pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Vine…

Reading: John 15: 1-8

Verse Four: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself”.

Today’s vine, branches, and gardener example is a great illustration of our relationships of faith. The illustration could have used a fruit tree or a blueberry bush or any number of other plants and still been a good illustration. But a grape vine is best, so that’s what God chose!

Jesus is the vine. The vine begins in the ground, with lots of roots soaking up water and nutrients needed for the branches to be healthy and to bear much fruit. The vine is the thickest and strongest part of the plant. Jesus’ words and the rest of the Bible are the life blood of our faith and our growth. They provide what we need to grow and be healthy in our faith.

You and I are the branches. We are connected to the vine and get all we need through the root – Jesus. Whereas the vine is stable and rooted, we the branches can grow this way and that. We often intertwine with other branches. In our faith journey we live and grow in community. Like a branch, as we grow and mature, we begin to produce fruit. Fruit is acts like loving our neighbor, helping those in need, offering forgiveness and mercy…

God is the gardener. He tends the soil and cares for the plant. Sometimes the gardener must add support to a new branch so that it can grow well. In our faith journey, at times we come alongside each other offering support and encouragement. At times God also prunes the branches, removing things that inhibit the production of fruit. As a branch, at times I can get going a lot of different directions. In those times, I need God to prune away some things so that more of my energy goes into producing fruit.

In order for this to “work”, for us to continue to grow in our faith and to produce fruit for the glory of God, we must stay connected to Jesus. In verse four we read, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself”. In this passage we see what happens when we disconnect from Jesus: we wither and are thrown into the fire. This cannot be! My fellow branches, stay connected to life, to Jesus. In doing so, may you bear much fruit!

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To Belong Fully

Reading: John 20: 19-31

Verse 29: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”.

John and Peter have seen the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene has seen and spoken with the resurrected Jesus. This much all the disciples know. Yet the way forward is unclear. Jesus is not in the grave and He has conquered death, but He is clearly not coming back to live amongst them either. So on that first Easter Sunday, they gather behind locked doors. It is into this room still heavy with doubt and fear that Jesus comes. He shows them His hands and feet as proof of who He is. The disciples are overjoyed.

Jesus then announces the plan: “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you”. He then breathes on them the Holy Spirit and commissions them to forgive sins. This was a big deal between Jesus and the religious leaders. Jesus was questioned about this and healed a lame man to prove that He had power and authority from on high. And now Jesus gives this power to His disciples. They were there and witnessed the conflict and anger that the forgiving of sins had caused, so they must know that their road ahead will be hard too. Jesus breathes this same Holy Spirit on you and me. It also empowers us to overcome our doubts and fears and will lead us to help people find a relationship with Jesus Christ that will heal them of their sins.

In the second half of our passage today we focus in on Thomas. He was not there for Jesus’ first visit. When told about it, he says, “Unless I see…”. He too wants to experience what the others experienced. He too wants to see Jesus. A week later Jesus appears again to the disciples and invites Thomas to put his finger in the wounds, to touch and feel that this really is Jesus. For Thomas and all of the disciples it was hard to come to believe. But Thomas does when he sees Jesus for himself. Predicting the many who will come to know Jesus without ever seeing Him, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”. It is just the reality for the church as it moves forward without the physical Jesus.

Part of Thomas’ story that we cannot miss is his need to belong. He wants to experience what his friends and future co-workers for the gospel experienced. He wants to be fully included. It is a desire we all have – to know we really belong. As we live out our faith this day, week, and life, may we always seek to help others to step inside the story, to help them know that they belong fully to Jesus as well. May it be so.


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Opportunity

Reading: 1st Corinthians 7: 29-31

Verse 31: “For this world in its present form is passing away”.

Paul believes Jesus Christ will return at any moment. This is the general view held by almost all Christians in the time immediately after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Paul’s words in these verses may be a little confusing at first read. Paul’s focus is on God and the people’s relationship with God. There is some urgency to Paul’s words as he states, “the time is short”. Taken in this light, Paul is encouraging his readers not to be too concerned with the things of this world – their relationships, their status, their possessions – but with the coming of Jesus. Paul is not saying to abandon all of these earthly things but instead he is saying to not make them the priority. He wants his readers to first focus on God.

