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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A Shoot… Bear Fruit

Reading: Isaiah 11:1-5

Verse 1: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch will bear fruit.”

Sometimes all we can focus on is what we see and hear around us. Sometimes the noise is so loud and the swirl so powerful. We can struggle to see or hear beyond the immediate. For the Israelites of Isaiah’s day, their nation had been soundly defeated; their homes, city, and temple were destroyed; and, many people were hauled off into exile. That’s a lot of noise and swirl. Into that scene Isaiah says, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch will bear fruit.” Yes, all appears dead. All seems lost. Hope is all but gone.

Now, God isn’t promising to make things immediately right again. God isn’t going to spare them from the consequences of their deep sin. But God is saying that this is not the end of the story. Maybe looking around there were a few saying, ‘Yah, right, God.’ I can go there when the noise and swirl are strong. So Isaiah goes on to describe this shoot. The spirit of God will rest upon him in wisdom, understanding, counsel, power, knowledge, and with a fear (or reverence) of God. Wow. This new leader will really be something. Imagine such a leader. Hope rises.

Yet God is not promising another David or even a Solomon. No, we must also hear verses 3-5. This king won’t just address what is easily seen with his eyes or heard with his ears. It’s much deeper. Righting this ship will strike at the roots. It will require righteousness, justice, and faithfulness. These qualities have been sorely lacking in the nation of Israel. These words may temper hope for some of the Israelites. Much like they would in our world today. Yet these words are true. They are a promise. Hope will come. The Lord will bear good fruit. We are called to be people of hope. May we go into the world today, seeking to live a life of active faith and hope.

Prayer: Lord God, the gift of this shoot brought hope and peace and love into the world, bearing good fruit. Through Jesus Christ you have begun to restore and redeem all of creation. May my words and actions help to build this new kingdom of righteousness, justice, and faithfulness. Amen.


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Put on Christ

Reading: Romans 13:11-14

Verse 11: “The hour has come for you to wake from your slumber, because salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”

Paul writes to the Christians in Rome with the same urgency that he would write to you and me with. Paul believes that Christ’s return would be any day. Those in Rome and us living today lack Paul’s sense of urgency. Just as it was when he wrote these words, today these words remain full of truth.

In verses 11 Paul implores us, calling us to a more faithful walk with Jesus, saying, “The hour has come for you to wake from your slumber, because salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” The second part is definitely true for all of us. You are closer to meeting the Lord right now than you were when you began this devotional. The first part is true for all of us as well – just to varying degrees. We all sleep on our faith at times. None of us are as diligent in the practices of our faith as we could be. So as we continue, may we take these next words of Paul to heart.

Paul encourages us to first “set aside the deeds of darkness.” In verses 13 he gives quite the list to start with as we strive to avoid sin. But it’s a list we could easily add to. Pride, gluttony, judging, worry – these come quickly to mind as struggles that I have. Setting these things aside, we are encouraged to “put on the armor of light.” To do so we are invited to “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul is inviting us to put on humility and grace, compassion and mercy, forgiveness and love, generosity and service. Then the light will shine in us and through us. May we accept Paul’s invitation this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me to walk fully in the light this day. This day clothe me with Christ. Fill me with his Spirit. Use me to help others hear your invitation to live and walk in the light. As long as I am able, make all this so. Amen.


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Go, Prepare the Way

Reading: Luke 1:76-79

Verse 76: “You will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.”

Photo credit: Dominik Lange

Continuing today in Zechariah’s Song, the praise shifts to the role his own son will play in God’s plan. John the Baptist will be called “a prophet of the Most High.” John’s ministry will be out in the wilderness, along the Jordan River. Preaching about the good news soon to come, he will “give his people a knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.” John will call people to repent of their sins to prepare their hearts for the coming Messiah. A baptism of repentance will symbolize their readiness to walk with Christ. This gift of salvation is available “because of the tender mercies of our God.” It’s not just mercy, but tender mercy. I love the image that this line creates. Oh the depth of God’s love for you and me!

In verse 76 Zechariah defines John’s primary task: “You will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.” No one meets Jesus without someone telling them about Jesus. No one experiences “the rising sun from heaven” coming into their lives to “shine on those living in darkness” without someone going on to prepare their heart to receive Jesus. John called others and prepared them both through his words and his example. He was faithful in his living and was engaging and encouraging with his words.

Just before his final departure to return to heaven, Jesus gave all who follow him this task: “Go and make disciples of all nations… baptizing them… and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Just as John did, we are to do to. Living faithfully as a follower of Jesus Christ, may we draw others to the Son, bringing his light and love into the darkness. In Christ’s light and love, may they too experience the tender mercies of God.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to live a simple, faithful life, one that reflects your light and love out into the world’s darkness. As others are drawn to the light, grant me the words and actions to prepare the way for them to receive your son as Lord and Savior. All for your glory, O God! Amen.


