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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Refined and Purified

Reading: Malachi 3: 1-4

Verse 3: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.”

Photo credit: Kim West

Today in Malachi we move forward from the ancient to the present. The process that God described as necessary for the priests and the temple is also necessary for our faith development. John the Baptist began the process as he prepared the way for the one who would call each of us into a personal relationship with the Lord our God. It is through this relationship that we are refined and purified.

In verse three we read, “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” No matter how we come to Christ as Lord and Savior – whether through a slow and steady process or in a moment of sudden realization of our need – all who believe come to a moment of decision. At that moment we ask Jesus into our heart, into our lives. We make a commitment to giving Jesus authority over all areas of our lives. We commit our time, energy, resources, talents, finances… to loving God/Jesus and neighbor more than self. Just as a couple joins hands and commits to a lifelong covenant, so too do we in this moment of decision. We commit to love no matter what.

If you are or ever have been married or been in a long-term relationship, you know that some days it is hard to love the other. Our own selfish desires and many other distractions cause us to stumble and to fail to honor our commitment. Here is where the refiner and purifier steps in. Over and over Jesus Christ, through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, calls us back to love. Through the process of conviction, confession, repentance, and forgiveness we are refined and purified. Each time through we are remade again, each time a little closer to the image of God within us. For our part we must stay connected to Jesus Christ through worship, study, prayer… We also must remain open to the voice and nudge of the Holy Spirit and to the working of God in our lives. If so we will become more and more like those Malachi speaks of: people who offer all of ourselves to God and neighbor in righteousness. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and heart to hearing and knowing your voice. Drive down my pride and ego so that I may see my faults and sins. Elevate my humility so that I gladly accept your loving hand, leading, guiding, correcting, refining, purifying. Moment by moment make me more like you. Amen.


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Making Jesus Known

Reading: John 16: 12-15

Verse 14: “He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you”.

Jesus begins by telling the disciples that there is much more to learn and understand, but they are not ready yet. To know all about Jesus would be “more than you can bear”. Our journey of faith is just the same. We learn and understand enough to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior but are far from knowing and fully understanding him and his call upon our life. A faithful Christian will spend all of one’s life becoming more and more like Jesus. To guide this process Jesus promises a companion, an advocate, a counselor – “the Spirit of truth”. Again, this is an ongoing process – one that only culminates in eternity. As modern day disciples this too is our promise, our gift, our hope.

In verse fourteen Jesus explains the process. Here he says, “He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you”. The Holy Spirit will take Jesus – his words and teachings, his example and witness – and instill him within each disciple. In and through the Holy Spirit’s power and presence each disciple is transformed increasingly into the image of Jesus Christ. With Jesus’ Spirit within us, we are sent out into the world to share and witness to the love and saving power of our Lord and Savior. In thought, word, and deed may we glorify God this day and every day. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord God, you are my rock and shield, my strength and my defender. You are my only hope, my daily love. Use me today to bear witness to these things to all I meet. Amen.


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Habits and Practices

Reading: John 2: 18-22

Verse 20: “It has taken 46 years to build this temple”.

Yesterday we read about Jesus clearing the temple and we’re asked to consider where we could stand against some wrongs or evils in the world around us. In today’s passage we see the reaction of the religious leaders – those in charge of the temple. They want to know by what authority Jesus can do what he has done. In a way, they are asking if they can just go back to business as usual tomorrow, when he is gone. They ask for a sign and Jesus does give them one. They will just have to wait to see the truth of him rising after three days in the grave. Most of the religious leaders will deny that event too. Almost all will fail to connect Jesus’ resurrection to his answer to the question about his authority.

The market place in the temple courts probably began simply – some guy looking to help out travelers from afar by selling doves for sacrifices. And then another guy set up shop selling sheep. Eventually the sellers moved out inside the temple courts and some priest thought about requiring temple coins for their purchases. Money changers became a necessity and soon enough a thriving enterprise was born. Jesus challenged the corruption of this system. In response to Jesus’ cryptic answer the religious leaders say, “It has taken 46 years to build this temple”. In a way they are saying that the temple and the market place have always been here. In our churches and other organizations we say, “We’ve always done it that way”. So what it has become broken or corrupt or no longer is effective or isn’t holy or sacred anymore? One of the good things about the pandemic is that it has forced us to examine the practices and routines of the church. This season has been a time to let some things die, to imagine new possibilities, and to make changes to things that were ineffective, irrelevant, or outdated. Many of us have gone through the same process in our own lives and in our faith. This season of Lent invites us to do that hard work, to go deeper.

Although perhaps not 46 years, what habits or practices have you fallen into or out of that have lessened your walk with the Lord? What needs changed?

Prayer: Dear Lord, you still have the ability to do wonders and to work miracles. What in me needs addressed? Open my eyes to see and bind my will to yours. Make me more like you. Amen.


