pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Falling Short

Reading: 1st Corinthians 8: 1-6

Verse 3: “The man who loves God is known by God”.

Paul begins this section on food sacrificed to idols by speaking of knowledge. He is talking about what is inside our heads. This is usually where faith begins. Most Christians follow the same path: learning about God, Jesus, and faith in Sunday school, youth group… as they mature in faith until one day the head knowledge becomes heart truth. As is true with almost everything in life, in our faith we understand more and more the longer we journey in faith. Within the Corinthian church some were relying their superior knowledge and it was causing division and it was hindering the faith journey of the new believers. In our churches today, we still do this at times. We allow our knowledge to “puff” us up.

The first way this happens is when we make our churches feel exclusive. We all look and talk alike, we act alike, we appear to be perfect Christians. We have those that we gravitate to each Sunday morning. A visitor can feel like an outsider very quickly, especially when they are not like the homogeneous crowd. Someone who comes because they are struggling with something really feels out of place when they enter a room full of people without any faults or issues. To further create a sense of “us” and “them” we use insider language and big fancy words. Maybe most regulars know what sanctification, justification, atonement, sacrament… mean. But if you are new to the faith, these terms can make you feel like an outsider very quickly.

In the Corinthian church the mature believers knew “that an idol is nothing at all”. To them, idols were just carved pieces of stone or wood. The mature believers knew that there was only one God, only one Lord. But for the new believers, the ones who had grown up worshipping these idols all their lives, this idea was a struggle. The mature believers were saying, in essence, “just get over it”, “just believe what I say I believe”. They were not willing to walk in love with their new brothers and sisters in Christ. They were not willing to enter the struggle, to walk alongside the one wrestling with their conscience.

We do this in our churches when we fail to talk about our sins and struggles. Church becomes a social club for the perfect and for the saints. Nope, no sin here. We know all we need to know to be good little Christians. In verse three Paul writes, “The man who loves God is known by God”. Loving God must lead to loving others. Jesus unpacks the truth of this idea in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25: 31-46). When we say we love God, when we say all are welcome in our churches but do not really welcome the sinners and broken people into our communities of faith, we are falling short. When we look down on those “obviously” dealing with sin by making them feel unwelcome, we are falling short. When we indirectly but clearly say come back when you have your life together, we are falling short. May it not be so church. May it not be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to truly love others as a witness to my love for you. Strip away my pride and judgmental tendencies, guide me to walk side by side in love with those in struggle, with those living outside of your love. Give me the courage to admit my struggles and sins within the body of Christ. Grant me a welcoming and compassionate spirit. Amen.


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Baptized into Jesus

Reading: Acts 19: 1-7

Verses 5-6: “They were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus… the Holy Spirit came on them”.

This week we have been looking at God’s creativity and power and strength and majesty found in creation. The call or response has been to praise and give glory to God. The passages from Genesis 1, Psalm 29, and Isaiah 60 were mostly corporate, focusing on God’s love for and interaction with those who believe. In today’s passage that love becomes more personal.

As we begin, we learn that Paul travels to Ephasus to preach and teach. Upon arriving he encounters some disciples of Jesus. There must have been something different about these men. Paul asks them if they have received the Holy Spirit. It is something they have never even heard of. Finding out that they received John’s baptism (a baptism of repentance), Paul points them towards being baptized in Jesus’ name. Desiring this baptism, the men are baptized in Jesus’ name. It is then that the “Holy Spirit came on them”. The result of the indwelling Spirit is that they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There was an obvious change in these twelve men. The baptism in Jesus’ name led to transformation. They were different now.

As we consider the sacrament of baptism about 2,000 years later, the same essentials remain. Whether your faith tradition baptizes mostly infants or mostly adults, whether your tradition immerses or sprinkles with water – it does not matter. It is not the pastor or the priest that changes or transforms the person in any way. God alone has the power. The clergy person is certainly a part of the sacrament but God is the change agent. To think otherwise would be akin to saying the kid who brought the new batch of baseballs to the umpire is responsible for the home run hit two pitches later.

In baptism one is inviting the power of God to be a part of that person’s life. Faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior remains the catalyst for baptism. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit remains the result of baptism. Inclusion into the family of God begins the transformation process as one speaks and lives in a new and different way. The language of God’s love becomes the baptized believer’s primary language. It is a language that we become more proficient with as we continue to grow in Jesus Christ as we are led by the Spirit, being transformed day by day.

As we go forth in the world today, may we celebrate our place in the family of God, seeking to speak the language of love to the world. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you lead and guide me from within and without. Your presence lives in me and your word and example are also a part of my daily life. Thank you so much for calling me and claiming me as one of your own. Amen.


