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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Walking in Lament

Reading: Psalm 31: 9-16

Verses 14-16: “You are my God… My times are in your hands… Save me in your unfailing love”.

Psalm 31 is one of many Psalms of Lament. These Psalms balance lament and grief and sorrow with God’s love and mercy and presence. To walk with God through trial and suffering and affliction is such a blessing. The journey is much harder for those without faith. Verses ten through twelve sum up well what it feels like to be alone in our sorrow and anguish, alone as people utter contempt and conspire against us. At times we have all felt like David does in these verses. At times we all feel like “broken pottery”.

Psalm 31 shifts in verse fourteen. Here David’s faith begins to take over his emotions. In trust David says, “You are my God”. He is claiming his place within God’s unfailing love. In humility David continues, saying, “My times are in your hands”. Here David is acknowledging that God alone is in control. This humility undergirds his prayers for help and deliverance. David knows that all things work according to God’s purposes. It is freeing to turn it over to God. Inviting God to shine upon him, David asks God to “save me in your unfailing love”. There is an assurance that God’s presence brings salvation. With God, David will walk confidently into all that lies ahead. Even though there is great lament in the Psalm, David’s words also reveal the trust, humility, and assurance that are ours when we walk with God.

Reflecting on this Psalm my mind is drawn a week ahead, to the Garden of Gethsemane. In a time of deep sorrow and lament Jesus will wrestle with what lies ahead as he considers his journey to the cross. He is challenged by the thought of drinking the cup of wrath yet he too trusts in God, submits his will to God’s will, and moved forward, confident of God’s presence with him.

As we face times or seasons of lament, as our faith calls us to walk a difficult road, may we too live within God’s love and care, humbly trusting in the Lord our God. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving and guiding God, when tides rise, when clouds roll in, may I cling to you. Draw me into your presence, surround me with your love, assure me of the plans that you have for me. You are my God. In you I trust. Amen.


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Pray, Listen

Reading: 2nd Samuel 7: 1-11 and 16

Verse 2: “Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent”.

At this point in his story, David is at a good place. He has conquered all of his enemies. He has established Jerusalem as the capital. He has a beautiful home made of expensive wood. Life is good. David calls in his advisor, the prophet Nathan, and says to him, “Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent”. Nathan thinks it a splendid idea to build God a big fancy home. But before David can even begin to line up all the workers and start gathering up all the materials, God reigns him in.

God begins with a question. He asks David, “Are you the one”? God reminds them that he has not had a house, well, ever. God once had a garden… But God has never once even asked for a house. A house is, after all, a human construct. God is perfectly content with a tent. It is adequate. It is simple. It is humble. In this season, it reminds me of the manger.

David does something here in today’s passage that I can do too. I can set my plans out before God’s plans. This happens one of two times and both are equally dangerous. Like with David, when things are going well, I can strike off with my own grand idea for ministry or service. On the other end of the spectrum, when things are going really bad, I can try quick fixes, much like firing darts at the dartboard while blindfolded. In both cases I fail to do what David failed to do: pray. Include God at the planning and thinking stages instead of at the point that the ship is sinking. Too often our plans can be formed and executed without God’s help and guidance. Usually these end with God reigning me back in, with me learning another hard lesson. Step one: pray.

As I read and pondered this passage this morning, at first I thought, ‘If only I had a Nathan’, one sent by God to guide me, to help me, to lead me, to walk with me. And then I realized that I do. The Holy Spirit is my personal connection to God. Thinking back on my hard lessons, I can see when I ignored the quiet whisper, when I shoved back against the gentle nudge. Step two is to listen, to hear.

To pray and to listen are two key steps on our walk of faith. Both align us and keep us in tune with God. May all we do and say and think begin with these two steps: pray and listen. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for this reminder today. In my too frequent battles with pride and wanting to be in control, reminders of your ways are always needed. Thank you for the reminder today. Amen.


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Ever at Work

Reading: Psalm 105: 6, 16-22, and 45b

Verse 17: “He sent a man before them – Joseph, sold as a slave”.

Psalm 105 tells the story of the Israelites time in Egypt and of how God saved them. It is the story of God’s faithfulness to his chosen people. In this sense, the Bible is a historical document. The Bible tells the whole story of God’s people, beginning in the garden of Eden and ending with the coming renewal of heaven and earth. One events links to another, person after person plays their role. All are part of God’s good plans, all working towards the final return to all of God’s children living and walking and talking daily with the Lord in a new paradise.

Today’s verses are part of that story. They are, in fact, just a part of Joseph’s story too. The psalmist reminds us that before the famine occurred, God was already at work. That is usually how God works. In verse seventeen we read, “He sent a man before them – Joseph, sold as a slave”. God was ahead of the game. In his wisdom he saw how to use this world event to bring the family of Israel back together again. Joseph’s rise to power in the king’s household was also foretold. Those dreams that a young Joseph had would come to pass. All parts of the bigger story.

