is a big mission. Saul is tasked with carrying the message to the people. This is different than bringing the message. To bring is to share the message that someone else told you. To carry is to be the message, to live it out with all you are. Saul will carry the good news. He will become so filled with Jesus that he will preach and heal just as Jesus did.

When we consider our role in following the Great Commission to make disciples of all people, are we bringing the message or are we carrying the message? May we be infectious carriers.

Prayer: Fill me with you so that I carry the message of your love and hope and healing to all I meet today. Amen.


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Vindicated through Presence

Reading: Isaiah 50: 4-9a

Verses 7-8: “Therefore have I set my face like Flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near”.

Our passage from Isaiah speaks of one who is faithful. He or she finds strength in the word of God, is one who wants to be taught, and has open ears to hear. The faithful one also knows that suffering may come. They will accept the beating, the hair pulling, the mocking and being spat upon. The faithful are willing to suffer for their faith and for their God. This comes from an assurance that because God is with them, “I will not be disgraced”. There is a sure trust and confidence in God.

The faithful have been present for a long, long time. In the Old Testament many a prophet sought to faithfully walk with God, sharing God’s word, warnings, and encouragement with the people. They often faced suffering because of the role they had. In the New Testament Jesus picks up this mantle. After Jesus, many of the disciples assume this role. Down through the ages and even this day faithful disciples continue to seek God with all their hearts while facing suffering because of their faith and the life their faith calls them to.

As we draw nearer, as we remember the last days of Jesus’ life, the focus of the Suffering Servant becomes Jesus Himself. Jesus was always seeking to do the will of God, was always speaking truth into people’s lives, was always willing to engage the other. Because of these practices, Jesus was often criticized, challenged, looked down upon. Yet Jesus always pressed on, fully aware of the role that He had been called to play. He was always humble and full of integrity. He was always loving and honest. He was always forgiving, even to His persecutors. In the end Jesus was beaten and spat upon and ridiculed. Always He trusted in God and the plan. “Therefore have I set my face like Flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near”.

God is near to us as well. The world continues to clash with our faith. It always will. They are built upon two very different kingdoms. As we walk in faith this day, may we walk with a confidence in God: God is here, with us every moment. God will vindicate the faithful. “It is the sovereign Lord who helps me”.

Prayer: Lord of all, walk with me daily, filling me with your presence. May I delve into your holy Word, seeking to know your ways and to discern the path you call me to walk. May I trust in you alone, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.


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God Restores

Reading: Psalm 126: 4-6

Verse 5: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”.

In our song of ascent this week we acknowledge with the psalmist that life is not always rosy. There will be times when it feels like our fortunes need restored too. The Negev is a dry, desert-like place in the southern part of Israel. There are many dry stream beds that flow only during the seasonal rains. In the understanding of the day, when God sends rain, it restores life and all are blessed. Looking to God in our dry or testing times can remind us of how God has restored us before and brought life back to us. To ask God to do that again is to remind ourselves that God is faithful and loving and will respond once again.

In verse 5 the psalmist writes, “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”. In our day to day lives, the real world continues along. The sun will rise soon this morning, bringing light and warmth to the earth. The rains will perhaps fall here today and will push on to the east later in the day. All over the community students will make their way to school and adults will go to work. Some will go with a sadness or a hurt because of a situation or circumstance in their own lives. In our Psalm, some go out to work to sow seeds because that is what needs done that day. Some of these sow in tears. But like the rains that refresh the desert and bring life, God will restore the fortunes of those who weep. They will find joy in life and will harvest with songs of joy. They will bring in the sheaves with joy because God has poured down His blessings into their souls and lives with His presence and love and provision.

In our memory banks we can recall dry seasons that we have walked through. As people of faith we store them up not to remember the trials but to remind ourselves of how God was present in the trial and of how God led us past or out of the trial. We remember how God’s blessings restored our faith over and over. We build hope and trust in God’s continued love and care and provision from this day forevermore. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Dear God, you are so faithful and so good to me. Over and over again you have restored me and brought joy and hope back into my life. Thank you also for my times in the desert because there I come to know you face to face. Amen.