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Once New Again

Reading: Judges 4: 1-7

Verses 1 and 2: “The Israelites once again did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord sold them into the hands of…”

Today’s passage is from the book of Judges. This book covers the time period when there was no king in Israel. One after another a judge rules or leads Israel. In today’s reading Deborah the prophetess is acting as the judge or ruler of Israel. In our opening verses we read, “The Israelites once again did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord sold them into the hands of…”. In today’s passage it is Canaan who rules over Israel. The … can be followed by many different names – Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans… The process of “doing evil” is familiar: the people sin, there is a period of oppression, this leads to crying out to God, and then God restores Israel. This is an often repeated process for Israel.

This is a process that we are also familiar with, especially on a personal level. In our battles with sin, in our attempts to be obedient and faithful, we often have our “how did I get here again?” moments. How did I let pride get in the way of doing right again? How did I allow anger to win again? How did I give in to ___ again? Our weak, imperfect human condition makes us prone to the same cycle or process that we see scattered throughout the Old Testament and continued into the New Testament. The ministry of Jesus did not fix us; it did not remove our human weakness and our tendency towards the things of this world. It did, however, change the process. The “time in the hands of…” is no longer required. The time in oppression, the time in exile, the loss of freedom is no longer needed. On the cross, Jesus made atonement for our sins. With his life Jesus served the consequence. Sometimes there is an earthly consequence that we must suffer through. Our sin can damage a relationship or can violate earthly laws. There are costs to these things. But through the gift of grace and the giving of mercy, we are made new again, our sin is washed away, we are restored back into right relationship with God. In the process we do learn, we do grow from our failures, we do gain strength in the battle again sin. More importantly we learn just as Israel learned: God never gives up. God keeps working in our lives, keeps restoring us, keeps calling us to deeper obedience and to a more faithful walk. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Dear God, thousands and thousands of times I have stumbled and fallen. Even though it is almost beyond counting, your grace is greater. Even though I struggle to forgive just a few slights, your mercy never ends. So great a love is hard to fathom. In utter humility I thank you for loving a sinner like me. You are truly love and grace and mercy lived out. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Lord of Love

Reading: Matthew 21: 23-27

Verse 23: “The chief priests and elders came to him. ‘By what authority are you doing these things’? they asked”.

In today’s passage Jesus is in the temple, the home court of the religious leaders. He is teaching. Not just anyone can enter the temple courts and begin preaching. Not quite ready to simply run him out, the leaders ask Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things”? Jesus is not what they envisioned for the Messiah, so they have a hard time seeing him for who he is.

People still do this today. Jesus is not exactly who they want him to be or he doesn’t function as they’d like him to, so they refuse to believe in him. Some expect Jesus to “do” certain things or to make life good. They cannot equate trials and sufferings to the Lord of love, so they abandon him too early in the process. When Jesus doesn’t immediately swoop in and fix things, they think him powerless. This was part of the religious leaders problem. They envisioned a conquering, Roman defeating Messiah. Jesus was a humble, surrendering Savior.

The religious leaders wanted Jesus to fit into their world. They also knew that he wasn’t just a man or some prophet. They acknowledge his power, admitting that he is “doing these things”. No one else can heal and make people whole again. But they want the Messiah to be one of them and Jesus is not. We too can want Jesus to be like us instead of us being like Jesus. This cannot be. Our love is limited, our surrender only partial. Jesus is the perfect example of God’s love – willing to humble himself fully, willing to give all of himself in surrender. He is the Messiah that came to save us all. He served through love. May we too seek to be like this Jesus, the model of love.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to the Lord of love. May his love fill me and overflow into the lives of all I meet. In that love, shape me into a humble servant of all. Amen.


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In and With Christ

Reading: Matthew 18: 18-20

Verse 20: “For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them”.

Today’s verses remind us that if we seek to make Jesus a part of our decisions, our actions, and our prayers, then he will be there with us. Coming out of his teaching on the process of seeking reconciliation with a brother or sister in Christ, Jesus reminds us that what we bind on earth (or loose) will be bound (or loosed) in heaven. That is pretty serious. Yet when we have walked the process and have covered it in prayer, we are assured of the outcome.

Walking the process, staying attuned to Jesus’ teachings and witness, covering it all in prayer – these steps form the foundation of verse nineteen as well. If we gather with our brothers and/or sisters in Christ and we come to a decision that has been covered in Christ, then we are told that God in heaven will respond. Again, the condition is the same. In the last verse we read, “For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them”. When we gather in Jesus’ name to discern the will of God or to bring our righteous prayers to God, then Jesus is always there. There is power in aligning ourselves with God and in inviting Jesus and his witness into our discussions, decisions, and actions. Jesus will shape and guide all we do when gathered as his disciples and as children of God.

As need arises may we gather physically with our brothers and sisters in Christ and with Christ himself in Spirit, trusting the Father to lead and guide and bless all we do and say and pray. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving Father, help me to always seek your will and your ways first and foremost. Lead me to like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ that we may seek your guidance together. Strengthen the community of faith through our communal prayers. Make us alive in you. Amen.


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Out There

Reading: 1st Peter 2: 4-10

Verse 5: “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house, to be a royal priesthood”.

