pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Good Grapes?

Reading: Isaiah 5:1-7

Verse 2: “He looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.”

Photo credit: Nacho Dominguez Argenta

The first 7 verses of Isaiah 5 are titled “The Song of the Vineyard.” In the opening verse we learn that it is a song “for the one I love.” As the song begins we see that the loved one found a fertile hillside and tilled the soil, clearing the stones. Into this perfect soil the choicest vibes are planted. A watchtower and wine press are built. The vineyard planter awaits sweet, juicy grapes. It all sounds so beautiful. What awesome plans God has for the chosen people!

At the end of verse 2 we read, “He looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.” What a taste it would leave in the mouth! Everything was given great attention, down to the smallest detail. What should have been the pride of all the world was far from it. It was foul! The only chosen people on all the earth – yet God now laments, saying, “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it?” God provided the Promised Land, clearing away every enemy, removing every stone. God provided laws to guide them and built walls for their safety.

But instead of holiness and righteousness shining forth from the city on a hill, they were yielding bad fruit. Greed, injustice, religious indifference – this was the bad fruit. In verses 5-7 we see the consequences, both physically and spiritually. All will be lost. This same scenario, this same choice plays out in our lives. God nurtures us and cares for us, protects us and provided for us. How will we respond? Will we reflect God’s holiness and care and compassion and righteousness? We too must decide. How will you respond?

Prayer: Lord God, prune away anything that is unholy or impure within me. Trim it away so that my life produces good fruit – fruit that is pleasing to you. Amen.


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The Growing Cycle

Reading: Colossians 1:9-14

Verse 10: “Live a life worthy of the Lord… please him in every way… bearing fruit in every good work… growing in the knowledge of God.”

Paul’s prayer for the Colossians continues in today’s passage. He begins by praying that they are filled with the knowledge of God’s will. This knowledge comes through spiritual wisdom and understanding. These are gained by living out the faith, by worshipping together, and by listening to the Holy Spirit. We can practice these things and we can add Bible study to our list.

Paul prays for this knowledge and wisdom and understanding so that the Colossians can “live a life worthy of the Lord… please him in every way… bearing fruit in every good work… growing in the knowledge of God.” Notice the connections between these actions and the cyclical effect of living this way. When we live a life worthy of the Lord we are walking closely in Jesus’ footsteps, following his example. This is pleasing to God. The more we live like Jesus, the more we please God. Our lives will, in turn, bear fruit as we live and love like Jesus lived and loved. Not only will we do good works that bring glory to God, we will also draw others towards following Jesus. Each of these actions help us to grow in our faith, growing in our knowledge of God. This growth deepens our walk, further leading us to live in a way that is worthy of Jesus’ example.

Paul finishes these thoughts by touching on some of the other outcomes – endurance and patience, joy, and sharing in the “kingdom of light.” This kingdom is something we both build here on earth and is what we await as we long for our final adoption into eternal glory. For the here and now and for the glory to come we say thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the journey so far! Growing closer and deeper has been such a joy. Continue to work in and through me, transforming me more and more into who and what you desire me to be. Amen.


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Transformed, New, Better

Reading: 1st Corinthians 15:35-38

Verse 37: “When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or something else.”

In our first half of this week’s passage from 1st Corinthians 15 Paul addresses our resurrection bodies. More than telling us what we’ll be like, though, Paul tells us that we will be different, more. Paul also reminds us that death always involves changes; something new emerges.

Paul goes practical in verse 37, reminding his mostly agricultural audience that “When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or something else.” Paul reminds them of this truth of creation that humankind has known for ages: the seed that goes in the ground isn’t the same as the plant that emerges. God determined long ago what the new life – whether wheat or a tomato plant or poison ivy – what it would look like when it sprouts up out of the ground and as it develops. God has a similar plan for us as well. Although we are not exactly sure what we will be like in heaven, we do know that God knows and we do know that we will be transformed, new, better.

