Bible Study

Messages of Encouragement

with Pastor Edith Bleecker

Gentle Shepherd, Come and Lead Us

July 22, 2021

Midweek study with Pastor Edith
John 10:14

Jesus says that he knows his sheep as in John 10:14; “I am the good shepherd and I know my sheep and my sheep know me”.

This “Knowing” is more than a simple identification that there are sheep present, but he knows each sheep individually and as Psalm 95:7 says; “we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care”.

This is a great comfort to me, and I pray it is for you as well, especially when you face difficult decisions or situations as you navigate this day. I read a short article in the recent Christian Living in the Mature years magazine written by Michelle J. Morris that made me stop and think about the reality of scripture in my life, especially when I don’t want to read it; “If one more person suggests to me that I should pray the Psalms, I may punch them in the face…That [sentiment] was probably as good a proof as any that I really needed to be praying the Psalms.

"I was in one of those dark nights of the soul when I felt deeply disconnected from God…if I am honest I didn’t want to talk to God. Really, what could God say to me anyway that would make me feel better?” Michelle goes on to share that there are just sometimes we can’t find the words to pray and so why not pray God’s word? I can relate to her frustration, especially when people expect me to be a 24/7 Bible Scholar and Prayer Warrior.

How about you? Are you walking through “the valley of the shadow” as in Psalm 23? Hold on, help is on the way. Try praying through a Psalm today, or at least part of one and if you find yourself among the shepherd psalms, remember, you can never stray so far that He can’t find you, and you can always trust that He cares for you even when you can’t feel it in the current moment.

Recently I sang a little lullaby to a hurting friend who requested a song. It comes from a hymn written by William Gaither in 1974 and is one I sang to my babies, and now to their babies ; “Gentle Shepherd, come and lead us, for we need you to help us find our way. Gentle shepherd, come and feed us, for we need your strength from day to day. There’s no other we can turn to who can help us face another day; Gentle shepherd come and lead us, for we need you to help us find our way”.

AMEN

Faith is the Victory

July 15, 2021

Midweek study with Pastor Edith
“Faith is the Victory” - 1 John 5:3-4

This past Sunday I wrapped up the Epistle of 1 John. In the “wrapping”, I discovered a challenge that I want to pass along to you; define for yourself what you perceive Faith to be, then use that same definition and examine how this applies to your faith in God, or absence of it. I’ve often used the acronym F.A.I.T.H. to help define my understanding of faith in God.

F=Forsaking
A=All
I=I
T=Trust
H=Him (God)

But, how would I define the simple word itself apart from a particular religious expression? I can have faith in the people I trust, I can have faith in those who govern over me (shaky as that may be), I can have faith in lot’s of things, but what makes faith, faith? My Websters New Collegiate Dictionary tells me, in part, that faith is “allegiance to duty or person…Loyalty…fidelity to one’s promises…firm belief in something for which there is no proof [that one stings a bit]…complete confidence…belief etc…”

FaithIt seems the more I ponder my faith, the more I consider the visible witness of my faith (or lack thereof). For example: I have faith that God, who created me and everyone and everything around me, will see me through this life and has provided a promise for eternal life with him in Christ Jesus. So, why am I so prone to worry, or to be anxious or frustrated and on a really bad day, to feel alone? How about you? Have you ever been with someone you perceived to be of great faith at a time when their life is unravelling? What was your experience? Were you surprised at their response to the situation? How do you typically respond, or perhaps a more realistic word would be react?

1 John 5:3-4 tells us; “This is love for God; to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith”. Another great passage for defining faith in God is Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”. I think that helps me deal with Webster’s idea that faith is “a belief in something for which there is no proof”. And yet, I look all around me and see a marvelous and ordered creation that I can’t help but believe was created by a loving, providing God. I listen and hear birds sing beautiful songs, I hear my grandchildren say they love me and my heart sings.

So, to wrap up this rambling, I want to simply encourage you to take some time this week and consider what faith means to you, and how you might grow in your faith so as to be an encouragement to someone else. Meltdowns are allowed, but keep in mind, there is someone who can help you mold it back together, maybe, just maybe, the you that comes out of it will be even more bold and beautiful!

