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 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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God’s Grace

Reading: Acts 8: 26-31

Verses 30-31: “‘Do you understand what you are reading?’, Philip asked. ‘How can I’, he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?'”

Photo credit: Sabina

Almost twenty years ago I was at a large men’s conference. I found myself unexpectedly in their prayer room. I had asked the powers that be if ‘we’ could share that “See You at the Pole” was coming up the following week, alerting thousands of dads to the opportunity to go and pray with their children at their schools on this national day of prayer. Told ‘no’, I was not pleased. A man asked me if he could take me to the prayer room to pray for me and the event. Frumpy, I went along. After laying their hands on me a small group prayed for me, my school, the See You at the Pole event. As I was about to leave, a young lady asked if she could share something with me. After receiving permission, she shared a vision she has during the time of prayer. I left with a great assurance of the plans that God had for me and for my life and ministry.

An Ethiopian eunuch, a high court official, has been to Jerusalem to worship God. As he is traveling home, he pauses to read some scripture. God sends Philip down the same road. Led by the Holy Spirit, Philip approaches the chariot and asks, “Do you understand what you are reading”? The eunuch replies, “How could I unless someone explains it to me”? The man invites Philip to join him. An opportunity is provided. When I walked into that prayer room I felt as if I had been shot down. I did not understand their decision. Yet even then the Holy Spirit was at work. By the time I left that room it was crystal clear why things happened as they did. This chance encounter with a woman in the prayer room was totally led by the same Holy Spirit that guided Philip to that chariot. The eunuch’s life would never be the same.

The woman’s vision changed me. In an unexpected and surprising way, God blessed me immensely. A seemingly insignificant trip to a prayer room had great impact and influence on my life and ministry. When has God’s grace blessed you in an unexpected way, refining you forever?

Prayer: Lord God, I am still so grateful for that day long ago in Denver. In the moment, I didn’t see you coming. I thought I was as far from what I wanted as I could be. You showed up and spoke deeply into my heart. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Discipleship

Reading: Mark 11: 1-7

Verse 7: “When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it”.

Photo credit: Juan Gomez

Our passage for today opens with an act of discipleship. In the literal sense Jesus instructs two disciples to go and do something for him. The two are instructed to go and get a colt for Jesus. They are told to enter the village ahead, there they will find a colt. They are to untie it and, if anyone asks, to tell the people that Jesus needs it. And, yes, don’t worry – we’ll return it when we’re done with it. They are not borrowing a cup of flour from the neighbor. Culture must have been much different back then.

Up to this point in Jesus’ ministry his popularity has risen and fallen. Many were initially attracted to the miracles but the more he spoke of the cost of discipleship, the more the crowd thinned. Yet his name was known. In whose name could we go today to commandeer a car or even a bike? Who among us would be so daring to even attempt such a thing? We would be so full of doubt and questioning. But what of these two disciples?

The disciples do as Jesus says. They find the colt just as he said they would. They answer the question that Jesus said might be asked just as Jesus told them to. And they return to Jesus with the colt that “no one has ever ridden”. What impression or effect did this act of faith have on these two disciples? How did this shape their faith moving forward? Verse seven tells us, “When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it”. Seeing Jesus there, assuming a place and position new for him, how did they see their role?

At times the Holy Spirit calls us to action. It whispers or nudges us to an action or to speak words. We too often ask, “Say what?” or “Do what?” How would our faith and our lives be different if we simply did as these two disciples did? Where would our faith take us if we truly lived with Jesus Christ as the Lord of our life?

Prayer: Lord God, your call is persistent, your love is unchanging. In those moments when I begin to question, when I try to hesitate long enough for the opportunity to pass, spur me to action. When I fail to respond immediately, well up in me a quick compassion and an unquenchable love for those you place before me. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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In Solitude and Prayer

Reading: Hebrews 5: 5-10

Verse 7: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions… he was heard because of his reverent submission”.

Photo credit: Patrick Fore

Our passage today reminds us of how Jesus was like us and calls us to be like him. In the first verse we are reminded that Jesus did not come as a high priest. Jesus could have been born into the tribe of Levi and could have assumed the role of priest after finishing all his formal training. He would have then served in the temple or maybe in a local synagogue to start out. In this role Jesus would never have gone out to engage the world. He would not have crossed paths with Gentiles and lepers and prostitutes and the many others that he did heal and bring back into community. Most Jews saw themselves as a people set apart from the world and the priests were a group within this people who were even more set apart and isolated.

Jesus was born into the family of a common laborer – a carpenter. After the miraculous birth and exile in Egypt, Jesus was raised as an ordinary kid in a small town. Jesus learned the family business and spent years in the profession. His parents were good Jews and family was where he first found love and belonging. When Jesus began his ministry at about 30 years of age, he had experienced the good and bad, the hard and joyous of life. Once Jesus stepped into the role of Messiah he did not hunker down in the temple, waiting for folks to come hear his great wisdom. His ministry was radical for the time. It remains radical for today. Jesus traveled the country, teaching, healing, preaching, feeding, reconciling… In all he did, Jesus exhibited a love for and devotion to God. If anyone deserved to be the high priest, it was Jesus. Instead, he lived as one of us.

