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
When the irritation of others causes irritation in ourselves, we know the connection with the vine isn’t what it should be. We feel and act like withering grapes. I speak from experience. And this applies, obviously, to far more than irritability. When the sin of others causes us to stumble we have left the source of life in Jesus, to steer us on course. When the worldly goals and passions become our own, where is the heart of Jesus? Just as the fruit of the vine cannot receive necessary nutrition from any source other than the vine, so it is with us.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.
Colossians 1:15-16 ESV
We were made by Him and for Him. When we live outside the source of our life and purpose, we wither. Fortunately, the vine can restore the most withered of fruits in an instant. There are days when I feel dried up and in a moment, He can speak life and my heart is filled again. Be filled in Christ anew brothers and sisters!
Last night at church I was really taking stock of my life in terms of my walk of faith. I caught myself going through the motions during the singing portion of the gathering, constantly distracted by my almost three year old son. I was catching most of what the message was but couldn’t stay locked in for the need of baby wipes, cleaning up messes, and making sure my son didn’t break all his colored pencils. It all got me thinking about just how much I’m investing in my relationship with Jesus. I had to ask myself if He was my number one relationship and priority. The journey of self reflection led me back to a study I did a long time ago based on a book by Francis Chan called Crazy Love. In the book, he outlines what the Bible (Jesus specifically) calls a lookwarm believer. Keep in mind, Jesus makes no room for lukewarm faith. He says it’s worse than no faith at all. They are among those who Christ says, “depart from me I never knew you.” It’s not a category I want to be in. And it’s a good jumping off point for a good inward dive into the motivations of our heart. If you’ve never seen the book I’ve included an outline of the main indicators that our faith may not be as genuine as we thought.
A lukewarm believer may…
Attend church because they believe it is expected of them. (Isaiah 29:13)
Give money only when it doesn’t infringe on their standard of living. (1 Chronicles 21:24)
Tend to choose what is popular rather than what is right. (Luke 6:26)
Don’t want to be saved from their sin, just saved from the penalty of sin. (Romans 6:1-2)
Moved by stories of others doing radical things for Christ yet do not act themselves. (James 1:22)
Rarely share their faith with friends, coworkers, and strangers out of failure of rejection. (Matthew 10:32-33)
Gauge how “good” they are by not being “as bad” as the rest of the secular world. (Luke 18:11-12)
Say they love Jesus but only allow Him to have a part of their life. (Luke 9:57-62)
Can’t really say they love God with ALL their hearts, minds, and souls. (Matthew 22:37-38)
Love others but do not seek to love them as much as themselves. (Matthew 5:43-47)
Serve God and others but place limits on how far they will go. (Luke18:21-25)
Think about the temporary, the life here on earth, far more than eternity in heaven. (Colossians 3:2, Phil 3:18-20)
Thankful for the luxuries and comforts that God has given them but do not think about giving away as much as they can to the needy. (Matthew 25:40)
Try to be “good enough” so that they do not have to feel guilty. (Matthew 13:44-46)
Try to play it safe and be in control of their life rather than surrendering it to God. (1 Tim 6:17-18)
Feel safe just because they confess their belief in Christ with their mouths even though their actions do not match up. (Matthew 7:21)
Structure their life so they don’t have to be in reliance on God. (Luke 12:16-21)Aren’t that different from nonbelievers in speech and in conduct. (Matthew 33:25-28)
Live in Christ…Peace in Christ brothers and sisters.
The Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey…
Exodus 3:7-8 NASB
God’s people are in bondage, they cry out for His help, and God provides a way for their freedom…sounds like a pretty good redemption story to me. Not only that but He used a man who (as a baby) was a prime target for Pharaoh’s mass murder but was saved by God and found by Pharaoh’s daughter. In addition, Moses was not the best of speakers (Exodus 4:10) and had fled Egypt years before. This was not what most of us would picture as the primary candidate for a leader. But God uses what the world sees as lowly to do some of the most incredible things. God did not abandon those who loved Him nor did He turn a deaf ear to their cries. Sometimes we just need to rejoice in hope, remain patient in tribulation, and stay devoted to prayer (Romans 12:12), knowing that God will save us one day. God has shown time and time again that He is our freedom from bondage, the one who breaks our chains and places us on high ground. Just as He did not leave the children of Israel to slavery in Egypt, neither will He leave us to the slavery we battle.
Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.
