pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Bear Much Fruit

Reading: John 15: 1-8

Verse 4: “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine”.

Photo credit: Summertrain

Today we continue in John 15 with the vine and branches metaphor. Yesterday we looked at the primary role that our relationship with Jesus Christ plays in our life of faith. Jesus is the vine that gives us true life. God “prunes” or shapes and refines us to better model Jesus’ love to the world and to one another. As we practice Jesus’ sacrificial love in the world we are part of making new disciples – “bearing fruit” in this metaphor.

Today we look at our fellow branches and our connection to them. The branches of a vine are also connected to one another. There is often an interdependent relationship amongst the branches – they work together to produce a harvest. This idea reminds me of my community of faith. At the church we have a large community garden. The produce goes to people in need. Yesterday about a dozen folks gathered to plant potatoes, beans, carrots, beets, okra, turnips, strawberries, and many vining plants. Another group of about six gathered and provided a morning coffee break and a yummy lunch. Later in the day another came to help the leaders set up and test the watering system. All together we laid the groundwork for a ministry that will help feed many, sharing the love of Jesus along the way. In this way we are planting seeds that we hope and pray that the Holy Spirit nurtures into faith.

There are many other ways that our community of faith and other communities of faith work together to produce a harvest for the kingdom of God. For each of us, our call is to find where we each “fit” within our own communities of faith. Once we find our places to be a part of the vine we begin to fulfill God’s purposes for our lives. In these places we “bear much fruit, showing ourselves to be Jesus’ disciples”. May it be so for each of us.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the beautiful communities of faith that have helped me to grow and that have nurtured my faith. Thank you for the place where you have now planted me and for the ways they nurture me and help me to grow. Continue to be at work in us; use us to build up the kingdom of God in this time and place. Amen.


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The Love of Christ

Reading: 1st John 4: 7-15

Verse 12: “If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us”.

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

As we begin with our 1st John 4 passage today, we quickly see that love is the focus. For John, love is God’s key attribute. God is the source of love – the highest level of connection and caring that we have with God and with one another. John defines love as the indication of knowing God: If you love others you know God; if you don’t, you don’t know God.

If love is the indicator of whether or not we know God, how do we define love? John defines it as God’s gift of his son as our atoning sacrifice. While that certainly does demonstrate God’s love for us, it is certainly not God’s literal expectation of us. That act of love has been done once, for all, by Jesus. So then, what does love look like?

For some love is time – time to do things with another, time to listen, time to invest in the relationship. For some love is sacrifice – extra hours to pay for that event, going without so that a child can have that special thing, giving up something one enjoys to be there. For some love is an act of kindness – flowers just because, a nice note, doing an unexpected chore or project.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we too practice these ways of love. But the love of Christ goes beyond these too. We give time to our church as we serve; we make sacrifices to support and equip our church for ministry; we do random acts of kindness for our church and in the name of Christ. And we are called to even more. We are called to love those others do not. With Jesus Christ we love the least and the lost, the marginalized and the oppressed… This differentiates Christian love from worldly love. The love of Christ is selfless, sacrificial, humble, complete. May this be the love of God that is in you and in me.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to love not just as the world loves, but to love as you love. May I see you in all I meet and love all as you love them. Amen.


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The True Kingdom

Reading: John 10: 16-18

Verse 17: “The reason my father loves me is that I lay down my life”.

We turn to John 10 for a second day in a row. Yesterday we were drawn to consider the present reality of God’s kingdom here on earth and to consider how we are each working to include others in said kingdom. Today we focus in on the how and the who of our task to draw others into the kingdom of God.

For Jesus, the how was laying down his life. Jesus did this literally, going to the cross to defeat the power of sin and then to and out of the grave to defeat the power of death. This obedient, sacrificial action reflects both Jesus’ love for God and for us. In turn, it draws God’s love and our love too. While we may not go as far as Jesus did with our obedient and sacrificial actions, we can certainly expect to be called upon to pay a cost as we seek to share the love of God with others. It may be financial, physical, emotional, relational. The ‘how’ will almost always involve giving something for or to the other. While this is often difficult, the real ‘who’ is harder.

