pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Too Wonderful for Me

Reading: Psalm 139: 1-6

Verse 4: “Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord”.

As we begin three days with the reading from Psalm 139, we look today at how intimately God knows us. Notice in the opening six verses how much of the active action is on God’s side of the equation. Yes, the psalmist comes and goes, sits and rises. But it is God who searches and perceives and knows completely. The psalmist understands well the dynamics of a relationship with God. So, on the one hand this Psalm is a great reminder that God is God and, well, we are not. But even moreso it is a reminder of how deep of a relationship God desires to have with every single one of us.

Psalm 139 reveals an intimate relationship. God knows us inside out, from top to bottom. Have you ever had such a good friend that you could finish their sentences and predict to a really high degree what they would say or do in certain situations? Multiply that by about 100 and that is where God is with us. Verse four illustrates this well: “Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord”. The word “completely” reveals the depth of God’s knowledge of you and I. Not only does God know the words we are about to speak, God also knows why we are saying it and he knows the thoughts and emotions and all else behind our words. We also read today that God “perceives my thoughts” too – they don’t even have to become words and God knows our inner self, our heart, our mind. Jesus references this level of God’s care for us in Matthew 6 when he compares God’s care for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field to God’s care and love for us, his children. The degree to which God loves us more is hard to fathom.

In verse five we see a demonstration of how God cares for us. The psalmist writes, “You hem me in”. Imagine Jesus saying “I am the good shepherd” and see yourself within the sheepfold, totally safe and secure. The psalmist continues, “you have laid your hand upon me”. There is a guidance and direction, a leading and protection to these words. So much is involved in God’s relationship with us. Today may we reflect on this and may we rejoice with the psalmist as we too exclaim that this love is “too wonderful” for me. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: O Lord my God, indeed how wonderful you are. And how powerful and intelligent and caring. And how searching and probing and discerning. It is hard to fathom how well you know me. And it is a bit scary. Yet I know that it is love that guides our relationship. I am so thankful for my place in your family. You are an awesome and amazing God. 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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Ears to Listen

Reading: Isaiah 50: 4:9a

Verse 4b: “He awakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught”.

As I read the opening verse of today’s passage I am drawn to God’s call to each of us. As I read the rest of the passage, yes, my mind was drawn to Jesus. But today, for some reason, that feels like too much for me. As I read and reread verse four, James’ words kept coming to me: “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19).

Isaiah begins verse four by acknowledging that the Lord has given him an “instructed tongue”. With this gift he is able to share words that “sustain the weary”. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we all have this same gift. Maybe you are like me and cannot quote scripture very well. And maybe you are like me and tend to have a rush of doubt right before stepping into whatever opportunity God places before you. Yet whether it was a simple phone call to check in on someone or stepping into an ER room just after someone passed, the Holy Spirit has always been faithful. The words have come. Through the power of the Spirit, Jesus Christ will be at work in and through you too as you faithfully offer words of hope, words that sustain and bring comfort to the weary.

Today, though, the second half of verse four speaks to me: “He awakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught”. To listen. To hear another’s heart. To draw close to their fears, their loneliness, their hurt. To listen. It is a wonderful gift we all have. I encourage you today to reach out, to turn your ears to another. Call a friend or two, reach out to a neighbor or older person who might be having a hard time, who might feel isolated or afraid. And listen. Listen to their heart. And if the Holy Spirit leads, offer words of assurance and hope, words of love and care. Be Christ to others today.

Prayer: Father of all, point me to whom you want me to go. Lead and guide me as you will today. 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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Tongue, Mind, and Heart

Reading: James 3: 1-8

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

Taming the tongue is never easy. James is absolutely correct when he writes, “We all stumble in many ways”. Our words are usually what affects others the most, so being in control of our tongue is essential to living a faithful, Christian life.

The tongue is quite small compared to the rest of our body. Like a bit in a horse’s mouth or a rudder on a ship, the small tongue can choose our path or set our course. And like a small spark, our tongue can create a raging fire. James extends the fire idea to our final destination point if we allow our tongues to control us: hell.

The reality is, though, that the tongue cannot speak on its own. The tongue only forms the words brought to it by our minds. So to really control our tongues, we begin with what we put in our minds. When our mind is filled with the evils of the world, then that is what comes out of our mouths. When we fill our minds with the things of God, this is what our tongues speak. If we meditate on God’s Word and know His ways, then our tongues will be filled with faith.

