God, Who Comforts the Downcast

IMG_3154The horror that has played out with the shootings in our community yesterday has shaken us all. We need to individually and collectively cry out to our God of all comfort, strength, hope and peace. Already stories are pouring in about how Christ-followers have been strategically placed by him alongside a grieving friend and colleague, as first responders to the scene, coordinating logistics for the emergency response, in the emergency room helping shooting victims, on rounds with a nurse in the hospital, in the neighborhood of the suspects, and the list goes on and on. We are called to be ambassadors of Christ, reconciling the world to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20). Following Paul’s charge, he tells us that we should not receive the grace of our Lord in vain. In other words, we are called to bring that grace to others. Then he gives an example of how someone did this in his life. “For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn –conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus…” (2 Corinthians 7:5,6) As we receive the comfort of God, let’s do what Titus did for Paul and his friends and comfort others by going to them. We don’t have to say much, rather just love and be present, speaking as the Spirit leads. May I add that we be bold in looking for opportunities to do this? The hymn we are singing on Sunday powerfully states, “his law is love and his gospel is peace.” Let’s live out that love in a very real way as we interact with those in our community that are grieving. We need to be out there helping, available. Let’s fulfill that role that God has given us as ambassadors of Christ living and proclaiming the gospel of peace.

bill-signature

Posted in Bill's Blog, Church, Evangelism | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Glorifying God with Thanksgiving

FullSizeRenderThanksgiving week affords a rare early morning extended quiet time to reflect and give thanks in front of the crackling wood stove. Last night at my worship band rehearsal I had one of those aha moments. I was moving toward this when I chose to open our worship services with this verse.

                    “I will praise God’s name in song 
                    and glorify him with thanksgiving.” (Psalms 69:30 NIV)

What caught my eye was the fact that we glorify God with thanksgiving. This powerful resolution came from the heart and pen of David in the midst of one of his darkest psalms. He is virtually drowning in “deep waters” relationally and spiritually. Dealing with rejection, enemies, ridicule, and his own sinfulness, he can’t see the God he loves and desperately needs. Just before he resolves to praise God and give thanks he says, “I am in pain and distress.” (v.29)

Last night, I shared an excerpt from fellow worship leader, Wayne Stewart’s book Bigger with my friends in the band. To summarize the main premise of his book, he says that we are all on a continuum in our outlook and expression of worship from smaller to bigger. Smaller is characterized by a view that worship is one hour a week. Bigger is that worship is the expression of all of our life. I asked them to share how they have grown to practice their expression of worship in their everyday lives. Food, blessings, God’s continual presence, his peace that surpasses all understanding, his sovereignty directing the very details of our lives were some of their answers. Then it hit me. Recognition of those things is the first step, but recognition alone is not an expression of worship. Thanksgiving is. The moment we recognize that every good and perfect gift comes down from our Father above and turn and give thanks, we glorify him.

Lately, I’ve been captured by another statement in the Psalms from David. Demonstrating a life outlook of bigger worship, he says, “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” (Psalms 16:8 ESV). I have previously stated that listening to worship music is one way that we continually set the Lord before us. Thanksgiving is another way. Every time we recognize the hand of God in our lives, when we say the simple words, “Thank you,” we are glorifying him. The more we give thanks to God, the bigger our worship grows. David lived a life of this practice to the point that even in the middle of his darkest moments he resolved to praise the Lord and glorify him with thanksgiving. This is a practical example of what it means to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV).

