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!
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.
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.
One of the hardest things people have to learn is that we can’t, nor should we, make it through life on our own. This is especially hard for the independent sort (me among them) who have picked up self reliance and self motivation as the sources of making their way through the world. But everyone battles with this. It’s as old as the garden of Eden. The original sin itself was rooted in a desire to become like God…to take control of one’s life and make a way for oneself. No one likes to feel like they lack sufficiency. But we all do. And that is okay. In fact, we are designed that way.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
John 10:10-11 ESV
Our lives are a mix of lies and truths that we believe and set out to construct our framework of viewing reality. There are two very real opposing forces that want to help in our journey to understand both our place in this world and our very identity as humans. On one hand, there is the message that we can make it on our own. We too can become like God. Life is about “getting mine” and pursuing my every desire, regardless of the wake I leave behind. It’s about me being whoever I choose to be and truth being subjective to whatever I want to believe. It’s a message that promotes the best life now, with a heavy focus on materialism and self promotion. Ultimately, its a message that leads to pain, stress, frustration, loss, and the actual death of who we were created to be.
There is another message. One that promotes surrender. One that says the source of life doesn’t begin and end with you. That joy and meaning aren’t found within us, they are bestowed to us. It’s a message that keeps us rooted in where we came from and where we’re headed. It’s a message that helps us rise above all the striving and self centeredness that the world promotes. It’s a message that says our life is meant to be spent in the betterment of those around us…that wealth and prosperity are not found in bank accounts but in the lives we touch.
It may not seem this simple to many. But it really is. Life is about making choices. And those choices lead to life or death, in us and those around us.
When we separate ourselves from our source of knowledge, peace, joy, love, grace, power, etc…we are going to feel hollow and empty. No matter how hard we work, or how much we make, or how many likes and followers we get, none of it will satisfy. It’s not meant to. The more we try and make it through life without needing anyone else, the more we’ll veer off course.
The Bible gives us a somewhat unflattering comparison. We are like sheep. Animals that are extremely dependent on both the guidance and protection of their shepherd. Those who don’t follow the shepherd end up getting lost and most likely consumed by predators. But we are sheep with a shepherd Who wants to give us the pastures with the greenest grass and purest water. And only He knows where they are. A problem enters when the sheep think they know where better pastures are and promote their interests above the rest of the flock.
“”For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.”
Ezekiel 34:11-16 ESV
Not only is it okay to need Jesus, we actually need to need Him. He is the source of our life and the only place we will find true life. Even those of us who have ventured off course through self reliance, Jesus is pursuing us. Life is knocking at the door. And that life has a name. Some of us who have been following Jesus most of our lives can even fall susceptible to wandering away from their flock and their Shepherd.
“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.”
Matthew 18:12-13 ESV
Life is too hard to try and make it on our own or in our own way. We need to learn to let go and allow our Good Shepherd to lead us to the good pastures and the still waters. Because in all of our striving, we will never find them apart from Him.
It’s easy to be hasty. Especially in today’s climate. We see uneasiness, suspicion and tensions on the rise, not only here in the United States, but around the world. Inflation of prices and shortages of many day-to-day items can be a huge area of concern and we have all felt the effects. Godlessness is rampant and society continues to try and skew the lines between good and bad, and right and wrong. It is in this climate that God speaks. It can be in our weakest and most helpless times that the Lord shows his strength the most. And to all my brothers and sisters out there, I say to take heart. Don’t be quick to be responsive. Don’t act out of fear or worry. Look to the Lord, whose presence is very real and who has not left you even for a moment. Have courage and remember that for those who are of God the happiest of endings await.
“I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
John 10:27 NIV
I don’t know about you, but I have to be very intentional when it comes to listening. I am not talking about hearing. Listening is much different. It involves a deeper comprehension of what is being said. Listening has an element of learning to it. Simple acknowledgment that something was said does not correlate with taking it to heart. It’s vital to any relationship that both parties develop their skills in the art of listening. That is a key component to any communication. Therefore, it can be said that those of us in relationship with Jesus must also develop our ability to listen to Him, not to merely hear Him.
How often have you read the Bible and the next day or the next week, you couldn’t recall the specifics of what you had read nor the application to your life? I’ve done it. Many times. It feels like a wasted opportunity. I could have grown and matured spiritually. It could have had a tremendous impact of my perceptions for that day or week or even life, and I’ll never know because I let the lessons vanish from my mind. It’s fair and right to say that every time we read the Bible, Jesus speaks. So, isn’t it also fair and right to say that those of us who value a good healthy relationship with Jesus should also be listening?
Those who listen to their spouse, their parents, their kids, or their friends, have an intimate understanding of who they are and what makes them come alive. They know how to interact at a level that breathes life into the relationship. If we are truly listening to Jesus, then we are following Him. We will do the things that please Him. We will love and pursue Him. We will know the value and purpose He has placed on our lives. But we have to really listen. Meditation is not some odd eastern religious practice. It’s Biblical. God has actually asked it of us. Meditation simply means to think deeply or carefully about something. What better to meditate on then what Jesus is speaking into our lives? But are we listening?
