pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Tongue, Mind, and Heart

Reading: James 3: 1-8

Verse 8: “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison”.

Taming the tongue is never easy. James is absolutely correct when he writes, “We all stumble in many ways”. Our words are usually what affects others the most, so being in control of our tongue is essential to living a faithful, Christian life.

The tongue is quite small compared to the rest of our body. Like a bit in a horse’s mouth or a rudder on a ship, the small tongue can choose our path or set our course. And like a small spark, our tongue can create a raging fire. James extends the fire idea to our final destination point if we allow our tongues to control us: hell.

The reality is, though, that the tongue cannot speak on its own. The tongue only forms the words brought to it by our minds. So to really control our tongues, we begin with what we put in our minds. When our mind is filled with the evils of the world, then that is what comes out of our mouths. When we fill our minds with the things of God, this is what our tongues speak. If we meditate on God’s Word and know His ways, then our tongues will be filled with faith.

Closely related to what is in our minds is what is in our heart. The same pattern is true here. If we allow anger and bitterness and envy and jealousy to dwell in our hearts, then our mind quickly turns to these things as well. But if instead we fill our hearts with love and mercy and Grace and forgiveness, then these God qualities will be what our mind turns to.

In James 3:8 he writes, “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison”. While it may certainly be true that one cannot ever fully tame the tongue, one can definitely do things that make this task easier. When we fill our hearts and minds with the things of God there is less room for the things of this world. May it be so each and every day.

God, fill me with your Words and with your Holy Spirit. Fill me with you so there is less room for me. Then, may my words and thoughts be pleasing to you, O Lord. May I honor you today. Amen.


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Tongue, Mind, and Heart

Reading: James 3: 1-8

Verse 8: “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison”.

Taming the tongue is never easy. James is absolutely correct when he writes, “We all stumble in many ways”. Our words are usually what affects others the most, so being in control of our tongue is essential to living a faithful, Christian life.

The tongue is quite small compared to the rest of our body. Like a bit in a horse’s mouth or a rudder on a ship, the small tongue can choose our path or set our course. And like a small spark, our tongue can create a raging fire. James extends the fire idea to our final destination point if we allow our tongues to control us: hell.

The reality is, though, that the tongue cannot speak on its own. The tongue only forms the words brought to it by our minds. So to really control our tongues, we begin with what we put in our minds. When our mind is filled with the evils of the world, then that is what comes out of our mouths. When we fill our minds with the things of God, this is what our tongues speak. If we meditate on God’s Word and know His ways, then our tongues will be filled with faith.

Closely related to what is in our minds is what is in our heart. The same pattern is true here. If we allow anger and bitterness and envy and jealousy to dwell in our hearts, then our mind quickly turns to these things as well. But if instead we fill our hearts with love and mercy and Grace and forgiveness, then these God qualities will be what our mind turns to.

In James 3:8 he writes, “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison”. While it may certainly be true that one cannot ever fully tame the tongue, one can definitely do things that make this task easier. When we fill our hearts and minds with the things of God there is less room for the things of this world. May it be so each and every day.

God, fill me with your Words and with your Holy Spirit. Fill me with you so there is less room for me. Then, may my words and thoughts be pleasing to you, O Lord. May I honor you today. Amen.


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Understand, Apply, Live

Reading: James 1: 22-27

Verse 27: “Religion… pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”.

In James 1, verses 17 to 21, we are reminded that all good things come from God, that we should listen way more than we speak, and that we should humbly accept the Word planted in us. All of this leads up to the main purpose of our passage today: to do the things that God says to do. Today, James focuses on a few things to do.

In addressing his contemporaries, James is speaking to a problem that he must have witnessed. Jesus also addressed this problem often when dealing with the Pharisees and other religious leaders. These folks knew all of the letters of the Law inside out and could go on and on about it – they just struggled to live it out. Our words from James begin with this same issue too: “do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says”. An example today would be the person who leaves church to go to the bar. The person proceeds to get drunk and to curse at their team on TV. The next morning they scoff at the homeless beggar as they drive to work scheming how to dishonestly earn a few extra bucks. And, yes, they are listening to the Christian radio station as they drive. Instead, James suggests to look intently into the Word of God – to study it and to understand it so that we can live it. In doing so we discover a freedom as we live God’s ways instead of the ways of the world.

In the closing verses today, James gets to the heart of living out our faith. He returns again to the idea in verses 19 and 20, reminding us to keep a “tight rein” on our tongues. Then James gives us two more action points. In verse 27 James writes, “Religion… pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”. First, look after those in need. Orphans and widows would have been shorthand for all in need. Not coincidentally, we see this concept as a major emphasis in Jesus’ life and ministry. Second, live in the world but do not be of the world. Be the example of God’s love amidst the pain and brokenness. Be the light that shines hope into the darkness. Be the hand that offers a hand up and not just a hand out. Have an active and engaging faith. Don’t just read the Word, but understand it, apply it to your life, and live it out. May it be so.