Exodus 3:10 NASB
Today is the Passover. As part of this story, God would use His miraculous power to shock the conscience of the Egyptian people and strike down each of their gods one by one, plague by plague. End the end, God would bring the ultimate consequence for rejecting Him…death. However, anyone who placed their faith in Him, and was covered by the blood on the doorposts, would not experience this last plague. God provided a way of escape from death. He opened the door for faith to be the means by which people are rescued.
This man, Moses, was placed into the story to be a key player in God’s beautiful act of redemption. An act that would be mirrored, only in greater magnitude, many years later when another baby would be rescued from death, to lead a movement, to reveal God to us, to go to a cross, and to provide the blood that never runs out. The act of redemption that never needs to be repeated. This lamb died once and for all to cover, not our doorposts, but our hearts with His sacrifice and save us from wages of sin.
I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God…
Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.
Matthew 26:13 ESV
Days before Jesus would go to the cross, an extravagant act of love would be shown towards Him. The perfume poured out on Jesus’ head in this story was astoundingly precious; made, according to the Gospels of Mark and John, from pure nard, which comes from a plant that only grows in the Himalayas 3,500 miles from Israel.
Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table.
Matthew 26:6-7 ESV
The value of this gift was an entire year’s wages. It doesn’t matter where we are on the income scale, if we gave away something worth everything we would make in a year, we would feel it. What she did was amazing no matter how we look at it. When the disciples were discussing with Jesus about feeding the 5000 people in the crowd, they stated that it would take about 200 denarii to accomplish this. That’s only 2/3 of the value of this gift! The extravagance is breathtaking. The whole house must have been filled with its fragrance. Jesus’ body may still have been carrying hints of this very scent upon the cross.
And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.
Matthew 26:9-10 ESV
Not everyone is going to appreciate the sacrifices we make for Jesus. Some may even ridicule us. In those moments we have to remind ourselves who and why we’re making the sacrifices in the first place. Sacrificial living is contrary to our fallen human nature. It goes against the self centered cultures of the world. But it’s how Jesus Himself lived. It’s how he beckons His followers to live. What is the most valuable thing I could pour out upon Jesus today, tomorrow, and the rest of my life?
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Have you ever thought that life is a struggle no matter what stage you’re in? And it seems to be a struggle for the same thing. Think about it. No matter if you’re a toddler or teenager, 39 or 93, freedom is always something we strive for. Granted, that struggle looks different depending on our age and circumstances. However, freedom seems to be at the core of it all.
When we are small, we rely on our parents for everything. As we grow, we seek ways to be released from the constraints that come along with being a child. We want to make more of our own decisions. We want to try new things, oftentimes even if it goes against our parent’s guidance.
When we move into adulthood, we gain freedom in a much larger measure. What comes with that is a much larger degree of responsibility. Balancing those responsibilities with our new found freedoms can be a real challenge. New obstacles lay in the way. Jobs, bills, opportunities or the lack thereof, Our struggle is not so much to gain freedom, as when we were a child, but to secure it. This freedom also looks different. We don’t exactly have parents telling us what we can and can’t do, we have other obstacles doing that. We get busy making sure the electricity stays on, there’s a roof over our heads, there are clothes on our kid’s backs and food in their tummies. If we aren’t careful, we begin to see these as burdens and get bogged down.
Late in life (granted I am not there yet and this is purely from observation), it seems to be a battle to hold on to that freedom. Again, this freedom looks different and the struggle does too. We try to hold on to that freedom of mobility. Our diet becomes more constrained. Our activities slowly become more limited. Our bodies don’t heal like they used to. Freedom seems to slowly fade away.
The good news is that our lives don’t have to be this way. Not to say that there won’t be challenges. Because there certainly will be. We will be constrained. We won’t be able to do all that we plan or hope for. But, we will be free in the best possible way. And even in our limitations, we can find freedom. You see, all the freedoms I listed above are merely physical ones. But in the struggle for those freedoms, we end up imprisoned emotionally and mentally. Which, in the long run, will strip us of physical freedoms as well.
The path to freedom has already been laid out for us. We don’t need to pave the way for ourselves. Freedom can be experienced regardless of circumstances. Sure, we may not have all the money we would like. We may not be able to go on the trips we want to. But we can be free from the big things. Like worry, stress, fear, and sin. Those things cripple even the wealthy. It doesn’t matter how privileged someone is, or even if they are their own boss, you’re not free if you’re burdened with stress and sin. Humanity has a tendency to put the shackles on themselves. We put ourselves in cells of fear. In our struggle for freedom, we end up with far less.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
John 10:10 NIV
Jesus came into this world to provide the most important form of freedom…from ourselves. We strive and we strive but it was never meant to be that way. The life we seek is the life Jesus wants to give us. The problem is we do some much to run after an opposite life. Our comfort becomes the priority. Our goals become paramount. The liberty to choose what is good for us is as age-old as the garden in which the enemy of our souls first lured Adam and Eve away from God’s plan. But freedom is not found in the struggle, but in the surrender. Instead of trying to dictate so much of our lives, we need to be lead by Him. Plus our souls are free in Christ. All else are fringe benefits.