Peter establishes a connection in today’s passage between THE living stone and the followers of Jesus. He opens with these words: “as you come to him”. Our process of becoming like the living stone begins by establishing a relationship with Jesus Christ. We must take the first step towards Jesus. As we choose to walk with the one who was precious and chosen by God, we begin to be transformed. As we come to Christ we are made more into his image. As we repeat this process over and over again, we grow to become closer and closer to who and what Jesus was and is. In this process we become the love, compassion, mercy, grace, and kindness of Jesus Christ himself. As we do so, as we are transformed, we also help to transform the world.

In verse five Peter describes this process. Here he writes, “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house, to be a royal priesthood”. Today we too easily see and make our churches into physical houses. We come inside the walls to worship and pray and to study. All of this is good but our faith cannot be something we revisit just on Sunday morning or on Wednesday evenings. Yes, Jesus himself taught and worshipped in the temple and synagogues. But that was a very small part of his ministry and faith. Most of Jesus’ faith energy was poured into people’s lives bringing healing and wholeness. This most often occurred outside the physical walls as Jesus sought to build the kingdom here on earth – a spiritual house, if you will. This is the type of a faith life that Peter is calling us to.

As I think about my own life, this challenge to be a living stone, to be a part of the royal priesthood outside of the walls of the church is difficult. When being honest I must admit that my ratio of inside to outside the walls is about the opposite of Jesus’ ratio. It is a challenge to all of us to live out more of our faith out there in the world. Today, may we each find a way to be like Christ out there in the world. May it be so.

Prayer: Living God, there are people and places here in Winner that need to know your love and mercy and grace and forgiveness. Open my eyes to one today and lead my feet to that person or place. May it be so today. Amen.


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Deeper

Reading: 1st Samuel 16: 1-13

Verse 7: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart“.

In today’s passage, David is anointed to be the next king of Israel. At the time, Saul is the king. He is in good health and will remain the king for some time. David is going to learn and grow and mature before stepping into this role that God has selected him for. It is a process. The process will be guided by God. In verse thirteen we read, “from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David”. From God’s perspective this all made sense. After all, it is his plan.

From the human perspective, it was confusing at best. Once the hurdles were all crossed and Samuel is present with Jesse and most of his family, the parade of prospects begins. One by one Jesse’s sons pass before Samuel, horn of oil at the ready. The oldest son is Eliab. Seeing him Samuel immediately thinks he is the one. Eliab must have been tall and handsome, muscular and refined. But God tells Samuel “no”. I imagine the horn of oil dropped a little bit just then, going further and further down as each son passes by, until at last it dangles by his side.

We too can fall into the trap that Samuel and Jesse and probably all the elders and sons fell into. We too judge by appearance. The appearance may be physical, it may be based on the college they attended, it may be by the car they drive or the home they occupy, it may be by the title that hangs outside their office door, it may be by the position they play on the team. These would be valid tools for judgment if all that mattered was their drive to get to the top. Sadly, though, when we judge by what we can first see, then we often fail to go any deeper. Too often that first judgment prevents us from going deeper and prevents us from seeing who and what someone really is. God had a word for us today when this is our first tendency: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart“.

Tying this thought into the model set by the one we follow, we see what this good word from God looks like lived out in the world. Jesus never ever stopped at tax collector or Samaritan or woman or leper or prostitute or blind or possessed or… Jesus always pressed deeper, developing a relationship that went far beyond some surface-level label. Going deeper, the labels always fell away. May we too strive to go deeper, to go way past labels and first appearances. May we too strive to get to know the heart of each we meet, for there we begin to see as God sees. May it be so.

Prayer: Father God, help me to practice you counter-cultural and counter-intuitive love today. Help me to see those needs that you place before me and to fill them with your love. Amen.


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The Gift

Reading: Romans 5: 12-19

Verse 16: “The judgment followed one one and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification”.

At times I have known people who take the time to be present. After an unexpected loss many years ago my old youth pastor was that person for me. We spent hours together as I worked out my grief. To me it felt like he would’ve sat and listened and talked forever. He made me feel like I was all that there was in the world to him. God seemed to reside in his very being. Have you ever been in the presence of someone like that?

The process that we are invited to walk through in Lent leads us to become more of who God created us to be. Jesus was one who focused right in on whoever was before him and they became all that mattered. In Lent we are called to look within and to search out those parts of ourselves that are selfish and that are focused on the things of this world. These parts of each of us prevent us from being able to truly focus on the other. When we seek to rid ourselves of these things we become more like Jesus and then we will begin to see the other.

In the garden, Adam turned and focused on self. In a moment he stepped outside of a right relationship with God. Sin became part of humanity’s struggle. In verse sixteen we read, “The judgment followed one one and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification”. God did not leave us dead in our sins. The gift of Jesus Christ was given to us so that sin and death would not be the end. Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ, he who gifts us the victory.

Prayer: Father God, you are so, so good to me. I deserve much less but you are so much more. Thank you for your grace, your love, your mercy, your forgiveness – all to make me new again. I love you Lord! Amen.