Closely related to what is in our minds is what is in our heart. The same pattern is true here. If we allow anger and bitterness and envy and jealousy to dwell in our hearts, then our mind quickly turns to these things as well. But if instead we fill our hearts with love and mercy and Grace and forgiveness, then these God qualities will be what our mind turns to.

In James 3:8 he writes, “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison”. While it may certainly be true that one cannot ever fully tame the tongue, one can definitely do things that make this task easier. When we fill our hearts and minds with the things of God there is less room for the things of this world. May it be so each and every day.

God, fill me with your Words and with your Holy Spirit. Fill me with you so there is less room for me. Then, may my words and thoughts be pleasing to you, O Lord. May I honor you today. Amen.


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Tongue, Mind, and Heart

Reading: James 3: 1-8

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

Taming the tongue is never easy. James is absolutely correct when he writes, “We all stumble in many ways”. Our words are usually what affects others the most, so being in control of our tongue is essential to living a faithful, Christian life.

The tongue is quite small compared to the rest of our body. Like a bit in a horse’s mouth or a rudder on a ship, the small tongue can choose our path or set our course. And like a small spark, our tongue can create a raging fire. James extends the fire idea to our final destination point if we allow our tongues to control us: hell.

The reality is, though, that the tongue cannot speak on its own. The tongue only forms the words brought to it by our minds. So to really control our tongues, we begin with what we put in our minds. When our mind is filled with the evils of the world, then that is what comes out of our mouths. When we fill our minds with the things of God, this is what our tongues speak. If we meditate on God’s Word and know His ways, then our tongues will be filled with faith.

Closely related to what is in our minds is what is in our heart. The same pattern is true here. If we allow anger and bitterness and envy and jealousy to dwell in our hearts, then our mind quickly turns to these things as well. But if instead we fill our hearts with love and mercy and Grace and forgiveness, then these God qualities will be what our mind turns to.

In James 3:8 he writes, “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison”. While it may certainly be true that one cannot ever fully tame the tongue, one can definitely do things that make this task easier. When we fill our hearts and minds with the things of God there is less room for the things of this world. May it be so each and every day.

God, fill me with your Words and with your Holy Spirit. Fill me with you so there is less room for me. Then, may my words and thoughts be pleasing to you, O Lord. May I honor you today. Amen.


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Understand, Apply, Live

Reading: James 1: 22-27

Verse 27: “Religion… pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”.

In James 1, verses 17 to 21, we are reminded that all good things come from God, that we should listen way more than we speak, and that we should humbly accept the Word planted in us. All of this leads up to the main purpose of our passage today: to do the things that God says to do. Today, James focuses on a few things to do.

In addressing his contemporaries, James is speaking to a problem that he must have witnessed. Jesus also addressed this problem often when dealing with the Pharisees and other religious leaders. These folks knew all of the letters of the Law inside out and could go on and on about it – they just struggled to live it out. Our words from James begin with this same issue too: “do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says”. An example today would be the person who leaves church to go to the bar. The person proceeds to get drunk and to curse at their team on TV. The next morning they scoff at the homeless beggar as they drive to work scheming how to dishonestly earn a few extra bucks. And, yes, they are listening to the Christian radio station as they drive. Instead, James suggests to look intently into the Word of God – to study it and to understand it so that we can live it. In doing so we discover a freedom as we live God’s ways instead of the ways of the world.

In the closing verses today, James gets to the heart of living out our faith. He returns again to the idea in verses 19 and 20, reminding us to keep a “tight rein” on our tongues. Then James gives us two more action points. In verse 27 James writes, “Religion… pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”. First, look after those in need. Orphans and widows would have been shorthand for all in need. Not coincidentally, we see this concept as a major emphasis in Jesus’ life and ministry. Second, live in the world but do not be of the world. Be the example of God’s love amidst the pain and brokenness. Be the light that shines hope into the darkness. Be the hand that offers a hand up and not just a hand out. Have an active and engaging faith. Don’t just read the Word, but understand it, apply it to your life, and live it out. May it be so.


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Controlled by God

Reading: Romans 8: 6-11

Verse 6: The mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.

Paul establishes an either/or situation in today’s reading.  Either we are controlled by the Spirit or we are controlled by the flesh.  Either we submit to God’s ways or we pursue our sinful nature.  Either we are alive as Christ dwells in us or we are destined for death.  Either we are filled with God’s peace or we are hostile to God.  Paul is drawing some clear distinctions.

