pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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One Flock

Reading: John 10: 11-18

Verse 16: “There shall be one flock and one shepherd”.

Our passage begins by defining Jesus as the good shepherd, the one who loves the sheep, the one who will “lay down his life for the sheep”. John contrasts this dedication to that of the hired hand. For this person, watching the sheep is just a job. And hopefully a temporary one at that. In my youth, this would have been like working in the tobacco fields. It was always hot and muggy. The tar stuck to everything. The dirt and worse stuck to the tar. About a minute into each day’s work one began to long for the end of the day. A hint of rain and the workers were ready to call it a day. In our passage the hired hand runs at the first sign of trouble. Not so with the good shepherd.

I don’t know about you, but I sure like my good shepherd and the flock I’m a part of. Jesus is faithful and true, with me in the highs and lows and everywhere in between. He watches over me, comforts me, guides me, forgives me, loves me. And what a wonderful flock too! The church is welcoming and kind and generous and dedicated – just a wonderful group of followers of Jesus. The good shepherd knows me by name – just like everyone else who gathers together on a Sunday morning. We gather and greet one another, we sing and pray and worship God, the little lambs frolic and play. We leave on Sunday morning feeling ready to live out our faith.

Then the reality of verse sixteen hits me: “There shall be one flock and one shepherd”. Well, God, maybe you are talking about the day when Jesus returns in final glory, when people of “every nation, tribe, people, and language” will stand before the throne (Revelation 7:9). No, Jesus said the kingdom of God is now, it is here on earth. This verse and these thoughts leave me wondering: what more do I need to do to draw others into the flock, to make all people in my little part of the kingdom feel loved and cared for by the good shepherd and by me?

Prayer: Lord God, who in the neighborhood needs to feel your love? Who needs to hear your voice? Help me to open wide the doors and to offer a pasture that draws all people in. May your kingdom be revealed. Amen.


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Share the Blessings

Reading: 1st John 3: 16-18

Verse 17: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother [or sister] in need but has no pity on him [or her], how can the love of God be in him [or her]”?

Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon

As a disciple, John witnessed firsthand the power of Jesus’ love. For three years John was present to a life that held loving God and loving neighbor as the highest commands. These two actions defined who Jesus was at his core and define who all who follow Jesus should be at our core.

Love can be revealed many ways. John begins with this way in today’s passage: “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us”. To accomplish God’s purposes in establishing the new covenant, Jesus died on the cross. Taking on the world’s sins, with his blood Jesus paid the atoning price, breaking sin’s grip on humanity. Rising from the grave he conquered death, opening the way to life eternal. This was a great sacrifice. While on occasion a person will give his or her life to save another, our acts of sacrifice are most often much less than these.

In verse seventeen John writes, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother [or sister] in need but has no pity on him [or her], how can the love of God be in him [or her]”? If you or I have any material possessions and ignore the needs of others, then we must ask ourself: Is the love of God really in me? Can we ignore the needs that God brings before us? Yes, we can and do. But at a cost. The cost is both to us and to the person or persons we ignored or chose not to serve. When this happens, we are both less than God intends us to be. The agape love of Jesus Christ within us is made more complete when we give sacrificially to the other. The other begins to experience the transforming love of Jesus Christ in and through us. They begin to know the voice of the good shepherd.

Every day we have opportunities to share what God has blessed us with. Each day “let us not love with words or tongue, but with truth and action”.

Prayer: Lord God, grant me the will to meet the needs that you place before me today. You have blessed me with the ability to do so. May I be willing to release the blessings to others. Amen.


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Rejoice and Rest

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse 5: “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows”.

Photo credit: Ronnie Khan

The words we read today are such familiar words. When one hears, “The Lord is my shepherd”, we are brought immediately to a good and sacred place. The Psalm speaks of our relationship with God throughout all of life’s joys and trials. These words of David bring us comfort and strength, assurance and guidance, blessing and presence.

Our good shepherd is not a distant holiness that is non-committal. God is right here, right now. When we are weary, God makes us lie down and brings us restoration. God walks with us, ever guiding us in all righteousness. In those moments or seasons of pain and grief, God is present in the valley. When fear arises, God comforts us. Even in the presence of our enemies God anoints us with the oil of blessing. In the presence of our enemies, the rivers of God’s love and mercy and grace can still make a way. Filling our lives here with goodness and love, God will also one day welcome us to dwell in his forever home too. What beautiful words and thoughts.

Today may we rejoice in the love of the good shepherd. Today may we rest in his presence.

Prayer: Lord, your love is so incredible. You are our all in all – present when we are weak and strong, loving us when we please you and when we fail. Thank you, Lord! Amen.


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He Will Gather

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 7-14

Verse 10: “He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd”.

