pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Plenty of Chaff

Reading: John 3:7-12

Verse 12: “He will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Today we read the second half of this week’s John 3 text. Verses 1-6 come tomorrow. Maybe that seems backwards. But sometimes we need to see the problem before considering the solution.

John has been preaching and baptizing in the wilderness along the Jordan River. Some of the religious leaders come out to see what’s going on. These men of high piety and fine robes are curious about this wild man. He is wild indeed! Upon seeing these fine men, John lashes out, saying, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” Talk about a gut punch. He then tells them that claiming Abraham won’t save them. Upper cut! And, oh yes, the ax is at the roots of the tree – right there at your ankles. Quick jab! John finishes them off with this explanation of the wrath to come: “He will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” This sweeping right hand blow ends the encounter without a word from the Sadducees and Pharisees.

John cut right to the chase. He was direct and decisive. We smile or grin as we imagine this scene unfolding. Yes, we do. Until we realize that these words are in Matthew 3 for our benefit, not for the religious leaders’ benefit. We like others to think us “religious.” We enjoy our comforts. Don’t dig too deep, though. The reality is that we all have plenty of chaff in our lives – probably enough to start a small blaze! So we must ask ourselves: What religious facades do we hold up? How and why do we seek to practice religion instead of living out a real faith?

Good questions to sit with until tomorrow, when we delve into John’s call to repent. Happy wrestling!

Prayer: Lord God, make clear to me those things that you’d like to burn from my life with your refining fire. Give me the courage to see them and then the conviction to offer them up to you. Amen.


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God with Us

Reading: Psalm 23:4-6

Verse 6: “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Today we turn our attention to the second half of Psalm 23. This portion speaks confidently of God’s presence with us. Verse 4 begins with familiar words: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” Many have been comforted by these words during a time of loss. Even though death’s shroud hangs over us, God is present. This phrase also has a second meaning. Both Isaiah and Luke use this phrase in connection with Christ coming into the world, bringing light into the darkness.

Continuing in verse 4 we are next reminded of God’s protection from the darkness without and within. Because God is ever with us, we need not fear any evil. The rod defends us from the evil present in the world and that applied to our lives by Satan. The staff guides us and draws us back in, steering us away from evil in our hearts and pulling us back in when we’ve gone astray.

In verse 5 God is a provider. Even though evil is in the world and even though we will encounter those opposed to faith, God still provides for us – food on the table, shelter in the storms, a strong defense in the battles. The provision of all these things and more is in abundance – our cup overflows with God’s love and care.

Verse 6 brings it home. Here we read: “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Knowing God as comforter and light, as protector and provider, as Lord of our life – all this leads us to walk daily in God’s goodness and love. Doing so we can assuredly “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the reminder today of all the ways that you are with me. For all of this and so much more, I rejoice and praise your holy name! Amen.


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Broad, Yet Detailed

Reading: Luke 15:1-3 and 11b-19

Words: “sinners… son… wild living… famine… need… pigs… senses… sinned… worthy…”

Today’s passage is a familiar one. In our verses for today we have the first act of the story. The whole story is full of detail and it contains 3 very different main characters. Depending on our circumstances or situation at the time, we pick up on different details or we connect more with one character than another – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

Instead of picking a key verse for today, I chose words to be our focus. Along the lines of what I just wrote, in a week I might pick different words. I’d venture a guess, though. Without knowing which Bible story it was, I’d guess most faithful followers of Jesus Christ would identify the correct story. Some could certainly do so with even less words. For each of us, each of these words has meaning, likely different for each of us. For example, “famine” might trigger thoughts for me that are different than your thoughts connected to that word.

The combination of broad strokes and fine details speaks to me of God. This one story has tons of angles and emotions to explore. Yet it also has precise details that give it life and definition. It strikes me today that this is how God must see our lives. God knows and sees and understands the big terms. For me some would be pastor, husband, gardener… God knows yours too. In the details God sees insecure, hopeful, trusting, hurting, and a host of others. God knows our details too. I find great comfort in the God who knows us in big ways and in intricate detail. Our God is a God who loves us deeply and intimately. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for knowing me inside and out. Because of the depth and width of your knowing, you and I are well connected, entwined. Thank you for your great love. Amen.


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“Home” to God

Reading: Ruth 1: 1-6

Verse 6: “When she heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of God’s people… Naomi prepared to return home.

Photo credit: Milo Weiler

Today we get the back story of what we studied yesterday – Ruth claiming Naomi, her people, and her God. We learn that it was a famine in Judah that led Naomi, her husband, and two sons to move to Moab. They settled there and made a life for themselves. The father dies and the two sons marry Moabite women, becoming further connected to this foreign land. Even though now a widow, Naomi is still surrounded by her sons and new daughters-in-law. After ten years both sons die. In verse six we again read, “When she heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of God’s people… Naomi prepared to return home.

