Are We Listening?

In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Matthew 26:12 ESV

Many years ago, as we sat through an average Sunday service, our pastor began to preach about the cross. First, he described the terrible beating that Jesus received and how the crown of thorns was pressed down on his head. “Next they took the nails” our pastor went on, “And they drove them through His hands….” he was suddenly interrupted by a tiny voice that pierced the silence of our congregation. “EEEW!” a little girl in the back cried out. The rest of us heard the message that morning, but I believe that in God’s eyes, she was the only person actually listening!

In our scripture passage today, it seems that just like that little girl; only Mary seemed to be listening. Jesus had told them many times that He was going to Jerusalem to die. But only Mary, understood that Jesus would not be with them much longer. Only Mary, who chose to sit at Jesus’ feet listening, did something to give Him her blessing while she still had time. Other people were celebrating and relaxing at the supper, but Mary poured out her alabaster box of perfumed oil on the Master’s feet. Everybody listens to someone. Who are you listening to today? If we want to fill the room with the fragrance of the presence of Christ, it all depends on listening at His feet and then acting on the words we hear!

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God’s Vineyard

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
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Have you ever started a conversation by saying, “You know the problem I have with our church is!”? Of course, there may be serious issues relating to personal misconduct or false doctrine, but more often than not our problem is that we may all be connected to the vine, we are at many different stages of growth. Some of us have been around for decades, but it has been so long since anyone harvested any of our fruit that it is overripe, mushy and a bit smelly. Then, we might find in the seat next to us Sir Jumps-a-lot, because he just became a Christian recently and His fruit is…well still a little bit tart! So, how in the world does Jesus expect us all to get along? The answer lies just a few verses ahead-

This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. John 15:12 ESV

And how exactly has Jesus loved us? Well, according to verse one, it is by staying connected through thick and thin. Even on days when we are pretty lousy branches, or when our blossoms are frost blighted or when old age has weakened a few of our limbs Jesus sticks with us. Then, He tells us that our only job is to stay connected (abiding) in Him. As long as we do that, He steps in and lovingly prunes us back when our head grows a few sizes too big, He waters us when we are dry, and He feeds us when we are hungry for His word. His love connection is not determined by how well we are doing today, or our stage of maturity. Then Jesus asks us to do the same with other people at our church, in our families and with our friends. As branches, it is not our job to accept or reject the branches growing around us. Our job is to love them just as Jesus loved us. Then, when someone who is not a believer shows up, they just may be so amazed by that loving connection, that they want to know more. Ours may not be a “Perfect church” but I believe that it is exactly the kind that God has in mind. So, whatever our stage of growth this morning, let’s just stay focused on staying connected to Jesus. Then, just as He promised, He will be faithful to stay connected to us and see to it that our branches are filled with delicious fruit!

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The Miracle of the Church

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, 
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 
Matthew 16:18 ESV

That afternoon, I sat with my shotgun in hand, waiting and watching to catch the perpetrator of the recent crimes, but the sly fellow never appeared. Nevertheless, by morning the evidence of his skullduggery was again on display, and my zucchini squash plants lay in ruins. Mr. Groundhog never showed his head, but the evidence of his deeds was a clear reminder that a mere garden fence would not keep him at bay. Yet, I did not give up on our vegetable patch. I replanted and strengthened the fence and was delighted to discover that though the zucchini crop was a bust, we reaped tomatoes, peppers and green beans in abundance that year. In the same way, when we grow spiritually fatigued, discouraged and disillusioned by scandal among church leaders, fellow church members, or ourselves, we must not give in to despair. Instead, remember that attacks are not a sign of defeat. Rather, the impact of our spiritual garden attacker does not, will not and has never destroyed the success of all the crops.

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After all, it would be no miracle if God’s church grew unimpeded throughout the centuries because all Christians were perfect. The miracle is that, in spite of our glaring shortcomings, scandals and weaknesses, God has continued to build His church, and after two thousand years she remains alive and well. Each time the enemy has broken through the garden fence, God in mercy knelt down and went to work in His garden. He didn’t tell Peter He needed a perfect church to build His Kingdom. Instead, God’s promise was that by the miracle of His grace, He would rebuild the garden fence, replant the damaged rows and in the end reap an abundant harvest that no power of hell could ever destroy!