The Lord is my Shepherd

I love Psalm 23. It is one of my favorites because God has shown me how to live life through this psalm. It is a Psalm about allowing Jesus to be the leader. The opening verse acknowledges His leadership and then states that “I shall not want”.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. Psalm 23:1 ESV

I shall not want. Well that very statement is the exact opposite of who I am, the culture I live in, and how I live my daily life. I want an awful lot of stuff. I want many things and I have plans to secure the things I want. I even look to Jesus for help to secure the things I want. Jesus however made an interesting point to the disciples one day when they were at the temple and got a good view of the treasury where people were bringing their gifts to God.

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44 ESV

She gave out of her poverty and put everything she had into the offering. Have I ever given all that I have? Monetarily no. I have given monetarily I would even say I have given a fair amount monetarily, but what I have given has been out of abundance. God has blessed the work of my hands so out of abundance I give. Have I ever given, my life, my being, all on the line to Jesus? Jesus said this woman gave all that she had to live on. She had nothing left to give. I suspect that those coins were all that she had left save the cloths on her back. She put herself totally at the mercy and grace of God. In the back of my mind when I give up some part of myself, I have an alternate plan. I rationalize that if it all falls apart I might go to plan b or plan c. This woman had nothing left to fall back on. She was at the complete mercy of her savior at that moment when she let go of the coins. Could I dare to allow myself to be at His mercy by letting go of the life I want to live?

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:22-23 ESV

Yes I can dare to put everything on the line for Jesus. He wants to be the Shepherd in my life, but I need to trust him and turn everything over to him. Francis Chan in his book Forgotten God challenges the contemporary, nominal Christianity that many of us try to live. You know the Christianity where we try to add Jesus in, like a good luck charm, or better yet a god that will give us our heart’s desire in the here and now. Chan wrote “Jesus Christ did not die in order to follow us. He died and rose again so that we could forget everything else and follow Him to the cross, to true Life.”

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. John 10:27-28 ESV

Do you hear Jesus calling? Has he spoken to you? There is no plan B or plan C. The widow understood who would provide to for her. Do you understand? Have you yielded to the only name under heaven which can save, the name of Jesus? Jesus is here now speaking to you. Rebellious slaves to sin look up. God the Creator of the universe has taken your shame away. Submit to Him. He will accept you, listen to His voice your shepherd is calling and he has the only plan for you.

Freedom comes with Responsibility

There is a freedom that comes from surrender to Christ. It is a counter intuitive situation where one must be surrendered to the Lord of all Creation in order to be free. Only when I give up the life I wanted to live and start living the life that Christ wants for me do I recognize how much of a slave I was to my selfishness and sin nature. That freedom in Christ however comes with responsibility and I must not use my freedom in Him in a way that causes someone around me to sin. Paul provides an example of this dilemma and the believer’s responsibility.

Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 1 Corinthians 8:4 ESV

In the time of Paul’s writing meat purchased at the market or served at a festival most likely would have been slaughtered as part of some ritual or pagan worship. Within the Corinthian Church there must have been an argument about the freedom for a Christian to eat food that was part of such a ritual. This may seem like an abstract idea to western culture, but even in contemporary society there is food available that has been sacrificed in Muslim or Hindu traditions for example. Paul confirms that since pagan religions do not worship anything real because there is only one real Creator then there is nothing sinful about eating the food. Yet Paul Continues…

However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. 1 Corinthians 8:7-13 ESV

Now this clarification from Paul is interesting because he places a burden of responsibility on someone who understands the freedom that is given to those in Christ. He warns such a “mature” believer to not cause conflict to the brother in Christ who is not so mature. Paul clarifies later in the letter…

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 ESV

Paul agrees with the Corinthians that they are free to do what they want, but he challenges them to recognize that not everything is helpful and not everything builds up others. The freedom we have carries responsibility so I will bring this to a bit more relevance in current culture. I refrain from Alcohol of any kind. I abstain, not because it would be sinful or unlawful for me to participate, but because of the love I have for my brothers and for the unsaved. Drinking is such a dividing line in society. What if a young Christian saw me drinking and then followed my example? What if it led to excess for that individual? Drinking in no way builds up or is helpful so I abstain. By not drinking I am also recognized immediately by those around me especially unbelievers. It allows for an opportunity to speak the good news about Christ.

