Withering or full?

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!

Go in His peace.

We need to need Him

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.

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters!

Are we living the promise?

How are Christians meant to live? No, I don’t mean the outward expression of a believer’s life. I am talking about the source of life…the inward life…the how to sort of living. I’ve been contemplating a series of verses lately, and really trying to pray through them because I really want to understand them. Here they are:

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

1 John 4:9 NIV

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20 NIV

When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:4 ESV

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

John 1:4 ESV

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

John 10:10 ESV

At first, my reaction is that these are speaking of eternal life. The reward or grace bestowed on all who cling to Christ and His perfection. I believe that this is very much the purpose behind each of these verses, and the central message of the Gospel. However, on a deeper look, there appears to be much more. You see, the life that comes from Jesus, is not simply a futuristic life of unimaginable joy, but a life in the here and now. I don’t know about you, but my life, at times, feels a long shot from eternal glory. But isn’t the life Jesus promised meant to be experienced here and now?

Paul said, in Galatians, that Christ is alive in him and his life has ceased as he knew it before his encounter with Him. There was a real change in him that altered how he lived life. Later in Colossians, Paul referred to Jesus as “our life”. Wait a minute. Is that how my life looks? Is my life defined by who Jesus is. Is His identity my identity? I can say that, but does my life show that. While Paul was flawed and broken, I truly believe that people could see Jesus in him. Can I say the same? Can you?

Jesus himself said that the life found in him was abundant. In my honestly, my life does not feel abundant at times. But that is certainly my own fault. I am out of focus if my life experience isn’t one of abundance. And I don’t think Jesus was in any way saying that our lives would be full of wealth and health and safety. His life wasn’t full of any of that. At nearly 40, I have already outlived the life of Jesus here on Earth. But how do they compare? Isn’t that the point? Live a life like Jesus? How much of my life has been wasted? How much am I wasting now with worldly concerns and seeking comfort? Am I alive in Jesus…here…now?

John said that Jesus came so we could live through Him. But what does that look like? To live through Jesus. It’s one thing to accept His atonement. To receive His forgiveness. To rejoice in mercy and grace. To look forward to eternity. But it’s more than all of those things. It’s everything we say and do. It’s our minds being radically transformed. Its our eyes viewing everything differently. It’s letting Jesus take control of everything. Not because we’ve become automatons, but because it is the only way we can truly live. It is the only way others will see Jesus alive in us. My job is not my life. My hobbies are not my life. My goals are not my life. My successes and failures are not my life. My family is not even my life. Jesus is my life. And therefore all that I am and all that I do is meant to for Him, to be done through Him, and to be experienced because of Him.

I can tell you, meditating on this has made me feel a whirlwind of emotions. I can both see how I fall so miserably short, and how so grateful I am that He is who He is and my life is ever changing because of Him. All I know is that I want more. I want His life to be my life. I want to be able to repeat the words of John and Paul, not because I am simply memorizing Bible verses, but because it defines who I am. Don’t you want that? Do you have that? Pray for me dear reader. And my prayers go out for all of you, that you too will experience that full, glory-revealing, joy-unshakable, transforming, amazing life through Jesus.

Peace and life in Christ brothers and sisters!

Do and say everything on purpose

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”

‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭5:15-16‬ ‭ESV

One of my kids favorite responses to the question of why they did or said something is, “I don’t know.” Sometimes I think they may just not want to tell the reason, but most of the time I really don’t think they know. Unfortunately I think that same problem plagues people well into adulthood. And that, in itself, is the source of so many of our conflicts.

We have to live on purpose. As believers in Jesus, we are beckoned to the commission of living life intentionally. We are supposed to let our actions be a light before all those looking on so they will glorify God (Matthew 5). We are expected to only say things that build others up and benefit them (Ephesians 4). The goal of our lives is to be blameless and not complain (Philippians 2). The great commission calls us to tell the world about Jesus (Matthew 28). All of the commandments of God are wrapped up in loving Him and loving others (Mark 12).

If these aren’t the reasons we do and say things, then what are as doing? Those careless words and those pointless actions just lead to strife and wasted days. Life is to short and to precious to not live intentionally. Lets allow our words and actions to be filled with Christ. Then when we are asked to reason behind our words and deeds, we can point to Jesus.

You can’t earn it

Holiness is not the way to Jesus; Jesus is the way to holiness. That can be an easy thing to forget. I think it’s humans natural tendency to try and earn our way into God’s good graces. Just look at every religion that has ever existed, with the exception of one. The Christian faith is unique in many ways. But most importantly, there is the aspect of grace. At the center of it all is a loving God who desires the redemption of a fallen humanity and goes to the greatest lengths to make that possible. In every other religion exists the constant struggle to be “good enough” or to “earn” our way. The truth is, none of us are good enough and never will be. God is holy, which means set apart. There is no one like Him. The only way any of us can ever hope to be in His presence is if He, not us, make that possible.

