Bible Study

Messages of Encouragement

with Pastor Edith Bleecker

A Pure Heart

September 23, 2021

Basket of Fruits and VeggiesMidweek study with Pastor Edith

Read: Proverbs 4:20-23

This week’s meditation is a continuance of the series I have been sharing with you from Max Lucado’s book Just Like Jesus.

The premise of his book is this statement: “God loves you just the way you are, but he refuses to leave you that way. He wants you to be Just like Jesus”.

Let’s take a look at a verse of wisdom found in the book of Proverbs and in verse 23: “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life”

Jesus had a pure heart. Not only because he was God in the flesh, but because he made a willful decision to spend time alone with God and God’s word. Jesus often separated himself from the crowds to have quiet time with his heavenly father, to pray, to listen and to simply “be still and know”. Those who choose to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, who want to be a Christian, need also to do the same. The world is a noisy and busy place and if we are not careful we will allow anything to take root in our lives, just because it is the easy way out.

I like this story from Max Lucado that illustrates this very thing. Here is just an excerpt: “Suppose you come to visit me one day and find me working in my greenhouse. I explain to you that this greenhouse was a gift from my father. He used state-of-the-art equipment to create the ideal structure for growth. The atmosphere is perfect. The lighting exact. The temperature is suited for flowers, fruit, or anything I want. And what I want is flowers and fruit. I ask you to join me as I collect some seeds to plant…You watch me walk into a field and strip seeds off of a variety of weeds…You can’t believe what you’ve just seen.

You ask me; ‘I thought you wanted a greenhouse full of flowers and fruit’ and I reply, ‘I do’. You ask me the obvious question; ‘Don’t you think you ought to plant flower and fruit seeds?’ and I reply; ‘Do you have any idea how much those seeds cost? Besides, I’d have to drive all the way to the garden center to get them. No thanks, I’m taking the cheap and easy route’”. (pgs. 115-116. 1991 Billy Graham Assoc. publication)

Sounds pretty silly, right? But, take a moment and think of the many things that distract you from having quiet time with God and His word. If you and I do not make the time, commit to the effort, and consider such an investment of our lives to plant the good seed of time with Him to be of the utmost importance, well, according to this example, weeds will grow and not fruit and flowers fit for the kingdom of God.

Isn’t God good to allow us to choose?

He is faithful even when we are not, and at any time on any given day, we get to choose to spend time with Him. Simply by taking the time to read this and the scripture provided is one step closer to a garden of “fruit and flowers” for God.

AMEN

Having a Heart like Jesus

September 17, 2021

 Midweek study with Pastor Edith

These past several Sundays I have sharing messages inspired by God’s Word and the book "Just Like Jesus" by Max Lucado.

This week we’re looking at what it means to be a Witness, and what our witness actually looks like in our day to day walk of faith. Here are some of my notes from my “Discipleship Training” I include in every Sunday service:

READ: John 13:1-17 + Jeremiah 29:1-14

“God is good. All the time. All the time, God is good. I am a witness. All the time. All the time, I am a witness.”

This week’s study puts us in the position of FOCUS. The premise is, that we have “distracted hearts”. If you doubt that, just ask yourself; “how long has it been since I said to myself, or someone else, “I don’t know what this world is coming to.” Do you feel like the people God was speaking to through the prophet Jeremiah-Like you have been exiled to a world gone mad?

DO:

Ask yourself: “Am I fitting into God’s Plan?”
“What are my Longings?”
“What are my Abilities?
“Am I serving God Now?”

Notice the acrostic: P.L.A.N. God has a plan, will you fit into it? I have been suggesting that we keep a journal to make notes concerning the scriptures and questions. This is all about growing in faith, and with all positive growth comes positive effort.

Feel free to let me know if this helps.

I am so blessed to be on this journey of faith and witness with you!

Face it!

August 26, 2021

Midweek study with Pastor Edith

Psalm 34

Scripture text: Premise: If you’re saved and you know it, then your face will surely show it. Have you ever sung the song; ”If you’re happy and you know it”?

I’ve been thinking that the troubles of the world and the people in it have been draining my joy. I sometimes wonder if being joyful in the midst of such turmoil is an affront to those who are suffering in way I could never imagine. Then, with the help of Max Lucado and my recent sermon series inspired by his book ; "Just like Jesus, and God’s Word", I decided to allow my worship of God, not just on Sunday morning, but every day, to decide for my face what it should look like.

