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John | Pastor's Blog | Gardendale Nazarene

Immersed in the Spirit

Last Sunday morning, I did something I do more than I’d like to admit. The worship service ended and, I opened my notes to realize that I left out a decent chunk of my sermon. Just think, I had another eight minutes worth of notes!

Usually when this happens I think, “It must not have been that important if I forgot it.” This week, however, it’s been different. I keep thinking about it. The good news is that I can share it with you here. So here goes…

The thought centers on John 1:32-34. This passage is John the Baptist’s testimony about his cousin. John is baptizing and Jesus approaches him, John baptizes Jesus, and then John ‘bears witness’ to what happened, “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

What I left out on Sunday was this- ‘he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ In just two chapters, Jesus will tell Nicodemus that one must be born of water and of Spirit to enter the kingdom of God. Think about the two images being used here: birth and baptism.

Before we are born, we live in water. When a mother’s water breaks, the child must transition from the womb to outside the womb. We are immersed in that water and our life is connected to the immersion.

In baptism, we enter the water and are immersed in that water. Guess what? Our new life is connected to the immersion!

So what does it mean to be baptized by the Holy Spirit? I believe it’s about immersion–immersion in the life-giving Spirit. Michael J. Gorman writes, “The word ‘baptism’ connotes participation in the fullest sense: it is an image of being completely immersed in a reality outside the self that transforms the self.”

To be a child of God is to be born and baptized with (immersed in) the same Spirit that enabled Jesus to do God’s work. What would your life look like if you saw yourself continually immersed in the Spirit? How would you view your faith, your neighbors, your community, your church?

That is my prayer for this series that we are immersed in God’s mission. May you see yourself immersed in the life-giving Spirit. May you feel the Holy Spirit surrounding you as you take part in the God’s mission!

Depth of John 3

I can remember as a college student when I first encountered the true depth of the third chapter of John. In the eighteen years since college, this chapter has only grown deeper for me.

John 3:16 comes in the midst of this great chapter. I know this is an obvious statement, but the popularity of this verse seems to remove it from the larger story of chapter 3. Many of us see verse 16 as a standalone verse. Let's look at one of the central characters of this chapter.

Chapter 3 begins with the entrance of Nicodemus. Nicodemus comes at night to speak to Jesus. He is a pharisee, one who is well versed in the conversations of faith. He has this religion-thing figured out.

However, it doesn't take long in the conversation for us to see that Nicodemus is in the dark concerning this conversation with Jesus. "How can these things be?", he asks.
  • How many time do we approach Jesus like Nicodemus?
  • How many times do we come to Jesus as one who is learned?
  • How often do we think we have it figured out when Jesus is wanting to speak truth into our lives?

Look at what Jesus says in verse 12, " If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?"

Another way to say this is, "I want to have heaven-centered conversations with you, yet you are not open to even the earth-centered conversations."

I hope we can find the ability to open ourselves to the heaven-centered conversations Jesus wants to have with us.

Here is my prayer for us- Lord, I know that many times I come to You missing the humility of your servant. I pray that I open myself to what You want to do show me. Lord, open my ears to Your heaven-centered words. Amen.

For God so loved the world...

I would like to spend the next couple devotionals looking at for us to look at one of the most well-known verses and the oft-overlooked next verse.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)

I have been challenged by the writing of David Lose concerning these verses. Today, we will look at verse 3:16.

Lose writes, "In this verse, we hear of God’s profound love for the world God created, a love so deep and abiding that God would suffer even the loss of God’s own Son in order to communicate that love.

But as profound as that may seem, the verse is actually even more meaningful when you understand a bit more about the language John employs in it. In fact, in some ways, the key to this verse is wrapped up in the Greek word kosmos, which we translate as ‘world’ and is the root of our word ‘cosmos.’”

Let’s look at a few places Jesus uses kosmos in John’s gospel:
  • John 14:16-17: And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
  • John 15:18-19: If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
  • John 17:14-16: I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.

These are just a sampling of kosmos verses in John, but they help us see what Jesus is saying. Lose continues, “Whenever John uses this word, you see, he employs it to describe a world at enmity with God…The world, that is, cannot even perceive the God’s Spirit of truth.”

How does this change our reading of John 3:16-17? God sent His Son into a world that was in conflict with Him. This is the beauty of the incarnation- God’s act of redemption came into a world that was opposed to Him. God loves you so much that He risks everything for you. As Martin Luther says– this is the gospel in a nutshell.

This is the love and hope that stretches from Christmas to Easter. This is the great story that we must celebrate!

May we join in the celebration this Lent!

True Vine

“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.”
–John 15:1-5 ESV

“Jesus describes the intimacy that he offers as the connectedness between the vine and its branches. I long to be grafted onto Jesus as a branch onto the vine so that all my life comes from the vine. In communion with Jesus, the vine, my little life can grow and bear fruit. I know it, but I do not live it. Somehow I keep living as if there are other sources of life that I must explore, outside of Jesus. But Jesus keeps saying, ‘Come back to me, give me all your burdens, all your worries, fears, and anxieties. Trust that with me you will find rest.’”
–Henri Nouwen


When I took my first New Testament Greek class, one of our first assignments was a word study. The class was told to choose a Greek word and write a paper on one word. I chose the word, doxa. In the pages that followed, doxa was forever planted in my heart.

This word, doxa, is translated 'glory'. As we have been working our way through Romans, we keep coming back to 'glory'. Today, I would like to look at a passage that enlightens us to some of the beauty of this word.

Let's begin by reading Jesus' words in John 5: 39-44

"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory (doxa) from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory (doxa) from one another and do not seek the glory (doxa) that comes from the only God?"

