pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Wheat and Chaff

Reading: Luke 3: 15-17 and 21-22

Verse 17: “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear the threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn.”

Our passage from the gospel of Luke begins with John the Baptist answering questions about who he is. Clearly stating that he is not the Messiah, John explains who and what Jesus will be. John baptizes with water; Jesus will “baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” John even shares how much more powerful Jesus will be. John isn’t even worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals – a job reserved for slaves and servants. John isn’t even that when compared to Jesus.

In verse 17 John begins to describe who and what Jesus will be. Here we read, “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear the threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn.” In processing grain, a farmer would separate the grain from the chaff – the useful from the useless, the good from the bad. In this illustration Jesus is not a farmer but the judge of our souls. The winnowing process begins here on earth. In his day Jesus differentiated between those who were faithful to God and those who were not. His words in the Bible and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives continues this process today. The parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46 describes the final sifting process and the criteria to be used when he returns in glory. Just as many read this passage and feel a bit uncomfortable, to too do many as they continue on in verse 17: “but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Taken as a whole this verse reveals the sharp contrast between being a follower of Jesus and being a follower of the ways of the world.

This reality is followed up by a truth. After being baptized, as Jesus emerges from the waters, God speaks over Jesus. In verse 22 we read, “This is my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” These words are for all sons and daughters of God. These are words that God desires to speak over all humanity. If God had God’s way, all people would come to a saving faith in Jesus, being baptized into the family and indwelled by the Holy Spirit. As we live our faith out loud in the world, may God give us the opportunity to introduce others to Jesus, building the kingdom of God in our world.

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to reflect your light and love, drawing others to you. Amen.


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Growing Closer

Reading: Acts 8: 14-17

Verse 17: “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”

In Acts 8 we read about some people who are a lot like us. These Samaritans have been baptized in the name of Jesus. Now what?!

At two weeks or three months or at some other time in our very young lives, most of us were baptized. For most of us it was an action initiated by our parents on our behalf. At baptism we were marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit, marked as a child of God. Although adults, this is just where the Samaritans were. Like we were as an infant, they were unaware of the next step.

The apostles in Jerusalem hear about their young faith and send Peter and John to minister to them. Finding them to have faith in Jesus Christ, Peter and John pray over and then “placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” Doing so, these new believers receive the Spirit. These new to the faith needed someone more mature to activate the Holy Spirit. Peter and John saw the next step needed to grow their faith. As young people most of us needed some folks like Peter and John. We all needed our parents, our Sunday school teachers, our youth leaders, our pastors… to guide us along in our journey of faith. When the timing of God was right, someone said just the right thing or an experience occured that prompted us to invite Jesus to be our personal Lord and Savior. At this moment the Spirit activates and begins to lead and guide our young faith. For some this happens during confirmation, for some it is at camp, and for others it is some other faith experience that triggers the next step of faith.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, these Samaritans came to know the same indwelling presence of Jesus Christ. Filled, the Holy Spirit leads and guides, prompts and nudges, convicts and corrects, ever seeking to draw us closer and closer to who and what God created us to be. Even with the Spirit’s constant presence, our faith journey is not a straight line to sainthood. Our faith grows and then seems to regress at times. Our faith shines brightly and then seems to hibernate. Faithful and disciplined participation on our part lessens the dark or sleepy moments or seasons and increases the fruitful and productive times. Each day may we intentionally connect with God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, seeking to grow closer day by day.

Prayer: Lord of all, keep me steadily connected to the vine, Jesus Christ. Fill me with knowledge and insight, understanding and trust, belief and hope. Each day empower the Holy Spirit to guide me to more faithful discipleship. Amen.


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The Way of Jesus

Reading: Luke 3: 15-17 and 21-22

Verse 16: “One more powerful than I will come… he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

“One more powerful…” How we love and long for power. The human race has long sought power. Power, of course, comes in many forms. It reveals or shows itself in many ways. For some, power is represented by the amassing of things – money, retirement funds, homes, cars… For some power is revealed by position or title – the number of employees under you, the tag line on the office door, the ability to make unilateral decisions. For others, power comes through appearance, athletic prowess, or via some other talent. For many though, power is as simple as being more powerful than one other person.

