pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Consuming Fire

Reading: Exodus 24: 12-18

Verse 17: “The glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire”.

Fire is often associated with God. As Moses ascends the mountain in response to God’s call, he walks into the fire. In verse seventeen we read, “The glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire”. The consuming fire is not destructive or life-taking. God’s fire is transforming and life-giving. In this sense it is like a forest fire. Fire is nature’s way of renewing and sustaining life in the forest. Fire consumes all the old, dead wood, allowing space for new growth. Fire also causes some seeds to germinate, bringing new life. At times, God’s fire is also like a forest fire in another way. It may run wild through our lives, moving quickly and powerfully, burning up the old and dead parts of us, leaving us prepared for renewal.

Fire is also a refining tool. In the world of precious metals fire is used to burn off impurities, leaving behind something much more valuable. God’s fire also works this way in the life of a believer, consuming all of our sins and selfish ways, leaving us more like the Lord. By removing our impurities, God is making us more into his image. Even the “small” sins that we hold onto as immature Christians are touched by the power of God’s fire. The fire changes us from within, reshaping our hearts, over and over, each time making us more like our Lord.

Moses walked up the mountain without fear. He knew the fire to be an extension of God’s love. Entering into God’s presence always resulted in positive change in his life. In our humanity we sometimes are reluctant to enter into God’s fire. Quite bluntly, at times we like to hold onto our sin. Yet we too are called to walk into the fire. As God’s love grows within us, we mature in the faith and become willing to place ourselves within God’s consuming and refining fire. We come to know that there we are made into someone better. There we are made new again. There our old ways are consumed and we are able to be filled with even more of God’s love. In this process, we are made more like him, coming to shine a little brighter, to bring more glory to God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, may your fire burn hot in me, consuming all of me that is not pleasing to you. Consume the chaff, the sins, the selfishness, the pride – all that needs to go. May your fire purify me, each time leaving behind something more and more useful in your kingdom. May the fire of your love burn strongly within me. Amen.


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Into the Presence

Reading: Exodus 24: 12-18

Verse 12: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain and stay here'”.

As we enter this week when we remember how the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ was clearly revealed, today we meet one of the characters who is with Jesus on the mountain top. Moses has led the people out of slavery in Egypt and has been leading them on their desert journey. The presence of God has remained nearby – present in the pillars of cloud and fire. For most of the Israelites, that is close enough. There is a belief that if one enters into God’s presence, one will die. To this point in their history, it has been Moses alone that has entered God’s presence. But on this day in Exodus 24, that begins to change. Moses, Aaron, his two sons who are priests, and seventy elders lead the people in affirming the covenant and then they approach the mountain. There they stand in God’s presence and they fellowship with God over good and drink.

As our passage for today and tomorrow begins, Moses draws even closer. In verse twelve we hear God’s invitation: “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here”. This extended invitation is given only to Moses. The full presence of God settles on the mountain as the cloud envelops the mountain. In verse sixteen we read about “the glory of the Lord” setting in as well. Perhaps there were flames or some type of light within the cloud that differentiated God’s presence from the cloud. After all, God has been present right along in the forms of cloud and fire.

The cloud adds an element of mystery. From the desert below, they must wonder just what’s going on up there? What is happening? A part of God is always mystery. Mystery has always been a part of who and what God is. God has revealed many things – beauty, love, grace, compassion, mercy, forgiveness… – things that help us to know God. These things connect us to God and deepen our relationship with God. As our relationship deepens, we sense there is less if God’s mystery and more of God’s presence in our lives, yet some mystery will always remain. Although we can ever draw closer, we will never fully know God in this life.

Just as Moses was invited into God’s physical presence, we too are invited into God’s spiritual presence day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. In trust and faith and love Moses stepped into the presence. May we do the same.

Prayer: All powerful God, sometimes it is scary to step into your presence. The light reveals all within me. It takes trust to enter that place, to lay oneself bare before the Lord. Yet only there do I find true communion with you. There the space is filled with your love and grace and acceptance. Thank you for taking me as I am, restoring and reforming and remaking me more into your image. All praise to you, my God! Amen.


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God’s Rain

Reading: Joel 2: 23-27

Verse 27: “Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other”.

The nation of Israel has experienced a time of hardship. Their sinful ways brought a great army of locusts upon the land. The nation ignored God’s call to repentance and the invasion devastated the land. The condition of the land matched the people’s spirits. Yet God still loves the people and will not abandon them in their despair. To the nation’s despair, Joel brings a word of hope.

Our lives can be a microcosm of what is happening in the book of Joel. Our time of hardship may be like Israel’s – brought on by our willful disobedience to God. It could be brought on by the winds of life: an unexpected loss, an illness, or something someone else does. It could just be a season of dryness, where we have drifted away from the faith. Our spirits become parched and dry. God does not leave us here either. God brings words of hope and healing into our lives as well.