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Unity and Diversity

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12: 3b-13

Verse 12: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts… they form one body”.

Paul is writing today about the balance of unity and diversity. Whether in church or politics, whether on a team or in a family, this balance is essential if that organization or group is going to be its best. An organization or group can function in total unity but it is less than it would be with some diversity. Yet if one swings to the other extreme and only diversity is honored, it can challenge the functioning of the organization or group. When an organization or group is sure of those essential beliefs or elements that bring unity, there is often space created for diversity.

We have all been in an organization or group where everyone was or wanted to be the same or equal. On Pentecost all the believers were given the same gift – to speak in different languages. Imagine, though, how incomplete the church would be if that was the only gift of the Spirit. Imagine if the Spirit did not give wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, and prophesying too. If everyone in the church was exactly the same, how hard it would be to learn and grow in the faith. So instead the Spirit “gives them to each one, just as he determines”. Our diversity of gifts allows the church to accomplish far more for the kingdom of God.

In verses twelve and thirteen Paul speaks to the idea of unity and diversity existing in balance. Here he writes, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts… they form one body”. Think about what you would be without a heart or without a spine or without a foot or without ears. You would definitely be less – if you were anything at all. The church is the same. Through the gifts of the Holy Spirit each and every one of us has something to offer that makes the whole better. Yes, when people withhold or do not use the gifts that they have been given, the church is less.

Paul reminds us that we were all baptized into one body by the one Spirit. May that be evident in our words, thoughts, and actions each day.

Prayer: God of all, help me to cherish diversity amidst our unity. Guide me to value each person for the gift that they are and for the gifts that they bring. Lead me to help folks see and develop and use their gifts for the better building of your kingdom. Amen.


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Both New and Old

Reading: Acts 2: 1-21

Verse 4: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them”.

As we continue to look at Acts 2 we focus in today on communication. A small group of Jesus followers is gathered together and the Holy Spirit bursts in and settles on each one. At that moment, “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them”. The languages that they spoke matched up with the native tongues of the Jews that were drawn there and this helped them to connect to the story of Jesus Christ. As I shared yesterday, we each have our own unique “language” or experience that can speak into another person’s life, drawing them to our source of new life.

In this pandemic time we have had to learn and relearn how to communicate when we cannot be face to face. Many people became familiar with apps like Zoom and FaceTime and Google chat. Some of us even became somewhat proficient at using these platforms to gather for Bible studies and meetings and family birthdays… In many churches the leap was made to provide online worship as YouTube and Facebook Live and other platforms were quickly learned and used. Folks at home also had to adjust to how they heard and participated in online worship – honing their new communication skills.

We have also relearned some skills that we practiced back in the days without social media and cell phones. We call and talk on the phone, catching up and checking in on one another. We send actual notes and cards in the mail. Some have even had conversations with folks from afar – talking through windows and screen doors. It has been good to be reminded that the “old-fashioned” ways to communicate are every bit as good as texting, messaging, … It has been good for me, for us, to be reminded of the value of simply checking in, of reaching out, of connecting in more personal ways.

As we begin to work our way back to whatever our new normal is, may we continue to learn and use the technology when beneficial and necessary. But let us also hold fast to all of these “old” modes of communication as well because they are often more personal, more real, more valued to many. May all these things be so as we seek to share our faith each day.

Prayer: Lord God, sharing your love and hope and grace can happen in many forms. In this season you have reminded me of the value of personal communication in new and old ways. Thank you. Help me to discern how to best communicate these means of faith to others today and every day. Amen.


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Speaking and Hearing

Reading: Acts 2: 1-11

Verse 11: “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues”.

Today and for the next two days we will focus on Pentecost – the day largely accepted as the birthday of the church. A small group of Jesus’ followers were gathered together for worship. A loud and powerful wind announced the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Represented by what appeared to be “tongues of fire” that lit on each one, the followers were filled by the Holy Spirit.

Meanwhile, Jews from all around the city were drawn by the sound of the wind. These Jews were from all over the known world – come to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the three yearly Jewish festivals. Filled with the Spirit, Jesus’ followers begin to each speak in languages native to these Jews. The Jews from around the world are bewildered because “we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues”. How could these simple Galileans be speaking in so many different languages? Clearly something amazing is going on here!

The followers speaking in tongues is only part of the miracle though. The Holy Spirit was not just at work among the followers of Jesus. Just because words are spoken, it does not mean they are heard. Many of the Jews there that day had open ears and receptive hearts. It will still take a little Holy Spirit fueled preaching by Peter to really help bring them to Christ, but with the Spirit’s continued work the church will grow that day.