Jesus was certainly powerful – just not in any of these earthly ways. Jesus’ power came through love and was revealed by being selfless, by serving others, by giving away. You and I are capable of living in these ways. It is possible. But the ways of power in the world always gnaw at us, always make us question this way of Jesus. In our hearts we know it is good to love others more than self. Yet all that we’ve grown up around, all that so many others pursue, runs contrary to the way of Jesus. Our selfishness, our greed, our fears – they work against kindness, generosity, compassion…

We are not without hope. This Jesus, if we are willing to kneel and to ask him to be the Lord of our life, this Jesus will “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” This baptism empowers believers to live as Jesus lived – loving unconditionally, serving selflessly, sharing generously and abundantly. Being baptized into Christ commits our life to walking in Jesus’ footsteps, to loving as he loved. It is not easy. The world always calls out, always raises fears, doubts… The power and presence of the Holy Spirit, the refining fire of Jesus Christ – these keep us on the path, keep us walking in the way of Jesus. As we walk this path longer and longer, the more we come to understand that there is no greater power than the love of Christ within us. Love always wins. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Dear Lord, in the quiet of the morning, it is easy to say that love is power, that love always wins. As I move out into the day, into the mess of the world, remind me over and over to walk in the way of love, in the way of Jesus. It is a frequent choice. Guide me to choose you and the way of love. Amen.


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Choose Faith

Reading: Luke 3: 15-18

Verse 16: “One more powerful than I will come… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

As we continue in Luke 3 we see that John’s witness to the Messiah is powerful and convicting. People are responding to his call to repentance and want to know what to do to be saved from the coming wrath. John is changing lives. The impact or fruit of his ministry leads people to wonder: Is he the Messiah?

John emphatically denies this idea and continues to point to the one that he is preparing the way for. John says, “One more powerful than I will come… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” John’s baptism with water is a physical symbol of an inner desire to change, to live a more holy life. It is a step in the right direction. Jesus will come and baptize believers with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Coming to faith we receive or are “baptized” with the Holy Spirit. Just as the Spirit came down and landed upon Jesus at his baptism, so too does the Holy Spirit come into our lives as we are baptized. This constant indwelling presence of Jesus Christ can become the most powerful force in our lives – if we listen to and follow its lead.

John reconnects to the wrath to come as he speaks of a baptism of fire. He follows this up in verse seventeen, reminding them that not choosing Jesus will be a choice with consequences. The faithful Jesus will gather up into heaven. The unfaithful will experience the unquenchable fire. Faith is a choice. Deciding to live for Jesus is a daily if not hour by hour or moment by moment choice. We do not walk this hard road alone. Satan is more than willing to walk alongside us, leading us further and further from saving faith. The Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ is also willing to walk with us, leading and guiding us to walk always in a saving faith. This day and every day may we choose faith. May we choose eternal life. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you are clear that faith is a choice. In each moment of decision may the Holy Spirit be loud and clear. Through this power may not always choose love, mercy, grace, compassion, forgiveness, justice, kindness, patience, peace… May it ever be your way and not my way, O Lord. Amen.


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See? Recognize? Heed?

Reading: Malachi 3: 1-4

Verse 1: “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.”

Photo credit: Chase Murphy

The prophet Malachi was sent by God to the Levites, the priests. They were offering imperfect animals on the altar – the blind, the diseased, the crippled. The priests had turned from God’s ways and had “caused many to stumble.” Malachi admonishes them and tells of a coming day of judgment. As I consider God’s case against the priests, I wonder what words Malachi would relay to us today. Is our offering similar to theirs? Do we give to God a portion dedicated up front or do we wait to the end of the month to see what we have left that we can spare? Do we always live an upright and holy life or do we fall into gossip circles and other sins that diminish our witness?

Beginning in chapter three God lays out the plan for change. The detestable and unfaithful behaviors will come to an end. In verse one the Lord Almighty says, “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.” About 400 years later the messenger will come. John the Baptist will offer a baptism of repentance, calling the people of God to a holy and faithful life. Although it is more comfortable and much easier to stay where we are at, to pretend that our faith is okay, to act as if we have no sin in our lives, the messenger draws crowds. John spoke to the hole in people’s hearts that only God can fill. Many came to confess and repent, to be baptized and cleansed. The people saw their imperfections and longed for a deeper, better, stronger faith. They saw their need and responded to the one preparing the way for the Lord.