My “thank you” begins with the very reason I have this extended quiet time to write this morning. My beloved wife, Julie and kids, Billy, Maria, Ben and Brandon are enjoying a desert retreat at a condo with a friend, and I miss them. I have a ‘loud,’ busy, chaotic life and I give thanks to God for these precious children that make it that way. I give thanks for every interruption and intrusion into my innate need for solace, for the messy house and broken things, the never ending work, and even the overwhelming challenges and emotions that accompany parenting, revealing my shortcomings (aka sins), drawing me to greater dependence upon the Lord and others for help. I’m so thankful for my partner in it all, Julie Ann, with strength and beauty and selfless expression of love for us all through relentless service. I’m thankful that I live in close proximity to so many of our extended family, seeing them often. I praise the Lord for treasured friends, and time playing music together, or meaningful conversations over a bike ride, cup of coffee, a burger or burrito. I’m thankful for my other family, Trinity Church, experiencing the ‘deep waters’ together over the past few years has caused us to draw closer to the Lord and the practice of “loving one another deeply from the heart.” Sunrises, sunsets, our beautiful valley, my dog, Shadow, the color green, my parent’s Autumn Blaze Maple tree (above), Trader Joe’s Ultra Dark Chocolate Ice Cream, In-N-Out burger, the Word of God, a good novel, yes, thank you, Father, for all of these things from the simplest pleasures to the most profound blessings. Every joy comes from you and so I glorify you with thanksgiving and say along with the psalmist, “Let everything that has breath, praise the LORD!” (Psalms 150:6 ESV).

bill-signature

Posted in Bill's Blog, Church, Music, Spirituality, Worship | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Kellee’s Playlist

Kellee's PlaylistWhen we encounter suffering in this life, we have an incredible choice before us. Either we run toward God or run away from Him. David says, “I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8). Jesus’ brother James, tells us to, “Consider it pure joy, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:2) Jeremiah found hope when he chose to remember the steadfast love of the Lord, his mercy and great faithfulness. My friend, Kellee, is showing me how to run toward God and wholeheartedly trust him in her time of trial. She is part of our Trinity Church worship team. Many of you know and have been praying for her mom, Judy, as she battles cancer. A month or so ago, I asked Kellee what worship songs were encouraging her, and her family. She started rattling them off, so I asked her to write them down. Now I’m listening to a Spotify playlist made from songs she recently handed to me on “little Miss Princess” paper.

Worship music is a wonderful way to “always set the Lord before us” so that we will not be shaken. These songs help us to persevere. They cause joy to spring up inside because of God’s steadfast love, mercy and faithfulness. These songs also give us the words to pray when it’s hard to find our own words. Now I share Kellee’s playlist with you, so you may be encouraged in whatever kind of trial you or your loved one is facing. As you listen, remember to pray for, and reach out in love, to those you know who are facing trials. This is after all what it means to “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”(Galatians 6:2)

bill-signature

Kellee’s Spotify Playlist

Posted in Bill's Blog, Church, Music, Worship | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

CONNECT

You are uniquely designed to worship God and there are various ways to do this. Come on October 3, to CONNECT, and experience this opportunity to explore ways to use your gifts to draw near to God. The purpose of this event is to encourage and inspire worship through creativity. Art connects the head to the heart. It is the result of applying knowledge to the soul. You don’t just think art, you feel it, and feel it deeply. Our God, who is worthy to be praised as the creator of the heavens and the earth, created us in his own image with the capacity and mandate to create. We connect with God relationally when our knowledge moves from the head to the heart, finding its fullness of expression in praise. We connect with others when we collaborate and serve together.  Those who serve with me in worship ministries are being transformed by Christ, connected in relationships, engaged in ministry and reaching our world for Christ. We are excited to encourage and inspire you to do what we love to do.

So What Do We do?

We write
We light
We sing and sew
We mix
We direct
We build and paint
We play
We display
We capture stories and tell stories
We dance
We act
We welcome and create
We give
We serve
We worship

After an opening worship service, you will have the opportunity to attend two elective introductory classes of your choice. Rekindle a creative flame that is dim or has gone away. Light a creative spark that’s is in you and waiting to get out.