Each of us is a follower who could do what was done in today’s passage. Our gifted language may not be Egyptian or Arabic or any other foreign language. But it is addiction or divorce or grief or abuse or justice or single parenthood… Each of us has stories about the “wonders of God” in our own lives. If we are sensitive to and pay attention to the Holy Spirit living inside each of us, we will have opportunities to speak new life into someone else’s ear. Will your words be the miracle of healing or recovery or restoration or belonging that someone needs to hear? Are you ready to speak?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, my journey to this point has been long and filled with many Holy Spirit experiences. Help me to see each as a step in my journey, as a possible step in another’s journey of faith. May the Holy Spirit be at work in me, leading and guiding me to tell the story of faith as I have opportunity. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Sharing Our Story

Reading: Acts 2: 5-21

Verse 17: “In the last days, I will pour out my Holy Spirit on all people”.

In the opening chapter of Acts, Jesus ascends to heaven and the disciples choose Matthais to replace Judas, once again bringing the number of disciples to twelve.  Just before ascending, Jesus tells them that they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem and that they will be “my witnesses… to the ends of the earth”.  Acts 2 opens with the coming of the promised Holy Spirit.  It enables the followers of Jesus to speak in other languages.

In today’s passage,they speak in the languages of all those Jews who have come to see what the violent wind meant.  It meant come and hear the good news of Jesus Christ – at least that’s what God purpose for it was!  Amazed and perplexed by what is happening, they asked one another, “What does this mean”?  This was a totally new experience for everyone involved.  Some question what is going on, forcing Peter to stand up to offer an explanation.

Peter connects back to the Old Testament scriptures and to the prophet Joel.  Peter is using what they are familiar with to help them understand what they just experienced.  Peter is an excellent evangelist.  Evangelism 101 tells us that if we want to share Jesus Christ with another, we should first get to know their story.  Jesus also usually followed this basic pattern as well, often getting to know another’s needs.  So we are in good company if our first step of evangelism or mission is to begin to form a relationship with the other.  Peter has a basic relationship with his audience, being a Jew himself.  Sometimes this is the case with us too.  When we share our faith story with someone we know, we usually know some of their story.  In these cases, we can tie our story into their story.

In Acts 2, that is what Peter does.  He uses Joel’s prophetic words to explain what has just happened there that day in Jerusalem.  Joel predicted it, the Jews know the prediction, and now they have witnessed it being fulfilled.  Peter connects the dots to show how God is at work in the world and in their lives.  When we have the chance to share our faith story, we too must connect the story of what Jesus has done in our lives with the vision of what He could do in the life of the one we are ministering to.  This day, may we seek an opportunity to be a witness to our faith, opening the door for another to take a step of faith.  May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to find opportunity today to share my faith.  May my story connect with another, helping them to step towards a relationship with Jesus Christ, your Son.  Amen.


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Fill Us, Holy Spirit

Reading: Acts 2: 1-4

Verses 3-4: “… tongues of fire… came and rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit”.

Tomorrow we celebrate Pentecost Sunday in many of our churches. It is thought of as the birthday of the church. Two different groups were gathered in Jerusalem for two different reasons. The disciples of Jesus were gathered, waiting for the arrival of the promised Holy Spirit. Jews were also gathered, there to celebrate the Feast of Weeks. This annual festival fifty days after Passover was known as “Pentecost” in Greek. These two groups would be gathered under one roof as the loud noise, sounding like a “violent wind”, draws them together.

For the disciples who were gathered, they experienced something extraordinary. In verses 3-4 we read, “… tongues of fire… came and rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit”. With a tangible and very visible sign, that which Jesus promised arrived. The gift that will teach and remind also gives the gift of speaking in many different languages. This remains one gift that the Spirit gives to those who follow Jesus.

I am currently at Annual Conference – the yearly gathering of United Methodist churches. My Annual Conference consists of the UM churches in South and North Dakota. Last night we had our “Celebration of Life in Ministry” service. In worship we celebrate the ministry of those no longer with us. We celebrate those who have graduated and those becoming provisional members and those being ordained as elders or deacons. It is a wonderful night of celebrating ministry. It begins with a welcome from a clergy from another denomination. Last night it was an Episcopal priest that our Bishop met while visiting the Standing Rock Reservation. This special guest represents our ties as the larger body of Christ, together under “one roof” as the Bishop put it in his message. Near the end of worship our Bishop always invites those whose hearts have been warmed, those perhaps feeling a call to ministry, to come forward.

