Author Archives: Pastor Pat Rowland

I Am: True Vine • Devotion #2: Pruning

As I write this devotion (April 2020), Spring is upon us and I am preparing to plant my garden. This will be my fifth year gardening and I have to admit I am kind of a hack when it comes to gardening. I should probably study more and plan more for crop location, ground preparation, and fertilization. There are a few things that I can actually grow and one of those is tomatoes. What I have learned about tomatoes is the importance of supporting the vine and pruning the shoots or branches. 

As Jesus was speaking to His disciples in John 15:1-5, He used an analogy or parable to illustrate the relationship of the disciples to Christ. In essence, it is a description of the relationship we are to have with Christ. Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 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. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 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. 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.”

Jesus describes Himself as the “True Vine” and His followers as “branches,” and that we first must remain connected to Him. Any branch apart from the vine can not and will not ever produce its fruit. He also identifies the Father as the “Gardener,” or the one that prepares the ground and cares for the plant.

The purpose of a garden is the harvest. I do not plant a garden in the spring, pull weeds all summer long, cultivate the soil, and water it just to look at it or to say I have a garden. The benefit of the garden is producing a crop or as Jesus says, “much fruit.” I have had some good years and not so good years at harvest time. The good years are directly connected to my effort throughout the growing season.  Jesus explains that the gardener pays close attention to his crop and through pruning increases the yield, Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

There are two aspects to pruning. The first is the removal of deadwood or those things in our life that will never produce fruit. Did you know there are 168 hours in a week, and if we remove time for sleep (56 hours) and our work (50 hours), that leaves just 62 hours of our week or about 8 hours a day? How are you leveraging those hours to produce much fruit? The second aspect of pruning is the removal of extra branches that would produce small fruit, so you can have fewer stronger branches that produce healthy fruit. Sometimes we have to let go of “good things” for “better things.” Are there good things in your life, those you enjoy that could keep you from investing time in the better things? Deadwood trimming is easy. Cutting away a good thing for a better future not so much, and it cannot be done without looking to your gardener.

Remember the Father is your gardener and He can be trusted to help you see where trimming needs to be addressed in your life. As you abide with Jesus, listen to the pruning He wants to do in your life.

I Am: The Bread of Life • Devotion #4: The Need

An interesting exchange takes place in John chapter 6 between Jesus and “the crowd” of people that followed Him from Capernaum. The previous day a large crowd, we are told there were 5,000 men, had followed Jesus, and was listening to Him teach. When it came time to eat, there was no food except five small loaves of bread and two fish. Miraculously Jesus feeds the large crowd with twelve basketfuls left over. The next day the crowd appears again looking for more miracles and maybe another meal. 

In John 6:26, we read, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”  

While they were concerned with a daily provision of bread, Jesus offered them a lifetime supply. Curious, they asked, “What must we do to have this amazing bread?” Jesus said, there is no work, you only have to believe, which the crowd responded with asking for another miracle. God provided what was called “manna” when the Israelites were in the wilderness (Exodus chapter 16) as if that was greater than feeding over 10,000. Jesus responded saying manna was a gift from God that gave daily provision, but His bread was a gift from Heaven that gave life. 

John 6:32-33 continues, “Jesus then said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’”

Still thinking that Jesus was talking about bread, the crowd asked for this bread Jesus was talking about. 

Finally, in verses 35-36, we read, “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.’”

Jesus’ message is simple, He does not ask us to do anything more than believe that He is who He said He was, and that it is only through Him that we can have eternal life. As the Bread of Life, Jesus provides what we all want, what we all need, and what we all can have. However, too often we complicate things because we put what we think we need ahead of what Jesus knows we need.

Giving • Devotion #4: Shut the Door and Open your Heart

I am a fan of personality and gift testing. I have done them all: DiSC, Myers Briggs, Enneagram, and Strengths Finder. I am a high I-D, ENTJ, 3 Wing 2, and the top 5 strengths are Belief, Responsibility, Significance, Futuristic, and Analytical. If you are familiar with these tests you would know that I am wired to get things done. I can be addicted to achievement and the recognition that comes with it. These tests have helped me understand who I am and be comfortable with that. They have also helped me understand that what is a strength God blessed me with can also be a weakness leading to unhealthy behaviors. 