Now, if you are the type of person who looks in the mirror and sees only flaws, acne, wrinkles, age spots (boy, am I showing my age now) etc…, then I want you to take a moment now and read this portion of Psalm 34 from The Message translation. Ask yourself, “do I feel this way?” and if not, why? Go ahead, read it. I even suggest you read it out loud. I will go a crazy step further and invite you to read it out loud in front of the mirror. Oh, go ahead, no one has to know but you and God. If you are on a break at work reading this, remind yourself to do it when you get home:

  1. “I bless God every chance I get;
 my lungs expand with his praise.
  2. I live and breathe God;
 if things aren’t going well, hear this and be happy:
  3. Join me in spreading the news; together let’s get the word out.
  4. God met me more than halfway,
 he freed me from my anxious fears.
  5. Look at him; give him your warmest smile.
 Never hide your feelings from him.
  6. When I was desperate, I called out,
 and God got me out of a tight spot.
  7. God’s angel sets up a circle 
of protection around us while we pray.
  8. Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see—
 how good God is.
 Blessed are you who run to him.
  9. Worship God if you want the best; 
worship opens doors to all his goodness…
  10. Is anyone crying for help? God is listening,
 ready to rescue you.
  11. If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there;
 if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath.
  12. Disciples so often get into trouble;
 still, God is there every time.

Now, if you really want to grow through this meditation, print it out and underline the reasons there are to praise God. Put a circle or a box around the parts that really speak to you. Put this on the frame of your mirror and take time each day with it.

AMEN

Listen Up!

August 19, 2021

Midweek study with Pastor Edith 

“Listen Up!” - Text: John 10: 2-4

This represents #4 of 12 “meditations” inspired by a sermon series I am sharing from God’s word with help from Max Lucado’s book Just Like Jesus. Today’s text brings us to Jesus, who is talking with his followers and giving them a true to life example of what it means to follow him. In this text, Jesus is comparing people to sheep. There are many occasions in the Bible where people are referred to as sheep, and with good reason. I haven’t spent much time around actual sheep, but I have learned that we have several things in common with them:

  • We are easily distracted and lose our way, so we need a shepherd to guide us.
  • We need somebody to feed us.
  • We usually recognize the voices of those we trust.

Jesus the Shepherd

In our text for today, Jesus is telling his followers to “Listen Up”! [my translation of John 10:2-4]: “The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice”.

So, here’s the question for today. Do you recognize the voice of the Lord? In other words, are you able to recognize when you are being led by God’s truth or a stranger’s direction?

When I use the word stranger, I want you to consider even those you know who may be giving you very “strange” advice. The best way to know the voice of God, is to become very familiar with what he says in his word, the Bible. Max Lucado puts it this way; “Spend much time reading about the listening life of Jesus and a distinct pattern emerges. He spent regular time with God, praying and listening...the gospel of Luke tells us, ‘Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed’ (Luke 5:16). Let me ask the obvious. If Jesus, the Son of God, the sinless savior of humankind, thought it worthwhile to clear his calendar to pray, wouldn’t we be wise to do the same?” You should know that Jesus was the “Word made flesh”, “God incarnate”, meaning, Jesus embodied the word of God. We can connect with the word of God because of Christ’s life, death and resurrection on our behalf. So, do you recognize the voice of the Lord for your life and living today?

Here is a practical tool that I find very helpful; Schedule 15-30 minutes a day for just you and the Lord, reading his word, meditating on his word and making notes so as to put into a very personal prayer what his word is telling you. This is called a “discipline”, don’t panic, it won’t hurt, it just takes a commitment. You make time for everything and everybody else, why not “take time to be holy and speak oft with thy Lord” (From the hymn “Take time to be Holy” written by William Longstaff, 1882- United Methodist Hymnal #395).

AMEN!

Do Not Touch

August 12, 2021

Jesus Heals the LeperMidweek study with Pastor Edith
Text: Matthew 8:1-4

(The Message). Jesus came down the mountain with the cheers of the crowd ringing in his ears. Then a leper appeared and went to his knees before Jesus, praying, ‘Master, if you want to, you can heal my body.’
Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, "I want to. Now, be clean."

Then and there, all signs of the leprosy were gone.

Jesus said, "Don’t talk about this all over town. Just quietly present your healed body to the priest, along with the appropriate expressions of thanks to God. Your cleansed and grateful life, not your words, will bear witness to what I have done."

The context of these verses put us in a time and place where the disease of leprosy was not uncommon, and the social consequences of this disease made the leper an outcast. Not even family could be around them. They would be considered untouchable. Max Lucado writes; “In scripture the leper is symbolic of the ultimate outcast; infected by a condition he did not seek, rejected by those he knew, avoided by people he did not know, condemned to a future he could not bear. And in the memory of each outcast must have been a day he was forced to face the truth: Life would never be the same.”

When I was young, the phrase “What Would Jesus Do” became popular, It was inspired by a book written in the late 1940’s or early 50’s by a man named Charles Sheldon; In His Steps. If you have never read this marvelous story, I highly recommend it to you. It makes for great evening family reading, and gives everyone something to consider when thinking about living the Christian life. So, what did Jesus do in the scripture for today? Answer – He healed the Leper. But how? Did Jesus touch him, like he did in other healing accounts in the bible? Here is Max’s answer; “ The touch did not heal the disease…the infection was banished by a word from Jesus. The loneliness, however, was treated by a touch from Jesus…Can we offer the same? Many of you already do. Some of you have the master touch of the Physician himself. You use your hands to pray over the sick and minister to the weak.