AMEN!

Being Noble

July 07, 2021

Midweek study with Pastor Edith

When I think of nobleness, I think of those few brave and daring folk who put themselves out there for a cause they deemed worthy. I think of the great names of history, the founding fathers of our nation (okay, they had some sketchy moments too). I think of the devoted missionaries who put their lives out there to help many who don’t seem to want their help. I think of the many medical and emergency personnel, Police, Firefighters, Social Workers, and so many volunteers for the sake of community health. I think of the military personnel who were willing to leave their families and comforts to fight and provide support for efforts to keep America and other countries safe. I don’t think of myself, a simple, small town wife, grandmother and preacher. And yet, I see in Scripture, a call to nobleness for all who would follow Christ.

You see, (as my drill instructor in basic training said time and time again; “if it were easy, everyone would do it”), the call of God to follow his way is a call to nobleness, but take heart, God provides the strength to be noble. The key is your focus. The Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 4:8; “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

We just celebrated our Independence Day this past Sunday, and as such, I tried to remind you that our Independence from any tyranny is rooted in our dependence upon the God who formed us all in his image. So, think about this; Do you see yourself as a noble person, willing to sacrifice and suffer for the kingdom of God? – check your answer, and don’t sell yourself short. God is still calling and working in and through each of his children to grow as individuals and as communities of faith to bring his “Kingdom Come on Earth as it is in Heaven”.

Sing along as we close this meditation: “America! America! May God thy gold refine till all success be nobleness and every gain divine”.

Amen!

God is Dependable!

July 01, 2021

Midweek study with Pastor Edith

Psalm 33

God is Dependable! I believe that with all my heart. I believe that not only because I have been taught that over the years by faithful Sunday School teachers and Preachers, but I believe it because I have experienced God’s faithfulness even when I have been unfaithful to Him. I believe it because I have seen miracles of lives transformed, healing in relationships restored. I believe it because I have witnessed what life holds for those who have no hope in Christ, the greatest gift of God, and I have grieved over the anger, anxiety and separation that lack of God’s grace caused.

Psalm 33This Sunday is Independence Day remembered, and as such, many will celebrate the “4th of July” with gatherings and fireworks. I am reminded that the United States of America began as a sketchy endeavor and experiment in forming a truly free and democratic nation. That “God Bless America” comes at a great price for all who really want to live in the blessing of God, and the price many have paid for the hope of a free nation. (Many are still hoping to be free).

Psalm 33 begins the way I love to start any time of worship; “Sing joyfully to the Lord…” and then goes on to share why we should sing joyfully. Verses 12-14; “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance. From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth—“ If you are able to gather with family and friends to celebrate this weekend; our “Independence”, I ask that you take some time with those same family and friends to remember the God who formed us all and longs for us to follow in His choosing; to love Him with all we have and to love others the way he does. It will cost you something of your time and comfort, but I am convinced that God is dependable and He will bless you in ways you cannot imagine.

Let me close with a familiar prayer:

“America! America! God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.”

AMEN!

Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled

June 25, 2021

Midweek study with Pastor Edith
John 14

Yesterday, I joined with a sweet family in officiating a funeral for a brave and kind man who has been living with the effects of M.S. for nearly half his lifetime. I met this devoted family ten years ago when I was called and appointed as Pastor to my first congregation. I have continued to be blessed by this family, and particularly the amazing wife of the man we buried yesterday, a man of great love and faith in Jesus Christ.

In recent meditation postings, I have shared with you excerpts from the Epistle of 1 John as I have been developing Sunday morning messages from the same. This week I want to encourage you with a familiar passage from the Gospel of John; part of which I share in each and every funeral that I have been honored to officiate. I pray you will consider the meaning for you right now as the Holy Spirit directs. (This would be a good time to pray for the Holy Spirit to speak to you in such a way as you will understand and follow )

“Let not your hearts be troubled: you believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).

“If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-17).