Do we see our need for God? Do we recognize our imperfections? Are we willing to heed the words of the prophet? Will we humbly approach the Lord of mercy and grace, seeking to be made new again?

Prayer: Lord God, give me an honest walk of faith. Open my eyes to my areas of darkness and sin. Shine your light on my failures and imperfections. Pour out your grace and mercy, drawing me closer to you. Amen.


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Seeking

Reading: Acts 8: 32-40

Verse 35: “Philip began with that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about Jesus”.

As we continue today in Acts 8 we see how the opportunity that God provided for Philip impacted the Ethiopian eunuch. Led by the Holy Spirit, Philip was invited to sit with the eunuch in order to explain these verses from Isaiah 53. The prophet writes of a man who was killed – “led like a sheep to the slaughter”. The eunuch asks, “Who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else”? There is a desire burning inside the eunuch to know more.

In verse 35 we read, “Philip began with that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about Jesus”. Beginning with this messianic prophecy, Philip tells the good news of Jesus Christ to the eunuch. We do not know what all Philip taught the man. Did he include other Old Testament prophecies? Did he include the birth stories? Did Philip just begin at the point that he himself encountered Jesus? What story did he use to plant the seeds of a desire to be baptized? Whatever Philip taught the eunuch must have been filled with compassion and personal belief. Led still by the Holy Spirit, Philip connected the eunuch to Jesus Christ and the new life offered through a relationship with Jesus.

We too will encounter people that are seeking. Some will be like the eunuch, seeking Jesus. Seeds already planted will be ready to blossom into faith. Here we guide them in their final steps into a relationship with Jesus. Some will be seeking meaning and purpose in their lives. With these we will need to model and eventually teach how and why Jesus is the only thing that fills that hole in their soul. Some seekers will be hurting or broken or lost, knowing that they have a need but are unable to identify or name it. They just know they want out of that valley. Working through the pain or grief will proceed any obvious steps of faith. Pouring God’s love and compassion and comfort into their lives will help bring healing and wholeness. These are but a few of the people we will encounter if we are listening to the Holy Spirit, if we are seeking to be used by God.

Like Philip did with the eunuch, may we meet the person right before us where they are, ministering to them as we are led by the Holy Spirit. Doing so, we too will share the good news of Jesus Christ, drawing others closer to our Lord and Savior.

Prayer: God, open my eyes and heart to see the ones you place before me today. Fill me with your Holy Spirit, guide my words and actions. Use me to build your kingdom today. Amen.


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Leading Others to Christ

Reading: John 1: 19-28

Verse 26: “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know”.

In today’s passage the religious leaders send out some of their people to inquire of this man baptizing in the wilderness. Many ordinary people are going out to see John the Baptist. Confessing their sins, they receive a baptism of repentance. John is having a big and positive impact on the peoples’ faith. But John is not one of the religious elite. They want to know who he is.

John initiates the conversation by first stating that he is not the Christ. Then who? they ask. Not Elijah, not a prophet. Pressed, John quotes from Isaiah: “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord'”. This is exactly who he is, but the answer does not satisfy those sent to inquire. To them the answer is not definitive. Not getting the answer they want, they shift gears and ask, “Why then do you baptize”? John does not really answer this question either. Instead, he points to Jesus. After acknowledging that he baptizes with water John says, “Among you stands one you do not know”. This will remain true. The religious leaders will come to know who Jesus is, but they will never really know him. This sad reality is still true for many people today.

As followers of Jesus Christ we know who he is: the Lord and Savior of the world and of our lives. In just eleven days we will celebrate the coming of Christ, God in the flesh. Like John, as we prepare to celebrate, may we invite others to come to know Jesus as we do. As we near Christmas Eve may we seek to make Jesus more fully known day by day. May our lives lead others to know the Savior of the world. May it be so each day.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be a voice calling out, a voice that tells others about my Lord and Savior. Fill me with your Spirit and may the words I speak be words of peace and joy, of love and hope. Amen.