If you haven’t been touching them personally, your hands are writing letters, dialing phones, baking goodies. You have learned the power of a touch” (page 36 Just Like Jesus). My husband and I read an article this morning from the Upper Room devotional for today’s date and in it the author, Shelly Graf, addresses this very idea of being willing or unwilling to share the Masters touch; “It can be uncomfortable, and we may feel tempted to withdraw in fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. But when we are willing simply to be present, we join God who is already at work. We leave the situation more connected to God and more connected to one another from our shared experience” There is someone who feels “untouchable” near all of us. Don’t be afraid “The Lord your God is with you”.

AMEN

Dealing with "Stuckititis"

August 06, 2021

Midweek study with Pastor Edith 

“Dealing with ‘Stuckititis’”, or Blooming where you are planted.
Primary text- John 13:1-5.

In chapter 2 of his book Just Like Jesus, Max Lucado examines what it means to many people to be “stuck in a relationship”. He refers to their condition as a case of “Stuckititis” and these are the symptoms; “Attacks of stuckititis are limited to people who breathe and typically occur somewhere between birth and death. Stuckititis manifests itself in irritability, short fuses, and a mountain range of molehills. The common symptom of stuckititis victims is the repetition of questions beginning with WHO, WHAT, and WHY. Who is this person? What was I thinking? Why didn’t I listen to my mother?” (page 15) (Ok, I think you can see where I am going with this introduction, but just in case it is a bit vague, read on.)

Much of our lives seem to be spent working with, living with, even worshipping with people who have a tendency to make us, to put it politely, uncomfortable. There are several responses to choose from when dealing with folks we feel “stuck with”; we can “flee, fight, or forgive”. In his 3 years of active ministry; preaching, teaching, encouraging, and healing, Jesus chose to share this time with 12 unlikely disciples, guys that would try his patience time and time again. The bible tells us that even up until the very last day they had with Jesus on earth, these fellas were arguing over who would be number one.

Max asks the question; “How was Jesus able to love his disciples? The answer is found in the thirteenth chapter of John”: 13 1-2 Just before the Passover Feast, Jesus knew that the time had come to leave this world to go to the Father. Having loved his dear companions, he continued to love them right to the end. It was suppertime. The Devil by now had Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, firmly in his grip, all set for the betrayal. 3-5 Jesus knew that the Father had put him in complete charge of everything, that he came from God and was on his way back to God. So, he got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron.” (John 13:1-5 MSG)

During the Passover meal, it would have been common to have a basin, pitcher of water and towel at the ready for the servant to use, but no servant was there to wash the disciples feel. Any one of them could have chosen to take up the task, or they could have helped each other, but they didn’t. Who did? The King of the universe, the one whose hands “shaped the stars, now washed away filth. Fingers that formed mountains now cleaned toes. And the one before whom all nations will one day kneel now kneels before his disciples…more than removing dirt, Jesus is removing doubt” (pg. 18)

So, here’s my thought for this week. If you find yourself having difficulty “blooming where you are planted”, take a moment to stop, breathe deeply and consider how Jesus loved the difficult ones, you guessed it, that includes you and I. Ask him to guide you this week and through his sweet Holy Spirit to help you love the one’s you are stuck with.

AMEN.

In the Image of God

July 29, 2021

Midweek study with Pastor Edith
“In the Image of God”
Genesis 1:27

One of my greatest blessings is spending one-on-one time with our grandchildren. It doesn’t happen often enough, but when it does, I am always amazed how smart and witty these young ones are. The wisdom and boldness they demonstrate just thrills my heart, and depending on what new and daring tricks they pull off sometimes makes my heart race with fear and trepidation.

While studying for a new Bible study I am endeavoring to lead, I came upon a very familiar passage of Old Testament Scripture that reminds me that every time I look in the face of these beautiful grandchildren I am looking at the image of God. I am also reminded that every person I come in contact with is equally the image of God. Now, bear with me for a few more sentences if you find yourself questioning my theology. Let’s start by looking at the text I’m referring to; “So God created human beings in his own image, In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (NLT)

It seems that from the beginning God’s plan for humankind was to be like him. Not coequal with him, but in his truest image, which is best reflected in the life of Jesus Christ. I can hear an old hymn running through my mind; “Oh to be like thee, Oh to be like thee, blessed redeemer, pure as thou art! Come in thy sweetness, come in thy fullness; Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart”.

So, the challenge to me in continuing to develop my theology, is to see myself and others as the image of God. But what about when I blow it? Am I reflecting the image of God then? From my perspective, the image is always there, I just make it difficult to see it.

To quote Max Lucado: “God loves you just the way you are, but he refuses to leave you that way. He wants you to be just like Jesus”.

That was the plan from the beginning and God “ain’t finished with us yet”. Don’t give up on yourself or others, pray, seek God’s will and way and day by day you will be more and more like Jesus.

AMEN!

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!

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