Each of us must examine our surroundings and culture to determine where freedom in Christ asks for a line to be drawn. Is our action helpful? Is our action building up others? What has the Holy Spirit laid on your heart? Maybe you should serve others by no longer participating in that action for God’s Glory.

Three Questions to bring this home:
1. An incident when I caused someone to stumble?
2. A Favorite thing that I am willing to limit, as God Leads?
3. A person I will choose to be more sensitive to in the future?

The Easter Resurrection

Paul reminded the Corinthian church of the gospel, the good news, which was delivered to them. This good news is the same for us today and is the message of the Easter holiday that is celebrated at this time of the year.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 ESV

Paul testified to the fact that Jesus had died on a cross and then was raised on the third day, just as the Old Testament scriptures had promised. Paul reminded this church of the hundreds of people who Jesus appeared to after his death. Many of those people were still alive at this time verifying what Paul was writing in this letter.

Easter is about what Jesus did on the cross and the good news that this brings to each and every person. The good news, as Paul listed it here, is #1 Christ died for our sins as predicted by the Old Testament. #2 He was buried and physically dead. All the chemical reactions were done. #3 on the third day as predicted by the Old Testament Jesus was resurrected. This resurrection is new life not undead life. This is no zombie, but life restored and better than before because it is life that has overcome death. Resurrection of this kind is an event that human effort has been unable to replicate, and is accomplished by the direct intervention of a Creator who has authority to break the rules of time space.

The resurrection is key to the life giving power of Christianity. When we die that is not the end. We are eternal beings even when the physical breaks down and dies. Yet we reject the idea that the Creator has interjected himself into the affairs of men. We reject that God will require an accounting of what we have done with the life he created in us. In Paul’s day just as in our day many people rejected the idea that a resurrection is possible. We are all stuck in the physical of time space. We focus only on the closed off system and the natural laws that rule this system. Resurrection breaks those laws and is not a repeatable event to be studied and analyzed by men. Thomas one of the disciples refused to believe the testimony of his closest friends on this matter.

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” John 20:24-25 ESV

The even more amazing thing about Thomas’ refusal to believe that Jesus was alive was that Thomas had witnessed countless times that Jesus had broken the laws of nature. Blind men seeing, the sick healed, food multiplied, and Thomas had firsthand eyewitness proof that resurrection is possible. He was there when Jesus resurrected Lazarus from the dead.

Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go”… So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” John 11:14-16a; 41-44 ESV

If it is hard for someone like Thomas to accept that the natural laws of what is possible and what is impossible can be broken then what chance do we who live in the age of science have?

The answer is that the Creator is not subject to the laws of the creation. We are all bound to the space time container yet what separates God is that as creator he is outside of the creation and is not bound as we are to the natural laws and to the forward direction of time.

An explanation of space time

In regard to the system we live in called space time Jesus put it this way…

And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Revelation 21:6 ESV

The Alpha is the first letter of the Greek Alphabet and Omega is the last letter. Jesus who is God in flesh stands outside of time; he sees and interacts with the beginning and the end at the same time. It is the only way God can be all the things that make God ever present and all powerful. He is not limited to the space time container or to the natural laws that limit the creation.

If the Creator truly interacts and has plans for his creation then choose this day what you will believe. Easter is the good news that we can be given new life, a resurrection from the dead. God is calling us to serve him and he is the Creator who is worthy of our worship. If you refuse and continue in rebellion then do not think that once you die that this container of space time is all there will be. Jesus continued…

To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” Revelation 21:7-8 ESV

Eternal and Imperishable

I know less than I should about Heaven and I have not studied the topic in any depth. I have spent all of my energy learning and understanding the knowledge of this world. Understanding the wisdom of what makes life easy or hard, and worthless or worthwhile. I need to know more about what eternal life might be like or what purpose I might have in eternity. What I do know however is that the current grace we live under is leading up to eternity in heaven or hell. For example, if one takes advantage of everyone around them for personal gain it might work in the short term however eternally that person could forfeit their soul. But do we care? Is heaven so wonderful or hell so bad that it matters? Some decisions might be against the short term benefit, like protecting a persecuted individual against an unrighteous military force, even to ones own death. However in the eternal view that decision could be of supreme benefit. How do we know? Is it worth the sacrifice? For me I operate in faith that God has that all planned out on my behalf. God has proven trustworthy to me in the here and now, so I trust him in the future, but I wonder what life might be like in the eternal.

