pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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It Is I

Reading: John 6: 16-21

Verse 21: “It is I; do not be afraid”.

Photo credit: Karen Alsop

As we return to John 6 we see the disciples in a tough spot. The wind was howling and the waves were crashing. Three hours from shore, bailing water, rowing furiously – not a good place to be. And here comes Jesus, walking to them, across the water. It is interesting that when they see Jesus approaching “they were terrified”.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes my life gets messy. Sometimes it is because I have too much going on and the wind and waves are about to overwhelm me. Sometimes it is because of a choice I have made or am making – I just want to hide in the darkness. In these situations and more, I can recognize the disciples’ fear. I don’t want Jesus to see my mess or the choices made to create distance between us. Have you been there too? And yet Jesus speaks to me and to you just as he did to the disciples: “It is I; do not be afraid”.

Jesus isn’t afraid to enter our mess or even our darkness. He works to bring us back to shore because he loves us and wants to be with us. The wind and the waves still; the light causes the darkness to flee. Suddenly we are where we need to be, walking with our Lord and Savior. May we rejoice today in the Lord who walks through it all, drawing us back into his loving presence again and again. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, you pursue me out of love. Your love is a no-matter-what love. Grow in me, O God, so that I may reflect that love for myself and for others. Amen.


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Power and Majesty

Reading: Psalm 29

Verse 11: “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace”.

Photo credit: Lili Popper

Yesterday nature flexed her muscles a little bit. The rains fell and fell, the wind roared and roared. Our rain gauge shows 1.6″ this morning. At times I was mesmerized by the power of nature on display yesterday. Our Psalm today speaks of the power and majesty of the Lord. In verse three the psalmist writes, “The voice of the Lord is over the waters”. It was on full display yesterday.

As one reads all of Psalm 29 one is reminded over and over of the power and majesty of God’s “voice” in the natural world. The thunder and the lightning, the magnificent storms, the earthquakes – all physical reminders of God’s place “enthroned as king forever”. Psalms like this are good reminders of God’s place in our world and in our lives. It is too easy to get caught up in the rat race, getting busier and busier. David’s words in our Psalm today call us to slow down, to marvel at God’s power and majesty. It is also very easy at times to get lost in our own little world. We too easily get obsessed with some small thing, some unimportant event that has become a mountain. The Psalm again reminds us of God’s power and majesty, reminding us that the one who is so much greater than anything life can bring also loves us. Verse eleven speaks of this: “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace”. Strength and peace – wonderful gifts of the Lord of power and majesty. May these fill your life today!

Prayer: Lord God, you are in the mighty wind and in the abundant rains. Your might and power are evident, fully on display in the created world. Yet you also bring me strength in my weakness, peace in my storms. You are an awesome God. Amen.


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Amazing and Wonderful

Reading: Acts 2: 1-13

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

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks, comes fifty days after the day of the Passover. This great Jewish festival celebrates two things: the wheat harvest and the giving of the Torah, or the Law. Many Jews from all over the world come to Jerusalem to celebrate these two blessings from God. During one of these large gatherings almost 2,000 years ago a mighty wind blew through Jerusalem and filled a house where some followers of Jesus were gathered. Curious, a large group of Jews from all over the world gathered around that house.

“What seemed to be tongues of fire” settled on those inside the house. The promised Holy Spirit had arrived and drew a crowd. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues as the Spirit enabled them”. Enabled by the power of the Spirit those inside began to witness to those outside. These men and women from Galilee spoke in languages from all over the known world. Jews from all over the world heard the “wonders of God” – the good news of Jesus Christ – for the first time. They were both amazed and perplexed. Considering how abnormal all of this was, their response is pretty normal: amazed and perplexed. I know what I am hearing. How can this be?

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God spoke into the hearts of both believers and the Jews, to those inside and those outside. It was a powerful moment for both groups. Being filled with the Holy Spirit was inspiring for the believers. To hear the good news of Jesus Christ for the first time, in your native language, would also be incredible. What an amazing and wonderful God! A great number of people will come to faith in Jesus Christ this day. Many of those will return to their parts of the world a new creation in Christ. The church will continue to grow and spread. More on all of this tomorrow!

