February 27, 2016
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5 NLT
In the final days before his crucifixion and Easter resurrection, Jesus continued his work of teaching his disciples and preparing them for what was about to happen. Jesus used several metaphors to describe his character. “I am the good shepherd.” “I am the door to life.” “I am the light of the world.” “I am the bread of life.” In John 15:1 Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” How does a vine and a gardener describe Jesus and his disciples?
First, a vine has to be well rooted in good soil. Likewise, Jesus is solidly planted. He is unmovable and unchangeable. Yet he came to us. John 1 tells us that Jesus existed from the beginning and that he is one who brought forth life and light. Disciples know that Jesus is the solid rock and that he is Truth.
Second, Jesus is the true vine that brings life. Without Jesus there is no life. “For apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus is the source of life. All life originates from him and through him.
Third, branches grow from the vine. Branches don’t grow on their own. In fact, Jesus said that branches that are not attached will be gathered into a pile to be burned (15:6). Similarly, we must remain in Christ in order to grow and to produce fruit.
Fourth, the gardener prunes the branches in order to grow more fruit. The goal of a gardener is to have a healthy garden filled with an abundance of fruit. A gardener is not satisfied with a plant that does not produce. The Father Gardener prunes us – not to be malicious, but in order to make us healthy and to grow the best fruit. We are created to be fruitful. Jesus said, “When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.” (15:8)
We are to remain in the love of Jesus by doing what he instructed us to do. And what exactly is that? Is it a long list? We have a habit of making “remaining in Jesus” something complicated that guarantees failure. However, that is not the way of Jesus. Multiple times he sums up all his commands like he did in this passage. “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.” (John 15:12). How much does he love us? “You didn’t choose me. I chose you.” (John 15:16) Out of all creation, he chose you just as you are. He loves you so much that he didn’t wait for you to choose him. He chose you. He loves you.
And now, love each other in the same way that Christ loves you. This command has the power to change the world. Let’s fill this world with the fruit that brings glory to the Father Gardener.
Pastor’s Corner – January 3, 2015
Unfortunately the odds are not in your favor. Studies show only a small percentage of folks achieve the goals they set at New Year. I think we have an innate desire to do right, but we often do the things we don’t intend to do.
The Apostle Paul talks about doing the things he doesn’t want to do and not doing the things he does want to do. “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” (Romans 7:15 NLT) It sounds like a too familiar story to me. I’m not sure how many times I’ve established honorable goals only to fall flat on my face a short time later. Perhaps the goals I establish are impossible. Maybe there is no room for success in this respectable ambition. Or maybe there is something bigger going on than I can see with my eyes.
Paul’s comments are in regards to the war in the mind of body of anyone who follows Christ. “I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.” (Romans 7:21-23 NLT)
Wherever we go, sin is not far away. As Christ followers there is a battle. We desire to do right. Yet we too often do wrong. Where is the victory? Is victory possible? Is this goal of doing right attainable? Are my noble ambitions worth the fight?
“Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:24-25a NLT)
God the Father knew us in our depravity. Yet he chose to send his only son, Jesus, to die a sinner’s death on the cross in our place. Victoriously, Jesus rose on the third day and now intercedes for us. There is hope! There is victory in Christ Jesus!
“But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead.” (Ephesians 2:4-5a NLT)
As I contemplate how to start this new year, I think it wise to remember how I want this story to end. Since I have new life in Christ the best ending I can imagine is to know Jesus and to make Him known. Will you consider making this your goal this year as well? — To know Jesus and to make Him known
Associate Pastor, Cornerstone Church
Secretary/Treasurer, Pastors United In Christ
Pastor’s Corner – October 25, 2014
The story of David and Goliath is usually told as a classic underdog tale. The arrogant giant challenges his fearful opponents. The unseemly kid shockingly deals a crushing blow. If we limit the scope of the story to just this simplistic outline it is a good story with a good point. However, I’m afraid that we view this story as the exception rather than the rule – we too often allow the giants of life to defeat us before we go to fight.
Throughout the Holy Scriptures we see that God habitually uses the weak or the common folks to accomplish His will. In the Old Testament God used a shepherd, a prostitute, a slave, the youngest son, the minority people groups, and so many other ordinary folks. Jesus selected a ragtag group of disciples that included fishermen and a tax collector – average Joe’s. In the most famous sermon ever preached Jesus blesses the spiritually poor, the meek, and the mourners.
1 Corinthians 1:27 speaks of this further, “Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.”
Our nature, our experiences, and our history all points to the weak succumbing to the strong, just as a river of rushing water can cut through solid rock over time or as a great fire burns a forest. But God’s math is different. He intentionally chooses the common and the ordinary to move mountains and to change the landscape of the world. He chooses a ragtag group of folks to bring the Good News of salvation through Christ to a lost and dying world. He chooses folks like you and me to be salt and light, a city on a hill, and a candle that cannot be hid.
David, a common sheepherder, was brave enough to take on a giant. Why? Because he knew from experience and by faith that his God was with him. This giant defiled the honor of his God and he was not okay with that. Even though all the warriors were scared, even though his own family forbade it, he confidently confronted what no one else would.
Will you? If your God is for you and with you, will you confront the giants in your life?
“What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.” Romans 8:31-34
(Scripture references from New Living Translation)
Associate Pastor, Cornerstone Church
Pastors United In Christ, Secretary/Treasurer
Pastor’s Corner – January 4, 2014
Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (2 Cor. 5:17)
God the Father tells us in Lamentations 3:23 that his mercies and compassions are new every morning. How thankful I am for that! Who am I that God is mindful of me? By his design each day is created new. Each day is fresh. 2013 is behind us. And 2014 is a new, fresh year!
