pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Choice

Reading: John 14: 25-27

Verse 27: “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”.

Fear and doubt can be something that invades our hearts and minds. We can experience these emotions for perfectly good and logical reasons, in situations where it is natural: when a large growling dog rapidly runs at us, when we loose control of our car on an icy road… We can also experience these emotions for reasons that are not grounded in reality. We can become fearful in a situation where we are very safe and protected. We can doubt when we have the physical tools and abilities to be successful.

As Jesus looked into the days soon to come for Himself and for the disciples, He knew they would face fear and doubt. Jesus would soon be handed over to the authorities. They would try, whip, beat, and crucify Him. They would strike the shepherd and the sheep would scatter. If we were in their shoes, we would act exactly the same way. Jesus again reminds them that they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to teach them and to help them remember all that Jesus said and did. The Holy Spirit will be their first help in times of fear and doubt. He then leaves them His peace. It is the peace of God that also offers help to us to counter fear and doubt. The sense that we are not alone and the sense that God’s peace carries us often keeps fear and doubt at bay. Because of these things, Jesus concludes by encouraging the disciples, saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”. In this statement Jesus is implying that we have a choice.

When doubt and fear begin to rise in our hearts and minds, we can let them have the day. Or… we can choose to let God have the day. We can turn to God in prayer, confident that the Holy Spirit is already interceding for us. We can stand on God’s promises and allow His peace to wash over us. It is a choice we make. If we don’t we will struggle with fear and doubt in unhealthy ways. May we choose the all-powerful God who can and will do all things for those who love Him. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, when my heart and mind begin to feel fear and doubt, may you be my first choice always. When I waver, send in your Holy Spirit to remind me of your love and care for me. Amen.


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Relationship

Reading: Acts 8: 14-17

Verse 15: “They prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit”.

As we become better and better friends with another we can get to the point of being able to finish their sentences. After being married or after being best friends for a long while you even get to the place of knowing what they’re thinking. This deep connection forms a very special bond. But just how does this bond develop? Certainly an important element is time. Spending time with someone allows you the opportunity to get to know them. Time alone won’t do it though. One could spend a lifetime in a 6×12 prison cell with someone and never get to know them very well. One must also make an effort. One must invest in the relationship. This speaks of commitment.

In our passage today some folks hear the words that Philip shared and they come to believe in Jesus name. They do not receive the Holy Spirit so Peter and John are sent. Once they arrive, “they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit”. Why? Because the indwelling presence of the Spirit can be the beginning of a deeply personal relationship. The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit does not take you to “finish their sentence” status automatically though. It is the beginning of a relationship. In many the relationship begins “on fire” – you want to get to know that person more and more. Soon enough though, like with all relationships, it gets to a point where you ask yourself if you want the relationship to continue to grow or not. Usually there is a pinch point of some type. With the Holy Spirit it is usually that point where we realize it will require a full surrender of our will and our desires to the will and desires of God. It is a hard moment. Some choose to slow things down and keep the relationship on the “acquaintance” level. But if one chooses to go all in with their relationship with Jesus Christ, then one can get to the point of finishing sentences and knowing what the Holy Spirit is thinking before it whispers or nudges.

If one chooses to surrender, it is not a one time decision either. There is a reason Jesus said we must pick up our cross daily to follow Him. It is a daily surrender. In general, the cross becomes lighter and easier to pick up each day as the joy of the relationship makes it so. Yes, there are days or even seasons when self rears its ugly head. But the time and commitment that God has in the relationship always seeks to draw us back in, to restore us to right relationship. On our own the relationship would be in trouble. But we are not alone. God is fully committed to us. God alone makes our relationship possible. Thanks be to God for the amazing love that desires a relationship with each of us.

Prayer: Lord, when I look hard in the mirror, I am amazed that we are still great friends. Thank you for still loving imperfect and sinful me. You are an awesome God. Amen.


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Holy Spirit Exercise

Reading: Acts 8: 14-17

Verse 17: “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”.

At the beginning of Acts 8 Philip goes to Samaria and proclaims Jesus Christ. His words and the miraculous signs lead many to accept the word of God and to believe in Jesus. When people profess faith in Jesus, Philip baptizes them. Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, the apostles hear about this and realize that the people have not received the Holy Spirit. This is where today’s passage picks up.

Peter and John are sent to Samaria. They pray over the new believers, asking the Spirit to come. “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”. It is the Spirit that will fill the new believers with the courage and power and understanding to live out their faith as witnesses to Jesus Christ. Without the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, belief in Christ is more like head knowledge than lifestyle. There is a big difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus. The Holy Spirit bumps Jesus fully into our life and into our everyday choices, words, actions…

Even with the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, these new believers in Samaria will have choices to make. We too experience this. When they feel the nudge or when they hear the whisper – will they respond? At first that voice is quiet and the nudge light. When it is exercised though, it becomes louder and stronger. In this way we too are called to exercise the faith we have – to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit and to allow the Spirit to lead and guide us. The more we do, the more we will. This day and every day, when the Holy Spirit calls or nudges, may we step forward in faith, trusting in God’s lead. May it be so.