A regular practice of Jesus’ life was solitude and prayer with God. In verse seven we read, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions… he was heard because of his reverent submission”. In times of need, Jesus turned to God for comfort, strength, peace. This too should be our practice: to turn to God in our times of need. In our moments of need, we too want to know that we are beloved children of God. We too want to know that God cares for us. We too want to rest in his presence, in our place in the family of God. As we seek to live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, may we be like Jesus, ever seeking the loving presence of our life-giving God.

Prayer: Lord God, hear our cries, alleviate our pain and suffering. Draw us near when we seek you; assure us of our place of belonging. Lead us to bring all things to you in prayer, guide us to rest in your presence. Walk with us all of our days. Amen.


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Two Actions

Reading: Mark 8: 34-38

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

Continuing on from yesterday’s passage, Jesus gathers his disciples and the crowd to explain the cost of following. Having just explained the price that he will pay, Jesus details what will be expected of those who choose to follow him as Lord and Savior. The words that Jesus speaks are powerful and challenging. His words will become even more so as the disciples reflect on the events of the last week of Jesus’ life.

Jesus identifies two actions one must take to “come after” or to “follow” him. The first is to “deny self”. This is what Jesus lived out his whole ministry. He placed the needs and wants of God first, closely followed by the needs and wants of others. Self was a very distant third. If we were to follow Jesus today, what would this look like? It would begin with listening to the Holy Spirit, the indwelling presence of God in our lives. The second step would be to respond to the guidance and direction of said Spirit as we respond to the needs of those we meet day by day. Jesus saw the other, the lonely, the hurting, the hungry… and ministered them as he encountered them. May we too have ears to hear and eyes to see.

The second action is to “take up” our cross. The cross represents the way of Jesus. For Jesus it was ultimately walking the path to suffering and death for the sake of others – for you and me. Along the way Jesus often took up the cross for others. He took up the cause of the marginalized and the sinners and the outcasts and declared them worthy of his time and of the kingdom of God. Each of these encounters against the powers of the world came with a price too. The way of Jesus calls us to sacrifice as well. Jesus calls us away from the things of this world by reminding us that the cost of trying to “gain the whole world” is to “forfeit” our soul. In contrast, following Jesus will save our soul. Giving up our selfish desires and leanings and focusing on Jesus’ example of sacrificial service will lead us to bless others as we live out the good news or gospel of Jesus Christ. May it be so as we seek to bring God the glory.

Prayer: Lord God, tune me in to the Holy Spirit within me. Guide me to not only hear but to respond, offering all I can to those I meet in the world around me. Empower me to shine your light in all I do and say. Amen.


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May They Know

Reading: 2 Kings 2: 1-12 (and 13-14)

Verse 9: “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit”.

Continuing from yesterday we see that Elisha and Elijah have at last arrived at the Jordan River. This is a place of transitions – it is where Joshua took on leadership from Moses as the Israelites crossed over into the Promised Land. Joshua struck the water with Moses’ staff and they crossed over on dry land. Elijah takes his cloak and strikes the water – Elijah and Elisha cross over on dry land.

Elijah knows the time has come. He asks Elisha what he can do for him before he is taken from him. Elisha responds, “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit”. He wants to continue the work of his master and to do so to an even greater degree. Elisha wants to be twice as connected to God. Elijah understands the request and the enormity of the request. He tells Elisha that it will be so if he sees him being taken away. After the chariots of fire whisk Elijah away to heaven, Elisha tears his clothes in grief.

In verses thirteen and fourteen we see that the cloak has been left behind for Elisha, just as the staff was given to Joshua. Asking, “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah”? he strikes the Jordan with the cloak and crosses over on dry land. Clearly God is now with Elisha. The mantle has been passed. The Spirit of the Lord is upon Elisha.

At the close of Jesus’ ministry he too passed the mantle on to his disciples. To each of his disciples Jesus gave the gift of the Holy Spirit. In this way, Jesus passed on the mantle – the task of being God’s love lived out in the world. Joshua would go on to lead as Moses had led, Elisha would go on to prophecy as Elijah had. In the same way, as disciples we are to go on as Jesus taught us to. Led by the Spirit we are to continue in his footsteps, offering sacrificial service, radical welcome, unconditional love, undeserved grace… Just as Jesus stood out from the religious and political leaders of his day, we too are to stand out.

The fifty prophets stood at a distance watching. As Elisha struck the Jordan and crossed over on dry land, they knew a prophet was in the land. As folks stand and watch us, may they know that Jesus is in the land. May they know.

Prayer: Lord God, pour out your Spirit. May it be evident in me. As others see me, watch me, hear me, spend time with me, may they sense the presence of Jesus within me. May this presence lead to questions, to conversation, and to the sharing of faith. Amen.