As the Bishop prepared to give the benediction, the Episcopal priest asked to speak. He spoke of how our two denominations are close – Methodism was “birthed” by the Episcopals. And he spoke of how his heart was full and was warmed by this movement of the Holy Spirit among us and in our hearts. He spoke of how we are under one big roof – drawn together by God. Yes, God was once again at work in a very tangible and powerful way, speaking once again into our hearts. This day I look forward to having the Holy Spirit speak in my heart once again. May it be so for you as well.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for filling my heart as well last night. Thank you so much for loving us so much that you work on being in relationship with each of us. Fill me up again today, Lord. Amen.


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A Great Multitude

Reading: Revelation 7: 9-12

Verse 9: “A great multitude… from every nation, tribe, people, language, standing before the throne”.

Today’s passage is a wonderful one for today in our world and for many of our churches. John writes of this assembly that is a “great multitude”. This diverse body of believers gathers around the throne, in front of the Lamb, and worships. All are dressed in white robes and are waving palm branches. There is unity that comes from faith in Jesus Christ alone. This image casts a wide circle that seems to exclude no one. The gathering includes “every nation, tribe, people, language, standing before the throne”.

As Christians, how do we reflect this attitude in our lives and in our world? As a nation, we are struggling with who to allow into the land. As churches, we are struggling with who to allow into membership and leadership. As individuals, we are struggling with who is worthy of our love and care and friendship. When I look at Jesus’ life in the gospels, I see one who loved and ministered to and welcomed one and all. Jesus’ circle did not have any exceptions or any loopholes. How can ours?

In Revelation we see that people “from every nation, tribe, people, language” are standing in the presence of God, worshipping together as one. All the angels and elders and four living creatures join all of humanity to fall to their faces before God, worshipping and declaring “praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength to God for ever and ever”. May we too join their worship today, becoming the great multitude of God’s people, one and all. Amen.

Prayer: Help me to love all of my brothers and sisters just as your Son did. May I worship this day with all I meet. Amen.


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Holy Spirit Speaking

Reading: Acts 2: 1-21

Verse Six: “When they heard the sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language”.

Jesus had been out there in the public eye during His ministry. Yes, He was a regular in the temple and synagogues, but most of His ministry was spent out in the world. In the days since Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, the disciples have gotten a bit bolder but they are still relatively quiet about spreading the good news. And then Pentecost happens.

Pentecost was originally a Jewish holiday. More properly named “Shavuot”, it occurs fifty days after Passover and celebrates the end of harvest season. Also known as the “Feast of Weeks”, this holy event drew pilgrims to Jerusalem from all over the world. This is why the list of places in verses nine through eleven is so long.

The Holy Spirit, the gift that Jesus has promised, arrives large and loud. No more quietly spreading the good news. With a “sound like the blowing of a violent wind”, the Holy Spirit enters the house where the believers have gathered. We assume that the group numbered about 120 or so. Tongues of fire fall on each one and they begin speaking in many languages. The noise of the Holy Spirit’s arrival drew a large crowd of Jews and these people from all over the world hear the Word of God proclaimed in their own native tongues. The Holy Spirit allowed ministry to happen. Peter goes on to preach to the crowd and about 3,000 are added to their number that day. The church grows by leaps and bounds as the Holy Spirit moves the church out into the wider world.

This same Holy Spirit wants to be at work in our lives as well. This same Holy Spirit wants to speak through you and me to draw others to Jesus Christ. This same Holy Spirit will give us the “language” we need to use to share the story of Jesus, the good news, with all we meet. Holy Spirit, pour out upon all of us today, allowing each of us to be used to speak the hope and love of Jesus into the lives of the unsaved and the hurting. Use us today, O Lord.


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An Unknown God

Hainidni knnuj womqnf.  Plnye!  How about transubstantiation or prevenient?  No?  Then how about lol, bff, dk?  Now are we speaking the same language?  Maybe, maybe not.

Just as Paul chose to learn the thoughts and ways of the Athenians, we too must learn and know the ways of non-believers if we want to be able to reach them for Christ.  Now I am not saying we need to become like them or to do the things the do, but we have to be able to relate and to “speak their language”.

Paul realize when he saw their altar to “an unknown god” that they were a spiritual people.  Paul knew they were searching for something.  A high percentage of people today recognize or believe that there is a god, they just don’t know God.  Many non-believers can sense that ‘hole’ in their life that they just can’t seem to fill with stuff or human relationships or…  Take courage today in Paul’s words and chose to put them into action: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”