In general, the perspective on the proximity of Jesus’ return has changed. Although it could be today, for the most part we do not necessarily live like it could be. For many folks, Christians and non-Christians alike, the idea of getting to their faith one day – really getting serious – is much the same. Today would be okay but tommorow or, better yet, the next day would be better. Just so busy now.

In spite of this prevelant attitude, Paul’s words are as correct today as they were when he first spoke them: “For this world in its present form is passing away”. Jesus’ return is closer today than it was yesterday and each day that passes we all come one day closer to the day we meet Jesus. Herein lies the urgency for us as Christians. Too often our primary focus is not on God but on the things of this world. This is on a personal level. On the corporate level our mission is just as urgent. In our commission to make disciples we never know when our words or actions may be what finally brings a lost soul to Christ. We may just be planting more seeds, but one never knows. What I do know is this: all should have the opportunity to meet Jesus Christ before they stand before the judgment seat. Who will you introduce today?


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Courage

Reading: John 1: 43-51

Verse 49: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel”.

Jesus finds Philip and simply says, “Follow me” and Philip does.  He hears these simple words and is all in.  Philip invites his friend to do the same, but Nathanael is a little more reluctant.  It is not until he begins to interact with Jesus that he comes to follow Jesus.  After Jesus offers a little proof of who He is, Nathanael declares, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel”.  Philip and Nathanael are two good disciple prototypes.

Some believers are like Philip.  There is a sense of the call to follow Jesus.  For many like Philip, the call comes through our upbringing.  We were raised in the church and initially had the faith of our parents or grandparents.  But then one day we sensed a call to a personal faith as Jesus said to us, “Follow me”.  Like Philip, at that point we responded to a call to go deeper, to make our faith a personal and intimate faith.

Other believers come to faith like Nathanael.  Jesus does something in their life that has a sudden impact or jars them a bit.  In a moment they realize just who Jesus is and they feel compelled to give their lives to Jesus.  In this, the decision point is much the same for both prototypes.  It is a realization that Jesus knows us and is calling us into a personal relationship with Him.

The decision to enter into a saving relationship with Jesus is just the beginning.  From there on out it takes commitment and obedience to walk daily with Christ.  We invest our time and energy to get to know Jesus more and more.  As we do so, we grow to be more and more like Jesus.  Eventually others begin to see Jesus in us.  When they do, often they begin to seek Him out too.  When they do, may we have the courage to say to them, “Come and see” as they begin their own journey of faith.  O Lord, grant us the courage today and every day to be a witness to Jesus Christ.  Amen.


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Holy Spirit Presence

Reading: Acts 19: 1-7

Verses Five and Six: “On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus… and the Holy Spirit came on them”.

Upon arriving in Corinth, Paul meets some disciples who have received John’s baptism.  If we remember back into the Gospels, this was a baptism of repentance and preparation for the Messiah.  If we turn to Matthew or Mark or John, we see a different baptism – Jesus’ baptism.  As Jesus is baptized, the Holy Spirit comes upon Him.  This is the baptism that Paul now offers these disciples.  It is the baptism in Jesus’ name.  “On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus… and the Holy Spirit came on them”.  As the Holy Spirit comes upon them, they begin to speak in tongues and to prophesy.  These disciples have been changed as the Holy Spirit has now moved in and now dwells within each of them.

For the baptized who claim Jesus as the Lord and Savior of their lives, we have the same experience.  The Holy Spirit comes and takes up residence in us.  The Holy Spirit does not just visit now and then but is a permanent resident in our heart.  If we are open to the Holy Spirit and are willing to be obedient to the Spirit’s guidance, correction, reminders, … then the Holy Spirit will permeate every aspect of our lives.  This is a gradual process of giving more and more control to the Holy Spirit.  As we do this, self loses more and more control.  It can be a long battle.