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A New Thing

Reading: Isaiah 43: 16-19a

Verses 18-19: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing”.

Isaiah was a prophet of the Lord God who lived in the 7th century BC, at the time of the rise of the Assyrian empire. As a prophet he often wrote or spoke about Israel’s disobedience towards God and the consequences thereof. Isaiah also reminded the people of God’s covenant love for them. The opening verses of today’s passage, which point towards hope, are an example of this. Isaiah’s words are often referenced in the New Testament and are found in songs and other writings used in worship today.

In our passage God speaks to the people, through Isaiah. The passage begins with a reminder of a time when God’s hand was at work to save the Israelites. Just after their exodus from Egypt, Pharaoh sent the army to bring them back. But God parted the sea, allowed the Israelites to pass through, drew the Egyptians in, and closed the waters in over them, killing the entire army. It was a dramatic and powerful movement of God on behalf of His chosen people. During our lives we too experience times when God has done the same for us – intervened in a powerful way. Sometimes God rescues us, sometimes God restores us or renews us or provides for us. Each of the become a touchstone moment in our faith. Like the Red Sea experience for the Israelites, these are times we can look back on to find hope and strength for our current battle or struggle or trial.

God then changes directions and says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past”. The people must have been having a “woe is me” moment. They are aware of the storm rising on the horizon as the Assyrians grew in strength. Their current and soon to be circumstances must have felt overpowering. We too find ourselves here now and then. A life change ahead leaves us worried and fearful. Like the Israelites, we look for God to do another big thing.

But God is not going there. In verse 19, God says, “See, I am doing a new thing”. Be patient. Keep your eyes open. Look for how God is at work. What will God do in the midst of or in the aftermath of the storm? Don’t always expect grand and earth-moving. Trust and see what the Lord God is doing. Dig deep, allow God to work in God’s ways, transforming you along the way. See how God is at work in you!

Prayer: God of all possibilities, you are ever at work – in the world, in those around me, in me. Continue to be alive and active in my life, helping me to see the new thing. At times, help me to trust, to be patient, to wait upon you. Amen.


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Turn to God

Reading: Psalm 63: 6-8

Verse 6: “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night”.

In his time out in the desert David appears to have some trouble sleeping. Verses 9 and 10 indicate that David is out in the desert because his enemies are pursuing him. Maybe this Psalm is written when King Saul was hunting him down or maybe it is later, perhaps when Absalom was leading a rebellion. Both were times when David fled into the desert or wilderness to find refuge. While none of us have probably fled because someone was trying to kill us, most of us have experienced trouble sleeping because of some trial or hardship or difficulty.

When I have had trouble sleeping, I have tried all sorts of remedies. I have tried, of course, counting sheep. I have read a book or played a game on my phone. I have tried listening to music. I have gone for a walk. In those times when a stressful decision lies ahead or when something else big is on my mind, I can turn to worry or fretting or… Today’s Psalm is a good reminder to me of what my first option should be: prayer. David writes to God, saying, “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night”. David turns his thoughts to God. We do not know if he turned over his worry or if he sought God’s guidance or if he simply admitted his need for God’s help. But we do know that he went to God first in his time of need. It is a good reminder to us to seek God first and not as a last resort.

Because his trust is in God, David can rejoice. In the next two verses we read of how David sings to God and of how he feels upheld by God. When we turn to God we too will experience God as our help. Like David, this leads us to rejoice in the ways that God is and has been present in our lives. In future times of trial and distress we will more quickly turn to God as time after time we learn that God upholds us too. Our soul learns to first turn to and to cling to God in our times of need. God’s faithfulness and love and care build our trust in God.

On those nights when sleep evades us, may we turn to God first. If we cannot name the fear or worry or… to offer up a prayer, we can turn to the Bible to draw near to God. If we can name it, may we give it to God and trust that God will be present and will be our help.

Prayer: Lord, when the storms rage or when the attacks of fear or doubt or worry come, be my refuge. Draw me first to you. Remind me of David and his example that you would be my shelter in the shadows. Thank you God! Amen.