When we consider Jesus’ ‘who’, is general they were Jews. The people Jesus spoke with and ministered to were often much like Jesus himself. This too is our general mission field – those we work with, associate with, maybe go to school with. Jesus also welcomed and engaged those from the edges and fringes – those society and formal religion rejected or avoided. Herein lies our real challenge. We like the neat and ordered, the understandable and routine. Our churches like these things too. But for the kingdom of God to be fully revealed, it must reflect our actual communities, in all of their beautiful diversity. To realize this we must be willing to engage and welcome those outside of our normal circles. We must be willing to be uncomfortable and unsure of the places and people we seek to connect with – only in these thin spaces will we really rely on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. Only then will the margins and fringes be wiped away by the love of God, opening our community of faith to reflect the true kingdom of God here on earth.

Prayer: Loving God, it’s easy to call upon or engage those like me, those inside the church. It is much harder to engage and love those who are not like me. Give me a willing spirit and a deeper trust in you. Go with me Holy Spirit. Amen.


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One Flock

Reading: John 10: 11-18

Verse 16: “There shall be one flock and one shepherd”.

Our passage begins by defining Jesus as the good shepherd, the one who loves the sheep, the one who will “lay down his life for the sheep”. John contrasts this dedication to that of the hired hand. For this person, watching the sheep is just a job. And hopefully a temporary one at that. In my youth, this would have been like working in the tobacco fields. It was always hot and muggy. The tar stuck to everything. The dirt and worse stuck to the tar. About a minute into each day’s work one began to long for the end of the day. A hint of rain and the workers were ready to call it a day. In our passage the hired hand runs at the first sign of trouble. Not so with the good shepherd.

I don’t know about you, but I sure like my good shepherd and the flock I’m a part of. Jesus is faithful and true, with me in the highs and lows and everywhere in between. He watches over me, comforts me, guides me, forgives me, loves me. And what a wonderful flock too! The church is welcoming and kind and generous and dedicated – just a wonderful group of followers of Jesus. The good shepherd knows me by name – just like everyone else who gathers together on a Sunday morning. We gather and greet one another, we sing and pray and worship God, the little lambs frolic and play. We leave on Sunday morning feeling ready to live out our faith.

Then the reality of verse sixteen hits me: “There shall be one flock and one shepherd”. Well, God, maybe you are talking about the day when Jesus returns in final glory, when people of “every nation, tribe, people, and language” will stand before the throne (Revelation 7:9). No, Jesus said the kingdom of God is now, it is here on earth. This verse and these thoughts leave me wondering: what more do I need to do to draw others into the flock, to make all people in my little part of the kingdom feel loved and cared for by the good shepherd and by me?

Prayer: Lord God, who in the neighborhood needs to feel your love? Who needs to hear your voice? Help me to open wide the doors and to offer a pasture that draws all people in. May your kingdom be revealed. Amen.


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Caring Well

Reading: Acts 4: 32-35

Verse 34: “There were no needy persons among them”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

The early church thrived on Jesus’ love and compassion. Within this group that was of “one heart and mind”, they loved and cared for each other. In verse 34 we read, “There were no needy persons among them”. The early church was like a close-knit family, willingly giving to the community so that all had what they needed. This commitment ran so deep that they even sold significant holdings to provide for one another.

The early church stands in sharp contrast to our society today. In the common view of the world accumulation is the goal. Life is focused on earning more, on buying bigger and newer, on working up the ladder of success. To care deeply for the other, to give selflessly of what one has worked hard to earn – these Christian ideals run counter to much of western culture. Yes, the systems of our day are much different. In the days of the early church and for much of modern history, there were no government assistance programs. The family home was the retirement home. The family cared for the widows and the infirm among them. The church extended this idea, adding a layer of care to the existing norms of the day. Communities cared for those who were unable to care for themselves.

Yet the words of Jesus still call us to care for the widow and orphan, to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry… In our communities today there are many in need. While we cannot help every person in need, certainly we can help some? How do we discern how, where, and who? We must begin in our community of faith, caring well for one another. We must also go beyond that, caring well for those in our communities who are in need. Can we meet every need? Can we alone care for all of the needs in our community? Probably not, but we can meet some as we are able. Led by the Holy Spirit, may we seek to model the love and compassion of the early church, caring well for those in need, loving one and all.

Prayer: Lord, your love for us is extravagant. It is generous. It is selfless. As I consider the needs around me and in my community, may I model your love well. Amen.


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Drawn by Love

Reading: Acts 4: 32-35

Verse 33: “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus”.