Before we talk about this passage, let's dig a little deeper into doxa. One of the best places to broaden our understanding of doxa is in the story of Moses on Mount Sinai. In Exodus 34, we read that after Moses returned from receiving the tablets on Sinai, his face shone. The Hebrew word here is kabod or in Greek doxa.

Moses spends time in the presence of God and what did the people see? Did they see Moses' glory? No, they saw God's glory.

Look at Jesus' statement in John 5, "I do not receive glory from people...How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?"

The challenge I see in this passage is the fact that Jesus has the religious leaders pegged- and us too! How often do I seek glory from other people and not God? Moses' face radiated because of the time he spent in the presence of the living God. Do I shine? How can I expect to radiate God's glory, if I haven't been in His presence?

Look once more at the John 5 passage. Jesus tells them, " refuse to come to me that you may have life..." Many of us read this statement as pertaining to salvation. I think this is true, but I don't think the meaning stops there.

In spending time with Christ, we have life. If you read the next chapter in John, you will see Jesus talking to the people about the manna their ancestors received in the wilderness. The collection of manna was a daily practice. The 'bread' we are fed by is a daily practice.

How do we radiate God's glory? We come to Christ. We spend time in His presence. We pray. We spend time with the Scriptures. We look for the presence of God in our daily lives. We radiate his love!

May "we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, [be] transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The Beauty of Christ's Love

Today is Maundy Thursday. It is beginning of a three part observance called the Paschal Triduum. These days begin at sundown on Thursday and concludes at sundown on Sunday. It is my hope that we view Easter in the greater context of this observance.

I believe that looking at Easter as the celebration at the end of a longer observance, shows the events of this week in their proper context. This context brings out the beauty and richness of Easter morning!

One book that I have found myself drawn to year after year is Bobby Gross’ Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God. In this book, Gross gives us a great description of Maundy Thursday:

“On Maundy Thursday, the eve of Christ’s death, we focus our attention on the Passover meal he shared with his disciples. On this night he instituted what would come to be called the Lord’s Supper, in which the eating of bread recalls his broken body and the drinking of wine remembers his spilled blood. By his atoning death he inaugurated a new covenant with all who put their faith in him. Also, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet in an extraordinary gesture of humble service, after which he gave a new commandment or mandate (Latin mandatum, from which we get “Maundy”). So we think today about self-giving love, Christ’s for us and ours for one another.”

As we focus today on that Upper Room, I would ask that we focus on the beauty of Christ’s love for His people. What strikes me about this story is certainly Christ’s actions, but on another level is how Christ turns the events back to his disciples.

If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.
–John 13:14-15 ESV

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. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
–John 13:34-35 ESV

The beauty of Maundy Thursday is that the actions of Christ did not end in that room. He showed us what love is and what love truly looks like. Observing the Paschal Triduum is best displayed as we live out Christ's self-giving love in our world.

Is your God too Small?

One of my favorite writers tells a story about when he was a chaplain at a university in England. Every year, he would meet the new freshman and introduce himself. Many of the students would say upon hearing he was the chaplain, “You won’t see much of me, I don’t believe in god.”

He developed a standard answer to this statement. “Oh, that’s interesting; which god is it you don’t believe in?”

You see, most people think the term ‘god’ means the same thing. He writes, “…they would stumble out a few phrases about the god they said they did not believe in: a being who lived up the in the sky, looking down disapprovingly at the world, occasionally ‘intervening’ to do miracles, sending bad people to hell while allowing good people to share his heaven.”

To this answer, he would reply, “Well, I’m not surprised you don’t believe in that god. I don’t believe in that god either. I believe in the God I see revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.”

In John 14, we read about a conversation between Jesus and his apostles. “Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.’” –John 14:8-10 ESV

I think we fall into the same trap that snared those college freshmen. Our picture of God is too small. When we boil down what we believe, it doesn’t sound that different than their spy-in-the-sky.

We are six days away from our celebration of Christ’s birth.
We are six days away from our celebration of the Word becoming flesh.
We are six days away from our celebration of our Savior’s arrival.

We are six days away from our celebration that the world will never be the same because of a child born in Bethlehem.

We are six days away from our celebration of our God sending His Son and in doing so, we get a glimpse into the very heart of God.

We are six days away from our celebration of a God who yearns for His people to be free from sin and alive in Him.

Merry Christmas from the Parrish home to your home. We pray that your celebration this Christmas is filled with the hope and wonder of a God who is too big to describe, yet is completely fulfilled in the cries of a child that holy morning.

Pastor John

Meeting Us Where We Are

Our passage for this week is Matthew 7:1-5. In preparing our hearts for worship, I would ask you to read another passage in preparation- John 8:1-11.

The text in Matthew, gives us a directive for how we view one another. Jesus tells us, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Then in John 8, we see Jesus living this out.

There are a couple of things that I would like to point out in John’s story. Let’s focus on the last couple of verses. Jesus gives the famous line in verse 7, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then, starting with the older men in the crowd, the stones started dropping.

Jesus is then left, bent down, with the woman standing before Him. John then records a subtle detail. Look at verse 10. Jesus stands up. Jesus meets her on her level- eye to eye. In the midst of her sin, Jesus meets her.

When we hear the words, “Judge not, that you be not judged," we sometimes assume that Jesus is offering a blanket of tolerance and moral indifference. I would hope, that as we read John 8:11, we would see the love and beauty of Jesus’ parting words to the woman, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” Jesus is concerned about her sin. He knows that sin separates us from life with His Father.

My prayer for this passage is that we begin to not just understand judgement from God’s perspective, but that we also see ourselves as a community marked by love, peace, justice, and reconciliation.

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