When we move someplace new we settle in, make new friends, find a church home. We become connected and form relationships. For many of us, though, there is a sense that “home” is still back there somewhere. Maybe that place is where we were born and grew up. Maybe that place is where we raised our children. I think this is what Naomi felt about Bethlehem in Judah. They had moved to find food. We move to find employment, to live where our new spouse lives, to go to college…

After these three losses Naomi hears that God has provided once again for Judah. Naomi and her two daughters-in-law prepare to move to Judah. It is a reset for Naomi. She can leave behind this place associated with grief and death. We too can want to leave these places of hurt to return home, to where we feel loved and cared for and connected. Judah is also the place that God dwells – for Naomi and the people of this time. To return to Judah is also to connect with God. We too do this in our times of suffering and loss. We connect to God and to God’s people, finding comfort and care in the family of God. We too come “home” to God.

Prayer: God, your door is always open. Your love always calls out to us. Home is a place we find shelter from the storms of life. Thank you for friends and family that also love on us in our times of need. Thank you for your open arms that always embrace us. Amen.


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Blessing… and Cursing

Reading: James 3: 7-12

Verse 8: “No one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

Photo credit: Klenova Tati

We begin today in James 3 with a great observation: mankind has been able to tame all kinds of wild creatures. Humanity has tamed and trained dolphins and whales, hawks and pigeons, dogs and lions, elephants and monkeys… And yet, “No one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Oh we might try, but we can’t quite seem to tame our wild tongues.

James points out the impact of this inability to tame our tongue. With the same lips we praise God and then we turn around and curse our fellow human beings. Since we are all made in the image of God, this is about the same thing as cursing God. When considered this way, it should cause us to pause before speaking, to consider our words a little more carefully. If we did this, we’d be less likely to gossip, to slander, to say that snarky comeback, to post that loaded comment. When we are quick to listen and slow to speak we are better able to see the image of God in the other person.

James returns to the natural world again to illustrate that we should not, even could not, bless and curse with the same lips. He reminds us that springs cannot produce both fresh and salty water and that fig trees can’t bear olives not can grapevines produce figs. In the same way we who are also made in the image of God should not be able to produce ungodly talk. And yet we do. And yet we do.

In verse ten we read, “My brothers [and sisters], this should not be so.” James is 100% correct. It is not easy to tame our tongue. It is, in fact, so easy to let it run wild. The tongue has the power to build up, to bring life, to offer comfort, to share hope, to bless with forgiveness, to guide others to Christ… This day and every day may these be the words we speak, loving and glorifying both God and our fellow human beings.

Prayer: Lord God, this is such a difficult challenge. Harsh and angry words are so much the norm in our world today. Yet you call us to be different, to stand out from the world, to be a light in the darkness. Help me today to tame my tongue. When words that are evil or hurtful begin to form in my heart, send the sure and full conviction of the Holy Spirit to nip those thoughts in the bud. And tomorrow and the next day and each day thereafter do the same. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.


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Blessing… and Cursing

Reading: James 3: 7-12

Verse 8: “No one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

Photo credit: Klenova Tati

We begin today in James 3 with a great observation: mankind has been able to tame all kinds of wild creatures. Humanity has tamed and trained dolphins and whales, hawks and pigeons, dogs and lions, elephants and monkeys… And yet, “No one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Oh we might try, but we can’t quite seem to tame our wild tongues.

James points out the impact of this inability to tame our tongue. With the same lips we praise God and then we turn around and curse our fellow human beings. Since we are all made in the image of God, this is about the same thing as cursing God. When considered this way, it should cause us to pause before speaking, to consider our words a little more carefully. If we did this, we’d be less likely to gossip, to slander, to say that snarky comeback, to post that loaded comment. When we are quick to listen and slow to speak we are better able to see the image of God in the other person.

James returns to the natural world again to illustrate that we should not, even could not, bless and curse with the same lips. He reminds us that springs cannot produce both fresh and salty water and that fig trees can’t bear olives not can grapevines produce figs. In the same way we who are also made in the image of God should not be able to produce ungodly talk. And yet we do. And yet we do.

In verse ten we read, “My brothers [and sisters], this should not be so.” James is 100% correct. It is not easy to tame our tongue. It is, in fact, so easy to let it run wild. The tongue has the power to build up, to bring life, to offer comfort, to share hope, to bless with forgiveness, to guide others to Christ… This day and every day may these be the words we speak, loving and glorifying both God and our fellow human beings.

Prayer: Lord God, this is such a difficult challenge. Harsh and angry words are so much the norm in our world today. Yet you call us to be different, to stand out from the world, to be a light in the darkness. Help me today to tame my tongue. When words that are evil or hurtful begin to form in my heart, send the sure and full conviction of the Holy Spirit to nip those thoughts in the bud. And tomorrow and the next day and each day thereafter do the same. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.


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In His Presence

Reading: John 6: 24-35

Verse 32: “It is my Father who gives you true bread from heaven”.

Photo credit: Abram Mourad Blokpoel

There is a personal, individual component to our passage. As we turn a second day to John 6, let us hear Jesus speaking to us, offering you and me the gift of life. Emphasizing his connection to God, Jesus says, “It is my Father who gives you true bread from heaven”. It is God who sent the Son to save the world. It is God who sent Jesus to save you and me.