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Matthew 5:7 ESV
Recent events in my family’s experiences have reminded me of the immense value of mercy. No one is perfect, therefore everyone messes up. We are all in need of mercy, from one another, and from God. There is no one who doesn’t need forgiveness. When people we know are going astray, don’t abandoned them. For when they return, they will need your open arms to further their healing and recovery.
God makes no room for an unforgiving spirit. That only comes from arrogance and a distorted view of our own “goodness”. It’s easy to look at the choices of others and drift towards judgement. But what God commissions us to is an attitude of compassion and prayer. We need to stop wasting our time with anger and frustration and spend more time pouring out our hearts in prayer for those who are not living the way they should. I have witnessed, time and time again, people’s lives being redirected through God’s goodness. No one is too far gone. Let’s all stop the gossip chains. Let’s stop wasting our voices bashing others. From our lips should come love and truth seasoned with grace and hope. Condemning others never lead to their salvation.
There will come a time when you and me will need mercy to be extended to us. I need it fairly often. I needed it in a big way just a few months ago. I am extremely grateful for those who have shown me grace, and that gratitude should punctuate and attitude of mercy in my own heart. A good thing to remember is that no one could ever hurt us as much as we’ve hurt God. Our sin rendered us underserving. It’s Christ’s sacrifice that opens the door for each of us to find mercy. Our sin gave Him lashes and drove the nails through His wrists and feet every bit as much as those who have hurt us. We too have broken the heart of God, and have received His mercy. If that doesn’t propel us to show grace then nothing will, and we will then be the most pitiable of all.
Would we live our lives differently if we were under the constant knowledge that we are saved and have new life with Christ? Would our struggles be as difficult? Would pain be as severe? Would the little things we worry about fade to the background? Would we be anxious, stressed, angry, or worried like we all get if we lived from a place of redemption, forgiveness, joy, hope, and peace? I have noticed in my own life that when I reflect on the gift God has given me and the person Christ is making me into the trials of this life somehow become much easier to go through. I know I am forgiven, I know I am remade; I know this life is temporary, and I know that God is in control of my entire life. Man, what great joy and contentment there is in knowing these things!
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13 (NKJV)
Hope is one of those words that when you say it, it rolls of your tongue and immediately brings a glimmer of light to your heart. Hope is something to cherish and be thankful for. It serves as a platform of strength in those moments that seem perilous or without end. It is something that every single person needs. We can’t do life without it. As the verse above says, hope is accompanied with joy and peace. But only when that hope is in something real and constant.
I’ve heard people say to have hope in hope. To hold on to the “idea” that there is a “possibility” that things can get better. This is mere optimism. I happen to be an optimistic person myself. I like to look on the Brightside and believe that things will be ok. But my optimism is based on Someone, not just an idea or a desire to have good feelings. Hope that is not founded on reality is delusion.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
Hebrews 10:23 (NKJV)
The Someone I have hope in is an unwavering and eternally faithful God. In our darkest moments we can rest assured in the hope that is brought to us by Jesus. He has a proven track record. He’s never failed. He’s shown His love and devotion to humanity regardless of the fact that we don’t deserve any of it. I don’t have hope because I believe things will get better in life. I have hope because Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. I have hope because I’m never abandoned by the One who made me. I have hope because He’s been beyond faithful in my life even when I’ve waivered in my faith. My hope is founded on Him, not my circumstances, past, present, or future.
Hope is that light at the end of every tunnel whether we think we see it or not. If you’ve been grasping for just a glimpse of that light, yet feel lost in an endless dark tunnel, look no further than the cross. Look to the Son hanging for our transgressions, touch the scares of His nail-driven hands, and absorb the love that it represents. In times when life is the most difficult, stop and pray. Realize that Christ faced all the hardships that this world can dish out and He has overcome the world. And more importantly, He did it for you. So that you will always have a hope so solid that it can never be broken. Let us not waver but be forever hopeful in the promises God has given us. Let us seek Him out and be renewed in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Let us not give up on Him, for He never gives up on us.
Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, All you who hope in the LORD.
From the end of the earth I will cry to You, When my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
Psalm 61:2 (NKJV)
Our heart is the most important part of our bodies. It’s no wonder that God tells us in Proverbs 4:23 to guard our hearts above all else because this is where the enemy takes aim at. That is what falls into despair. Our heart carries the load and gets beat down through all the stresses life throw our way. Fortunately, we do not have to rely on our own strength in any situation, no matter how extreme or minor it may be. We have a Rock and a Refuge higher than ourselves. We have a Savior that is greater than all that may come our way. We have the endless peace and joy that comes from knowing Him. We have Someone who wants to build us up and encourage us always. We have Him who is greater than all our problems to call on no matter where we find ourselves. We have strength that is greater than anything we ourselves can muster. We have the protection, strength, and love of the One who molded and made us in our mother’s wombs. He who is the author of your life wants what is best for you and only He knows what that is. I pray that if you are in need of hope at this moment, you find that in His love. You are not alone. You are not too far gone. Let the One who began your life, sustain your life.