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 1 Corinthians 15:19 ESV

My hope is in the future. My hope is in Christ and future glory. I have hope for this life now and God has richly blessed this life more than I deserve, but this life is not my final hope. All of us are going to die, everyone you know will die. Death is ever present no matter how much we try to set it aside, or ignore what the sands of time will take away. Even if this life is destroyed and cut short, no matter how difficult that may be my true hope and my final hope is in the life to come.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 ESV

Christ brings with him the power of a resurrection and while many in this present age are skeptical seeking to understand only what they see in the physical, Jesus has promised a new life. What that looks like is interestingly described by Paul.

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 1 Corinthians 15:35-38 ESV

A seed has a type of glory, but it must go into the ground to be raised into a new life with a new glory. What God plans for his children in the eternal life will be a new type of glory that I can’t imagine from this place of death. The new life will be bigger than the single seed that I am now. This life will also not be hounded by death. It will be new life the life of spring time. All of the pain of sin, the pain of a broken body, and the pain of broken relationships will not be present.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 1 Corinthians 15:42-45 ESV

New life in Christ, eternal life moves from the perishable to the imperishable. I think how quickly my life has gone by and I think of the pain in my knee and back from years of use. Life will only go by faster and my body will never be what it once was. My life is temporary and perishable. What Paul is telling me is that I need to fight against the desire to only live for the here and now. Most people seem to try to live as if this is the best life now. Do not make that mistake. Turn with me toward Jesus for the future hope that only he can provide in the resurrection of an eternal life that is imperishable.

Rules or no Rules?

I am not a fan of rules and bureaucracy. Many times the rules of some organizations seem stupid or even worse those rules can just infuriate when one accidently gets caught up in them. Many religious rules can seem this way. The rules are there to try and control or guide people on a path that has been deemed acceptable by the majority. When the rules get complicated and when the rules start touching on every aspect of life then people start to rebel against the rules and will inevitably start calling the enforcers of those rules hypocrites or make claims that one cannot legislate morality. While both of those charges have some truth in them the reality is that every law or rule ever created is based on someone’s morality and every person that has ever lived has broken some part of some law that they hold dear thus becoming a hypocrite.

While we get caught up in rules and shaking our head at others that seem to ignore the rules people try to use Jesus to justify their rules. The problem is that while there is right and wrong Jesus was not focused on the rules. His laws are written on our hearts and our own conscience answers the questions about right and wrong if we stop to listen.

They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them Romans 2:15 ESV

Jesus was focused on changing who we are, our focus, our motivation, and our desires. Rules and laws are used by others as a way to enforce some larger goal. Jesus did not come to justify rule followers and condemn rule breakers Jesus came to give new life to those that turn to follow him.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. Colossians 3:1-2 ESV

Many people ask me questions about situations waiting to hear my opinion yet I have found that my answer only serves to justify their actions or give them a point of rebellion to continue on in their path. I have found it better to point to Jesus and ask if they are willing to give up their life so that they can find the life that God created them for. To prove the point here are two examples of Jesus interacting with a rule follower and a rule breaker.

The Rule Follower

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Mark 10:17-22 ESV

Jesus loved this man. He knew this man had lived a life that kept the rules a life that everyone around him must have envied. God blessed this man and he must have been a benefit to the community. A man who says he has kept all the rules from his youth and Jesus does not challenge the claim. In fact Jesus upheld the claim and agreed with it. I could not make such a claim and I do not know very many if any people who could claim the same for themselves. Jesus looked at the man and told him that there was just one thing more that needed to be done. It is an interesting request from Jesus to give all his wealth away. By asking this man to give away his wealth he was asking this man to give up his life. Because of his wealth he was earth bound, he loved this world more than the eternal life he was asking for. I often ask youth if they would give everything up and go to the ends of the earth if Jesus asked them to and the response I almost always get back is “It depends on where He would want me to go”. Where is the line drawn? Just how far are you willing to go to follow the rules?

The Rule Breaker

And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. Luke 15:11-13 ESV

Here is another rich young man who in place of following all the rules lives recklessly, abandons his family, and seeks only selfishness giving no thought to tomorrow. The rule follower would look on this young man with contempt and everyone on the outside looking in knows that the train wreck is coming. Interestingly the father, a representation of God the Father, allows the young man to leave. The father knows it would be better for the son to stay yet he allows him to break the rules without condemnation.