For today, though, let us recall our experiences with witnessing to the good news of Jesus Christ. When was your amazed and perplexed moment – that moment you realized the Jesus was your Lord and Savior? What led you to belief? And when have you had the privilege of witnessing for Christ, telling another of his unconditional love and unending grace? May our amazing and wonderful God continue to work in and through you and me, changing the world.

Prayer: Lord God, enable me by the power of your Holy Spirit to speak of your love and grace. Guide me to witness to the hope I find in Jesus Christ, my Lord. Open hearts and minds to receive the good news today. Amen.


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Praise the Lord!

Reading: Psalm 148

Verse 14: “He has raised up for his people a horn”.

As we begin the week leading into Christmas, we begin with a beautiful Psalm that calls all of creation to praise the Lord. The psalmist begins by inviting the heavens – angels and the rest of the heavenly host – to praise the Lord. From there he invites the sun, moon, and stars to join the chorus of praise. And then the writer adds the “waters above the skies” into the choir. All are invited to praise the Lord because “he commanded and they were created”.

Beginning in verse seven the psalmist turns to the things of the earth itself. First, he invites the creatures of “all ocean depths” and then calls the lightning, hail, snow, clouds, and wind to join in. Continuing on with the created world the psalmist invites the mountains and hills, the plants, animals, and birds to add their voices to the chorus of praise to the Lord. All of the choir is now assembled, save one. Beginning in verse eleven the psalmist calls for all of humanity to sing out their praises to the Lord. From kings and princes to young men and maidens to old men and children, the psalmist declares, “let them praise the name of the Lord”. All of humanity joins all of creation in praising the Lord “for his name alone is exalted”.

In verse fourteen we get to the culminating point. The world and universe created by the Lord has been assembled. Because all has been created by the Lord, all are connected to the Lord. This very connection calls forth our praise. Yet in the earthly, created sense all of this is temporary. Even the stars and mountains, those things that seem timeless to us, even these will fall from the sky and will fall into the sea. In verse fourteen the psalmist writes, “He has raised up for his people a horn”. The horn is the horn of salvation. The horn connects you and me and all of creation to the eternity of God. The horn of salvation is Jesus Christ the Lord and he alone offers salvation. Jesus offers us salvation from the chains of both sin and death. Freed from all that binds, we are made brothers and sisters in Christ, freed to raise our voices to the one who saves. Freed and created, we will one day raise our voices as we gather around the throne. One day we will offer our praise to the Lord face to face with glory itself. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, what a way to begin the week we celebrate the birth of your son, the horn of salvation! All praise to you, the Lord of all. May all I do and say today bring you the glory! Amen.


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Take Courage!

Reading: Matthew 14: 22-27

Verse 22: “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead of him”.

Jesus’ actions in today’s passage have an immediate teaching moment for the disciples as well as application for all who follow as disciples. Jesus sends the disciples on ahead of him so that he can pray in solitude. They head out into the waters and a storm arises. As the night progresses, the disciples are increasingly battered and afraid. Into their fear and tiredness, Jesus walks across the water. He comes through the storm to be with them, to calm their fears, to reassure them. As he nears, Jesus echoes the words that God spoke to Moses during a storm in his leadership, saying, “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid”. The winds and waves calm as Jesus enters the boat, validating who he is: the Son of God.

In the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection, the first disciples and the early church would read this passage and see themselves as the ones in the boat. Jesus commissioned all disciples to go into the world to share the good news. For the early church the storm was the Jews and Romans. Today, for us, it is secular culture that defines the post-Christian world that we live in. For the early followers, the harassment and ridicule were the early wind and waves. As the storm increased they endured persecution and prison and even death. It felt like a storm raging against their boat. The same God who came to Moses, the same Jesus who came to the disciples in the storm – the same Holy Spirit continued to be with the early disciples and continues to come to you and me when the storms of life rise up.