All are welcome to attend our morning worship service from 8:30 – 10:00 AM. Musical worship will be led by local artist, Aeron Brown who will also be teaching two painting electives. Ed Willmington, Director of the Fred Bock Institute of Music at Fuller Theological Seminary will lead us in teaching from God’s Word. Ed will follow that with two electives on essentials for worshipers and those who lead worship. These two 1-hour elective classes run from 10:15 AM to 12:30 PM.

Come early at 8 AM to register and enjoy a continental breakfast and a cup or two of Redland’s own, Wild Goose Coffee.

Please sign up online so that your elective teachers know that you’re coming. All are welcome, so please pass the word around and invite others. You can request childcare when you register.

See you on October 3rd!

bill-signature

Posted in Bill's Blog, Church, Leading Worship, Music, Worship | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Lord’s

The weekend of July 18 & 19, 2015 will forever be remembered as an extraordinary display of God’s abundant love, power and faithfulness in my life. In a dry and weary land where there is no water, the Lord poured out abundant water. An unprecedented tropical storm swept through Southern California and over the course of the weekend poured out over three inches of rain (estimated). Being born and raised in the Amazon jungles of Brazil, the thunder and lightning and downpour of percussive rain put me in a nostalgic bliss. The smells, the sounds, the sight and the feeling of rain pouring down from heaven are a memorial of God’s faithfulness to me, heightening my senses to his presence and power.*

Saturday was an eight-hour travel day as I drove my family home from a week at Mount Hermon, near Santa Cruz, CA. The luscious redwood forest and refreshing cool temperatures represented the sweet refreshment that we received that week. Driving home was bitter sweet as we knew we were headed back to hot, dry, brown SoCal. As Julie and I reflected and planned some action points from our week of camp, God had a surprise for us. We hit some thunder and lightning and a few showers as we drove Highway 46 away from the green coast into the golden brown hills and back to the hot Central Valley. As we climbed the Grapevine on I-5 it began to rain, and it rained hard for the remainder of our two hour drive home to Redlands. It rained even harder yesterday as we unpacked, cleaned up and settled back into life at home. I drifted off to sleep last night to the sound of rain and an occasional splash on my face through the open window above our bed.

Reading through the Chronological Bible this year, I find myself in Isaiah 44 this morning, and this is what I read:

“For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
                        and streams on the dry ground;
            I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring,
                        and my blessing on your descendants.
They shall spring up among the grass
                        like willows by flowing streams.
This one will say, ‘I am the LORD’s,
                        another will call on the name of Jacob,
            and another will write on his hand, ‘The LORD’s,
                        and name himself by the name of Israel.”” (Isaiah 44:3–5 ESV).

God is speaking to his chosen people who have failed miserably to honor him. While they have been unfaithful, he declares his faithfulness. While they have become “weary of [him]” (Isaiah 43:22), he does not grow weary of them. He relentlessly invites personal relationship. This passage declares what we call the New Covenant, referring to the coming of Christ to forgive sins and the Holy Spirit to empower the church to be a witness for Christ. The New Covenant is what makes a thriving, growing relationship with God possible. It’s grace: God’s loving initiative to bring us near to him.

I love that God’s analogy for pouring out his Spirit is abundant, refreshing, powerful water being poured out on the thirsty land. While a lot could be uncovered in this passage, I don’t want to miss the main thing here, found in verse 5. What is the result of the pouring out of his Spirit? We will be certain of our identity as belonging to the Lord. “One will say, ‘I am the Lord’s …. another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s. (verse 5). This identity is the foundation of the Christian life. In a Facebook world that is so concerned with who I am, my profile and my status, we’ve got it all wrong. On the contrary, everything flows out of knowing whose I am. If I were to get a tattoo this would be it: “The Lord’s,” on the back of my right hand. Every time I look down, I would be reminded not of who I am, but whose I am. I am his and he is mine. Rain reminds me of this and that’s why I can never get enough of it!