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Standing Firm

Reading: Luke 21:12-19

Verse 12: “They will lay hands on you and persecute you.”

In the opening verses of this week’s gospel lesson, Jesus told the disciples of the false prophets and difficult events that will come. Shifting to a much more personal focus Jesus tells his followers, “They will lay hands on you and persecute you.” Those who follow Jesus will be imprisoned and will stand trial before earthly powers. The way of Jesus runs counter to the ways of the world. Instead of accumulating more and more for self, Jesus calls for generosity towards those without. Instead of using power to dominate relationships, Jesus calls for love to guide all we do and say. Instead of using others to further our own interests and desires, Jesus calls us to walk alongside and to lift others up.

In and of themselves, these things that Jesus calls us to are not likely to land us in hot water. But living this way shines a light on the darkness of the world. That creates tension with power. Standing for justice and equality and redemption are also all good things – until they challenge systems that work against these values of God. It is then that power rises against the followers of Christ.

Jesus offers the disciples and us today words of encouragement. First, these trials will be opportunities to witness to our faith. Second, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus will “give you words and wisdom.” Opponents will not be able to speak or stand against us. And third, “by standing firm you will gain life.” This is a both/and promise. Because of the Holy Spirit power within, we will be freed from the cares and worries of this world. And because of that, we are able to live towards the eternal glory found in Christ.

Jesus warns us that it will not be an easy road. But he also promises us that the path of discipleship will transform our life and the world around us. May we ever be faithful.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with Holy Spirit power each day. Give me a holy compassion for all who are held down, held back, held below. Through your power and presence, use me to lift others up and to free them from the darkness of this world. Amen.


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Forever and Ever

Reading: Psalm 145:17-21

Verse 18: “The Lord is near to all who call on him.”

There is a closeness in the relationship expressed in today’s writing. It is a relationship built on time. All good relationships require that the interested parties put forth effort in building and maintaining the relationship. And, of course, there has to be a draw or a reason to be in said relationship.

In verse 17 the psalmist declares what draws him or her to this relationship with God. God is loving of all that God has created and is righteous in all ways. From God’s side, we were created in the image of God, specifically made to live in relationship with God. Simply put, God made us for relationship. That is why life is ultimately meaningless and without purpose until God fills that hole in our hearts.

In verse 18 we read, “The Lord is near to all who call on him.” God does not force relationship upon us. No, God waits patiently for us to choose relationship and then God draws near to us, depositing the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Because God is righteous and loving, God provides for us, hears our cries, saves us, and watches over us. And what is our response, according to the Psalm? We will praise the Lord our God forever and ever.

We praise God not just when we gather on Sunday morning. We praise God as we live out God’s righteousness and love in our lives. We praise God by sharing our faith with others by shining Christ out in all we do and say and think. We praise God by inviting others into relationship with the Lord our God. May we praise God in all these ways forever and ever.

Prayer: Lord God, you are there when I awake, when I lie down, and all times in between. You pour into my life, filling me with your love and grace, with your mercy and righteousness. Pour these things out of me and into the lives of others so that all may come to know you. Amen.


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Stand Firm, Hold Fast

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 2:1-5 and 13-17

Verse 15: “Stand firm and hold onto the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”

The first five verses address some of the false teaching that has been a challenge to the people of faith in Thessalonica. Of focus is the event of Christ’s return. Some are falsely preaching that Christ already returned and that the church there missed it. Others are raising themselves up into the role of the Lord in an attempt to gain a following. While we can be susceptible to being led away from the truth, we tend to struggle today with what the world says is important: success, power, status, popularity, wealth… So verses 13-17 are still very relevant to our lives today as we seek to live faithfully.

In verse 13 Paul thanks God for this group of believers, chosen and saved by “the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and through belief in the truth.” He next attributes the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ as that which drew them to faith. Our personal relationship with Jesus, the ongoing work of the Spirit, the way of life we find through reading and studying the scriptures – these are the foundations that enable us to live faithfully as strangers or foreigners in this world. This is what Paul is encouraging in verse 15 when he writes, “Stand firm and hold onto the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” Continue to walk the walk of faith. Hold fast to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul closes this section with a blessing. He asks for Jesus and God to “encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and work.” May this too be our blessing as we seek to walk in faith.

Prayer: Lord God, give us the will and the courage to stand firm and to hold fast to all we have received from you. Open our hearts to the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit. Open our minds to the words of life that we find in the scriptures. Open our hands and feet to the call of Christ to unconditionally love and humbly serve others just as he did. Amen.


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Building

Reading: Haggai 2:1-9

Verse 3: “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?… How does it look to you now?”

In the story of God’s people, some have returned from exile. Under Ezra and Nehemiah the remnant has rebuilt the walls and gates of Jerusalem. Through the prophet Haggai word comes to begin to rebuild the temple that was also destroyed by the Babylonians.