The life of the Christian is one that seeks the freedom, not of oneself, but of others. The best way is ultimately through a relationship with Jesus. We can look less to our 401k and more to the homeless man on the street. We can put less thought into that new (you fill in the blank) and more time praying for those in desparate need. We can allow ourselves to get uncomfortable in order to bring comfort to others. Freedom is found, not in viewing ourselves as the center of the universe, but as a part of it meant to bring a piece of God’s kingdom closer to home for anyone we can. Bring on the constraints. We go forward to make Him known. Come what may, the Lord will be our guide and our provider. Therein lies freedom.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life…
Genesis 45:4-5 NKJV
The Old Testament is full of major moves of redemption. God was constantly working things out as His creation was busy messing things up. Today’s focus is yet another example. The story of Joseph is such an amazing portrayal of God’s redemptive love. The opening verse alone depicts God’s master plan for the redemption of His people, in spite of their wrongful actions. The full story extends over 14 chapters making it one of the biggest stories in the Bible. If you want to read it in its entirety, check out Genesis 37-50.
The tremendous faith that Joseph demonstrated even as he was sold by his brothers into slavery and cast into prison shows the power of relying on God’s redemptive plan in our own personal lives. Knowing that our circumstances do not dictate whether or not God loves us and cares for our lives, by trusting in the fact that God works all things out for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Understanding this story can help us to realize that even in the most difficult of times in our lives, God could be working out His salvation story, for us, and for others as well. God saved His people once more, despite their mistakes, in order to preserve their lives. No matter our mistakes up to this point, God is extending His hand, asking for all our hearts, because of His unfailing love. No matter what others have done to you, God can turn things around. We find this ultimate redemption in Jesus. Though we slay Him, He loves us. Though our sins put Him on the cross, He loves us. Though we mess up time and time again, He is always there. Just as Joseph extends grace to his brothers, much more does Jesus show unfailing grace towards us.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
Few people in the Bible undergo such a powerful transformation as Saul of Tarsus. He goes from being a villain to a superhero of the faith. And just like all the other people of the Bible narrative, we are meant to learn from his story. We can use the life of Bible characters as a mirror into our own souls. So let’s do that. Let’s ask the question: am I Paul or a Saul?
As you most likely know, Saul’s identity changes from Saul to that of Paul. Initially, Saul is a man who can be characterized as zealous for the things of God. That is one trait that never changes. However, the way in which He is zealous does change. Most of what we know about Saul of Tarsus is that he was driven to destroy the following of Jesus, even if that meant murder. Of course, Saul would not have considered it murder, but murderers rarely do. He was a man who attempted to keep the letter of the law. But in doing so, it never penetrated to his heart. Saul, like many, was religious outwardly, yet cold inwardly. Saul’s motivation was for a code, a set of laws, with little to no regard for the meaning behind the laws. His so-called love for God didn’t translate to his love for others. A clear contradiction that should alarm anyone of the faith. He idealized the image that Jesus spoke against when addressing the Pharisees, Sadducees, and teachers of the law. They were white-washed tombs. Beautiful on the outside yet full of dead men’s bones. Saul was full of pride, angry, and vengeful. But all of that would change.
When Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus (to imprison or even have followers of Jesus killed) his life was turned on its head (see Acts 9). This experience brought with it a crucial lesson, that Saul (now Paul) would never forget. The physical blindness that Paul experienced was a clear representation of his spiritual blindness. His complete powerlessness and dependency on others brought about a humility that would utterly reshape his life. As I mentioned before, Paul would remain zealous after his transformation. But instead of going a manhunt throughout the near east to have people arrested or to oversee their executions, he would go on a different sort of manhunt. Paul turned his passion for God into a deep desire to see salvation spread. Instead of condemning people, he sought to see people set free. Instead of judging harshly, he preached love and sacrifice for the needs of others. Instead of living a self-focused ‘religious’ life, he lived one absent of self, fully committed to making Jesus known. Instead of living as a hypocrite before the law, Paul would walk in the freedom Christ brings, demonstrating what a resurrected and born-again life can look like.