Our passage from Jeremiah feels very relevant for the time in which we live. It begins with the Lord inviting the faithful to “sing with joy” and to “make your praises heard”. Then, God reveals what they are to sing: “O Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel”. It would maybe seem odd to sing with joy when the chosen people are but a remnant, a fraction of what they once were. But God has plans to restore them, to bless them once again. In verse eight God tells the Israelites that he will gather them “from the ends of the earth”. In fact, a “great throng” will be gathered back together. Sometimes, for me, this is what church feels like in these COVID times. We feel scattered. Just a remnant gathers. I, perhaps we, long for the Lord to regather the flock, to end this exile.

Verse nine brings a bit of reality. God tells them that they will “come with weeping” and that they will pray as they return. The children of God will weep tears of joy as they come home, as they are finally where they belong. I remember well the tears of joy and the emotions that stirred within me back in August when the church regathered in the sanctuary for the first time in what felt like forever. Once again we have been isolated, in exile if you will. It feels like we might gather again soon, ending the online only of December. I do not believe that I will be alone in my tears of joy when the people of God are once again brought back home.

In verse ten we read, “He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd”. The promise was kept – God gathered Israel from their places of exile. God remained faithful and lovingly watched over his people Israel. God redeemed them and made them strong again. God was faithful. The people’s mourning was turned into gladness. Their sorrow was replaced with joy and comfort. The good shepherd remains faithful. The Lord will gather the church; he will lead us to sing for joy as we make our praises heard. God is good. We await the day in trust, sure of his love for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, you have always guided and cared for your people. I ask that you continue to lead and guide us as we consider gathering again as your people. Fill us with wisdom, O God. Amen.


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Glory Revealed

Reading: Isaiah 40: 1-11

Verse 2: “Speak tenderly… proclaim that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for”.

Isaiah writes to a nation that experienced defeat, death, and exile because they continued living in sin. These things were the consequences for refusing to listen to the prophets, for refusing to repent, for refusing to turn away from evil and back to God. At times we too will choose to live in our sin. In these seasons we will ignore the whispers of the Holy Spirit, the pleas of loved ones and friends, and even our own awareness of doing wrong. Sin can be powerful. The choice to live in our sin can have consequences for us, just as they did for the Israelites. We may lose a dear friend or even a marriage. We may find ourselves looking for a new job or place to live. We may find ourselves imprisoned or in another form of exile. Just as the nation of Israel did, we will usually come to understand how and why we ended up where we ended up.

When Israel was defeated, many died, many were taken away into exile. Not all of these were living in sin. Innocents were caught up in the “hard service” for the nation’s sins. In our current time I believe many see the world this way. This pandemic has settled in and brought unwanted consequences. While God does not cause evil or death – God is good and holy and just and loving – these things are a part of our world. People feel imprisoned by the pandemic. People are suffering illness and loss. People are feeling the emotional weight of isolation, depression, loneliness, grief…

Just as the word of God brought hope to the exiles, knowing that the time to return to normal was just ahead, so too can the word of God bring hope to those in our neighborhoods and communities. As followers of Jesus Christ we have a great opportunity to minister to those in need. Through our words, through our presence, or through our actions we can bring hope to people’s lives. As we share these gifts with others they will come to know the one who cares for each of us as a shepherd cares for the flock. As they do come to know Jesus, they will find that he walks with them, easing their burdens, taking their pains and griefs, giving them hope. In and through us his glory can be revealed. May it be so.

Prayer: Good shepherd, may I labor with and for you today. Lead and guide me to be light and love in your name. May these things shine brightly in and through me. Amen.


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Our Shepherd

Reading: Isaiah 40: 1-11

Verse 11: “He will tend his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his chest”.

Chapter 40 falls in the second section of the book of Isaiah. The end of the exile and the return to the Promised Land is on the horizon. In our passage today, God gives a word to Isaiah. The prophet casts a vision of what will be. These words speak of their current time, of our present time, and of a time yet to come. For Israel, they would hear “Comfort, comfort my people” as a word of hope for their near future. They would hear that the penalty for their sin has been paid, looking forward to the future with a renewed hope. Right now, in the corporate sense at a very minimum, we feel like we are living in exile. We long for true words concerning an end to the pandemic.

In the middle section of our passage, Isaiah first speaks words of hope, prophesying a day when “the glory of the Lord will be revealed”. Next, in verses six through eight, there is a reality check. There will be years between when the glory is revealed and the present time for Isaiah’s audience. Generations of mankind, which is like grass, will perish. Here the prophet is acknowledging that God’s time is not our time. They await the Messiah; we await the second coming of the Lord. Lastly for today, Isaiah speaks of the Lord who “will come in power”. He calls for a voice to bring “good tidings”, for a voice to speak words that “make straight paths for the Lord”. About 800 years after Isaiah’s time and about 2,000 years before our time John the Baptist will be that voice in the wilderness, preparing the way.