In yesterday’s Psalm we were reminded how “good and pleasant” it was and is when the faithful live in unity. In today’s passage from Acts 4, we see this ideal lived out. This passage focuses on the church in Jerusalem. In other passages we see similar circumstances as well as churches in one community supporting a church in another community. As Christians living our faith today, many of us support our local churches as well as organizations that serve others on a daily basis or in times of great need. The twin spirits of generosity and of caring for the other have been hallmarks of Christianity ever since Jesus set these examples.

Our passage today opens with “all the believers were one in heart and mind”. This manifest itself in three ways: they shared everything, no one was in need, and individuals sold land and homes to support one another. All three were great examples of love being lived out. All three witnessed to Jesus’ calls to love other more than self and to love as he first loved us. The world around the church noticed. The early church was living out its faith in real and practical ways. Love attracts, love draws others in. In verse 33 we read, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus”. People were drawn towards Jesus by the love being lived out. The apostles’ words revealed Jesus resurrected, the source of this love and its power. May our actions and words do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, may all see and hear your love in me. Each day may I love others as Jesus would love them. And if any ask, may the Holy Spirit give me the words of life, bringing others into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Good and Pleasant Unity

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse 1: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers [and sisters] live together in unity”.

Psalm 133 speaks to and of the community of faith. David identifies unity as something that is “good and pleasant”. It is God’s desire that all his children live in unity and peace. In the Psalm David is writing to the nation of Israel but his words also speak to the whole community of faith and to the local church. Unity draws others in, enabling the body of Christ and the individual believer to grow and flourish.

David uses the yearly anointing of the high priest as his illustration of the blessings of unity. Once a year the specially formulated oil of blessing would be poured over the head of the high priest, symbolizing God’s blessings flowing down over the representative of God’s connection to the people. This act also expressed unity – unity between God and his people. The visual of the oil running down Aaron’s face and through his beard and down onto his robes is a reminder of the abundance of God’s blessings on the faithful.

The Psalm closes with “there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore”. “There” are the places of unity and harmony. In and through the community of faith is where we find “life forevermore”. So this day and every day may we each do our part to build up the unity of the body of Christ, experiencing God’s blessings and favor as we do so.

Prayer: Lord, it is so good and pleasant when we gather in worship and fellowship to praise your name and to serve one another. Build up our love for one another, raise up a humble servant’s heart in each of us. In all we do and say, together may we bring you the glory and honor. Amen.


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Great in Love, Rich in Mercy

Reading: Ephesians 2: 1-5

Verse 4: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”.

Today’s passage is all about the change that God has made in us. Before Christ we were as Paul writes: “dead in our transgressions and sins”. We lived a life focused on self and on doing whatever we wanted to please self and our earthly desires. We lived according to the “ways of the world” and we were “disobedient” to God. For many of us older folks that meant distancing ourselves from the faith of our childhood and from the faith of our parents. For the younger readers, a larger segment grew up without a childhood church or faith. For all who came to faith the realization came that the things of this world are temporary. They never really satisfy or bring meaning and purpose to this life. Peace, contentment, joy… only come through the eternal relationship that we find in Jesus Christ.

Why didn’t God leave us there, dead in our sin? Why did God continue to pursue us even when we were running from him? We find our answer in verse four: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”. God’s love is greater than our sin. We were created to be in relationship with God and with one another. God calls and woos and chases us until we make the choice to invite him into our hearts or until we draw our last earthly breath. Faith, however, does not stop at our decision for Christ. Once we accept Christ we are not finished. It is just the beginning of our faith journey. We are not suddenly sinless. Satan continues to pursue us, often with renewed passion, enticing and tempting the flesh still within us. Yet the battle is different, it is changed. The field is no longer level. With Christ alive in us, we do not fight alone. The Holy Spirit leads and guides, convicts and corrects, ever helping us to choose Christ over the world, good over evil, light over darkness.

Lent is a season that reminds us of this battle, that draws us into combat. In Lent we are called again and again to look within, to seek out the parts of us that still need to yield to Christ’s authority and reign. In this seeking and yielding it is grace and mercy that provide the way. In love it is God’s grace and mercy that say our past doesn’t matter, that our selfishness or pride or fear doesn’t control us anymore, that we are loved just as we are. In the season of Lent and in the hard work that we are called to, this is the good news: we are loved, we are forgiven, we are saved by grace. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your love that is so deep that I cannot ever reach the bottom. Thank you for your love that is so wide that I cannot ever see the other side. Thank you for your love that always surrounds me, even when I stumble and fall. What great love. Amen.