One might ask, “How does one belong to the Lord?” It’s simple. You come to Jesus and drink. You believe. “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit[.] (John 7:37–39 ESV). Like a downpour of tropical rain, the Lord pours out his Spirit, not on, but notice this, abundantly into the hearts of all who come to Jesus and believe. The result is that you can know for certain that you belong to him. You can join me in joyfully and confidently declaring, “I am the Lord’s!”

bill-signature
*The catalyst for this blog was Richard Dahlstrom’s teaching last week at Mount Hermon from the book of Joshua: God’s Better Land. Among other things, he encouraged me to memorialize God’s faithfulness and reminded me that whose I am is more important than who I am. The rain coupled with the Isaiah passage is just driving the point home, reminding me that God speaks through his Word and through his servants. Thanks, Richard for being God’s faithful servant and using your gift of teaching to build up the body of Christ.

Posted in Bill's Blog, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Our Task and Our Helper

[Part V in a series on Abiding in Christ]

Through prayer and conversation, Trinity Church leadership has boldly chosen the following central ministry focus for our next chapter together: empowering believers to reach their world for Christ. Our central ministry focus is the main thing that we must all do if we are to be successful as a church, bringing glory to God. While this purpose of the church has been in our documents and teaching at Trinity, for most of us it has not been central. As a community of Christ-followers longing to glorify God, by loving God, loving people, sharing the gospel and serving the world, we believe that by sharpening this focus, we are better aligning ourselves with Christ’s purpose for us, which will bring greater glory to God.

Our main question and discussion as a pastoral staff has been, “How do we do this?” Yet shouldn’t we first consider, “How does God want us to do this?” This is the main thrust of Jesus’ words to his disciples in the upper room. We must remember, remaining deeply connected to the Vine is the source of all success (fruit). Everything flows from our relationship with Christ. Apart from him we can do nothing. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5 ESV). Abiding in Him is made possible through the presence of God, The Holy Spirit, abiding in us. He is our Helper to do God’s will and work in and through us. When we realize this, our commission to make disciples produces joy and freedom. Failure to recognize this produces fear and guilt, and quite frankly, we miss the heart of Jesus who spoke these things so that our joy may be full.

I used to be paralyzed with guilt and fear whenever the topic of witnessing or evangelism came up until I realized that it was the Lord’s work that mattered most and not my own. At that point the pressure was off and I began to relax and move. Now, by God’s grace, and with much yet to learn, I have been useful to the Lord for the purpose of witness and I delight in encouraging faith in others. If you are like me, I hope I might encourage you to relax. You have a Helper. After being with his disciples every day for three years, Jesus says, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7 ESV). It must have been shocking for them to hear that. What could be more advantageous than being with Jesus?

Christ’s disciples were the leaders he chose and trained to carry on his ministry. The advantage is theirs because the Holy Spirit would help them accomplish their mission: to bear witness about Jesus and continue his works. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12 ESV). He also says, “And you also will bear witness [about me], because you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:27 ESV). Acts 1:8 says that the Holy Spirit would empower them to be Christ’s witnesses. The chain of witnesses, disciples making disciples, continued on from that day, and somewhere along the way, you and I heard the gospel of Christ because of those who witnessed to us. Upon hearing and believing we have been saved by grace through faith, and are now his disciples too. While we are not the original apostles (eye witnesses), we have the same mission of carrying forth the word and works of Jesus, and the same Helper to guarantee success. What a joy and privilege for us to join with Christ in this foundational purpose of the church. These are exciting times as we trust the Lord to direct our hearts, words and actions into making his central ministry focus, our own.

bill-signature

Posted in Bill's Blog, Church, Evangelism | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Obeying

[Part IV in a series on Abiding in Christ]

Jesus wants us to love him! He tells his disciples that their obedience is the demonstration of their love for him. My obedience to Christ’s commands gives evidence to whether or not I am abiding in Him. Here are two excerpts from a previous blog series.

Jesus often talked about the Father demonstrating love for us. This may be the only time Jesus talked about us demonstrating love for him, so it is worth taking it to heart.

