pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Spirit Prays

Reading: Romans 8: 22-27

Verse 26: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us”.

Prayer is our personal, frequent conversation with God. On most days we lift up our thanks, our joys, our concerns, and our requests to God. We have a real sense that supports what we read in the Bible – that God hears our prayers and desires for us to come to Him in prayer. Prayer is an intimate connection to God.

On occasion we also have seasons or days or moments where either we cannot pray or do not know what to pray for. At times in my life I have felt so hurt or have been so angry at God that I couldn’t quite form a prayer. The emotions were just too great. At other times I have been distant from God and did not even think about praying very often. Sometimes I’ve felt so lost that I could not even begin to formulate words for a prayer. The whirlwind around me made it difficult to lift up a prayer.

In all of these scenarios, even though I could not or did not pray, I still had a sense of God and His presence. I think this is like the inward groanings that Paul writes about in today’s passage. It is this guy level feeling or instinct to reach out to God. A part of us longs to connect with God, but we just can’t quite do it. But, thanks be to God, we are not alone.

In verse 26 we read, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness”. In all the scenarios above, plus any other we can think of or experience, the Spirit helps us. Paul goes on to write, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us”. In groans without words the Spirit prays for you and I. When we are angry, the Spirit prays for us. When we are hurting, the Spirit prays for us. When we wander away or when we fall into sin, the Spirit prays for us. The Spirit prays for us. All the time. Thanks be to God. Amen!


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Forever Grateful

Readings: Psalm 23 and John 10:27

Psalm 23:4 – “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”.

The understanding of God and Jesus as shepherd and us as the sheep is a common reference in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, respectively. Sheep and shepherds were very common in these times, so they were a good concept to use as an illustration. Today we may still think of sheep as dumb and prone to wander, and this remains true. But, if we are honest, these two traits describe us pretty well at times too.

Admittedly, at times I can say and do some ‘dumb’ things. I think many more than I do or say; fortunately my filter works fairly well. These occurrences seem to be less common as I mature. The same can be said of my wandering. In my youth and college days I wandered far at times. Thirty plus years later and I am better but still deviate from the righteous walk of faith now and then. As I have matured in my faith, my walk is closer aligned to God’s will and purposes for my life and to the example that Jesus set. Upon reflection, perhaps you too can see this pattern in your life.

Verse four of the 23rd Psalm reads, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”. This speaks of the protective role of the shepherd and the corresponding lack of fear in the sheep. The rod was used to ward off would-be attackers. Today, we call on the name of Jesus and use the Word of God to ward off Satan. The staff had a curved hook on the end that would be used to pull the sheep back into the fold, where it was safe. Today, the voice of the Holy Spirit is our hook – calling us back into the fold, back into relationship with Jesus.

John 10:27 reads, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me”. When Jesus said this, a shepherd with twenty sheep could step into a pen with hundreds of sheep and he could call out his twenty. The other sheep would even move away from the voice of a stranger. This analogy is still true today. When we are in tune with the voice of Jesus, we follow His voice and shy away from all others. Others would include the voices of self, the world, and Satan.

I am forever grateful that Jesus knows me and that I know His voice. I am forever grateful for the Good Shepherd’s love and care and protection. May I ever dwell in His fold. May it be for you too!


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Grumble, Grumble

Reading: Numbers 21: 4-9

Verses 4-5: “The people grew impatient… they spoke against God and against Moses”.

“Spoke against” is code for complained. For any parent who has gone on a long road trip with kids, you have gotten to this point. No matter how many snacks, no matter how many movies, no matter how many coloring books and games – you get there. Your answer to the 100th “Are we there yet?” is not any more satisfactory than your answer was the first time, and the complaining begins. Inevitably it spreads.

God has provided His chosen people with food and water day after day. He has led them safely day after day. He has parted the sea and then drowned all the Egyptians. Through the years your clothes and your sandals have not worn out. And yet this day they get to complaining. It started small but has become a roar. It may be that they’ve been by this sea before. It may be that this journey has been a lot longer than it could have been. But the people’s disobedience has caused God to say “one more time around the desert” more than once. They have wandered longer than needed solely through their own sin.

When we get to the point of complaining, our memory goes a bit defunct. We too forget how God had cared for and fed and led us. We forget how God has accepted our repentance over and over, always offering forgiveness. We forget all those times when God rescued us and guided us through. Instead of using all of our experiences with God to draw strength and as a reason to seek God, like children, we complain. Complaining is dangerous. The Israelites encountered some snakes that snap their memories back into place and lead them to repent and to seek God’s help.