John will be the fulfillment of these words from the prophet Isaiah. He would herald the coming of the Lord, the one Isaiah writes about in verse eleven. Here he writes, “He will tend his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his chest”. Jesus himself will claim the role of the Good Shepherd. He will lead and guide the flock from the beginning to the end of this age. In this way Jesus fulfills Isaiah’s proclamation that “the word of our God stands forever”. Jesus was and is and is to come. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord of Lords, King of Kings, ruler of all creation, thank you for counting me as one of your flock. Thank you for carrying me close to your heart. In this season, I ask you to level out this rugged ground, to make this rugged place we all find ourselves into a plain – a time of peace and joy and hope and love. Come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen.


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Hope in Exile

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 11-16

Verse 16: “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak”.

Ezekiel was one of God’s prophets. He ministered to Israel during their time in exile in Babylon. After being defeated by the Babylonians, many Israelites were dispersed throughout the kingdom of their conquerors. These words from God’s prophet would bring hope during a difficult time. These words of God would remind the people that their current experience will not be their reality forever. Both of these circumstances are true today. In our current pandemic, there is no doubt that this is a difficult time for almost everyone. Although it feels like it has been a really long time, we know that the virus and its effects will not last forever. Yet, in the midst of it, we are much like the Israelites in Babylon – isolated, feeling powerless, becoming a bit hopeless, grieving, separated.

Beginning in verse eleven God reveals his plan. In this verse God tells the people that he will “search for my sheep and look after them”. In the next verse God promises to “rescue them” from isolation, from exile, from “all the places where they were scattered”. Then God shares that he will bring them back home. In verse thirteen God states, “I will bring them into their own land”. God will search for his children; God will rescue them and gather them; and, God will bring them back home. Living in a time of defeat, in a time of exile, to hear that God is still God, that God loves and cares for them, that God will once again bring them all back together – these are words of healing and hope.

During these COVID times, just as was the case in exile, some people are coping or doing okay, some are not. Those who are naturally resilient, those who are disposed to optimism, those whose faith has grown in these times – these folks are going alright. There is a middle group who are mostly getting by. They have some of these positive characteristics, but life is now a delicate balance. And there are those who have depleted their reserves of these characteristics. They are struggling emotionally, physically, spiritually, relationally. This last group, especially, needs to hear verse sixteen’s promise: “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak”. God has a special love for those hurting the most. Jesus, his son, modeled this love. Jesus, our Lord, calls us to follow his lead. To those around us most feeling like they are in exile, may we share these words of hope and love. And, if we dare, may we be these words of hope and love. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, lead and guide me to the list, to the strays, to the weak. Set my feet towards those hurting in my communities. Break my heart for what breaks yours. Fill my broken heart with your love and care. Use me to bring hope to those without. May it be so. Amen.


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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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In His Footsteps

Reading: 1st Peter 2: 19-25

Verse 25: “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls”.

Today our passage contains a reference to sheep and/or shepherds. This metaphor carries us through this week. Sheep were plentiful in Palestine. The landscape and climate were not well-suited to cattle; sheep were the primary source of both meat and wool. Sheep are funny critters. In that way, they are a lot like us. But the commonalities do not end there. Although generally good followers, at times sheep will wander. Although exclusively loyal to the voice of their shepherd, at times they do not understand or remember the words spoken. Although docile and timid in general, on occasion they become playful or rambunctious – depending on your perspective. Although not known as trouble makers, once in a while sheep will get into a spot or predicament that does require some maneuvering to get back out of. Some suffering may be required.

In 1st Peter 2 today we read about times of suffering for our faith. Peter reminds us, “to this you were called”. Peter is writing within the context of submitting to masters. He includes kings, governors, and slave owners in the list of masters. We would have different titles today, but the principles remain the same. We are still called to respect and submit to authority. In our lives Jesus has the ultimate authority. That is one of Peter’s points. In our day and age, being obedient to Christ can bring some suffering our way. In our land that usually looks like a little ridicule, maybe some ostracizing, and possibly a little self-denial. Once in a while our faith may lead us to take a stand or to enter into a situation that brings some adversity or a bit of discomfort. These are not situations that we step into lightly – especially the second or third or… times. They come with a cost. Yet this is precisely what Peter is calling us to when he writes, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps”. Whether it was injustice or oppression or false religion or unethical behavior, Jesus stepped in and confronted it head on. And there was always a cost. None of us have to look far to find an ill or a difficult situation that needs addressed. We are called to follow in the footsteps of our Shepherd. Instead of sheep simply going astray, may we boldly and courageously follow in Jesus’ footsteps. May we each shine light into the darkness, building the kingdom here on earth.

Prayer: Dear God, give me courage both to see and to act. Lead me into the darkness, that your light and love may be known. Gird me up, making me willing to pay the cost for you and for the building of your kingdom here in this place. Go with me, O God. 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.