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Archive for April, 2016

Companion on the Journey

The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you.”  John 14:23-29 (CEB)

In John 14:23-29, Jesus was preparing his disciples for his departure.  I totally confused them, and they didn’t understand much of what he was saying until after his death, resurrection, and ascension.  We often put the pieces of the puzzle together after something has happened, and we don’t always see the blessing in our life events until we look back over the timeline of what happened.

As I think about what Jesus tells the disciples in this passage, I take comfort in his promise to not leave them without a powerful resource for living in his ways.  When I attended seminary, I remember wondering how all the pieces of history, ethics, worship, communication, Bible studies, and a number of other areas would fall into place.

Obviously, I couldn’t take my professors with me throughout the time I have been serving churches, so how was I going to put all this together and serve effectively using what I had learned?  To be honest, there were some courses that I questioned their help in my journey, but as I have moved through the twenty-plus years of ministry, I am discovering that everything really DOES mesh together.

Maybe what I’ve learned the most is that the pieces become a whole here and there.  I truly is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.  All of a sudden, a piece fits, and the picture is one step closer to being completed.  Of course, in ministry, let’s face it, the picture is never completed until that day when we see Jesus face to face.

Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would be with the disciples on their journey.  The Spirit would help them to remember what he had taught them, and they would also be able to piece together a larger picture of what it meant to carry on his ministry.

So, how do we, as followers of Jesus in this day and age figure out what it is like to have the Holy Spirit as OUR companion on the journey?  Well, when I think about my professors in seminary, I believe that the Holy Spirit worked through them to teach me about Jesus, the Bible, being in ministry, and so forth.  They were outstanding human beings who were dedicated to helping us learn and grow and become all that we could as pastors.

What I try to get across to the congregations that I serve is that the Holy Spirit works through a variety of ways to speak to us:  scriptures, prayer, friends, church folks, and a whole list of other possibilities.  Our job is to be alert and watching for the Spirit to move, to guide us, to lead us, to help us.  We are only a breath away from our Companion and the companions that God has sent to be with us on our life/faith journeys.

So often people figure that this has to be complicated, and that the Spirit will arrive in some fantastic way (like on the Day of Pentecost).  Yet, when we remember that God spoke to Elijah through the sheer silence in a still small voice, we also can be assured that the Spirit will also speak to us in many ways.  Developing or tuning our hearts so that we are receivers of those blessings will lead us in the right direction.

We are never alone.  Thanks be to God!

How do you “hear” the Holy Spirit at work in your life?

Where are some of the unusual places you have experience the Spirit at work?

How will you share that with others?

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Recognizing the Voice

My sheep listen to my voice.  I know them and they follow me.”  John 10:27 (CEB)

Earlier this week I was visiting a parishioner in the hospital.  The curtain between his bed and the other bed in the room had been drawn, so I knew someone else was in the room, but I couldn’t see who it was.  After a few minutes of conversation, a voice came from the other side of the curtain:  “Hi, Deb.”

As I poked my head around the curtain, I saw one of my husband’s co-workers who had been in the hospital for a while.  He said he thought he recognized my voice.  I’m sure we all have had experiences where we recognize someone’s voice.  My husband has a very distinctive voice, and from the second or third phone call during our early dating years, I would know right away who was on the other end of the line.

What becomes frustrating for me is, when I answer the phone, the person on the other end says, “Hi” and assumes that I know who it is.  While there are quite a few people who call me and whose voices I recognize right away, there are many more whose voice I don’t know.

When I call someone, I have learned to immediately identify myself so they know who is calling.  For me, it eliminates guess work and making assumptions, and I feel it shows respect to the other person by not putting them in the position of having to guess.

John 10:22-30 is about Jesus and his “flock,” to use the imagery he uses.  The Pharisees want him to tell them plainly whether or not he is the Messiah, and he knows that they wouldn’t believe it even if he said it.  Being part of Jesus’ flock means that we learn to know his voice and trust that he is guiding us all the way.  That’s not easy, either!

How do we learn to recognize Jesus’ voice?  As in any relationship, we need to spend time getting to know him.  We read the scriptures (the gospels especially); we pray; we worship together and learn about him from others through Bible study and discussions.  All relationships that are healthy and strong require a lot of hard work.  Our relationship with Jesus is no different.

And, in knowing Jesus, as verse 29 says, we know God.  It is through Jesus that we see, touch, experience, and learn more about God.

In what ways have you experienced God through Jesus?

How do you build your relationship with Jesus?

How and where do you recognize his voice in your life?

Really, God?

“Ananias countered, “Lord, I have heard many reports about his man [Saul].  People say he has done horrible things to your holy people in Jerusalem.” Acts 9:13 (CEB)

This week’s scripture lesson from Acts 9:1-20 tells the story of Saul, a young man who felt that the follower of Jesus (also called Followers of the Way) were heretics.  Punishment for such heresy was stoning to death.  Saul stood at the stoning of Stephen and began to lead a massive search to find the Followers of Jesus and throw them into prison.  The persecution of these Followers began and escalated at that point.

Saul began a journey to Damascus to do some more arresting of the Jesus Followers, and on the way, he was surprised (to put it mildly) by a blinding light that knocked him to the ground.  The voice of Jesus came through the light to ask Saul why he was persecuting him.  Note:  when the Followers were being persecuted, it was considered a persecution of Jesus, too.

When the light went away, Saul was rendered sightless, and his companions had to lead him to Damascus where he stayed in the home of a man named Judas (obviously, not Iscariot!).  So we often call this the conversion of Saul – who became Paul.

Yet, we also sometimes miss another type of conversion that took place, that of Ananias, a Follower whom God called upon to go minister to Saul.  This wasn’t a task he was feeling up to doing since, as the scripture above tells us, “[Saul] has done horrible things to your holy people in Jerusalem.”

Obviously Ananias had a close relationship with God because he recognized God’s voice telling him to go, and even after questioning, he went and followed through.  Perhaps Ananias realized, once he had met Saul and found him humbled and confused, that a true change had taken place.  In verse 17, we read that Ananias placed his hands on Saul and called him “brother.”  God spoke to both Saul and Ananias, opening their hearts to remember that their calling was about Jesus, the Christ, not about themselves.

When have we had a call to do something we really didn’t want to do?

How did we respond?  Fear? Anxiety? Resistance?  Running away?

In what ways can we listen more closely to God’s call in our own lives and follow through when God asks us to do something to serve others in Jesus’ name?

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