In many ways one can argue this about the seed-plant analogy. Sure, the seed can be eaten and it will give you some small nutritional value. But if you plant it and nurture it, one day it will produce abundantly more food or flowers or plants… And one can harvest more seeds to sow even more plants. Almost always the plant is full of life and beauty and energy too – something lacking in the appearance of the seed. So too are we when living out our faith.

Our faith is also like the plant in this way: what the plant is on day 1 is not what it will be on day 30 or day 82 or year 6. If cared for and nurtured, it will grow and produce fruit, flowers, other plants, or, in our faith, disciples. As we walk and grow in our faith, we develop and mature, producing other disciples as we become more and more like Christ day by day and year by year. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the many ways in which you have grown and developed my faith. Continue to be at work in me, maturing me and guiding me to produce fruit for your kingdom. Amen.


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Produce Fruit

Reading: Luke 3: 7-14

Verse 8: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Our passage from Luke 3 is broken into two parts. Today we look at what it looks like to live out our faith in Jesus and tomorrow we look at who Jesus Christ is in our lives and in our world.

Today’s reading begins by addressing the reality of people’s faith. John asks the crowd, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” There is an implication that many in the crowd will be judged unworthy of the kingdom of God and that many are blissfully unaware of it. Today these would be the people who say “I’m a good person,” “I give to the red buckets at Christmas time,” “I grew up in a Christian home,” and so on. John says to the crowd that thinks they are “in,” “the ax is already at the root of the tree.” He explains that it does not matter if they claim to be a Jew or say they love God. Today these would be the people who say “I go to church once in a while” or “I pray every day.”

In verse eight John says, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” He goes on to explain what this could look like: sharing our extra with those in need, being content with what we have, controlling our desires for power. For John, a personal relationship with God is not just some status we claim. It is a connection that impacts and changes all areas of our life. Repentance over and over shapes us more and more into the image of God. Experiencing God’s mercy, love, generosity, and compassion leads us to extend and share these things with others. This is producing fruit. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, deepen our relationship this week. Deepen it so that I can love you and all I meet more fully, more completely. Refine me over and over to be more like you. Amen.


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Faithful Journey

Reading: Psalm 1

Verse 3: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields it fruit in season”.

Psalm 1 draws a clear distinction between those who walk in the way of the Lord and those who do not. The psalmist describes the faithful as blessed, prosperous, and enduring. The faithful do not join in with the mockers and sinners. By contrast the wicked will be like chaff – they will quickly perish. When presented in these terms, it is easy to identify which destiny one would prefer. Eternal life or be burned up in the fire? Easy choice, right?

Yes, the destination matters, but the journey, the day to day of living, is where the destination is really determined. Because of that our Psalm also speaks of the journey itself. The first area of focus is internal and personal. Blessed is the one who meditates on God’s laws. Blessed is the one who carves out time each day to better know and grow closer to God. The second component of our journey is external or outwardly focused: “He [or she] is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields it fruit in season”. A tree is an excellent choice. A tree has longevity and permanence. Our journey of faith should parallel this. We should drink of Christ’s nourishment steadily and regularly. We should walk faithfully, day after day, all of our lives. This is the “abide in Christ” idea that we have been thinking about lately. The external is revealed in how this daily abiding affects our daily living. It shows in the ways we bear fruit in season. Our “seasons” are the ministries and opportunities that God presents us with as we journey with Christ through this life.

The seasons vary: Sunday school teacher for some, mission team participant for others; serving at the local humane society for some, being on the Trustees or Finance team for others; playing or singing in the band or choir for some, mentoring a person on parole or one in recovery for others. This is but a tiny list of the ways that God can and will use us to “bear fruit” if we are simply willing.

Two questions to ponder: Where do or can you serve on God’s team? How are you rooted in the one who “watches over the way of the righteous”?

Prayer: Blessing God, day by day you seek to walk closely with each of your children. Day by day you bring new opportunities to stand faithfully, to work to build your kingdom one piece of fruit at a time. By the power and presence of the Holy Spirit open my eyes and heart to walk and serve you faithfully all of my days. Amen.