Today’s passage also reminds us that Joseph’s journey was not always easy. He entered Egypt as a slave, sold and discarded by his own flesh and blood. Joseph’s path to become “master” of pharaoh’s household would include a couple of other trials along the way. Through it all, Joseph remains faithful, trusting in the working out of God’s plan. God continues to be at work. One trial after another reveals the power of God at work in the world. That is one of the major overall themes in the story of the Bible: God is faithful. God is ever at work in the story of God’s chosen ones, ever working the whole family together with one another and with God himself. This is the Israelites’ story, this is Joseph’s story, this is our story. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Living God, your fingerprints are all over Joseph’s story. No matter what came – his brothers’ jealousy, Potiphar’s wife’s lust, the cupbearer’s poor memory – Joseph remained faithful and you remained at work. Grant me the same faith and trust and perseverance, O God. Amen.


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Decision Points

Reading: Genesis 12: 1-4a

Verse 1: “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you”.

As human history begins and the world gets started, the general direction is downhill. It began in a beautiful way in the garden but soon sin corrupted even that place. The flood was only a temporary reset. Sin and evil began to flourish almost as soon as Noah and family exited the ark. Today we turn to Abram. He was chosen by God to be another starting point.

God identifies Abram and one day says to him: “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you”. Imagine how hard that might be to do – especially when the destination is unknown. Pack up everything and I’ll let you know which way to go. Talk about taking a step of faith. God chose the right guy. Abram is just one of many who obediently step out in faith.

We too come to decision points in our lives. What college or major? Is he/she the one for me? Do we accept this job and move to ___? Am I being called to change careers? The answers to these questions (and more like them) do much to shape and form who we become. While this is true, I believe the line goes something like this: “The proof is in the details”. The decisions and choices that we make each and every day are what really reveal who and whose we are. The ways we love God and love others, the faith and trust that guides our lives, the compassion and grace that steers our relationships, the humble servsnt’s heart – these are the qualities that lead us to our career, to our spouse…

calls out to us each day as the Holy Spirit leads, guides, convicts, corrects, nudges, whispers. At each big decision point and at every small decision point, may our faith be our guide. If put to it like Abram was, may we too step out in faith, trusting fully in God.

Prayer: Lord God, the decisions I make today – the thoughts, the words, the actions – all shape and form me. They lead to who I will be tomorrow. Shape and form me more into your image. Amen.


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Glory and Power

Reading: Revelation 1: 4-8

Verses 5-6: “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood… to Him be glory and power for ever and ever”.

Today and tomorrow we spend a brief time in the book of Revelation. The vision of the unfolding of the end of this present time is given to John by an angel. It is a story that plays out over a long period of time. Revelation contains a lot of frightful imagery and violence. Ultimately, though, Revelation is the story of God’s love and of how God will bring about the new creation. Revelation will end with the return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of a new heaven and earth. Like humanity did in the original garden, we will once again walk, talk, and dwell with God.

John understands Jesus’ central role in restoring the world. Our passage today is the greeting and doxology of the letter. John begins with the eternal nature of Jesus – who was and is and is to come – and then identifies Jesus’ roles. He is “the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth”. Each of these roles focuses on the central theme of Revelation: God’s love. As Jesus lived out His life on earth, He was a faithful and obedient witness to God’s love. He lived it out every day. At the end of His earthly life, Jesus was raised from the dead – the tomb was empty. His death was out of love for us and His resurrection demonstrates God’s eternal love for us. Because He lives we will also live. One day Jesus will return to rule over all the earth. He will rule over all the kings and over all of creation. Every knee will bow. His rule will not be one of power and might through force, but one of love.

John closes the greeting with worship and praise for his Lord Jesus. In verses 5 and 6 he writes, “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood… to Him be glory and power for ever and ever”. There is a connection between Jesus, His blood, and our sins. Jesus loved us so much that He was willing to die for us while we were yet sinners. Jesus shed His blood in love. On the cross Jesus took upon His perfect self the sins of the world. He then died as the atonement or payment for our sins. With His life Jesus was the sacrifice for our sins. That is love. Because the price is paid, we are freed from the guilt and shame and debt of paying for our sins. Through His blood we are redeemed and made new again. It is a foretaste of eternity.

May our reaction and response to this gift be the same as John’s – to proclaim to Him be the glory and power for ever and ever. All praise be to Jesus Christ, our Lord and King!

Prayer: God, thank you for your love. Thank you for a love that gave your only Son for me, a sinner saved by grace. May all I do and say bring you honor and glory today. Amen.


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He Is Alive!

Reading: John 20: 1-18

Verse 18: Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news, “I have seen the Lord”!