When we are honest and delve down into ourselves, we can identify little things that we still hold onto or struggle with for most of our faith journey.  Sometimes we hold onto our “secret sins” for a while.  Other times we have a ‘thorn’ much like Paul had.  It was or is a constant reminder of our need for God.  Our inability to rid ourselves of that thorn or to surrender that sin keeps us humble, recognizing our absolute need for God.

Today, as we read about a baptism, may we each recall our own baptisms into the family of God.  That occasion opened us up to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Once we accepted Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit moved in and continues to live within us.  The power of the Holy Spirit helps us to pursue God’s will and to accomplish His work in our lives and in our world.  Thanks be to God for the gift of the Holy Spirit!  May we ever dwell in the presence!


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Approved

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 2: 1-8

Verse Four: We speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel.

Paul comes to his position as an apostle through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  He encountered Jesus in a powerful way and has been a devoted follower ever since.  All that Paul does and says he credits to the presence and guidance of God.  This comes to him through the Holy Spirit and through his relationship with Jesus.  For Paul, his authority as an apostle comes from God.  He writes, “We speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel”.  Note the plurality in the “we”.

Paul does not work alone.  He has a group he travels with and each shares the same goal – to share the good news of Jesus Christ.  They have all been entrusted with the gospel.  Because of this trust, Paul and his fellow workers are honest and hard-working.  They are shining the spotlight on Jesus and His good news, not on themselves.  Paul and his fellow believers want to please God alone.  What men think of them does not matter.

The “we” that Paul writes of does not stop with Paul and his contemporaries.  In Matthew 28, when the great commission was given, Jesus was also speaking to all who would claim a personal relationship with Him.  Both Jesus and Paul knew that the work of spreading the gospel was a long-term project.  When Jesus said, “therefore go and make disciples” He was and is speaking down through all generations.  Jesus went on to say to do so “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”.  In the same way that Paul was “approved” to speak the gospel, we too have been commissioned and approved to speak the good news of Jesus Christ.

May we each claim our authority today as people approved by God as we go out into the world to be the light and love of Jesus Christ as we share the good news with all we meet.


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Sufficient for Us All

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

Verse 21: You have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.

Today’s parable is challenging.  It has been prompted by Peter asking Jesus what the disciples will receive for following Jesus.  After all, they left everything behind to follow.  Peter’s question is prompted by the response Jesus gave to the rich young man who asked what he must do to inherit eternal life.  If we recall, the young man went away sad because Jesus asked of him more than he could give at the time.  Peter is told by Jesus that they will be by His side in eternity.  In fact, Jesus says that all who leave things or people behind will inherit eternal life.  Jesus ends this response with, “Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first”.  From here, Jesus tells today’s parable.

In short, workers are hired throughout the day to come to the vineyard to help with the harvest.  The owner of the vineyard promises each of them the same thing: a fair wage.  They work and line up at the end of the day to receive their pay.  Some had worked all day, some just an hour.  The last are paid first and all receive the same pay: a denarius.  Those who worked the longest are upset, saying to the owner: “You have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day”.  The landowner responds with this: “Or are you envious because I am generous”?

In life, Christians come to faith at different stages in life, each joining in in the building of the kingdom.  The Lord of the harvest promises the same reward to each of them: eternal life.  They go to work and then line up for the reward at the end of their lives.  Some labor for all if their lives, some for just a short time.  The lifers and the new converts receive the same pay.  Those who have been faithful all of their lives can be tempted to say, “Lord, you have made that person who just accepted you equal to us who have served you all of our lives”?  The Lord of the harvest will respond with words of grace and love and invitation.

Yes, God loves us all.  He loves the saints and the sinners.  He loves the saved and the lost.  Heaven rejoices each time a lost soul becomes a part of the family.  His grace is sufficient for us all, whenever and however we come to faith.  The promise is the same: love God and claim eternal life.  Thanks be to God!