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God Chooses…

Reading: John 15: 16-17

Verse 16: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit”.

Photo credit: Mikhail Alexandrov

“You did not choose me, but I chose you”. These words bring a range of reaction and emotion. It is empowering, uplifting, encouraging… to understand that God chose you and me to be a part of building the kingdom of God. Wow! It is at the same time intimidating, scary, overwhelming… to understand that God chose you and me to be a part of building the kingdom of God. Wow!

When I was much younger I had a crush on a young lady. At first she appreciated my attention but soon realized that she was just not interested in me. Many times in my younger days love was in the air but would soon fade away. Just because I chose someone to be the recipient of my affections did not mean that they would reciprocate. Try as I might, things often went nowhere.

God has not only chosen you and I to receive his love, grace, peace, forgiveness… God has chosen all of humanity. Some appreciate God’s affection but choose not to reciprocate. They do not want a relationship with God. Still others don’t even know that God is reaching out. For those of us who have chosen to walk with Jesus Christ, we are “appointed” to go and seek both of these groups out so that they can experience God’s love, grace, peace, forgiveness… – some for the first time, some once again.

God will never force anyone to be in a relationship with him. That is not love. We cannot force or argue anyone into faith in Jesus Christ either. Our task is to go forth in the name of Jesus to love others, bearing good fruit for the kingdom of God. Sharing God’s love, grace, peace, forgiveness… is how we bear good fruit. May it be so for you and for me this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for choosing me. I can’t imagine life without you. Use me today to share your light and love with all I meet. Amen.


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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 Vine

Reading: John 15: 1-8

Verse 5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit”.

Photo credit: Rohit Tandon

Jesus begins John 15 with a familiar analogy. Vineyards were common in Israel – a good topic to use to describe the connection between disciples and the divine. In the first verse Jesus establishes himself as the vine and God as the one who tends the vine. You and I are branches.

Over the years, on my walk of faith, I have found it very important for me to stay closely connected to Jesus. Has this been true for you? When I am faithful about my personal disciplines – early morning prayer, reading and study, reflection, journaling – then my daily life is better aligned with Jesus’ mission. In those seasons when I am just going through the motions, my connection weakens and my faith begins to get dry and stale. Challenges and difficulties arise during both seasons. Working through these with Jesus is much different than going it on my own. Has this been your experience too?

A grape vine, like all living organisms, is either growing or it is dying. Seeing the leaves and then the grapes appear and mature is easy. Noticing the vine growth is not so noticeable. Left unchecked a vine will grow and grow. If left on its own, the vine growth will decrease fruit production. This reminds me of something that I must guard against. In ministry it can be easy to say ‘yes’ to many things. I’m active and am a doer, so this is my natural tendency. I want to try new things, to offer more opportunities, to just keep adding. Because of this tendency, I am thankful for the gardener. At times God prunes me. The Holy Spirit reveals a busyness that can be let go. A fellow Christian questions my latest, greatest idea or impulse. A colleague in ministry helps me to return to the focus of my calling. Each of these persons reminds me of the truth of verse five: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit”. To bear fruit you and I must remain closely connected to Jesus Christ, the source of our faith and love. May it ever be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Loving God, day by day, draw me to you. Fill me each mourning, nourishing me for the day ahead. Guard my heart and mind, leading me to walk the path you purpose for me. Connected to your son, may we bear much fruit. Amen.


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The Harvest

Reading: Matthew 21: 33-41

Verse 38: “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance”.

Today’s reading comes as part of a quick succession of stories. Chapter 21 begins with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem followed by Jesus clearing the temple, which had been turned into a marketplace, a “den of robbers”. This is a challenge to the religious leaders’ authority. After Jesus curses the fig tree for not producing fruit, the chief priests and elders question Jesus’ authority. He does not answer their question directly. Instead he tells two parables. In the first one son agrees to work in the field but does not. The other son says “no” but ends up working in the field. The religious leaders identify the one who does the will of the father as the son who obeyed. Jesus then points out that the tax collectors and prostitutes, those who originally said no to God, are entering the kingdom of God ahead of the chief priests and elders because they listened and repented. To further illustrate God’s displeasure with their hard hearts Jesus tells the parable we read today.

