pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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All About Relationship

Reading: Colossians 1: 15-28

Verses 17-18: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church”.

Our writing from Paul today first centers on Christ’s supremacy. Before the beginning of time, before the light was separated from the darkness, Jesus was there. By Christ and for him all things were created in heaven and on earth. Paul describes Jesus’ incarnation this way: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation”. Jesus is the embodiment of God – his love, his mercy, his grace, his compassion, his empathy, his forgiveness, his generosity… No one has ever seen the “physical” God, but through Christ we see God’s spirit and character.

In verses 17-18 Paul writes, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church”. This reiterates Jesus’ eternal nature and also speaks of his unifying nature. The natural order leads all things towards death. In isolated systems, the natural movement is from order to disorder. In the church, though, Christ holds all things together. He not only holds things together but also seeks to build up the church. As the head of the body, the church, Jesus is ever at work to bring people of faith closer together and into deeper relationship, both with himself and with each other. This work is best revealed when one studies Jesus’ ministry.

The Jesus of the Gospels was all about relationship. Whether with the disciples or the prostitute or the woman caught in adultery or the Pharisees or the tax collector or the thief on the cross or… Jesus was concerned with knowing the other and being known by the other. Whether in conversation or teaching or healing, he sought to deepen their faith and/or to strengthen their connection to God and each other. For example, sometimes a healing restored the other to their family and community. Sometimes it began or bolstered their faith. Often the healing did both things.

In verses 19-20 we read, “God was pleased… through him to reconcile to himself all things”. In and through Jesus, God desires to bring all people to himself. It is a love for all nations, peoples, and tribes. It is a love that led Jesus to die on the cross, to defeat the power of sin – the thing that separates us from God. With that barrier removed, we are able to live in a loving relationship with the Lord our God. The head, the firstborn from the dead, gave himself for us. What a love. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, Jesus’ love amazes me. It is a love without bounds, without limit. When I consider your love revealed through Jesus Christ, I am humbled. My capacity and ability to love falls so short of his example. Help me to love more like Jesus. Amen.

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You Are gods

Reading: Psalm 82

Verse 6: “I said, ‘You are gods; you are all sons of the Most High'”.

Our Psalm opens with the God of the universe questioning the ‘gods’. God asks them how long will they defend the unjust and show favor to the wicked? This idea ran through yesterday’s reading. It is why God sent Amos to speak against the actions of the king. In our lives, do we ever defend the unjust? In our lives, do we ever favor the wicked?

The psalmist goes on to define God’s preferred behavior for the ‘gods’. First, they must “defend the case of the weak and fatherless”. Speak against injustice and poor treatment. Second, “maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed”. Stand beside those who cannot stand up for themselves. Third, “rescue the weak and needy”. When the unfortunate have fallen victim or are suffering, step in to rescue and redeem them. And lastly, “deliver them from the hand of the wicked”. Place yourself between the unjust and wicked and deliver the marginalized out from their abuse and I’ll treatment. Place yourself in the line of fire.

These behaviors or actions that we hear the psalmist calling for in verses 3 and 4 sound a lot like Jesus to me. He was certainly on the side of the marginalized and the poor. Jesus definitely spoke out against the people and institutions that created or allowed for the lesser treatment of people. Much of Jesus’ ministry focused on loving and caring for and restoring the other. It should be no surprise that in speaking God’s word the psalmist directs the ‘gods’ to do the same things that Jesus did.

In verse 6 the psalmist writes, “I said, ‘You are gods; you are all sons of the Most High'”. We Christians, we who have claimed our eternal inheritance as sons and daughters of the Most High, we who have claimed our birthright as brothers and sisters with Christ, we are the ‘gods’ that the psalmist addresses today. Accordingly, may we choose to side with the poor and needy. May we speak up for the abused and oppressed. May we stand against people and institutions that take advantage of the weak. In short, may we walk as Jesus Christ walked.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to the needs in my community. Fill me heart with compassion and with courage to walk with the marginalized and the weak. Help me to live as Jesus lived each day. 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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Filled to Feed

Reading: John 21: 15-19

Verse 16: “Simon son of John, do you love me”?

In our passage today, it focuses right in on the relationship between Jesus and Simon Peter. There is a parallel to Peter’s denial of Christ in the courtyard of the high priest. Jesus asks Peter three times, “Simon son of John, do you love me”? Each time that Peter responds with a “yes” he is addressing a specific denial. Jesus’ response varies each time. His first response is “feed my lambs”. His second response is “take care of my sheep”. His third response is “feed my sheep”. Each of these responses focuses on a different aspect of ministry. Peter is called to teach the children and new believers, to lead the church, and to teach the mature believers. In these verses we see Peter restored and established as the one who will guide the early church forward.

Like Peter, on our walks of faith we too will stumble and fall into sin. We too will have times when we deny Christ. Each time we deny a nudge or whisper of the Holy Spirit, we are denying Christ. In reality, we are often like Peter. Yet Christ remains. He may asks us, “Do you love me?”, but it is for our own benefit, not His. We each need to wrestle with this question over and over to remind ourselves that we do love Jesus as a means to better live out our faith in the world. In order to do this and to do it well, we must keep our connection strong. This is what happened in verses 1-14. Jesus appeared and worked in the disciples’ lives, feeding them. It is important to note that before Jesus sent Peter out to feed and care for the church, Jesus took the time to feed and care for Peter. Jesus filled him up before sending him out to feed others.

Here too we must be like Peter. We must allow Jesus to fill us, to care for us, to feed us before we can go out and do likewise. Through prayer, reading, study, worship… we are filled by Jesus so that we can go out into the world to share the good news. In our personal time and in our corporate time may we be filled today, overflowing with the love of God in Christ Jesus, ready to share His love with the world. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for this time this morning, filling me with Jesus. May our worship today also fill me up and may you use me to fill others up. In His name I pray. Amen.