Jesus continues to call us out into the world. In response, as followers we seek to live out the gospel, to share our faith when opportunities arise, and to be examples of the humble servant whenever we can. At times we too will find ourselves in the storm, battered and afraid. But we will not be left alone. Jesus continues to come to us, to walk right through the storms, to bring us peace and strength and assurance. Through the whisper of the Holy Spirit, Jesus repeats over and over, “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid”. May we ever remember, Jesus is with us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, your abiding presence is always with me. Ever guide me, ever walk with me. Help me to remember, especially in the storms, that I am never really alone. No matter how bad the storm, Jesus is by my side. Help me to cling to his power and strength. 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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Powerful, Strong, In Control

Reading: Psalm 148: 7-14

Verse 13: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted”.

Psalm 148 is all about praising God. The psalmist calls all of creation to praise the Lord. The praise comes from both the created world and from all types of people. As children of God, at times we are led to spontaneous praise. Coming home two days ago, just off the highway were a group of five bald eagles. Standing on a large patch of snow, their dark brown bodies seemed so large there close to the road. As I took in the sight I thanked God for blessing me with that small, sacred moment.

This morning the wind whips around outside. The power of the wind is amazing. The winds carry around the snow that has been falling for a day now, making it hazardous outside. We are not having church today. We will worship and connect to God in our homes today. I am grateful for the warm, safe home that I sit in. I pray for those who have to be outside – the farmers and ranchers, the emergency personnel, the two snow plow drivers that have gone by my window this morning.

The power and strength and size of the storm makes me feel small and humble. There is also a bit of powerlessness to a day like today too. This is all good. God is the one that is powerful and strong and vast and in control of it all. All praise and glory and honor are yours, O God!

Prayer: O maker of all creation, O stirrer of the storm, thank you for the day. In the power of the storm you are revealed. I praise you for your greatness. I exalt your name alone! Amen.


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Rooted, Built Up, Established

Reading: Colossians 2: 6-19

Verse 6: “You therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him”.

In our passage from Colossians, Paul reminds the church that they are to look to Christ for all they need. In the opening verse Paul reminds them that they are “rooted and built up… established in the faith”. After the first of two brief warnings against the philosophies and teachings of the world, Paul goes on to unpack verse 6.

Paul describes what it means to be established in Jesus Christ. He first speaks about a “circumcision made without hands”. This is the process of dying to self, of surrendering one’s own will to God’s will. Paul then reminds them that they are “buried with him in baptism”. This ties into the idea of dying to self, when one is immersed in the water, and also into the idea of being made into a new creation in Christ when one rises from the waters. Just as Christ rose from the grave to new life, so too will the Colossian Christians and so too will we one day triumph over the world.

Paul uses two interesting words to describe a life lived in Jesus Christ. The first is “rooted”. Paul is using a tree analogy here. A tree is only as strong as its roots. A pine tree, for example, has a shallow root system. The roots do not go down very deep into the soil. In the wind, a pine will sway back and forth. In a really strong wind, a pine tree can be uprooted and toppled over. Trees like oaks, on the other hand, have deep root systems. Their branches and leaves sway in the breeze, but the trunks are solidly rooted deep in the soil. They can withstand a much greater wind. Our faith parallels this idea. If we have a shallow faith it sways more easily – it is more easily influenced by the cares and worries of the world. Temptations and trials and sufferings in life can overwhelm our faith if it is not firmly and deeply rooted in Christ.

Paul also uses a building analogy that is equally applicable. A building is only as sure and secure as its foundation. We must build our faith upon a solid foundation. Jesus Christ is the only sure foundation. When all we do and say and think is built upon Jesus’ teachings and example, then we have a solid base to stand upon and to build upon. Then we are able to “hold fast to the head”, Jesus Christ. May our faith be deeply rooted and solidly built upon Christ. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me today to be rooted and established in Christ. Help me to invest time and energy to sink deep roots into Jesus Christ so that he will always nourish my soul. Make Jesus my firm foundation, my rock. In his name I pray. 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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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.