“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21 ESV)

We can sing of our love to God. There is nothing wrong with that if it truly comes from our hearts. From a human perspective, hearing the words, “I love you,” when they are truly meant is one of the greatest joys to my soul. The absence of those words from our loved ones, especially our mothers and fathers, is often highly damaging to our souls. But how much more sweet and foundational is the demonstration of that love! That’s what Jesus is saying to us. Our love is demonstrated by our obedience.

Before we continue, it is important to avoid a common misperception about our obedience to God’s commands. Our obedience demonstrates our love. It in no way earns God’s love! Obedience is not out of compulsion or guilt or fear or trying to earn favor with God. All of that has been cared for by Jesus demonstrating his love for us. The Scriptures say, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 NIV) We must remind ourselves of the gospel, daily, because our tendency is to get it backwards. (Herein lies a major role of the worship service: we sing the gospel, we are taught the gospel, we read it from the Scriptures, we act it out, we dance it out, we write it in our stories, we capture it in our films and on canvas. Why? In order to remember.) The gospel reminds us that obedience is our worship response to the unconditional, perfect love of our Heavenly Father. Obedience is the demonstration of our love, the expression of “I love you,” to the Lord. [from Loving God]

Obedience is part of the practical fruit that flows out of abiding in Christ. It is also fruit that we should ask God to produce in us! So we see the wonderful way that abiding, asking, loving and obeying are linked together. Our love for one another proves that we are Christ’s disciples. Our obedience proves to God that we love him. Love is fruit, in fact the first spiritual fruit listed in the Galatians 5:22,23 passage. Love and obedience are enabled and fueled by abiding in Christ and they are evidence that we are indeed abiding.

[from Loving God, Part 2] Back when our pastor, Gary Inrig, taught on John 14, I wrote a 3rd verse for the chorus, I Love You, Lord. I wanted a way to express my love for God through my desire to obey his commands. Dancer, Claire Peister, added some simple movement and we have used it in a few of our worship services since. It goes like this:

I love you Lord, so I will obey
And follow you as I live each day
Take joy my King, in this offering
May my life be the love song I sing

bill-signature

Coming next: Part V: Our Helper

Posted in Bill's Blog, Church, Music, Spirituality, Worship | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Loving

[Part III in a series on Abiding in Christ.] I’ve been surprised over the past few years by how difficult it is to love like Jesus did. I’ve found myself challenged within the church community to love those who are critical of me or who differ on matters of theology and practice. I’ve struggled to accept, let alone love, those who have wronged me, wronged the church or wronged someone I love. We all know these same challenges within our own families, at school or at work or with our neighbors. Christ’s love is an enemy-loving, sinner-loving love. Love like this is just not humanly possible! It is a fruit of the Spirit, a result of abiding in Christ! Could it be that Christ-like love is possible not by brute determination, but rather by humbly asking? Love is one of those things we cannot do with out a growing abiding relationship with Christ.

There is another repeated command that stands out in Jesus’ marching orders to his disciples in the upper room. Within the context of our relationship with Christ (abiding), we are to love one another like he has loved us.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34 ESV)

Loving one another bears the same witness as bearing fruit. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”” (John 13:35 ESV) Love is witness, evidence that we are Christ’s disciples. His followers are to bear his resemblance! Understanding and accepting Jesus love is where we must begin, then from there we can begin to demonstrate that same kind of love.

Jesus loved his disciples in two general ways: he served them and then he forgave them! He began their time together in the upper room by showing them “the full extent of his love.” He washed their feet, reminding them that the greatest in the kingdom is the one who serves. Love is demonstrated through service! When he gave his life on the cross the very next day, he demonstrated perfect love by forgiving their sins, offenses that were committed against him! Love is demonstrated through forgiveness! This is the full extent of his love!

