pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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In Control

Reading: Psalm 137: 1-4

Verse 4: “How can we sing the songs of the Lord in a foreign land”?

The sin abounded, the prophets warned, the tide rose, the Babylonians arrived, Jerusalem fell, and the people were hauled off into exile. Once the world stopped spinning, the Israelites have a moment to catch their breath. It is then that they wonder, “How can we sing the songs of the Lord in a foreign land”?

In our modern world things change at a rapid pace. Advances in technology, science, and medicine, just to name a few, often seem to move at a pace that we cannot keep up with. At times we too pop our heads up and wonder how we got to where we are. Society and culture do have a hand in all of the change and, as a part of these groups, we play a role, each to varying degrees. In spite of that, the world can change around us in ways that we do not like or do not understand. This creates in us the sense of loss and disorientation expressed today by the psalmist.

As people of faith we tend to want to cling to the way things were and we resist change. A big part of faith is built upon our traditions. Yet when we look at the Biblical record we see two big themes of change. First, God is often at work leading us forward. God led the people out of famine, out of Egypt, out of the desert, out of exile. Jesus and the apostles continue this theme in the New Testament, leading us out of Israel and on to the ends of the earth. A second and corresponding theme is the widening or enlarging of the circle. The story behind with one man, then a woman, and soon God’s chosen family grows to be as numerous as the stars in the sky. The family gets even bigger in the New Testament as Jesus and invites in the outcasts, the lepers, the sinners. The circle gets even bigger as the apostles are led to bring the Gentiles into God’s family. In and through all of this God has been in control. God continues to be in control. God will always be in control.

As we continue to experience change, may we trust in the hand of the Lord at work in our lives and in the world. God has a plan. God is in control. May we trust fully in the God of all.

Prayer: God, help me to trust in you. Sometimes I do not understand where or why you are leading; sometimes it is not easy to step out or to keep walking in faith. Increase in me my trust in you alone. 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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Life

Reading: John 20: 24-31

Verse 31: “Believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name”.

When Jesus appeared to the disciples, Thomas was not there. He rejoins the group and they tell him that they have “seen the Lord”! It was on the evening of the first day of that week. Mary Magdalene saw Jesus early that morning and He appears to them that evening. We recall that even though the disciples heard Mary’s account and Peter and John witnessed the empty tomb, the disciples are not yet at the point of belief. During this first visit Jesus breathes on them the Holy Spirit and tells them that He is sending them into the world. A lot more goes on here than a quick visit.

Thomas wants proof that it was really Jesus who had been there that evening. He wants physical proof – to see and touch to know that it is Jesus. We have all had or been a part of those “you gotta see this” moments. What is happening or has occurred sounds so outlandish or unbelievable that visual proof is required. When we do see the proof, we scratch our heads, but cannot argue or deny it because we saw it with our own eyes. I think this is where Thomas is. Sounds great, but I need to see to believe. After a week passes, Jesus appears again and offers the scars to Thomas’ touch. Jesus goes on to encourage him, saying, “Stop doubting and believe”. Thomas’ response? “My Lord and my God”!

Jesus uses this as a teaching moment. He acknowledges that because Thomas saw, he was able to believe. Jesus then adds, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”. This statement encompasses almost all who come and all who will come to believe in and follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Through the testimony of the Bible and through our own personal encounters with God we have come to believe in Jesus. We are the blessed.

This is the conclusion of this section and of the chapter: “Believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name”. By faith we believe. Through belief we find life – life both now and in the time to come. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, thank you for your Word – the Word that lived among us some 2,000 years ago and your Word that continues to live in the pages of the Bible. It is life and life to the full. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Extraordinary

Reading: John 2: 1-11

Verse 7: “Fill the jars with water”.

At His mother’s request, Jesus takes action. The six empty jars – the ones used for religious rituals – are standing nearby. Jesus tells the servants, “Fill the jars with water”. I do not sense any hesitation on their part. In fact, our Bibles tell us that “they filled them to the brim”. They do not just put some water in the jars. There is an expectation of something here. Maybe they could sense it in Mary and Jesus’ conversation.