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Gift of the Spirit

Reading: Mark 1: 6-8

Verses 7 and 8: “After me will come one more powerful than I… he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”.

John the Baptist chose the wilderness as his ministry setting. He dressed the part, wearing camel hair clothes. He lived a wilderness life, eating locusts and wild honey. In these ways he was about as far from a typical religious leader as he could be. But this was his destiny. John was born to Zechariah and Elizabeth when both were well beyond the children stage of life. In Luke 1 we find the story of the angel visiting Zechariah in the holy of holies, telling him of John’s special role in preparing the way for the coming Messiah.

Large crowds came out to see John, to hear his message, to confess their sins, to be baptized. It would have been easy for John to forget his main task. It would have been easy to get caught up in the crowds and growing number of followers. Maybe that is part of why John did not operate out of the temple. There he might have heard whispers of how great he was, of how much he was doing for God. Or maybe the religious leaders would not have ever even let John in the door. He was wild, after all, ministering outside the religious structures of the day. In this way John was much like his cousin Jesus.

John was like Jesus in another important way. He understood the role he came to play. John preached and baptized, called people to repent of their sins, not to build up a following, but to prepare people to follow Jesus. We see and feel John’s humility and dedication to God in verses seven and eight. Here he says, “After me will come one more powerful than I… he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”. The one who will baptize with the long awaited Holy Spirit is coming.

After baptizing Jesus, John will become less so that Jesus can step into and live out his role according to God’s plan. The Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus as he emerges from the waters of baptism. For three years, Jesus will play his role, defining what it looks like to love God and neighbor with all that you are. As Jesus’ ministry and time on earth comes to a close, he promises to pass on the gift of the Holy Spirit to all who believe. Like many disciples who have come before us, we too have received the gift of the Spirit. This gift allows and empowers us to play our roles, guiding us to be live love and light in the world. May we too play our roles, preparing others to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Prayer: Loving God, we all have a role to play. We are all called to be ministers of the good news of Jesus Christ. Fill us all with the power of the Holy Spirit, guiding us to ever point to your son, the Savior of the world. Amen.


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Calling Them to Come

Mark 1: 1-5

Verse 4: “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.

Last week we began Advent with the end of the story – the end of the age when Jesus will return in power and might. This week we jump back to the beginning of the story, with the ministry of John the Baptist. Mark begins his gospel quoting from two of the many Old Testament passages that point to Jesus Christ, the full revelation of God. Mark describes John’s ministry simply: “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. John set up outside of the temple, outside of Jerusalem – outside of all civilization for that fact. He was calling people back to a simpler way of life from a simple place: the wilderness. It was not a place to come and stay. It was a place to come to, to do what needed done, and to return home from.

As I try to imagine John out there in the wilderness, my mind thinks of “bullhorn guy”. He is that person standing on the street corner, yelling at people through a bullhorn, telling folks that they will end up in hell because of their sins. People tend to go the long way around street corners such as these. We, in general, do not like to consider our sins, much less confess them in public on a street corner. Although the basic message is the same – repent of your sins – John must have been as far from the bullhorn guy as one could get. Mark writes, “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to see him”. There were, of course, some curious folks who went out to see what all this was about. These folks appear in our churches once in a while. A bump in life leads them to check out this faith thing. Others come to appease a significant other or their family at the holidays. The religious leaders showed up too. Not to be prepared or to confess or to be baptized, but to assess the threat to their own power. A lot of people were going to see John. But most people, large numbers of people, went to see John to be made right with God. In verse five we read, “Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him”. They emerged from the waters ready to live a new, more faithful life.

There was a hunger to be close to God, to be a better person, to live a more holy life. This is what drew people out into the wilderness to hear John’s message and to be changed. John called the people to more. As we too live out our days, may our witness call people to more. This day and each day, may our friends and neighbors, our co-workers and classmates – may they see the hope, peace, joy, and love of Christ within us, calling them to more.

Prayer: Lord God, may I be an example of your will and way. May all I do and say and think point people to you and to the saving relationship that you offer in and through Jesus Christ. Amen.