God does not send snakes when we complain. The poison that we bring into our relationship with God does enough damage. It separates us from God. It sometimes even ramps up the complaining. In those moments when we are tempted to begin to grumble at God, may we instead take a breath and reflect on God’s presence and blessings in our life and then go to God with a prayer of thanksgiving. Then we can humbly and honestly come to God with our petitions and our prayer made from a good heart will be holy and pleasing to God. God is good. Trust.


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Connection

Reading: Isaiah 61:10 to 62:3

Verse Three: “You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand”.

Today’s passage from Isaiah has both personal and corporate aspects of righteousness.  It begins on the personal level with Isaiah praising God for his “garments of salvation” and his “robe of righteousness”.  God has blessed Isaiah with these things because Isaiah has been faithful to God’s word and because he has been true in his calling to be the voice of God for the nation of Israel.  Isaiah also sees signs that God is at work in the lives of the people.  In verse eleven Isaiah speaks of God preparing the people Israel, like a farmer prepares the soil for a new crop, so that “righteousness and praise will spring up” leading Israel to be restored or to be born anew.

In our passage, the transition from chapter 61 to 62 is where the melding of personal and corporate righteousness begins to take place.  Isaiah writes of Zion – the people of God.  He also writes of Jerusalem – the city of God.  The people are in exile.  As a people of God they seem to have lost some of their connection to God, to being God’s chosen people.  Being in exile can make one question who you are.  After these many years in exile, they long to return to their home land and to Jerusalem, the center of their nation.  Isaiah is speaking of a restoration of both Zion and Jerusalem as he writes, “You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand”.  What words of hope!

In our lives and in our churches today we can experience times like Zion and the nation of Israel are feeling.  There can be times or even seasons when we seem to have lost our way or feel like we are in exile.  God desires to speak into these times or seasons as well.  God still desires to see His people clothed in salvation and righteousness.  If we delve into the scriptures, we will find a connection between living a holy life and being invested in the disciplines of our faith – reading and meditating on the Word, spending regular time in prayer and worship, serving those in need.  It is when we participate in these habits of the faith that we are preparing our soil for righteousness and praise to sprout up.  It is through these disciplines that we come to lead a holy life.  Then God will indeed clothe us in a robe of righteousness that will lead to salvation.

When we get away from being who and what God calls us to be – whether personally or as a community of faith – we lose our connection to God.  Just as He did with Zion and Jerusalem, God remains faithful and continues to call us back to faith and back into relationship with Him.  God promises to be near to us when we draw near to Him.  May we always seek to be faithful to our call to live as God desires, investing our time and hearts in the things of God.  Through the faithful practice of our faith habits, our connection to God will remain strong.  May it be so for you and for me!


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Ask

Reading: John 14: 1-14

Verse One: Do not let your heart’s be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.

Faith is a journey.  At times we feel our faith is strong and is mature.  We feel like we are well-connected to Jesus.  Our daily walk includes time in the Word and time in prayer.  Part of our week always includes worship and maybe even a small group time.  We clearly see how Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life”.  We have a quiet assurance that Jesus is leading our lives and we hold onto His promise of “a room prepared for us”.

And then we don’t.  Something happens.  Someone says or does something.  Satan exposes a crack and suddenly there is a chasm between us and our faith, between us and Jesus.  Satan uses lies, doubts, fears, anxiety, and much more to make us question our faith and to question Jesus.  Our mind becomes filled with questions like “Why?” and “How?”.  Soon that faith and assurance seems like a distant memory.  It can happen so fast.  We’ve all been there.

Passages like today’s speak into moments like these.  When we still our hearts and minds and really read Jesus’ words, our feet return to the path of our faith journey.  We hear Jesus’ voice saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me”.  Jesus has us.  He is there for us in the midst of our trial or suffering and He will be there again and again and again.  In His voice, we hear again that the room is prepared for us.  No one can cancel our reservation.

In the passage we also see that we are not alone in our meandering and lack of understanding.  Even the disciples don’t always remain steadfast and they don’t always get it.  Thomas and Philip voice the questions we have at times.  They ask Jesus to show them the way and to show them the Father.  Jesus is patient and loving in doing so.  We too seek Jesus’ guidance and direction often to know the way to go or to discern even the next step.  At other times we seek to encounter Jesus, to feel His power in our lives.  All of these things are things Jesus wants to do.  It is His promise: “I will do whatever you ask in my name”.  What do you need Jesus to do today?


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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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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.