When I look closely at the life of Saul becoming Paul, I have to ask myself, which one am I more like? We all have areas of pride and hypocrisy. We all have moments of being judgmental and cold. We all have times we care a little too much about how others view us rather than nurturing our hearts. But…are those exceptions or more of the rule? It all begins with an honest and humble approach to the question. Since humility is the root of a sincere heart. In his address to the Romans, Paul mentioned being a living sacrifice. In his letter to the Galatians, he said that he no longers exists but only Christ who lives in him. When writing to the Colossians, Paul said that Christ is our very life and that everything we do and say should be done for Jesus. And the reality is, that Paul lived that out. Saul’s life was full of Saul. Paul’s life was full of Jesus. And the contrast couldn’t have been more obvious. If my life is more about myself than it is about Jesus, then the answer has already been provided. Lord, may the scales fall from our eyes just as they did for Saul. May humility increase as we diminish and Jesus takes the spotlight in our lives.
As we work our way through the Old Testament, we’re looking at acts of God’s redemption towards broken humanity. I feel it important to address those claims that some (even Christians) have made about God being different in the Old Testament then he was in the New Testament. Because we believe that Jesus is the exact imprint and expression of God, we know that the life of Jesus shows the heart of God. Because we know that Jesus demonstrated love and sacrificed Himself for humanity, we can know that God is in all of that. Jesus is God in the flesh. Because of that, everything Jesus did, God did. We have to remember that it is God who redeemed the world, and He did so in many ways before coming to Earth in Jesus. Today’s story is still early in the book of Genesis.
Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Genesis 12:1-3 (NKJV)
At the age of 75 Abram (Abraham) departed from his home, the only place he had ever known, to follow the Lord on a journey that would change the future of mankind. The place Abraham was leaving was in the heart of the Babylonian Empire. This empire was the origin of corrupt pagan tradition first established by Nimrod and his wife, the source of the modern false religions. It is truly amazing that God would look at this place and call out a remnant from among them, especially one that will be the patriarch of God’s people. Rather than allow mankind to remain subjugated to the rebellion of this land, God chose redemption. God chose to bring goodness out of evil and light out of darkness. God has made a way for us to escape the sin of this world out of His immense love for us. He will never leave us or forsake us but rather, He will call us out of the mess we’re in, and place us in a land of freedom.
And the Lord said to Abram… “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.
This post is inspired by a recent story I read from the Voice of the Martyrs. As usual, I read it at an opportune time. God ordained moments. I hope that this story inspires you as well.
We pick in Romania, many years ago, during an era of extreme persecution towards Christians. A man by the name of Florea had been arrested simply for his faith in Christ. As a follower of Jesus, it was important for him to honor the Sabbath. However, that was problematic, for prisoners did not get a day of rest. They were required to work, every day. Florea stood his ground on his convictions and refused to work. I would love to say that the prison guards honored his faith and passion and made an exception for him. But communism makes no room for Jesus or his followers. So a stand for Jesus meant extreme repercussions.
The Romanian prisoners were forced to labor every day, but each Sabbath Florea refused. For his refusal, the guards routinely beat him so bad he lost the use of his arms and legs. He could only move his head. Because he could no longer labor, Florea was forced to sit in his cell all day long. He had to rely on other prisoners to feed him. In spite of his situation, Florea was not downcast. When other prisoners would complain about their situation, Florea would encourage them. “If the outlook is bad,” he would say, “try the ‘uplook.’ When Stephen was stoned, he looked up and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. This comforted Stephen’s heart, and it will comfort yours too.” He encouraged his fellow prisoners not to “look out” to their circumstances but to “look up” at Jesus. One of Florea’s fellow prisoners was Richard Wurmbrand, who was released from the prison and found Florea’s nine-year-old son. He told him what a blessing his father had been in prison. The boy smiled and replied, “I would like to become a sufferer and encourager for Christ as my father has been.”
Voice of the Martyrs
There are no guarantees of circumstances, even for the Christian. We are not promised a nice home, a perfect family, good health, or a living wage. Instead, a Christian is a person with a certain attitude toward any and all circumstances. A person’s attitude makes the difference, regardless of circumstances. A heavenly attitude focuses on God’s presence amid trials. Fixating on our hardships distracts us from a heavenly outlook. We feel burdened. Depressed. Hopeless. Fearful. In contrast, a godly outlook on our troubles brings confidence that God is at work. We relax in God’s presence, waiting to see how he will work out our concerns. Are you undergoing a trial right now? Are you focused on the waves crashing around you or Jesus walking on the water towards you? Let’s stop focusing on the outlook and give the uplook a try.