John would later summarize Jesus’ new commandment with piercing directness: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16 ESV) If I am to love like Christ, I must lay my life down for my brothers, especially those who have wronged me, who are critical of me, and who may disagree with me. I’m reminded that all of Jesus’ disciples abandoned, betrayed or denied him the evening before he gave his life up for them. “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 ESV) That is the kind of love we “ought to” show to our brothers.

Laying down my life for “the brothers” is probably not going to require that I physically die, but it may feel like it! My pride must die. My need to be right must die. My need to get even must die. Forgiveness is what it practically means to lay down my life for my brothers. After all, that is why Jesus went to the cross, for the forgiveness of sins! Forgiveness establishes reconciliation with God, restoring our relationship with him. It is the same with our brothers. Love is demonstrated through forgiveness! Christ-like love is all wrapped up in two things: service and forgiveness.

The church’s witness to the world is tarnished by our lack of love for one another. Christ’s reputation, his very character, is tarnished! When we recognize our failure to love, repent of our sins and chose to love like Christ loved us, we have the opportunity to spotlight the beauty of God’s love and grace like never before! God’s love is a serving and forgiving love. That is how Christ loved us and that is how he told us to love one another.

Love is the essence of God’s character, to the point that John can say, God is love! (1 John 4:16) When we abide in him (stay connected to the vine), this is the type of fruit that he produces through us, his branches! One could argue that love is his choicest fruit, delicious, attractive, edifying, and irresistible! It’s no wonder that it tops the list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Perhaps one of the most important things we should ask the Father in Jesus’ name is that we would have a growing capacity to love one another as Christ loved us. After all, this is our greatest witness to the world!

bill-signature

Coming next: PART IV – Obeying

Posted in Bill's Blog, Church, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Asking

[Part II in a series on Abiding in Christ.]

While Jesus’ call to abide is about relationship, it is also about the resulting fruit that brings glory to our Father and demonstrates that we are his disciples. I like to think of fruit as what Christ accomplishes in and through us as we do our work. Practically speaking, fruit is evidence that we are abiding in Christ. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:12–14 ESV). It is important to note that the fruit Jesus is referring to here is continuing his work. He says that whoever believes in him will also do the works that he did. We have been saved by grace for good works and our greatest joy comes from doing those works that we have been created in Christ Jesus to do. (Eph. 2:10)* The key to doing these works is asking him to do them. After all, they are his works, not ours. Asking reminds us of this critical truth.

Apparently, Jesus really wants us to ask him for anything in his name. He repeated this command seven times on four separate occasions during this passage from John 13 – 16. Most often the immediate context of this invitation “to ask” was about the works he would do (the fruit) through those who believe in him. The “anything” has some parameters on it – it must be according to God’s will and purposes and for his glory. That’s what it means to ask in Jesus’ name.

Asking is done through prayer. One way to measure how well I’m doing at abiding is to look at how I am praying. Am I asking? What am I asking him for? Are we asking God together? Are we asking in Jesus’ name? Are we asking him for fruit?

Remember that Jesus was having a conversation with a group when he was giving these commands to abide, to ask and to love. While we can and should apply this to our personal relationship with Christ, we must hear his commands to us within the context of community. I have learned to pray by praying with other people. I’m not talking about grandiose religious-sounding prayers, but rather heartfelt, honest, biblical prayers demonstrated to me by those who have been my spiritual role models. One of the four main practices of the early church in Acts 2 was praying together. Our unity is strengthened by praying together. Isn’t it interesting how Jesus even links our joy with our asking? “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24 ESV). Over and over he says that the Father will answer. God loves to answer prayer when it is in accordance to his will and purposes. Seeing him accomplish his work to a greater measure will bring us fullness of joy.

God intended for us to pray together. Asking God to increase his work in and through us is an area we ought to grow in this next year. It is a critical aspect of abiding in Christ. God’s glory is dependent upon the fruit that will come as a result. Here lies proof that we are his followers. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:7–8 ESV).

I once asked one of our missionaries to share some of the fruit he was experiencing in ministry. I expected to hear him proclaim the powerful works of the Lord, but instead he surprised me when he answered that he was in a season of pruning.