Along with my excitement of a new beginning is a measure of soberness as I realize the significance of “merices.” Why mercies? Sometimes I find myself thinking that I am so good and so right on my own accord. Truthfully though, I’m not that great. God doesn’t owe me anything based on my merit. In fact I’m far short of God’s standard of holy. I’m not beating myself up – I’m just being realistic about the things I think, say and do.
The reality is that I don’t deserve His mercies – it is in God’s power and authority to respond with punishment. Instead, God sent Jesus to be the scapegoat on my behalf. It is right for me to be excited about new mercies every morning, but the cost of that new mercy is the significant sacrifice on a cross. Because of that incredible display of mercy, I have the opportunity to live well, to live with integrity and strength. In fact, I have the responsibility to live in such a way that I – through Christ – make a difference in this world.
The Apostle Paul in Philippians 3:12-14 (NLT) says it this way, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”
It is a season of making resolutions. And it is soon to be a season of forgetting resolutions. However, let’s resolve to always allow Christ to mold us and shape us into the men and women of God that he designed us to be. Let’s resolve to always look to Author and Perfecter of Life as we celebrate the new life we have in Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:15 “[Christ] died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.”
“The future lies before you,
like a field of pure white snow.
Be careful how you tread it,
for every step will show.”
August 17, 2013
I’m not really a morning person. It takes a while for me to wake up. Sometimes I’ll just sit and stare in to space for a while. I’ll grab a cup of coffee in hopes that it will jolt me awake. A couple months ago I was preparing for my day like normal. I looked out my kitchen window with my usual blank stare while the coffee brewed. I started watching the pigeons hunt for food. I stared at the branches that had fallen since I last cleaned up the yard. And all these thoughts started to come despite my slumber.
As I was watching the birds find food on that cold, windy, rainy morning I began to think about how inefficient the tree was in so freely giving away the fruit it worked so hard to produce. It seemed like such a waste for a tree to grow for years and years only to give it all away. And then it dawned on me. That’s the purpose – God designed the tree to freely give away its own life.
This particular tree sheds thousands and thousands of seeds each year. Trust me. I have to clean them up. Success in this case is not thousands and thousands seeds turning in to saplings. A successful tree is one that offers life on a much larger scale. The fruit of the tree sustains the life that takes residence in its branches. The shade shelters smaller plants from the intensity of the hot summer sun. Even the dead branches that fall give life back to the soil underneath. If the tree fails to produce a single sapling it will have made possible an incredible amount of life.
Someday this tree will no longer stand. However, the community would not be the same without it. The tree does not live or die in futility.
Jesus says it this way in John 12:24-26, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.”
Even in death there is life. Jesus has this counterintuitive thing going on – he is the Author of life and he asks us to die daily. The purpose of dying daily is not to live forever – even though eternity with Christ for those who trust in him will be a result. The purpose of dying daily is to make room for Christ to live daily in us. If Christ is living in us we might make an impact on those around us. We might be able to defend the fatherless. We might be able to befriend the lonely. We might be able to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. All of this is so we will know Christ and make him known. You see, there is no futility in a life given by Christ.
This question and our response are paramount for all who claim to follow Jesus. How we answer this question determines how we regard Scripture, how we respond to the call of Jesus, and the extent to which we live out this thing we call faith. If faith is in a name, a book, or a set of rules then we live without hope and life. If our faith is in Jesus then our lives begin to reflect his character and his heart.
Jesus was very good at asking questions. He had a way of looking straight at the heart with his words. It seems he was very interested in the answer when he asked this question, “Who do you say I am?” And his response to Peter’s answer went beyond, “yes, that’s correct” or “nope, that’s not quite right.” He said that Peter was blessed, not just for having the right answer, but because the Father in heaven revealed this to him. One might say Peter was blessed because God the Father had changed his heart, not just his mind. He could have answered the question in so many ways, just like others had done and still do today. He chose to give the answer that the Father revealed to him. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
As I contemplate his response there are several things that jump out to me. First, that this was a conversation between two men, two humans, two living and breathing persons. Jesus came not to be served but to serve, to give his life as a ransom on our behalf. Jesus is approachable and knowable. He’s not far off or unresponsive. He is present, God with us.
Second, Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus came to save, to redeem, to deliver. This was his mission. Not even a criminal’s death could hold him back. On the third day he rose and now we look forward to his return.
Third, Jesus is the Son of the living God. In a mystery that continues to confuse men Jesus walked the earth fully man, yet fully God. He had authority and power. He healed with a physical touch and from a distance. He calmed the storms. He walked on water. He took the sins of the world on himself. And he rose again on the third day. Only the Divine could accomplish these things.
If I were to have a face to face conversation with Jesus today and he asked me, “Who do you say I am?” I hope I would have the courage to answer as Peter did. A part of me wants to be my own Messiah. Too many days I say the things I don’t mean to say and I do the things I don’t mean to do. Too many days I come up with my own plan and later on ask God what he would have me do. Thank God for his grace and mercy – grace for the things I don’t deserve and mercy for not getting what I do deserve. I am so grateful his mercies are new every morning.
This is what I believe. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Redeemer. I believe that Scripture is true and accurate and that it is beneficial for teaching me just what I need to know about God and living in this world. I believe the grace, mercy and sacrifice of Jesus has saved me from a lifestyle of destruction and chaos in the hands of the enemy. And I believe that Jesus cares about how you answer this question: “Who do you say I am?”