In the parable of the tenants, the tenants harvest a vineyard they did not plant. At harvest, a share is due to the owner of the vineyard. Twice the tenants abuse, kill, and stone those sent to collect the owner’s share. Then the owner sends his son. As the tenants see him approaching they say, “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance”. Indeed they do kill him. Jesus then asks the religious leaders how the owner will respond. They say that the owner will bring those wicked “wretches to a wretched end”. In our reading for tomorrow, Jesus quotes from Psalm 118. These verses would have triggered a connection for the religious leaders. Verses 19-21 speak of a triumphal entry and the Lord bringing salvation to those who believe. The religious leaders would not have missed what Jesus, the capstone being rejected, was implying. We will explore this further tomorrow.

The religious leaders and Jews often rejected the ones sent by the one who establisheded them in the Promised Land – a place they did not plant or build. Some of the prophets were rejected, beaten, even killed by leaders who did not want to hear God’s truths. These leaders would continue the pattern, this time crucifying the one who had come to save. Our question to consider is this: what do we do when the Lord gives us opportunity to produce a harvest? Do we hold tightly to all we have, refusing to let some go to build up the kingdom of God?

When the owner comes looking for us to contribute to the harvest, may we be a part of a fruitful harvest. May we be faithful tenants, giving unto the Lord, as we are led, to build the kingdom of God here on earth.

Prayer: Lord of all, as you give me opportunity to plant seeds or to nourish growth, lead me to be faithful and obedient. Guide me to step forward into those opportunities as I seek to be a part of building your kingdom in this time and place. Amen.


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The Lord’s Renown

Reading: Isaiah 55: 10-13

Verse 11: “My word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty”.

Isaiah was a prophet that wrote to a nation who was astray from the Lord. Chapter 55 opens with a beautiful invitation from God to his wayward children: “Come, all who are thirsty, come to the waters”. God is flinging open the doors for his people to return, to come and drink of his mercy and love. Isaiah encourages the people to “seek the Lord while he may be found”. They have the opportunity to turn back to God so that they can experience God’s mercy and free pardon. In today’s passage we hear God speaking through the prophet. In these words we can hear God’s hope for his children.

In verse ten God says that just as the rain and snow that come down from heaven brings life to the earth, so too will “my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty”. As Isaiah and others share the word of God, it too will bear fruit. God has prepared Israel’s soil. He has made it into good soil – into soil ready to receive the word. God’s purposes will be accomplished. Israel’s soil has been prepared through the trial and sufferings of defeat and exile. This experience has made them aware of their sins and of their need for God. We too know this experience. Times of pain and loss have driven us to God. Times of sin and suffering from it have driven us to our knees. Times of hardship and testing have driven us to cry out to God. We have all had our soil tilled by the hand of God as a means to ready us to hear his word. It has then filled us. It does not return empty.

In verses twelve and thirteen we see the result of God’s word. People who receive God’s word will “go out in joy” and will be “led forth in peace”. The earth will also rejoice and bring forth good life – the pine tree and myrtle will replace the thorns and briers. It will all be for the Lord’s renown.

As you reflect on your life, how and when has God’s word brought you new life? How did God work within and through you to accomplish his purposes? How did this all bring God the glory and renown? As we ponder these thoughts today, may we seek opportunities to share the story of what God has done.

Prayer: Loving God, each time I thirst, each time I cry out, each time I wander a bit – you are right there. Your Spirit reminds me of your promises, it brings gentle mercies, it leads me to kneel at your throne of grace. May your word dwell richly in me, yielding a crop that brings you the glory and renown that you desire. Amen.