Joel speaks hope into the people’s lives by telling them that God will bring “abundant showers”. These rains will lead to full threshing floors and to new wine and oil overflowing the vats. God’s rain will bring plenty to the nation. In response, the people will “praise the name of the Lord”. God will draw them back into relationship. All will be good again. God says to the nation, “Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other”. There will be no mistaking the fact that God is in the land. Israel will be restored and God’s blessings will be evident.

God rains down his word to us too when we are in that dry and parched place. It may come in the love and care showered upon you after a traumatic event. It may come in the friend who gently reaches out to reengage you in church or study or prayer. It may be the Holy Spirit gently stirring your soul, stoking the fires of faith once again. God desires to fill us too, bringing abundant love to bear upon our lives. Then we too will know, God is in our hearts and is the Lord our God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, when I recall those dry seasons, those times of testing, you were always there. It may have taken time for me to see it or to realize it, but you were there. I praise you for the unending love that you rain down upon me. You are the one true God – my God and King. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Faith in Christ

Reading: Luke 12: 49-53

Verse 51: “From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other”.

In about 30 AD, when Jesus was speaking these words, Israel was a very unique nation. They were a monotheistic people surrounded by and ruled over by polytheistic peoples. They were under the control of the world power, the Romans. The nation was relatively small and had little freedom. Their religion was all that was holding them together. Many of their laws were intended to keep the Jews their own people. Intermarriage with outsiders was frowned upon, they did not evangelize. Their circle was very small.

Jesus ministered in this setting. He caused a disturbance when he are with sinners and outsiders. He told stories that included and sometimes elevated the Samaritans. As Jesus taught and did miracles, he drew followers. His claim to be the Messiah was not accepted by most Jews. He fell outside of their small circle.

One or two in a given family might choose to follow Jesus and become a part of what would become known as Christianity. They would then live what Jesus is talking about today: “From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other”. It was a very hard decision to make. It usually meant now living outside of one’s biological family. It was a very weighty decision to make. It was risky and there was a cost for stepping outside the circle.

In many parts of the world, this is still true. To follow Jesus brings division in families, or worse. We too often forget that Jesus did not come just for America or just for the western world or just for our segment of the world. Recently, even in the US, we have felt the fire that Jesus brings. Persecution and trial and suffering are more frequent events as people of faith stand up for what they believe. In some cases, there is division and fire, lines are drawn.

Whether within our families or churches or society, when fire and division come, may we always choose faith in Jesus Christ. Through prayer and study may we stand for Christ. Above all, may love lead the way.

Prayer: Lord, persecution and division seem to be more and more of a reality. Keep me focused on the task at hand: helping one more person to know you. And then, connect me to the next one… Amen.


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The Fire of God

Reading: 2 Kings 2: 1-2 & 6-14

Verse 11: “Suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated them… Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind”.

Elijah and Elisha are walking along, essentially waiting for God to act. Elisha has remained steadfast to his mentor. Both know this will be their last walk and talk. As they walk, Elijah uses his cloak to separate the waters of the Jordan so that they can pass over. Their walk will continue. He then asks Elisha what he can do for him before he goes. Elisha requests a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Then God acts. In verse 11 we read, “Suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated them… Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind”.

Fire is a common theme in the Bible and it is often associated with God. In the Old Testament God spoke through fire, led by fire, and revealed his power with fire. In the New Testament fire remains a symbol of God’s power – the Holy Spirit comes as a small flame, fire refines the believers, and in the end fire will consume many. It is a chariot and horses of fire that finally parts Elijah and Elisha as Elijah is taken straight to heaven.

In our lives we too experience fire from time to time. It can be caused by stress or by a situation that arises. This type of fire is usually uncomfortable and we want it to end quickly. But sometimes this fire refines, so it is allowed to linger for a while. We can also experience a faith that is like a fire burning within. It is one that we cannot quite keep ahold of and that we seek to share with others. Fire remains symbolic of God’s presence and activity in our lives.

All that is physically left of Elijah is his cloak. Elisha picks it up and begins the journey home. The fifty men of the company of prophets is still present. Elisha asks aloud if God is still present too. Like his mentor, Elisha touches the river with the cloak. It again parts for Elisha to pass through. The cloak is the physical mantle that has been passed from Elijah to Elisha. The revelation of God’s power confirms that this too has been passed to the next prophet of Israel. The fire of God will continue to burn brightly, now in Elisha.

That same fire of God, in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, burns in each of us. It allows us to hear God’s voice in our lives and it empowers us to be God’s voice in our world. May we hear and exercise that voice today.

Prayer: God of fire, you are the light to my feet and you are the warmth to my heart. Shine bright in me so that I can share your light with my world 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.