The freedom we get in Jesus is astounding. Not only do we get washed clean of our past sins, we also get released from the power of sin. And not just those hideous and dark sins, but also the ugly sin of self righteousness. You can’t earn God’s love. He already loves you. Just look at the cross. If that’s not proof, then nothing is. Amazing grace is a gift, not a loan. Just soak in His love and let that soften your heart and mold you and before you know it, that same love will be pouring out of you.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭2:8-10‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Are we listening?

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?

Peace in Christ my brothers and sisters

Receiving Rest from Jesus

Have you ever had those moments when God reached out to you at the perfect time? When He directly spoke to you? Well that happened to me earlier this week.

Driving to work a while back I realized I was a bit overwhelmed. My heart was not at rest. I was tired and my mind my was going in twenty different directions. Then I heard the words, “come to me.” By hear, I don’t mean audibly, but the overwhelming sensation and cognitive awareness that comes from the Holy Spirit moving in the heart and mind of a believer. Jesus was calling me into His presence. And like He usually does, those words were confirmed when I got to work and my desktop devotional was on this verse:

“ Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”” Matthew 11:28-30 NIV

Isn’t it incredible how He orchestrates things in our lives ahead of time in order to speak to us in our time of need? He was reminding me of the words He spoke so many years ago, recorded here in Matthew chapter 11, and that He’s spoken so many times before to me. I would say that I was feeling very burdened, both physically and mentally. And Jesus found me in that moment (not as though He ever lost me). And His gentle voice whispered that same invitation that He’s extended to me many times before. But that invitation doesn’t just stop with sitting at His feet. Deep breathes and a refocusing are great, but are temporary unless there are lessons being learned.

Rest at His feet:

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.””

Luke 10:38-42 NIV

Jesus said to learn from Him. The purpose of coming to Jesus, is to learn from and take on the character of Jesus. The purpose of faith is to abide in Him and to be transformed by Him. Coming to Jesus can’t be a pitstop on the journey of life. Coming to Jesus is the destination of our life. He is, after all, the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega, and the author of our salvation. Each time I come to Him I should be changed. If I’m not growing during my times of rest, then I will eventually fall to the same traps, the same weaknesses, the same burdens, as I did before. It makes no sense to sit like Mary if we are going to get right back up and be a Martha.

Rest in His leading:

“Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.” The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.”

Exodus 33:12-15 NIV

One critical key to finding rest is remaining in the presence of God. His presence isn’t stationary. That’s good news. We don’t have to always be sitting to be at rest. Life doesn’t stand still, but our hearts and minds can be still none the less. After coming to Jesus we need to be lead by Him. We don’t simply go our own way. The mention of His yoke is an image of being steered by Him. As Psalm 23 says, “ “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.” (23:1-3) He doesn’t always lead us to the easy places but He does refresh us in all the places He leads us.

Rest in His purposes:

Whether you’re a mom raising kiddos at home, homeschooling, working one or multiple jobs, trying to make your way through new and difficult circumstances, or moving into a new and uncertain phase of life, you can have rest. Not outside of the hectic day to day, but in the middle of it. When we come to Him, have those moments at His feet, when we’re lead by Him, and when the purposes of our life is centered on God’s mission.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves.” Psalms 127:1-2 NIV

When the busyness of our lives are for self centered reasons, they are feudal. But when they serve His purposes, then they have meaning. In our moments of reflection its good to ask, If God isn’t in it, what’s the point? Why am I wearing myself out? Is it to provide for my family or to buy the nice things? Is my career about making my name great or having an impact to make His name known? For what or for whom are we toiling? Is there eternal value in what I am filling my days with? If your heart isn’t at rest, then something needs to change. Some things may need to cease. Some may simply need to be rethought.

If you’re not at rest today loved ones, the first step is to come to Jesus. Come sit at His feet. Peace in Christ brothers and sisters.

Short-changing God

theversesproject.com

Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come into his courts.

Psalm 96:8 KJV

This seems like a tall order. First, how do we give glory unto the Lord? Second, how could we possibly hope to give Him all He deserves? Isn’t this the purpose of our very existence? We are made in His image, to bear His name, and to honor Him by the manner of our lives. But how does that look? I think the Bible answers that for us.

O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.

Isaiah 25:1 ESV

Whatever we do, one thing that is paramount is worship. Our praise for God should intertwine the activities we do throughout the day, from the redundant, to the exciting and new. His children should elevate God above and beyond in within all things they do. Praise should be a constant, both privately and publicly. We cannot hesitate to shout His goodness from the mountaintops and tell the world of the great things He’s done for us for others.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:16 ESV

God deserves our service. He deserves our energies and our resources. Not only should our lips shout the glories of God, but our actions should display them. In our love, we show God. In our character, we show God. In the way we lay our lives down for our neighbors, we show God.