I read an article from GotQuestions.org concerning this passage and I found it very helpful. I trust you will too. (remember, you prayed for the Holy Spirit to speak to you, so, listen up! ): “When Jesus said, ‘Let not your hearts be troubled,’ He was comforting His disciples, who definitely had troubled hearts. Jesus promises them that His death will not be the end… He explains that His death and subsequent ascension into heaven, rather than leaving them destitute, will bring about two specific blessings: it will enable Him to prepare a place for them, and it will allow Him to send the Holy Spirit to comfort them.

We should not imagine that Jesus has been ‘building heaven’ for the last 2,000 years and that it is still ‘under construction’. Rather, His words mean that His death was the preparation for us to receive a place in the Father’s house. It is ready now…” (emphasis, mine ). It is never easy to let go of a loved one. All I know is; this world is not our permanent home and that God has prepared our permanent home, if we will choose to live there. Jesus said; “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6). What a gift God offers to us, and what love He has for us. The Bible also tells us that nothing can separate us from the Love of God (paraphrase of Romans 8:38-39).

Now that you prayed for the Holy Spirit to help you see what you need to know, and now that you have finished reading this post, Go For It and “Let not your heart be troubled”.

I'm Sorry

June 10, 2021

Midweek study with Pastor Edith

1 John 1:8-10

I had a difficult time getting to sleep several nights ago. I found myself having an overnight Pity Party (fortunately I was the only one invited). I found myself alone with my Bible and several Hymnals. It is marvelous how in desperate times of anxiety or worry the Scriptures and Hymns of the church help me get over myself and “Turn my eyes upon Jesus.”

The text for last week’s Sermons comes from the Epistle of 1 John 1 – yes, we read the entire chapter, and when I say we, I’m saying that in one of the congregations with which I serve, 2 very handsome teenagers stood with me in the pulpit and read with me from the Bible. That was a tremendous blessing in itself. What a joy to hear young male voices speaking the truths of God’s word so beautifully. I think it also helped the congregation hear better too. You see, I had been dealing with a bout of selfish self-pity and feelings of self-doubt that put me on a roller coaster of; sorrowful tears, angry outbursts, and moments of apathy. Even as I type this, I can sense that someone reading this wants to raise their hand and say “yes sister, I have been there myself!” Well, the good news is that through the help of prayer partners, a loving and gentle husband, and a late night of reviewing the text for Sunday’s sermons and singing through my hymnals, God in his mercy delivered me (again).

My eyes landed on the last two verses of 1 John 1; “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives”.

Wow! How many times have I read that, and how many times have I quoted from those verses and yet, again, the Light comes on and I find hope and help. You see, sometimes we go through the dark times, like I described in the above “emotional roller coaster” in order to see the light even more fervently. Thanks be to God that He is the light and as it states earlier in this same chapter; “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin”.

Just read that a few times when you feel the darkness of anxiety, self-doubt, or depression closing in on you and ask God to walk it through with you. It may not lift right away, but stick with God and don’t think for a minute He gets tired of hearing from you. He has all the time in the world (and even outside this world ).

Here’s where I found a helpful hymn I have never sung, but hope to someday. I found it in the “Heavenly Highway Hymns” that is used at my Hursttown church. I hope this little portion of it helps you, like it helps me when I find myself feeling sorry about things past, present, and even sorry for myself – “I’ve Never Been Sorry” by Albert Brumley: “Every moment I find Him exactly the same, my soul has been singing since the Savior came, I’ve never been sorry, [No, I’ve never been sorry] that I trusted His name”.

AMEN!

Be the Spark

June 04, 2021

Midweek study with Pastor Edith

Texts: 1 John 4: 10 – 12, Matthew 28:16-20

I read a sweet article recently about what it means to be “Contagious”. In the midst, and possible aftermath, of a pandemic in which so many are worried about the spreading of the virus that kept us captive and took the lives of so many in our world, this author looks at a more eternal issue; the development of a Christian.