Being wired for achievement and motivated by recognition has at times in my life lead me to use my gifts of execution for self-promotion. Being recognized for your accomplishments by others is not wrong, nor should it be discouraged. The core issue with a motive for recognition is self-seeking promotion. Though today’s social media platforms have permitted and expanded this characteristic, it is not a new problem. Jesus recognized over 2,000 years ago the potential flaw in humans. It was one of the first things he talked about in the very early days of His ministry. The famous “Sermon on the Mount” is recorded in Matthew chapters 5-7 as Jesus’ first sermon which covered many topics. For our purposes we need to zero in on Matthew 6:6, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”Whether it is praying, worship, giving, serving, or any of the spiritual disciplines taught in the Bible, they are personal, not promotional. God is more concerned about the work He wants to do in you and through you then He is with the response you receive from others. The actions of our own hearts must be driven by the recognition of the Heavenly Father not by attaboys, likes, and reactions. Jesus commands us to “shut the door” on the recognition of others and to open our hearts to the work He wants to do in us. 

Correction • Devotion #4: I am Not your Enemy

“If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15

In his second letter to the Church at Thessalonica, Paul writes what seems to be a very severe and harsh warning. What was the reason for this warning? Was it false worship, immorality, sexual sin, or murder? Those are all terrible, but that is not what Paul is seeking to correct in this church. In verse six, Paul says, “keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness.” Why warn against idleness? The foundation of many sins is a mindset of idleness. 

In the Church at Thessalonica, there was a growing group of people that had refused to do any work contributing to the community. They had refused to learn a trade and work while living off the contributions of the rest of the community. Their mindset was looking for the return of Jesus sensing work as a waste of time. It was a mindset that was contradicting the teachings of Jesus, as well as what Paul had taught and modeled for these young believers. Thus there was the need for correction. 

When discipline is needed with a child, a parent must use the filter, “Does the punishment fit the crime?” In this case, if we focused on the degree of the discipline (“have nothing to do with him”), we could miss an important teaching. This group of people are fellow Christians and we must be willing as well as open to correction from our fellow Christians. Paul’s instructions were not for the purpose of shaming, but for change.In Paul’s previous letter to the Thessalonians, he concludes it, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). At the core of our relationships within the church, we are to love and encourage one another which should also be at the core of our correction. Keep in mind if we receive a form of correction from a brother that it comes from a place of love for you. In the same way, if you are sending correction it should come from a place of building them up, not shaming them. The purpose is not to be right, it is to be encouraging. They are not the enemy.

1 John 1 • Devotion #1: Proclaim

“I was there and saw the whole thing.” Whenever you hear a story from a first-hand account, you can believe it. John, the author, was one of the twelve disciples of Jesus who lived and walked with Jesus for three years. For three years, he was right there beside Jesus as he healed the sick. He was there for the feeding of the 5,000 and witnessed Him walk on water. John, listened intently as Jesus spoke to the crowds as well as later when He explained the parables to the twelve. As he opens his letter in 1 John, he identifies his credentials as an eye witness of Jesus. 

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it.” 1 John 1:1-2a

For John and the other ten remaining disciples, they could not help but share the story of Jesus because it was so much a part of their story. I love hearing the stories of those that have trusted Jesus as they share how that decision completely changed their life. If you are a believer in Jesus, you know what I am talking about. Whether your life was a mess or without challenge, you still had this emptiness that was only made complete when you accepted Jesus as your Savior and trusted Him with your ordinary everyday life. Your life was changed the moment Jesus’ story connected to your story.  

Whenever I meet someone for the first time, I struggle with not wanting to answer the question, “What do you do?” I know as soon as I say I am a pastor, there is a chance that this person either will be guarded around me, or they will want to debate their beliefs or ideas of theology. They are always disappointed when I will not share my thoughts on creation and shift the conversation to my story of what Jesus has done in my life. I will share stories of people I have known that were changed through the Gospel message. I have found that people can debate Scripture, they can argue theology, and quote something they read. However, they cannot argue with a personal story of a life changed.  

In verses 2-3, John writes, “The life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us — that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”

He proclaims his story as he proclaims the Gospel. You and I have more than belief in Jesus; we have a story to proclaim. Our lives testify to what Jesus has done and wants to continue to do in our lives and the lives of those around us. Your story is powerful and unique because it is your story. It cannot be debated, and it can change lives as you proclaim it

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