In the original garden, Adam and Eve walked and talked with God.  They had a close, personal relationship.  Their sin cost them much: they were forced from the garden.  With sin, death also entered the world.  We fast forward to another garden, this time the garden of Gethsemane.  In a moment of weakness, we find a human Jesus worried about death.  He does not want to die.  The physical part of Jesus knows what it will be like to be crucified.  But Jesus masters the fear and prepares to walk to the cross.  The divine Jesus triumphs and He is willing to drink of the cup for us.  The cup represents the new covenant, made with His blood.  This cup of forgiveness is for all who call on Jesus as Lord and Savior.  His blood was “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).  The sin that had entered in the first garden is defeated by Christ on the cross.  In the new covenant, we are freed from the power of sin.

Today’s story takes place in another garden.  Hope seemed lost.  Mary and the disciples have seen that the tomb is empty, but the do not understand.  The one they called “Messiah” – Savior of the world – was gone.  Mary stands alone, weeping.  Then angels appear, almost to announce what happens next.  Mary turns and asks for the body.  “Mary”.  Jesus speaks her name.  “Mary”.  With her name spoken, suddenly she knows it is Jesus.  She knows His voice.  He calls her by name.  In John 10:14, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me”.  At His voice, Mary knows it is Jesus.  On the cross, Jesus defeated sin.  From the grave, He defeats death.

Jesus continues to call out, calling us each by name.  He calls us by name, into a personal relationship with Him.  When we open our hearts to Jesus, He comes and dwells within us.  In this relationship, we know Jesus, just as He knows us.  In this relationship, we experience what He experienced – victory over sin and death.  May we join many, proclaiming what Mary proclaimed: “I have seen the Lord”!  Hallelujah and amen!  He is risen!  He is alive!!


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Listen

Reading: Genesis 2: 15-17

Adam and Eve began in the garden.  Each day they walk and talk with God, enjoying all that God has provided.  They have been given almost unlimited access to the garden and all of its bounty.  The one restriction God places is upon the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  God lets Adam and Eve know that they will die if they eat of this one tree.

Can you remember as a kid when your Mom or Dad said, “Don’t do” this or that?  At least some of the time these were things you never would have thought of on your own.  But more often than not, your wise and loving parents knew from experience that sooner or later that tree or rooftop or toy your sister had would be more than you could resist.  We were the same way.  All parents are.  If there was something that could harm or be bad for our children, we warn them about it.  God was doing the same thing in the garden.  God knew that once the knowledge of good and evil entered the minds of mankind, that the world would never be the same.  He was right.

As grown adults, we continue to get many warnings.  Sometimes they come from our spouse or our friend or our coworker.  Sometimes the warnings even come from our own minds.  Sometimes the words are in the form of a whisper from the Holy Spirit.  Like we would have been when we were children, we would be wise to heed the warning, to listen to the voice of those with our best interests at heart.  This day, O Lord, help me to be obedient and faithful as I try to follow the example of Jesus.  It is only possible through your power and presence, so please be with me today.


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Worthy Soil

Often we do not sow seed where we can.  Sometimes it is because we see another’s ‘soil’ and think ‘Why bother?’  So we withhold God’s word through us from that person.  And maybe it was just the things they needed to hear at that moment.  Or maybe it was just the story we needed to share!

How often is it us that does not receive?  Do we miss some blessing or experience God is trying to send us because we are hard soil, rocky soil, or soil choked with weeds?

On a regular basis our soil needs tilled, fertilized, and watered.  Do we practice compassion and generosity instead of a ‘me-first’ attitude?  Do we spend time building our faith to gain strength and inspiration to serve?  Do we spend time listening to the still, small voice of God as He calls us to do this or to serve there?  To go out and sow seeds, we must first become soil worthy of God’s garden.

Scripture reference: Matthew 13: 1-9


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The Master Gardener

Perhaps it was no coincidence that Mary Magdelene mistook Jesus for a gardener.  In many ways Jesus was and is a gardener.

Jesus taught and continues to teach through stories, parables, examples, and healings.  Within each are little seeds that are planted in our hearts and minds.  Each time we read the Bible we glean insights from his words, often times a new insight from a passage we have read before.  One day these seeds will sprout.  In the meantime the gardener works the soil, tending to it so that one day it can nurture good growth.  The gardener continues to turn over our soil with His words, making us into the soil that will produce a crop.

As we grow, He prunes us as well, to shape us into the best disciple we can be.  Sometimes the gardener prunes off parts of us that hinder our growth as disciples, cutting off a little pride here, a little jealousy there, a bit of anger right there…  At other times He prunes to encourage growth in our faith lives.

All the while He is also teaching us how to garden.  Through His example and work in our lives, we come to understand how we can help others on their walk of faith.  We can share the stories from the Bible and from our own walks of faith.  We can tend the soil and encourage growth in those we know.  We can also prune when needed.  But the greatest lesson we learn from Jesus is to garden with love.  It is to produce growth and to encourage that the seeds produce a crop in our garden and in the gardens of those we meet along the way.  Happy gardening!!!