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Controlled by God

Reading: Romans 8: 6-11

Verse 6: The mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.

Paul establishes an either/or situation in today’s reading.  Either we are controlled by the Spirit or we are controlled by the flesh.  Either we submit to God’s ways or we pursue our sinful nature.  Either we are alive as Christ dwells in us or we are destined for death.  Either we are filled with God’s peace or we are hostile to God.  Paul is drawing some clear distinctions.

For Paul, being a part of God’s family was a universal invitation.  He did not see any limitations on who could live in covenant relationship with God.  It was not by birth that one gains access.  This remains true today – some born into a “Christian home” never find a faith of their own and others raised in a secular home come to a deep faith.  Paul also saw no barriers in regards to race or ethnicity or nationality or status or anything else one could name.  We also see this today.  Jesus’ mandate to “make disciples of all people of all nations” has brought the gospel all around the world.

There are many, many people today who are active participants in fulfilling the great commission of Jesus.  While some are in far away places bringing the Word of God to every tribe and tongue, most of us operate in a much smaller, more local context.  While our prayers may go far and wide for the work of the church universal, our actions and words most often impact those close at hand.  Those affected can be family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, classmates, and even strangers.

When our “mind is controlled by the Spirit”, we exhibit a life of peace and love and hope.  When we are filled with the Spirit, our lives are different than those whose live by the flesh.  We do not chase after the things of the world because the Spirit helps us and leads us to trust in and to rest in God.  We live life longing for and trusting in an eternal time when we will forever dwell in the light and love of Christ.  The day to day of this life is small change.  We are not held captive to but are set free from the power of sin and death that so easily entangles the world.  We follow God’s ways and offer love and hope and peace to the world.  This day may our lives be a living testimony to the power and presence of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit within us, drawing others into the kingdom of God.


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Listening and Talking

Reading: Isaiah 50: 4-9a

God gifts us with many good things.  Two of them are our tongue and our ears.  Over time we too can become like Isaiah, having an “instructed tongue”.  We do this by developing a close relationship with God so that His Word is deep within us.  This is accomplished by faithful Bible reading and study, by a consistent and committed prayer life, and by an active and engaged worship life.  As we immerse ourselves in the things of God, we come to have an instructed tongue.  While I do believe in the old saying that God gave us two ears and one tongue so that we can listen twice as much as we talk, I am also convinced that there is great power in our words.

Like Isaiah in today’s text, we too can give attention to God so that He can awaken our ears.  When we take the time and slow down and really listen, we can hear a lot.  When we are fully tuned into the one before us, we are able to hear much more than the words they are saying.  We are able to understand their needs below the surface level.  From this point of view our ” instructed tongue” can offer much to another in need.

God also desires to awaken our ears to the world out there.  He desires for us to be in the world to make a difference, to make the world a better place.  God desires for our ears to hear the cries of the needy, to hear the wails against injustice, and to hear the sighs of the suffering.  It is very necessary to hear those in need if we are going to respond.  We must be listening closely and understanding deeply if we are going to be able to bring the light, love, and hope of Jesus Christ to where God calls us.  When we hear and respond, we are  being His hands and feet.  When we do so, God will direct our instructed tongue to share His message and all else that He offers our brothers and sisters in need.


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Guard the Tongue!

As human beings we are created with quick and gifted minds.  We can create and solve and figure out all sorts of imaginative inventions and complex designs and perplexing problems.  We can learn to do many different tasks and hone specific skills.  We can even learn to speak multiple languages.  Our minds are amazing creations.

“No one can tame the tongue” states James.  There are many, many instances each day where we can prove him right.  Sometimes it is us that does so, sometimes we observe others doing so.  The list of words uttered that I wish I had not said is quite a long list.  We all have similar lists.  But if one were to look at the list chronologically, hopefully one would see a pattern emerging.  As one grows in the maturity of one’s faith, you would hope to see increasing gaps between the items on the list.  A growing and developing faith should exhibit itself in how we speak to and treat one another.

James indeed does pose the question of how can we praise God with the same tongue we curse our fellow man.  It is a good question.  The simple and correct answer is that we cannot do this.  But the reality is that we do struggle with controlling our tongue.  Sometimes our amazing brains are too quick and out of our mouths comes something that should not.

At the point of hurting or harming another with our tongue, first we must offer a sincere and humble apology to all offended.  Second, we must look within and go to work at taming the tongue better.  Third, we too must be merciful and gracious when we are stung or hurt.  We are all on the same journey to draw closer and closer to God, to become more and more like His Son, Jesus.  Each day may we guard our tongues so that our light can shine brightest into the world all around us.

Scripture reference: James 3: 5b-12