Here is my take on it: I understand the word “development” to mean that the Christian faith is an ongoing journey in growing in love with Jesus Christ and developing love for others. Last Sunday, the churches with which I serve, celebrated “Trinity Sunday” where we looked at the significance of our faith rooted in our marvelous God who presents himself in three persons while keeping to the “One God” we worship. Though it is hard for the mortal mind to understand a “Three in One” Character of God, I believe that God, in his love for us, shows us through his word, and through the journey of the Christian walk, what it means to be loved just the way we are, and how we can share that love with everyone, even the ones we don’t understand or with whom we disagree.

In other words; He is always with us!

1 John 4:10-12 defines love in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and then goes on to say that we should reflect that sacrificial love toward others. But how? This is the question that constantly disturbs believers today; How do I love others and stay true to what I believe is the truth in God’s word? How do I love others that seem bent on destroying themselves or others? How do I truly love those who disagree with what I understand the Bible to say about Life and living? How is it possible to love them when I don’t like them?

Matthew 28:16-20 gives the directive to believers in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”.

Do you see that “all” (Everybody and “all Ya’ll; - “all nations”.?) Sometimes I think we get caught up in “all nations”; being an overseas mission, which is true; we want everyone in all the world to know God’s love for them. Please, don’t forget that (“all”) is right in our neighborhood. Believers are meant to be purposefully “Contagious”, right where we are; at Home, in the Grocery Store, at the Gas Station, During worship at Church…

The Reverend Rita Hayes puts it this way in her article from the magazine ; Christian Living in the Mature Years ,Spring 2021 - “God is Love”- “Maybe the word contagious bothers me because I have not done a particularly good job of passing God’s love along… perhaps I need to revisit the words of the song that [may have been inspired by 1 John] …”That’s how it is with God’s love, Once you’ve experienced it: you spread his love to everyone; you want to pass it on.

BE THE SPARK, RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE.

Amen.

Pilgrim Power

May 28, 2021

Midweek study with Pastor Edith

Texts: Hebrews 11:1 and Acts 2

Last Sunday was Pentecost Sunday for many local congregations. It is a time to remember and celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church. In other words, we celebrate the Birthday of the Church. It is a birthday celebration because according to Acts chapter 2, when the promised Holy Spirit came upon the believers gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem, they were empowered to tell the good news of Jesus Christ to anyone and everyone no matter what their native language might be. It’s a birthday celebration because the church was born to witness, and empowered to do so, by the grace of God and the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps at this moment you may be feeling a little less than empowered, take heart, read on and relax into God’s peace and power my pilgrim friend.

Hebrews 11:1 says; “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

Faith is the basis of the Christian journey, and if you are endeavoring to develop into a Christian, well then, you and I share a common journey, though for each of us our steps along the way may be a bit different. My good friend the Right Reverend Doctor James R. Prickett III (I just call him “Pops”) put it this way in his book Footprints of a Pilgrim; “I understand religion to be a process, an ongoing event in the life of any person. It is dynamic, ever changing, has its ups and downs, and leads one through mountains of inspiration as well as valleys of despair. ‘Faith’, as Harry Emerson Fosdick so aptly put it, ‘is hammered out on the anvil of doubt.’…The pilgrimage for us all, as I understand it, is to realize the potential poured into us by God at creation. Bearing God’s image is a high calling, and it represents an unbelievably generous gift on God’s part .”

When God sent the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost so long ago, He tailored it to fit each and every believer and continues to do that today. So, when you find yourself feeling less than empowered, doubting that you can make a real difference for the Kingdom of God, remember to look in the mirror and say “Happy Birthday” and open your gift-the Holy Spirit. It’s as easy as opening your mouth and allowing peaceful, hopeful, helpful words to come out.

“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women I will pour out my Spirit in those days and they will prophesy.” Acts 2:17-18 (quoting Joel 2:28-29)

AMEN !

Changed

May 19, 2021

Midweek study with Pastor Edith

Text: Luke 9:28-43 - The Transfiguration of Jesus

This week’s meditation is all about imagining the unimagined, or seeing a possibility in the midst of impossible circumstances. It could be that some who will read this posting may be in the midst of some difficult situations that seem impossible to fix. It could be that others may be reading this and remembering events or situations that were transformed by the love of God through the love of others in ways they could have never imagined.