Prayer: God, help me to cast aside fear and doubt and to step boldly where your Spirit leads. Build up my trust more and more and more. Amen.


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See the Father

Reading: John 14: 8-17

Verse 9: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father”.

When asked questions about my mentors or people who had serious influence on my life, my first thoughts are always my parents. My mom was a teacher and for my first career I taught middle school for 23 years. My dad had a great work ethic and was a planner, an organizer. These traits I have inherited from my dad. Both of my parents had a great influence on my second career as a pastor. My parents both have a big heart for others and a heart for mission and service. As a pastor, the “other” is often a focus of mine, both in the church and in the community. Much of who I am comes from my parents. This idea is the focus of today’s passage.

In our passage today Jesus says, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father”. In essence Jesus is saying if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen God. He goes on to explain that the words He is saying are not His words but God’s words. Jesus also makes clear that the works, the miracles, are because He is in the Father and the Father is in Him. The disciples struggle with this idea. It is not easy to fit this idea into their understandings of God. All these years later we see Jesus as God incarnate, as God in the flesh. We draw these understandings from the birth stories that we have in the gospels. For the disciples, they have known Jesus just a few years. It is one thing to be sent by God – like the prophets. It is another thing to be one with God.

As if this were not enough for the disciples to wrap their heads around, Jesus goes on in verse 12 to say, “Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing”. The greatest person they have ever known, their hero, says they will be doing what He has done if only they have faith. Not only that, but “even greater things because I am going to the Father”. Imagine being a follower and hearing all of this.

In our last few verses, Jesus starts to offer the “how” – the explanation. To all who obey Jesus’ commands, to all who love Him, God will send the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Jesus will come to them and dwell in them. Although not fully sure of what this really means, it does begin the explanation for the disciples. Like a good parent, the Holy Spirit will come to lead and guide, to direct and correct, to teach and remind, to strengthen and encourage the followers of Jesus Christ as they grow to become more like Him. This too is our journey and our mission. Through the Holy Spirit, may we become more like Jesus and more like the Father.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for my parents and for all who have poured into me, influencing my walk of faith. Continue to send people into my life that call me closer to you. Thank you also for the Spirit, the presence of Jesus and you in me. May it speak clearly in my life each day. Amen.


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Do It Quickly

Reading: John 13: 21-32

Verse 21: “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me”.

At the start of John 13, Jesus has just washed the disciples’ feet. He has “set you an example” and encouraged them to do as He has done. Next Jesus goes on to predict that one of His own disciples will betray Him. In verse 21 we read, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me”. The disciples react as we all would in Jesus’ presence – at a loss. They each think in their own hearts – surely not I! They are all curious and Peter prompts John to ask. By sharing the bread with him, Jesus reveals it is Judas Iscariot. Jesus directs Judas to “do quickly” what he will do. At this, Judas slips off into the night.

Reading the story, we think poorly of Judas. Yes, it had to be done to fulfill the scriptures. But we still dislike him because he betrayed Jesus, the one whom he had spent the last three years with. It feels like a worse betrayal than if it had been one of the Pharisees or a stranger. It could have been Matthew or John or James or Bartholomew or Thaddeus or even Peter, the one who most seemed like a leader. In the next section, Jesus predicts Peter’s denial. It could have been any of the twelve.

It is Judas Iscariot that slips off into the night to betray Jesus. John tells us “it is night”. Night and darkness symbolize evil and Satan. By contrast, day and light represent God, Jesus… Because Judas does not question or linger, but acts, we can infer that he has been wrestling with this. He has been brought to the decision point this night: light or dark? Good or evil? When he takes the bread, we read “Satan entered into him”. On this night, the darkness won. The scale tipped in favor of evil.

We are all in this place often. The Spirit works to keep us walking in the light and the evil one tempts us to step off the narrow road and off into the darkness. The temptation may be to gossip or to tell a little white lie. It may be to steal that set of headphones that is just lying there or to cheat on that big test. Maybe it is to turn in a false tax report or to click that pop-up that is so enticing. Perhaps it is to falsely accuse another to paint a better picture of ourselves or it is finally consummating that affair. The degree of sin matters not to God. Yes, the human or earthly impacts and affects will be greater for one scenario versus another. But to God, all temptation that leads to sin is the same. We are choosing dark over light, evil over good, Satan over God. Each week, each day, each hour, we face temptation. May we each turn to God and may we do it quickly. May we allow the light to chase away the darkness. May we strive to walk in the light.

Prayer: Lord, the battle is hard. Satan is ever at work. So I pray that the voice of the Holy Spirit is loud and strong in me today. Quiet the call of the earthly and fleshy desires within me. When they rise up, remind me quickly of your will and your way and your word. Strengthen me, O God. Amen.