The water that was placed in the jars was just ordinary water. It was probably drawn from the local well – from the well that all the people and animals living in and around Cana drink from every day. But once inside the jars the water becomes something extraordinary. Not just wine, but really good wine. The master of the wedding banquet notes, “you have saved the best until last”.

On one level, in the here and now, this story tells us to look for and to expect God’s abundance in extraordinary ways. The jars are filled to the brim. This is how God wants to fill us. God does not want us to experience some of His love, grace, mercy,… He wants to fill us so full that it even overflows! What is inside the jars is extraordinary because of Jesus. This too is God’s desire for all who follow Christ. When Jesus is in us, we are ‘in the world but not of the world’. We belong to heaven. In this world, we stand out and we are called to be a glorious witness to God and His coming kingdom.

This is the second level of our extraordinary abundance. The passage points to the eternal. Like the wine at the banquet, our best is yet to come. We begin to experience what is to come in our earthly life. God is ever at work in us, sanctifying us – making us more and more like Jesus, living more and more in His image. Through this process we grow in our faith and life is better. Yet this life is just a small glimpse of heaven – not even a little peek. It is just the beginning of a taste. We await a far more exceeding time in glory. This too will be extraordinary!

Prayer: God, thank you for walking with me through this life. In the blessings and in the trials, I know you are there. You have so much more for me than I can even imagine. Help me to trust, to step where you lead, allowing me to spread your love and to help build the kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Full Hope

Reading: Psalm 130: 5-8

Verse Seven: “Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption”.

Today’s passage centers around waiting. For most of us, waiting is hard. Even the most mundane waiting is hard. After only a few minutes in what we feel is a slow moving check-out line, we are looking left and right to see if there is a faster line. As the light turns green we wait at least a nanosecond before honking at the stationary driver in front of us. We live in an instant gratification, get it done yesterday world. It is hard to wait.

The psalmist writes, “I waited for the Lord, my soul waits”. I do not read any anxiousness or any agitation in this statement. For the psalmist it seems normal to wait for the Lord. The second half of this verse explains why: “in His Word I put my hope”. The Word of the Lord is steadfast and true. It revives the soul. It is sweeter than pure honey. These are but a few of the reasons that we too should put our hope in God’s Word.

As the Psalm continues, watchmen wait for the morning. They stand atop the Wall steadfastly waiting for the sun to peek up over the horizon. They wait with patience and hope. Although they can do nothing to hasten the sun’s rising, they wait trusting that the sun will rise another day. It is this same trust that we are called to have in the Lord. God is as faithful as the sun rising each day.

Verse Seven reads, “Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption”. God’s love is an unfailing love. It is a love that always endures and always gives. It is a love that offers mercy and forgiveness that we do not deserve, given without price. In this love we do find full redemption. In this love we are made new every morning. In this love we are reconciled to the Lord over and over and over. This is a love that we can trust. It is a love that we can place our hope in. Thanks be to God for this love and hope.


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Love First

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse Eight: “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever”.

Each day and each encounter provides us with an opportunity to draw close to God, to worship God. Psalm 138 is a Psalm of praise from King David. It praises God for His love and faithfulness. It encourages us to “sing of the ways of the Lord”. It speaks of God preserving our lives when we walk in the midst of trouble. The Psalm is a powerful reminder of God’s love for us, His dear children.

These few days at Annual Conference have been filled with worship. Sometimes the songs and worship have been slow and reflective. Sometimes the songs have been upbeat and energetic. Sometimes the music has been loud and passionate. Our worship has also included much besides music. We have shared scripture and been blessed by the proclamation of the Word by several gifted pastors. Through each of the messages and the conference itself, the idea of “love first” has been the focus. To me, this is what our worship should do. In all of our styles and in all if the components of worship, our worship should first express our love of God.

Verse eight today reads, “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever”. When we offer our lives as a living sacrifice to God’s love, then we experience a love that lasts forever. When we surrender our lives to God, we begin to live into and to live out an everlasting love. In doing so, we discover the first half of our verse: our purpose. We are all created to love as Jesus first loved us: fully and completely. There is no greater love than the love we see modeled by Jesus. May our lives today be living acts of worship, overflowing with the grace and mercy of God, as we seek to love first. May it be so for me and for you. Amen.