And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” Luke 15:14-19 ESV

Jesus tells us in this case the rule breaker, who might have just died in his recklessness came to his senses and resolved to return home completely broken and worthless. This man is changed. He is no longer the man he was before. He returns to the place he left to beg for forgiveness and for the chance be at the servants table.

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. Luke 15:20 ESV

Regardless of following the rules or breaking them Jesus is searching for men and women who are turning to him to be transformed, to be born again. Both the rule follower and the rule breaker have the opportunity to be loved by God, but only one in these examples desired change. Both were loved. Jesus loved the rich young ruler, the Father loved the son that left, but only the one that became humble and turned toward Jesus was embraced and forgiven forever changed.

Unity with the Church

Jesus prayed for the believers who would follow after him even 2,000 years later. It is an awesome idea to recognize that Jesus was thinking of me when he was in his earthly ministry. In the prayer recorded in John 17 for the disciples Jesus wraps up that prayer by turning his attention to the future followers. A future where there would be a mass community of believers and followers all over the earth.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. John 17:20-21 ESV

Jesus in this prayer is concerned for the unity of the church. Unity is a hallmark of God’s character. Jesus notes how he and the Father are one. Jesus is in perfect unity with God and because of that every word and action from Jesus is perfectly what God wants. In the same way Jesus wants the church to be in unity, he wants me to be in unity with him. If I am in unity with Jesus then I am also in unity with others that are in unity with Jesus.

Think of it this way. If two people worlds apart are both focused on God and what he wants then these two people will be unified in God. The closer two people grow in relationship with the Creator the closer aligned they will be individually. On the other hand if two people are pursuing their own agenda then they will continue to distance themselves from each other and from God.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Philippians 2:3 ESV

There is no place for selfishness with God. He is the source of everything and any desire or ambition that that elevates self or wants to defend self is not connected to him. Jesus provided many examples of this dynamic, but one I like best is from Matthew.

And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Matthew 5:41 ESV

The context in the example from Jesus is that a Roman could force someone support him on his journey for a mile. In anger and fear one would be forced to follow such a command. Yet Jesus tells the Disciples that if forced to go the first mile out of duty or obligation, then go a second mile out of love and service. Such a gesture will be noticed and that kind of servant attitude is an example of how Jesus lived and died on humanities behalf. There is no place for ego or pride in such an act of service. Without ego we are more likely to understand God’s plan and less likely to struggle against others when we want our own way.

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 1 Corinthians 1:10 ESV

Not everyone in the Church is following God and some in the church will be immature in their relationship with him. This is where the division will find its home. Those of us who love God and are turning our lives over to his authority must also remember the second greatest commandment from Jesus. Remembering this will cool our anger and frustrations when disagreements show up.

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

Trouble from God?

In the days before Jesus is arrested and killed he spent time preparing the disciples for what was about to happen. They did not understand and had even become depressed at how things were working out for their Messiah (John 11:16). Jesus knew the big picture and he wanted to provide words that would encourage the disciples for the future tribulations they would face.

“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. John 16:1-4

In western culture there is an idea that God will bless his people with prosperity and long life. Christians proclaim Jeremiah 29:11 with regularity that God’s plans will not harm, but will give hope and future. There are gospel preachers that promise the best life now if one will follow God’s principles for life. In a culture that is free and prosperity is possible because of that freedom, it is true that following the wisdom of God’s economic and interpersonal guidelines as found in books like Proverbs can lead to prosperity and wealth. However, I want to pause here and challenge the reader with a very uncomfortable idea. What if God choose to put us into a culture where this kind of freedom was not available? What if the world was turned on end and following Christ shut one out of the business world? What if following Christ caused one to be relegated to the edges of society unable to participate in the center of that culture? This is what Jesus was preparing the Disciples to understand. To put this into the context that western contemporary culture might understand I can think of no one who crushes the idea that God’s plan is for each individual to have nothing but good times here on earth better than John Piper.

We get confused about God’s plans and assume he will provide a perfect life now and we get upset when that perfect life only seems to happen to others. God’s plans are his own and his plan is not all roses for anyone. God has provided a realistic picture of life throughout the Bible and none is more challenging than what Job had to say after news that his family and wealth had all been destroyed.