For Paul, being a part of God’s family was a universal invitation.  He did not see any limitations on who could live in covenant relationship with God.  It was not by birth that one gains access.  This remains true today – some born into a “Christian home” never find a faith of their own and others raised in a secular home come to a deep faith.  Paul also saw no barriers in regards to race or ethnicity or nationality or status or anything else one could name.  We also see this today.  Jesus’ mandate to “make disciples of all people of all nations” has brought the gospel all around the world.

There are many, many people today who are active participants in fulfilling the great commission of Jesus.  While some are in far away places bringing the Word of God to every tribe and tongue, most of us operate in a much smaller, more local context.  While our prayers may go far and wide for the work of the church universal, our actions and words most often impact those close at hand.  Those affected can be family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, classmates, and even strangers.

When our “mind is controlled by the Spirit”, we exhibit a life of peace and love and hope.  When we are filled with the Spirit, our lives are different than those whose live by the flesh.  We do not chase after the things of the world because the Spirit helps us and leads us to trust in and to rest in God.  We live life longing for and trusting in an eternal time when we will forever dwell in the light and love of Christ.  The day to day of this life is small change.  We are not held captive to but are set free from the power of sin and death that so easily entangles the world.  We follow God’s ways and offer love and hope and peace to the world.  This day may our lives be a living testimony to the power and presence of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit within us, drawing others into the kingdom of God.


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Listening and Talking

Reading: Isaiah 50: 4-9a

God gifts us with many good things.  Two of them are our tongue and our ears.  Over time we too can become like Isaiah, having an “instructed tongue”.  We do this by developing a close relationship with God so that His Word is deep within us.  This is accomplished by faithful Bible reading and study, by a consistent and committed prayer life, and by an active and engaged worship life.  As we immerse ourselves in the things of God, we come to have an instructed tongue.  While I do believe in the old saying that God gave us two ears and one tongue so that we can listen twice as much as we talk, I am also convinced that there is great power in our words.

Like Isaiah in today’s text, we too can give attention to God so that He can awaken our ears.  When we take the time and slow down and really listen, we can hear a lot.  When we are fully tuned into the one before us, we are able to hear much more than the words they are saying.  We are able to understand their needs below the surface level.  From this point of view our ” instructed tongue” can offer much to another in need.

God also desires to awaken our ears to the world out there.  He desires for us to be in the world to make a difference, to make the world a better place.  God desires for our ears to hear the cries of the needy, to hear the wails against injustice, and to hear the sighs of the suffering.  It is very necessary to hear those in need if we are going to respond.  We must be listening closely and understanding deeply if we are going to be able to bring the light, love, and hope of Jesus Christ to where God calls us.  When we hear and respond, we are  being His hands and feet.  When we do so, God will direct our instructed tongue to share His message and all else that He offers our brothers and sisters in need.


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Guard the Tongue!

As human beings we are created with quick and gifted minds.  We can create and solve and figure out all sorts of imaginative inventions and complex designs and perplexing problems.  We can learn to do many different tasks and hone specific skills.  We can even learn to speak multiple languages.  Our minds are amazing creations.

“No one can tame the tongue” states James.  There are many, many instances each day where we can prove him right.  Sometimes it is us that does so, sometimes we observe others doing so.  The list of words uttered that I wish I had not said is quite a long list.  We all have similar lists.  But if one were to look at the list chronologically, hopefully one would see a pattern emerging.  As one grows in the maturity of one’s faith, you would hope to see increasing gaps between the items on the list.  A growing and developing faith should exhibit itself in how we speak to and treat one another.

James indeed does pose the question of how can we praise God with the same tongue we curse our fellow man.  It is a good question.  The simple and correct answer is that we cannot do this.  But the reality is that we do struggle with controlling our tongue.  Sometimes our amazing brains are too quick and out of our mouths comes something that should not.

At the point of hurting or harming another with our tongue, first we must offer a sincere and humble apology to all offended.  Second, we must look within and go to work at taming the tongue better.  Third, we too must be merciful and gracious when we are stung or hurt.  We are all on the same journey to draw closer and closer to God, to become more and more like His Son, Jesus.  Each day may we guard our tongues so that our light can shine brightest into the world all around us.

Scripture reference: James 3: 5b-12