pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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 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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Practicing #1 and #2

Reading: Matthew 23: 1-12

Verse 3: “Do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach”.

Jesus has been ministering for about three years at this point. He has had ample opportunities to interact with and to observe the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus and these religious leaders have the same audience, teach from the same source materials, live in the same society. Much like today, when you can get two radically different approaches from two medical experts concerning the safest way to live in these pandemic times, Jesus and the religious leaders had so much in common, but they differed radically in how best to follow God.

The religious leaders occupy a place – “the Moses seat” – that calls for respect and gives them authority, a platform from which to speak into the people’s lives. But this is an earthly platform, given to them by other earthly people. As is the case with many earthly positions of power, they were beholding to others. The leader of the group, the high priest, was appointed by the Romans. There were certain expectations that came with the appointment. The religious leaders were subject to the high priest, which also connected them to the political power of the day. Because these religious leaders held a place of authority, they could exert control over the people. Jesus acknowledges this place of authority. While he recognizes their place of authority, he does not agree with their practices. To this point, in verse three he says: “Do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach”. They say one thing and do another. They pick and choose what to say based on their current situation. For example, the religious leaders preach about loving your neighbor, but there are many they do not see as neighbors – the Gentiles, the sinners, the sick…

Jesus, by contrast, teaches and practices the belief that everyone is your neighbor. Jesus teaches it and then goes out and live it, loving the lepers and the blind, the tax collectors and the prostitutes… Jesus practices what he preaches, with love as the greatestest commandment of his faith. The religious leaders would cute law #217 or good old #359 (the one that previous religious leaders had made up) to avoid loving certain people. Jesus, instead would preach and practice #1 and #2, loving God and loving neighbor, in their rightful place: first and foremost. As we consider Jesus’ example, may we also do the same as we seek to live out, to actually practice, loving God and loving neighbor above all else. May we be love in the world today.

Prayer: God of love, when I look at Jesus, I see one who did as he taught. He loved one and all, yes, but he loved you most of all. Each day, guide me to live this out, loving you with all that I am, allowing that to lead me to really love others more than myself. Amen.


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Love and Peace

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 13: 11-13

Verse 11b: “The God of love and peace will be with you”.

As we return to Paul’s closing words in his second letter to the Corinthians, we focus in on God’s love and peace. Paul promises the church in Corinth that the “God of love and peace will be with you”. This promise remains true for us today.

Christianity does not have the corner on love and peace. People without faith have love in their lives. They fall in love and they feel loved. People without faith can also experience peace in their lives, although it seems a bit more elusive than love for the general population. I think that is because the source is different. Without God, you are the source of your peace. In that world, one only has peace when things are going well. In life though, one cannot control everything, so peace can become more elusive. The source of peace for the Christian is the God of love. In faith, peace and live are connected together. God is primarily love and once we have decided to declare Jesus as Lord, we become loved in a new and complete and unconditional love. It is a no-matter-what love. No matter what we do, God will not love us any more. No matter what we do not do, God will not love us any less. God’s love is an undeserved and unmerited yet total and complete and unchanging love.

As ones created in God’s image, as ones who know his love, we find a peace and contentment that eludes many in this life. Our peace is from God’s love. We know the one who loves us created all the world and is in control of all things. Because he loves us, God’s Spirit walks with us through all of life. God’s unending love brings us a peace that passes all human understanding. It is a peace that the world does not know.

Many of us are praying for peace in our world and in our nation. As we do so, may we keep in mind that it is all built upon knowing God’s love. This day may we seek to make God and God’s love known. Only then will peace between all peoples begin to take lasting roots. May the God of love rain down unconditional love. Peace will follow.

Prayer: Dear God, in all things and in all ways, you are love. God, this day may I be a conduit of your love. In that love may others find connection to you. Through a relationship with you, may our world find peace. Amen.


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Unfailing Love

Reading: Psalm 31: 9-16

Verse 16: “Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love”.

The section of Psalm 31 that we read today begins with David in a place of suffering. In verse nine he pleads with God: “Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress”. Most of us have prayed a similar prayer many times in our lives, some more than they can count. All of us have our share of trials and sufferings in life. In this current time in our world and nation, a lot more people are crying out as David does in the verse.

In the next four verses, ten through thirteen, David shares the sources of his distress. Perhaps we have not or are currently not struggling with the same list as David shares here, but that does not make our struggle any less. As we name our struggles or the sources of our suffering or trial, let us ask God to take that up, to bring us relief, to remove that from your life. As you do so, read again the words in verse fourteen: “I trust in you, O Lord; I say, you are my God”. Trust in the God who loves you.

David closes with this powerful request: “Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love”. May the Lord our God shine his face upon you. May the Lord our God shower you in his unfailing love.