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Drawing Near

Photo credit: Soul duvOcean

Reading: Mark 1: 14-15

Verse 15: “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news”.

Jesus steps into his ministry as the one who prepared the way has been arrested. John the Baptist has been imprisoned by Herod. John spoke truth against the power of the day and it would cost him his life. Jesus travels to Galilee to begin his ministry. This region to the north was isolated, away from the power structures of the day, home to many in need of the good news. As he begins his ministry Jesus announces, “The time has come”. John had prepared the people for this very moment.

Jesus continues with the message that John had preached. It is one of the constant messages of the entire Bible. The practice of repentance always remains central to the walk of faith. In verse fifteen Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news”. In Jesus, God draws near to us. This is what draws us to him, it is what drew the first disciples into following Jesus. In our lives today we have moments when this is especially true. These are the times when we can tangibly feel God’s presence with us. To have any relationship, change is necessary. It is true of our relationship with Jesus. This relationship begins in a place of humility, in the place where we recognize our need for a Savior. Sensing that we are entering a holy space, stepping into the presence of the Messiah, we are naturally led to repentance. Entering that space we feel that we need to be our best. Part of that involves laying aside our imperfections, our sins, our selfishness. Looking within, we see that which separates us from the one we want to draw near to. Repenting of these we draw nearer to the kingdom of God. It is in our moments of closeness to Jesus that we come to belief as we surrender our lives to him. As we continue to draw near we experience grace and mercy and forgiveness as we are made new over and over. We experience freedom from the things of this world as our focus and love shifts toward the eternal. We come to live out the joy and hope and peace that grows from belief and trust in Jesus. We come to see Jesus as the “good news”, as the way, the truth, and the life, as the one who gives us the final victory over sin and death.

This day may we spend time in his very presence, allowing the good news to permeate our very being. May the kingdom of God draw near to you this day!

Prayer: Loving God, you draw near to me in so many ways – in these quiet moments, in the interactions with others, in the ordinary of life. In love you fill me with a peace and hope and joy that nothing in the world can give. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Baptized to Minister

Reading: Mark 1: 9-11

Verse 11: “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well-pleased”.

In our passage today Jesus comes to the desert to be baptized by John the Baptist. John was offering a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The actual baptism was proceeded by a confession of sins. The waters of baptism represented a cleansing – the old sins were washed away and the person emerged “new” or “born again”. They had repented of their old ways and emerged committed to live a life devoted to and obedient to God. There was an element of turning and walking in a new direction.

As Jesus came to be baptized there was no need for confession. He was without sin. So why come at all? For Jesus, it was a turning point. He was entering into ministry, revealing fully who and what he was. He was turning to something new, beginning to walk as the Son of God. Just as the Spirit hovered over the waters as God spoke in Genesis 1, so too is the Spirit present as God speaks, saying, “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well-pleased”. With these words of affirmation Jesus begins his formal ministry. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus will teach and heal and restore many as he lives and ministers, being fully obedient to God.

Today, for some, I encourage you to remember your baptism. Remember you are filled with the Holy Spirit and go forth in ministry. For some, I encourage you to reclaim your baptism. Reclaim your place as a son or daughter, seek to draw close once again. Renew your faith commitment and go forth in ministry. And for some, you have never entered the waters of baptism. Reading this, you are at least a little bit drawn to God. I encourage you to become connected to a local community of faith or to talk with your pastor about baptism if you are connected someplace. Continue your journey!

As we each go forth into the world, may we all seek to walk closer to God, following Jesus’ example of love.

Prayer: Lord God, today I pray for all believers. Help each of us to live out our faith more fully, bearing witness to your love. Encourage us, strengthen us, empower us to walk faithfully as your son or daughter today. Amen.


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The Presence of God

Reading: Mark 1: 4-8

Verse 4: “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.

As we delve into Mark’s gospel we get right into the years of Jesus’ ministry. The first gospel written jumps right in with John the Baptist. Quoting from the Old Testament, John’s authority is established. John is the prophet spoken of long ago and is the one sent to “prepare the way” for the Lord. John was very different in his approach. In verse four we read, “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. He set up out in the wilderness, a place representing the condition of people’s souls at this point. He dressed and ate differently than any other religious leader. His open air, honest, straight forward style was different and was a foreshadowing of the ministry of Jesus.

Many people came out into the desert to hear John. His words brought a quick conviction and a renewed dedication. Many people stepped into the river to confess their sins and to commit to a more devout life. They did so because the presence of God was evident in John’s life. The Spirit if God upon John drew others to want to know God in a more personal, more intimate way. The presence of God could not be ignored.

Wouldn’t that be a great thing for others to say about you? To notice about you? I think so! As we each consider the living out of each day, may we seek to make God known through our words and actions and attitudes. May we be set apart from the world, pointing to the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

Prayer: God of all, so fill me with your Holy Spirit that all will see you in me and in my life. May your presence abound in all I say and do and think, bringing you the glory and praise. Amen.