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Through God’s Mercy

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4: 1-2

Verse 1: “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart”.

The call of every church and of every Christian is to be in mission. The main mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are called to bring all people to Christ and to walk together as we each deepen our relationship with Jesus. For most people, the call is answered one person at a time through a one-on-one relationship that is formed and cultivated and is given time and attention. These relationships may come through a specific ministry – a feeding program or a diaper ministry – or they can come simply by crossing paths with another and engaging in life together. This second mode is how Jesus most often operated.

Even though all are called, many question or are hesitant. Some feel like their past disqualifies them. Our past is often one of our best resources. Those struggles that we have overcome offer hope and possibilities to the one still in the struggle. Our story is what makes our faith and our relationship with Jesus real to another. Others think that they do not know enough or that they lack the skills or talents to accomplish something for God. God places skills or gifts or talents in all of us. They do not need to be perfected or polished. God just needs us to be willing to step out in faith and to trust in God to do the rest. If we seek it, the Holy Spirit will lead and guide us in all things.

The author of our text today is just one of many, many imperfect and flawed people that God used to build the kingdom and the church. One does not have to turn too many pages in the Bible to find the next one in a long line of ordinary, regular folks who did extraordinary and wonderful things for God. Paul began life as Saul. He hated the church and did everything he could to stomp it out. Talk about an unlikely candidate to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the world! In a display of mercy and love, Christ called him Paul and set him loose on the world. Who Saul was became forgotten as the new creation Paul began to serve the Lord in faith.

This unlikely servant writes, “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart”. God chose him. God set his ministry in motion. Therefore, Paul does not lose heart. God chose you and me too. Therefore, may we each step up and out today in ministry to the world, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit, knowing that the Lord goes with us, guarding our heart. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, prepare my heart and mind to be in ministry today. May the Spirit lead and guide me in all I do and say and think, ever seeking to build your kingdom here. Amen.


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Your Call

Reading: Jeremiah 1: 4-10

Verse 9: “Then the Lord… touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Now I put my words in your mouth'”.

Jeremiah, like many of the prophets, received a call from God to be God’s voice to the people. For some, like Samuel and Elisha and others, the call seemed to be their destiny. It was what they had been born for. Such is the case with Jeremiah too, even though he did not seem to be aware of it. In verse 5 we read, “before I formed you in the womb… before you were born… I set you apart… I appointed you as a prophet”. It was who Jeremiah was created to be. Yet even he had his doubts. He said to God, “I am only a child”. We too have our doubts, our reasons, our rationales that we try and use with God.

During my long call into ministry, this happened often. I said I am only a middle school teacher when the call came asking me to teach a high school Sunday school class. I said I am just a volunteer when the call came asking me to lead the youth group. I said I am only a youth leader when the call came to help lead a congregation. Yet at each step God continued to call me onward. In my own way I kept hearing verse 7: “you must go to everyone I send you and say whatever I command you”. God has been faithful. God has been present. God has gone with me every step of the way.

Jeremiah questioned, I questioned, maybe you question too. Perhaps your call is not to be a prophet or a pastor, perhaps it is. Whatever our vocation, the call is the same – to speak and reveal the truth as we share and live out the Word of God. The promises we hear today are the same no matter our calling. When we are willing to go and to trust in God, we all experience verse 9: “Then the Lord… touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Now I put my words in your mouth'”. We might not speak the word of God to a nation or even to a congregation. We might just speak it to one person at a time. The size of the audience does not matter. It matters not because the word of God has the power to save, to redeem, to restore, to heal… each that hears it, whether one or one million. So may we all boldly share the word of God today that God places in our hearts and mouths. May we boldly step out in faith, knowing “I am with you”. We do not go alone. God is with us.

Prayer: God, I trust that you will go with me wherever I go today. May the Holy Spirit lead and guide me, bringing me just the words I need to share you with one in need of you. Amen.


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Prepare the Way

Reading: Luke 3:1-6

Verse 3: “He went… preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.

The arrival of a messenger has been anticipated for a long time in Israel. 800 years before John’s arrival, Isaiah spoke of the one coming to prepare the way for the Lord. This is a long time to wait. Adding to the suspense, Malachi, the last prophet to speak God’s word, fell silent 400 years before John is born. It has been a long, quiet period of waiting. So it is a big event when one comes speaking the word of God.

Luke establishes the historical facts of when John went out into the desert. These are familiar names: Pilate, Herod, Annas, Caiaphas. These men play roles in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Living into Isaiah’s prophecy and into the words of his own father Zechariah, John begins his ministry. John the Baptist heads out into the wilderness around the Jordan River and begins to preach. He doesn’t go to the temple to preach. It is full of pretense and pomp… John goes into the wilderness because it is simpler, less complex, more basic. The scene matches John’s lifestyle and his message. In the temple – as we will see with Jesus – the religious leaders can try and quiet or alter his message.

Verse three tells us that “He went… preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. John was calling the people to clean up their lives – to rid themselves of all their sin and pretense and clutter. These are the things that get in the way of a relationship with the Savior. John is calling them to look within, to search hard, to be honest with themselves. The desert is a good place to do this. It is a good place to find a quiet space, a place of solitude, to reflect on John Wesley’s quintessential question: “How is it with your soul”?

As we consider John’s challenge or invitation, depending on how it is with your soul, may we each find the time and the courage today to plumb the depths of our souls as we seek to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord in our hearts and in our lives.

Prayer: Lord, in the quiet may I find a good, true look within. May I summon the courage to look deeply, to search the darkest corners, to root out all that I need to repent of today. May I repent of those deepest and most loved sins. Make me more like you today. Amen.