In the time and place of Jesus, bread was an essential staple. This important part of their diet sustained them. In the same way Jesus “gives life” to all who believe in him. The life Jesus Christ offers is filled with hope and peace, love and forgiveness, mercy and grace, power and strength, comfort and joy. He sustains us on our journey of faith.

Today in many houses of worship people will drink the cup and eat the bread. We will literally celebrate that Jesus is the “bread of life”. We will rejoice that Christ hears our confession, accepts our repentance, and washes away our sin. Through communion we are redeemed and restored, made new again. Holy and perfect in his sight at least for the moment, we do not hunger and thirst for the things of this world. Holy and perfect we rest in his divine presence, assured of his love. May we rest in Christ’s presence today.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for walking with us on this journey of faith. Thank you for sustaining us through all that life throws our way. Help me to rest in you. Amen.


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Grieving Loss

Reading: 2nd Samuel 1:1 and 17-27

Verses 24 and 26: “O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul… I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother”.

Photo credit: Frank McKenna

Grief knocks on all of our doors. It is a part of life that we all walk through. In our passage today David expresses his grief over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. He pours out his emotions of grief in a song. These words will also allow others to grieve these hard losses.

Songs like “I Can Only Imagine” and hymns like “Amazing Grace” and “In the Garden” come to mind as I consider David’s outpouring of grief. Song has long been a means to process and express our grief. The words remind us of our faith in God as well as offering soothing to our pain and heartache.

As David begins he writes, “Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights”. The king and his sons died in battle. “The mighty have fallen”. It is a national loss, one to be grieved corporately. But it is also a personal loss. We can feel David’s grief as he writes, “O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul… I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother”. Saul was his king, Jonathan his best friend.

We too have experienced loss. We too have known grief. Saul and Jonathan were “loved and gracious” – worthy of the lament that David offers. We too have lost those who were loved and gracious. This lament of David reminds us of our time in the valley of the shadow of death. As we join David in his lament may we also pause to remember ours who have gone on to glory. As we do, may the Lord bring us comfort.

Prayer: Loving God who is as near as our next breath, wrap us in your arms as we enter lament. May your love enfold us and may your strength carry us. Thank you for your abiding presence. Amen.


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My Rock, My Salvation

Reading: 1st Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 19-23, and 32-49

Verse 45: “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty”.

We return today to the story of David and Goliath. Standing before Saul, David expresses his faith in God, saying, “he has defied the armies of the living God”. David knows that the battle now belongs to the Lord. With that knowledge and his faith in God, David is willing to face the giant.

Sometimes our giants work us into a place of fear. After time we want to withdraw. Goliath came day after day for forty days, defying God and the army of Israel over and over. In our recent communal history COVID was like this. Every day COVID shouted at us, defied our health care systems, made us want to withdraw. No matter what we as a nation did, it raged on day after day. As a nation and as individuals we faltered, we doubted, we feared. And many chose to lean into God, into our faith. In our quiet places we opened our Bibles. In our homes we knelt and opened our hearts to God. In faith we found hope and peace, strength and comfort.

As David meets Goliath, the giant rails against David and against God. He curses David by his gods and threatens his life. David correctly identifies that all Goliath has is a sword, spear, and javelin. These weapons are harmful and even deadly, just as COVID or any other serious illness is. Yet all these are powerless against God, our hope and our eternity. David declares, “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty”. We know how this battle turned out.

As we face our giants, may we too remember that God is on our side, that we do not fight alone. Anointed by God’s Spirit, we belong to the Lord.

Prayer: Living God, give me a confident faith, a trusting faith. As the world trots out its giants, may I ever stand upon my rock and my salvation. Amen.


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Knowing Hope

Reading: Ephesians 1: 15-19

Verse 18: “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you”.

Photo credit: Nick Fewings

Today’s passage is about Paul’s thanks and prayers for the church in Ephasus. It can also be read as a prayer for each believer and for the church universal. In verse fifteen Paul gives thanks for the church’s faith in Jesus and for their love for the faithful. In verse seventeen Paul prays that the Holy Spirit bring wisdom and revelation from God. Receiving these blessings from the Spirit will help them to know God better and better. Each believer will grow closer and closer to Jesus. Witnessing to Jesus’ love will be the outpouring of the church. As a part of a local church and as a member of the larger body of Christ these too are my prayers locally and globally for the church.

In verses eighteen and nineteen is a blessing prayer. In verse eighteen Paul prays, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you”. Faith is both a matter of the heart and mind. Receiving God’s wisdom and guidance are important. Knowing the hope to which we are called is essential. Hope is both a now and future thing. The future holds the “glorious inheritance” of life eternal. The now contains the “incomparably great power” that we receive in this life. In and through the power of Jesus’ name we can do great things for the Lord and for our world. We can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, bring justice to the oppressed, liberate the captive, comfort the grieving… In and through Jesus we can change the world. May it begin today.

Prayer: Lord of all creation, thank you for the Spirit that teaches, guides, and realigns me with your will and ways. Thank you for the hope for today and for one day with you. Use me today to help others find hope through a relationship with you. Amen.