We take the good days from God—why not also the bad days?” Not once through all this did Job sin. He said nothing against God. Job 2:10b (Message)

For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Matthew 5:45b ESV

Prosperity in the here and now is not God’s goal for his followers and Jesus wanted to prepare his followers that this world would reject him and that eventually from following in his footsteps they also would be hated by the world. God’s plan is to be glorified so that His creation can be saved and that might take the form of tragedy for some people. So the question I ask myself as I sit in my cozy home in a free country that allows me to do as I please, would I follow Jesus if he made me unprosperous? Will I praise him when calamity strikes? Will I step forward to tell others about the good news of Jesus even if it might cost me my job or even my life? These ideas are hard to contemplate and I would like to think so, but I evaluate my life now and look for evidence that I could step out into persecution? Maybe not if I am uncomfortable talking to my neighbor or coworker about Jesus when at best they might just be annoyed with me. Could I take actual hate from the world right to my face? Is it a shock to think that God would be happy for me if the world hates me for serving him?

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 1 John 2:15 ESV

Do not love the world. This is what Jesus wanted the disciples to know. Everything this world has to offer good or bad is temporary. Jesus kept his eye on the greater prize and this is the good news of the gospel that he left for us to communicate. The good news is eternal life with the Creator. Eternal life because of what Jesus did for us by dying in our place. My constant prayer to Jesus is that he would not let me forget the eternal perspective of my purpose here. I pray to seek him first when I am happy and I pray to seek him first when I am persecuted for His sake.

I Can’t Wait for Spring

Jesus used the branch and vine analogy to explain how our relationship with him should work. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches.

“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. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. John 15:1-8 ESV

Before delving into the mechanism of how we bear fruit and what it means to abide it would be good to acknowledge what the fruit looks like.

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:19-24 ESV

The works of the flesh are what we do naturally out of the sin nature. We are selfish seeking our own gain and our own pleasure. Look at the list of selfish desires: sexual immorality, sensuality, idolatry, jealousy just to name a few. These are the things our work can produce and it is not fruit, our production is death and decay. The Holy Spirit on the other hand produces in us love, peace, and self-control. This is not a result of our work, but a result of the Holy Spirit’s work in us.

It is a difficult concept for men and women to grasp. We do not produce anything that God wants. We “bear” fruit. We do not produce it and the fruit is not something we create with our works. When we are grafted into the vine Jesus pumps life into the branches. The branches then grow strong and strong enough to bear fruit. Fruit that is a benefit to everyone around.

The fruit of the spirit is grounded in love. Love for Jesus and the Father’s plan. As believers grow in their relationship with Jesus the motivation for everything is not fear, or religious duty, or because that is what is supposed to be done, the believer is moved by love.

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

Abiding in the vine is the duty of the branch. Love is the key to abiding. Jesus made clear that a branch that will bear fruit is a branch that loves the vine. For Jesus to “manifest” fruit through a branch that branch must abide. Do we love Jesus? Have we sought after Him? Have we been ready to give up our own selfish works to in order to be ready to bear His fruit? Each man must reflect on the motivation for why we do what we do.

Jesus also said that any branch that does not bear fruit is worthless to the vine. The Father will remove and toss into the fire to be burned. We think our works bring life, but when we look at the selfishness of those works we really only see decay and death. God has no use for that so it will be removed.

My challenge to the reader is that you would consider what God desires as worthwhile and ask Him for the desire to abide in Christ our only source of life.

The Perfect Helper

Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he was executing his earthly ministry. He was spending time with his Father and because of that he knew the mission. His disciples seemed clueless and were surprised by every big move Jesus made. The disciples were looking for a triumphant messiah that would run the Roman occupiers out of Jerusalem. One of the reasons why Judas betrayed Jesus was because Jesus had not lived up to that expectation. It was only after Jesus was resurrected and after the day of Pentecost that the disciples moved from bewildered and broken followers of Christ to leaders and founders of the Church. The Gospel of John in chapters 14-16 Jesus lays out everything that is about to happen to the disciples and what they were about to see with their own eyes after his earthly ministry came to a close.

But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: 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. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. John 16:5-15 ESV

Jesus is telling the disciples that he is going to leave them to prepare a place with the Father for them (John 14:3). They are confused at the prospect of Jesus leaving them so Jesus responds to tell them that he will send a “Helper” to be with them forever. So has this helper fulfilled what Jesus predicted, how does the helper operate, and who is this helper?