“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2 ESV)

Could it be that the Lord is graciously pruning us, calling us back to the basics of abiding in Him and bearing fruit so that the world will know that we are his disciples? Pruning will bear a greater harvest of fruit to our Father’s glory. Asking him to accomplish his work in us and through us may just be the most important activity we could undertake during this time of pruning.

bill-signature

Coming Next: PART III – Loving

*Doing the works that Jesus did begs the question, “What works did Jesus do that he intends us to continue?” Looking at his departing statements will yield an answer: go, make disciples, be my witnesses. I’m eager to clarify what that means as we spend the next fourteen weeks in a Discipleship 101 series with our new Transitional Senior Pastor, Dave Jenkins.

Posted in Bill's Blog, Church, Evangelism, Spirituality | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Abiding

Here is a charge for us as we team up together in the work God has given us to do for his glory in 2015. The health of the team starts with the health of each individual member on the team. I am convinced more than ever that success in ministry rises and falls with our personal commitment to one thing: abiding in Christ. A genuine relationship with Christ is the spring from which everything flows. To put it another way, it is the vine from which all the fruit grows.

Jesus was about to pass the baton of his ministry to the twelve men that he had been raising up to carry on. He gathered them together for the passover meal and some very important conversation. He did most of the talking, telling them, “Love one another. Believe in me. Keep my commandments. Don’t be afraid. Abide in my love. Ask me.” Right in the middle of what we call the Upper Room Discourse, he delivers the central imperative that makes all the others possible.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4–5 ESV)

Success (fruit) is more about God’s work than my work. My main responsibility is to abide in Christ. This permeates everything that I do. Everything that I am! Fruit flows out of my life only as I remain connected to the Vine. Abiding in Christ is my life-calling. My roles at home and work are all sub-callings. Daily frustrations, anger, strife, stress and sin all originate from letting these other callings slip into first place. As soon as I think it’s about my strength, my ability, and my giftedness to fulfill these roles, I cut off the life-source; I am no longer abiding in the vine.

Practically speaking, how do I abide in Christ? I need to be with him. Relationships are characterized by two people knowing, trusting and loving each other. I do that with Christ through conversation, speaking and listening to him through prayer and reading his Word, learning, growing, obeying and worshiping him. It’s so simple, yet I can make it so hard and unattainable. I think it’s because I see the gap between where I am and where I ought to be. I feel ashamed. But our Father sees his beloved child whom he saved by grace, through faith, and he reminds me that he knows and loves me; he is with me and he is for me! He is not ashamed!

Relationships grow one step at a time, one day at a time. Our relationship with Christ begins with grace and grows by grace no matter how far along we are in the journey. Need an example? Go to the psalms! The psalms demonstrate what a relationship between God and man looks like over the long haul. Therein is honest dialogue with God from the heart, remembering, lamenting, questioning, revealing and confessing sins, pouring out troubles, fears, anger, requests, praise, thanksgiving and adoration.

I have a tendency to place my calling to be a pastor ahead of my calling to abide in Christ. In other words, I tend to emphasize my work over God’s work. It is a subtle but potentially fatal shift of focus. Jesus reminds me that I cannot bear fruit by myself! Apart from him I can do nothing! God is calling me back to this foundational practice of abiding in Christ. He’s calling us back. We need decisive, courageous, zealous leadership at Trinity, but this leadership needs to be characterized first and foremost by abiding in Christ. I am committed to that in 2015 and I’m asking you to join me and hold me accountable. As we press on to the unique callings God has placed on our lives as disciples of Jesus, let us not forget that we all have one primary calling: to abide in him. Let’s encourage each other in that pursuit and rejoice in the harvest of fruit that comes as a result.

bill-signature

Next week: PART II – Asking

Posted in Bill's Blog, Church, Spirituality | Tagged , , | Leave a comment