Whatever your situation today; Health, finances, emotional well-being, relationships wounded, along with a myriad of other examples, please know that God is in the midst of it all and is calling for you to hear his voice speaking peace and direction. It could be that God is calling for you and I to be the action of love that another desperately needs right now. Our text from the Gospel of Luke tells of the moment when Jesus took three disciples with him up on the mountain to pray. You see, there was much about to happen and Jesus knew the best way to prepare was to pray first and work later. And so, Peter, John and James who are already exhausted from the events that happened prior to this telling, have their eyes opened by an amazing glory moment when Jesus was transfigured with a brilliance no one had ever seen before. His face and clothing were changed in such a way that it must have been a glimpse of what heaven will hold for his believers. They also witnessed Moses and Elijah, who had long since been dead, actually talking with Jesus about his impending departure from the earth, and then a voice is heard: “This is my son, my Chosen; Listen to him” (vs.35).

What a way to be roused from sleepiness!

I sense this text holds within it a calling for believers today to be roused as well, not to deprive us from needed rest, but to see the possibility of life being lived in a new way, even a heavenly way. The text then goes on to say that the disciples came down from this mountain top experience and said nothing to anyone about this encounter (vs. 36). Then, the next day Jesus was begged by a man to heal his son from a demon that caused severe seizures and self harm. It seems the man asked a disciple to heal the boy, but he could not, but Jesus could. After the boy was healed Jesus “gave him back to his father”. I love that phrase “gave him back”; it helps me see the love of Jesus to heal, restore and return a loved one back to their family to live and love others.

Heidi Neumark puts it this way: “But living high up in the rarefied air isn’t the point of transfiguration…[It was] never meant as a private experience of spirituality removed from the public square. It was a vision to carry us down, a glimpse of unimagined possibility at ground level” (quoted from Heidi’s book; Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx – From Feasting on the Word year C, Vol 1. Advent through Transfiguration).

AMEN!

“Seeds of Grace”

May 12, 2021

Midweek study with Pastor Edith

Gardner holding plant

A garden is a wonderful thing. A garden gives us a reason to get in touch with creation, to feel the soil, to experience the weeding out of the bad and tilling in the good. Yes, a garden can be a very good thing. But what if the garden poses resistance; weeds grow faster than produce, bugs infest what is growing, rain doesn’t come and plants wither, and all you see is work, work, work. I am not a professional gardener. Ok, maybe a few tomato plants in pots on the patio, but, to tend rows of cabbage, zucchini, spinach and squash, well now, that is a different type of gardening. And yet, we are attempting to do this very thing this year.

Many of you know me personally and understand that the last thing I needed was one more thing to do on my “To Do” list, and yet, with the provocation, or shall I say the “daring” of a family member, my husband and I have taken the challenge. Please pray we stayed married through it all (we just celebrated 35 years in April) Here’s where scripture helps me through even things like this: “Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, until he comes and showers righteousness on you” (Hosea 10:12-11).

To keep the context of this verse; Hosea was a prophet sent by God to an unfaithful people who sought to please themselves and even sacrificed to false gods, the least of which was to give of their crops to these pagan deities. Now, before you get lost in this and shut me off, PLEASE HEAR THIS! The Bible speaks throughout all time and eternity. Remember, we are talking about people, and yes, you and I are people who tend to get lost in the pattern of this world to seek for ourselves, to comfort ourselves, to build up ourselves, when all the time the God who created all human beings is calling all human beings to seek him first, and when we do, he shows the way.

You see, we were meant to be “seed bearers” for the world around us. Many of you do just that. At this posting, I have dear ones in my life who are grieving great loss and yet, reach out and love others. I know of isolated individuals who give all they can to love and care for others even if they can’t be with them. I have been encouraged and cared for in simple and profound ways when I felt like giving up on the work God has for me to do. I will close this meditation with an inspiring word from “Miss Maple” from the book; Miss Maples Seeds written by Eliza Wheeler: “Take care my little ones, for the world is big and you are small. But never forget…even the grandest of trees once had to grow up from the smallest of seeds.”

What seeds can you plant today?

Ankle deep in soil with you, Edith

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