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Falling Short

Reading: 1st Corinthians 8: 1-6

Verse 3: “The man who loves God is known by God”.

Paul begins this section on food sacrificed to idols by speaking of knowledge. He is talking about what is inside our heads. This is usually where faith begins. Most Christians follow the same path: learning about God, Jesus, and faith in Sunday school, youth group… as they mature in faith until one day the head knowledge becomes heart truth. As is true with almost everything in life, in our faith we understand more and more the longer we journey in faith. Within the Corinthian church some were relying their superior knowledge and it was causing division and it was hindering the faith journey of the new believers. In our churches today, we still do this at times. We allow our knowledge to “puff” us up.

The first way this happens is when we make our churches feel exclusive. We all look and talk alike, we act alike, we appear to be perfect Christians. We have those that we gravitate to each Sunday morning. A visitor can feel like an outsider very quickly, especially when they are not like the homogeneous crowd. Someone who comes because they are struggling with something really feels out of place when they enter a room full of people without any faults or issues. To further create a sense of “us” and “them” we use insider language and big fancy words. Maybe most regulars know what sanctification, justification, atonement, sacrament… mean. But if you are new to the faith, these terms can make you feel like an outsider very quickly.

In the Corinthian church the mature believers knew “that an idol is nothing at all”. To them, idols were just carved pieces of stone or wood. The mature believers knew that there was only one God, only one Lord. But for the new believers, the ones who had grown up worshipping these idols all their lives, this idea was a struggle. The mature believers were saying, in essence, “just get over it”, “just believe what I say I believe”. They were not willing to walk in love with their new brothers and sisters in Christ. They were not willing to enter the struggle, to walk alongside the one wrestling with their conscience.

We do this in our churches when we fail to talk about our sins and struggles. Church becomes a social club for the perfect and for the saints. Nope, no sin here. We know all we need to know to be good little Christians. In verse three Paul writes, “The man who loves God is known by God”. Loving God must lead to loving others. Jesus unpacks the truth of this idea in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25: 31-46). When we say we love God, when we say all are welcome in our churches but do not really welcome the sinners and broken people into our communities of faith, we are falling short. When we look down on those “obviously” dealing with sin by making them feel unwelcome, we are falling short. When we indirectly but clearly say come back when you have your life together, we are falling short. May it not be so church. May it not be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to truly love others as a witness to my love for you. Strip away my pride and judgmental tendencies, guide me to walk side by side in love with those in struggle, with those living outside of your love. Give me the courage to admit my struggles and sins within the body of Christ. Grant me a welcoming and compassionate spirit. Amen.


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Draw Others to Him

Reading: John 1: 43-51

Verse 46: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there”?

Philip is sold immediately that Jesus is the one, the Messiah, the Savior. Something about Jesus and something inside Philip connect and he responds to a simple invitation: “Follow me”. Some people come to Jesus this way. In a moment he is what they need or who they find healing or peace or strength or mercy in, and they believe in him. Most of us, however, are more like Nathanael – doubtful, skeptical, questioning. When invited to come to meet this Jesus, he scoffs: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there”? What good could ever come out of that small, insignificant town in Galilee?

People today might not question where Jesus came from, but we do question what he could do for us. What difference could Jesus possibly make in my life? Like Nathanael, we question and we doubt. We scoff. Even some who were raised in the church come to a place of questioning, of doubting. I was raised in the church – Sunday school, worship, confirmation, choir, youth group – the whole nine yards. I knew who Jesus was and I followed on the surface. I followed the parts that I wanted to. In college, I “drifted” even further. Life was just fine sort of being a Christian. Then things were not so good and I found myself seeking the Lord – and he was there. I met Jesus in a way that I hadn’t before. My walk with the Lord began anew.

Nathanael was one without anything false in him. Jesus called him a “true Israelite”. Even though Jesus was not what he expected, and even though he was skeptical, Nathanael went to meet Jesus. He was initially draw by Philip’s testimony. He knew about the Messiah, he had been raised in the “church”. There are many who know about Jesus, even some who have drifted. Today and each day of our lives, may our faith in Jesus Christ draw others to come and see, to meet him in a new way. May we, like Philip, invite others to meet our Jesus so that he can do “greater things” in their lives too.

Prayer: Living God, may your light shine brightly within me, being a light others see and are drawn to. Help me to be invitational, encouraging others to come and meet Jesus, the Savior, the Messiah. Amen.