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. Acts 4:13-14 ESV

One of the markers of this helper that Jesus predicted was that the world would not see or know him (John 14:17). Peter and John astonished the community by healing people and preaching a resurrected Jesus. Peter and John were not educated, wealthy, or men of recognized social status. Yet here they are gaining the attention of educated and wealthy leaders of the community. Those leaders of the world could not see the work of this helper and they could not understand how Peter and John were so transformed to have the impact in the community that they were having. This is not the same Peter and John that followed Jesus around, but a Peter and John who act and speak as if Jesus himself was with them guiding and giving direction to their actions. They are certainly being helped just as Jesus told them they would.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV

The helper that Jesus promised to send is the answer to the problem that the people of God have always had from the beginning. That problem is rebellion and lack of understanding God’s ways and God’s plans for his creation. Through the prophets God promised to put his sprit into his people to replace a heart of stone with a heart that will understand and want to walk with God. Jesus while telling is the disciples about the helper he is also telling them that if they loved God they would follow his commands (John 14:15, 23). Jesus was telling the disciples that the helper would change their hearts and help them love Jesus in obedience.

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV

The helper that Jesus promised is the Holy Spirit. We see his hand at work all through the Biblical Narrative and believers see him at work in their own lives. Jesus told the disciples that the world would not see him or understand him. Salvation is a miraculous event where a person is transformed. The heart is made new. Those that are saved see the Holy Spirit at work in their life. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to do the work that Jesus wrapped up in the body of a man could not accomplish.

Jesus knew the plan and just as he planned the Holy Spirit arrived. The Helper’s arrival transformed the disciples and everyone who has believed in the name of Jesus since that time. The Holy Spirit has communicated God’s wisdom and direction to us all who hear His voice. Please make sure of your place in God’s plan by believing in Jesus to receive the Holy Spirit who is our lifeline and deposit guaranteeing our assurance of an inheritance that only God can provide.

Focus People… FOCUS!

This weekend is the Super Bowl between the Broncos and the Seahawks. When I see Payton Manning leading the Broncos I can’t help but think about Elway’s plan to bring Peyton to Denver and what it cost Tim Tebow. Tebow who was the starter for Denver and even won a playoff game for them had his future and career in the NFL effectively killed when he was traded. He has been uncompromising about his faith on and off the field even through the storms of the last few years. I have been curious to see if God would honor his faith and land him a starting quarterback role against all the odds. Tebow’s faith has made him a lightning rod and his uncompromising determination to be a quarterback and only a quarterback led to him eventually being cut by the Patriots this season. When that happened I wondered what went through Tebow’s mind. Did he get angry with God? Was it confusion as in “God why did you let this happen? I thought you wanted me to play football for you”? I do not know Tebow so I may be projecting my own views on him, but I see a young man who is willing to cast everything away to do what he believes God wants for him. A man like the author of Hebrews

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-3 ESV

If Tebow is following God’s lead and he is now out of football I wonder if he is at peace with that result? In this interview with Skip Bayless Tebow articulates his worldview, approach to life, football and everything he does in a very simple idea. Life is about honoring God and that is the fuel for passion. At the end of the day if it is good or bad, win or lose Tebow claims that he will use whatever platform God has given to honor God who gave him that platform.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV

Many of us take what God has given and use it for our own selfish ends. We lose focus on what really matters. We lift up ourselves and say look what I have done. Tebow like the author of Hebrews claims that he is only looking to Jesus knowing that Jesus is the source of life itself. Tebow whom the world sees as grandstanding when he would kneel and pray claims to be honoring God who is the source of everything. Jesus set the perfect example of staying focused on God. Focused even though it brought Jesus suffering and pain. Jesus overcame death not just for himself, but for me also. What an exmaple of focusing on what matters.

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. Hebrews 2:9-10 ESV

Jesus had his focus in the right place. He was focused on God and focusing on God leads him to do life in a way that honored the Father. Do I have the focus; do we have the focus, as Christians to keep our eyes on God wanting to honor him with whatever platform he has given us?

For Tim Tebow, I watch this new Super Bowl ad and I imagine a man who is focused. A man who if he had any doubts about God’s plans has regained his focus and is living in the freedom that comes only from serving Christ.