Have you seen pictures or visited any of the grand cathedrals in Europe? Many of these ornate, beautiful, and towering feats took hundreds and hundreds of years to build. And have you ever seen or visited a Puritan or Quaker meeting house? It’s a simple structure with a pitched roof and small steeple. Basic wooden pews fill the sanctuary. When God through Haggai asks, “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?… How does it look to you now?” this is the type of contrast that God is drawing. Soaring cathedral versus simple meeting house, old temple versus the new temple.

But the deeper point in not really about the building. Like the Jews we too can get caught up in that. In verses 4 and 5 God gets to what really matters. Here God says, “Be strong all you people of the land and work. For I am with you… my Spirit remains strong among you. Do not fear.” Enemies and critics all around them, a less than temple taking shape, and God basically says, ‘Don’t worry about all that outside stuff. I am with you. Do not be afraid. The building doesn’t matter. All that noise swirling around outside doesn’t matter. Lean into me, lean into the work I have given you. Trust in me.’

This message is translated to our lives and times by Jesus. We are not tasked with building a physical thing but are tasked with building the kingdom of God. Jesus generally describes our task this way: ‘Go out into the world and make disciples of all peoples. Go and help fill all of those human houses with the glory of God.’ Yes, God is still with us. So may we go forth to build the kingdom of God.

Prayer: Lord God, may my time in your word and in the building equip and encourage me to go out into all the world, seeking to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of this world. Amen.


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Glorified

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 1:1-4 and 11-12

Verse 11: “We constantly pray for you… so that by God’s power God may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.”

Photo credit: Uta Scholl

In our Epistle reading Paul expresses his gratitude for the faith shown by the church in Thessalonica. He gives thanks for their growing faith and for the love that they show for one another. Paul even adds that he boasts about their steadfast faith in the midst of trial and suffering. It is easy to have faith when life is great. Paul recognizes and gives thanks for their faith when things are hard. I can praise God on good days and question or doubt God when bad things happen. To have the constant and steady faith that Paul sees the today’s text remains a goal for me and maybe for you too.

In the second part of today’s passage Paul offer up this prayer: “We constantly pray for you… so that by God’s power God may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.” The prayers are constant because the battle is ever present. There are ample opportunities to choose ease over discomfort, status quo over change, power over service. The world works to hard wire us to think of self first. So we need the presence and strength of God to live faithfully each day. We need help to fulfill the “good purposes” that God has for us. We need encouragement from the Holy Spirit to respond in faith each time we are prompted or nudged to act or speak on behalf of another. To stand against an injustice, to step into the gap to prevent abuse, to act and speak against racism, prejudice, sexism, inequality… – all of these place us face to face with those who have power and authority and privilege. To do these things, to walk this walk, it is to follow Christ.

Paul ends today’s passage with the “why” of his prayers: “So that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified.” As the Spirit stirs and as our faith leads, may we speak and act in ways that glorify the Lord.

Prayer: Lord God, in those moments when I teeter, when I’m tempted to be quiet or to try to preserve self, inspire me to speak or act in ways that elevate the powerless, the marginalized, the weak. Fill me with your power and presence, shining a light to the love and grace and glory of your son. Amen.


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What We Can

Reading: Habakkuk 2:1-4

Verse 1: “I will stand at my watch… I will look to see what God will say to me.”

Photo credit: Tyler Milligan

Moving into chapter 2 of Habakkuk the prophet has registered his complaint with God: there is much evil in the world and it is destroying the nation. Before pressing on, let us admit that this is a 2,600-year-old complaint that remains relevant today. Habakkuk wants to know what God is going to do about it.

Habakkuk does not ask God like we ask God with most of our prayers and petitions. He doesn’t pray about this and then forget about it until the next time his morning or evening prayer time rolls around. No, he declares, “I will stand at my watch.” Habakkuk will wait faithfully upon the Lord. He will take up his post on the ramparts and will wait patiently for God to answer. In faith and hope and trust he states, “I will look to see what God will say to me.” He is sure that God will answer his complaint.

And God does answer. God says, “Though it linger, wait for him.” It will not be a short wait. But hold onto your faith and hope and trust. Wait patiently. For Habakkuk and his generation, it will be a 600 year wait for the Messiah to come. For those of us reading this response post-resurrection, the wait is almost 2,000 years and counting. We await Christ’s second coming.

The evils that drew Habakkuk’s complaint remain present today. Personifying evil, God says, “See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright.” Even so, God says to wait, to be patient, to keep the faith. Calling for our trust, God says, “The righteous will live faithfully.” Doing what we can to resist evil, to fight for justice, to do good in the world, may we live faithfully day by day, shining light into the darkness of the world.

Prayer: Lord God, while evil abounds in this world, your love is greater. While evil plots destruction and ruin, your love and grace triumphs in good. Use me day by day to bring light into the darkness, offering the healing and wholeness that Jesus brings to those who are lost and hurting and broken. May it be so today and every day. Amen.