Prayer: Lord God, rain down that love today. Pour out your affections on me. Let me walk in your love today. Amen.


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By Our Love

Reading: Isaiah 63: 7-9

Verse 8: “He said, ‘Surely they are my people’… so he became their Savior”.

Today’s few verses begin by reminding us of God’s kindness and of the many good things God has done for Israel “according to his compassion”. God has been and will always be a God of kindness and compassion. Verse eight speaks of this: “He said, ‘Surely they are my people’… so he became their Savior”. God knew the way to deepen his connection with us was to become like us, so God sent his Son to be our Savior.

Jesus, our Savior, then lived out the next verse. In times when he encountered distressed people – lepers, the woman accused of adultery, Nicodemus, Martha, Peter – in compassion Jesus joined them in their distress. Then, in “love and mercy he redeemed them”. Jesus removed their disease, their stigma, their fear, their worry, their shame… and redeemed them to wholeness. He saved them from all that kept them broken and separated and he restored them to a fullness of life.

In his ministry Jesus mirrored the kindness and compassion of the Father. Jesus Christ lived these things out as he walked the earth. The source of his kindness and compassion was and is love. Love is still what identifies us as Christ’s disciples. By our love, others will know we follow Jesus. By our love, others will come to know Jesus, the Savior and Redeemer of the world. May it be so today and every day.

Prayer: God of love, over and over you redeem and restore me. Over and over. Give me a heart to love like you love, over and over. Give me eyes to see past barriers and stereotypes and all else that can separate. Grant that my hands will always reach out and that my feet will ever step forward in service to you. May this be so, O God. Amen.


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On Our Side

Reading: Hebrews 7: 23-28

Verses 24 and 25: “Because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood… He always lives to intercede for us”.

In the Jewish tradition and in some denominations today, the priest intercedes on behalf of the sinner. In the Jewish tradition, the priest would offer a sacrifice for the sin, bringing forgiveness and restoration to that person. Today, some denominations require confession of the sin to a priest who intercedes along with the prayers of repentance offered by the sinner. Together, these lead to a heart that is made right once again with God. All Christian denominations, each in their own way, understands that a “price” must be paid for forgiveness. Repentance and the ensuing forgiveness requires that we sacrifice or set aside something inside of ourselves. We must sacrifice part of our human nature to make more room for the divine nature to dwell in us.

In our passage today, we are reminded of how Jesus Christ was and is a sacrifice. In the opening verses we read, “Because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood… He always lives to intercede for us”. Ever since the day He died, Jesus has been our great high priest, constantly interceding or praying for us. Jesus is on our side, offering mercy and grace for our human condition. Jesus daily reminds God that He was and is the sacrifice for our sin. “He sacrificed once for all when He offered himself”.

Whether our faith leads us to believe that we need a human intermediary or if we believe that we can go straight to the divine source ourselves, the bottom line is the same. Jesus Christ has paid the price for our sins and ever stands between God and us, acting as our great high priest. His Spirit leads us to repentance and He washes us clean of our sins. He who has been made “perfect forever” is on our side. Just as He is exalted above, may we exalt Him here on earth.

Thank you so much Jesus, for paying my price, for offering yourself for my sins. If I was the only sinner, you still would have given yourself. But I am not the only one. So I join the many today as I offer myself and my life to your service. All praise to the One most high! Amen.


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Commitment

“Unless you eat of my flesh and drink of my blood.”  Jesus often said things that were a bit jarring and often His words challenged people to the point of turning away.  In His day, disputes and arguments often arose over the words He spoke.  At times, Jesus intentionally challenged the status quo and turned the ‘normal’ upside down.

Could one really eat Jesus’ flesh and drink His blood?  Those living alongside Jesus could have if the purely literal interpretation was His true meaning.  But if this were His true meaning, then heaven would be closed off to all who lived after the resurrection.  As this is not the case, what then is Jesus’ meaning in these difficult words?

I think Jesus is looking for more than just hearing His words and pondering their meaning in our lives.  I think He is looking for commitment.  When we “eat” and “drink” Jesus we are taking His words and teachings and digesting them.  They become a part of who we are inside.  His teachings are the source of our energy and strength.  They are the source of life within us.  His words bubble up in us as the living water, bringing to the surface the things He taught that we are to live out.

When we take in Jesus’ words and teachings at this deep, deep level they become a part of who we are at the core of or being.  It is then that we are claimed by Jesus and we fully belong to Him.  Through His living presence in us we participate fully in this life.  Our lives then reflect the light and life of Jesus in us to a world living in darkness.  With Jesus deep within us, we become a part of building His kingdom here on earth each day.

Scripture reference: John 6: 51-54