Truth is, God deserves far more than we could ever give. But that should never stop us from devoting each waking moment to sing His praises and to put His love on display. Have a blessed day brothers and sister!

God overrides your insecurities

In the book of Exodus, God chooses to reveal Himself to an exile shepherd named Moses. In glorious splendor, God speaks to him as an unconsuming flame. The task God would call him to seemed insurmountable. For everyone reading the story, it would seem near impossible. Go to the most powerful ruler in the world and tell him to release his largest labor force. No one can blame Moses for how he responds. Several times he makes excuse after excuse as to why he’s not capable of the calling. And you know what? So do we.

Christ commissioned us to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Many of us won’t even talk to our neighbors or coworkers about Jesus. Many of us won’t take the unknown path that God may be leading us in because we don’t feel like we’re able to. We make excuses all day long. We aren’t gifted enough. We don’t have the resources. Now isn’t the time. We aren’t worthy. Truth is, we’ve all said or thought things like these one time or another.

God didn’t let Moses off the hook, and He won’t let us off either. We’ve all been made for a purpose, and He’ll continue to guide us into that until we take our last breath. Some will make excuses the rest of their lives and never fulfill the meaning they were born. Some will enter into it late in life. Others will be prodigal sons and come home after living a life apart from God. Then there’s those who hear the call and walk straight into it. That’s who I want to be, but I’m afraid I haven’t for a good portion of my life.

No matter who you are, God can overcome your insecurities. No excuse we make is a valid one when it comes to following Jesus. If we don’t have the resources, God will provide them. If we aren’t gifted enough, God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. If we aren’t worthy (which none of us are), God’s grace abounds all the more.

Moses was used to do incredible things. But he sure tried to get out of it. I’ll bet he’s glad God didn’t let him off the hook so easy. I’m glad he keeps giving me opportunities to. How about you? When the burning bush calls to you, will you respond?

Wasting Gifts

God is good. His goodness can be seen everywhere we look. And he’s given so much to everyone of us. What’s your response to those good gifts?

Let’s start with time as our first gift. How do we use our time? Sure, we’re all guilty of wasting some of it. Vegging out on movies or tv shows here and there. Watching sports, scrolling on the phone, etc…But is the majority of it used for good and productive means? What does that even look like? It should reflect service in some way. Do things to help and benefit others. Giving back to society, providing for a family, spending quality time with those we love, and helping those in need. Most of all, we should have quality time worked in everyday where we are in prayer, devotions, study, and worship. Yes, those can and should be intertwined into all our daily activities, but there’s something to say for getting away to a quiet place with the Lord regularly. Time is precious, and we have no way of knowing how much of it we have. So we need to treat it like the treasure it is.

Now let’s look at another huge gift: salvation. Maybe I should phrase this as access to salvation, because some reading this may not have tasted the goodness of God’s salvation in Christ’s atoning work. Some are still carrying the burdens of sin, worry, depression, anger, and addiction, among other things. The salvation that Christ made available is alive and powerful. It’s freedom, in this life and the next. It’s a new life. A new way of doing life. A new outlook. A restoration back to our original purpose. If God didn’t give us a single good grace in life, He still would have given us more than we deserve in the salvation of the Son. But so many have spoken the words, called on the name of Jesus, and are still not walking in that freedom and newness. We waste our salvation by not walking in that salvation. We waste it by not sharing it, both by telling others and by proclaiming it through our actions. Salvation is something that is meant to be shared, not kept to ourselves. We are, after all, the lights of the world when we choose Him.

A third gift is placement. You’ve been given people, family, friends, teachers, students, community members, neighbors, and even strangers. You’ve been placed where you are and when you are for a reason. The people in our lives aren’t always easy but that in itself can be a gift. We are all molded by the people around us and it’s up to us whether that molding is making us more or less like Jesus. Sometimes it’s the hardest people and the hardest situations that can make us the most like Him. We also have the opportunity to pour into those people (yes even the difficult ones). Jesus said to love those who hate us and bless those who persecute us. We waste our placement in this world by allowing others to sour us or harden us and by refusing to lay down our lives for others or by seeking ways to be served by others. We can’t take those in our lives for granted.

A forth gift is the world itself. There is so much beauty all around us. In the mountains and plains, deserts and lush forests, there’s so much for us to enjoy. Do you slow down enough to take it in? We waste the gift of nature when we neglect opportunities to take care of it. We waste it when we don’t slow down and just let it pass us by. We waste it when we don’t praise God for all the ways nature provides for us. For the rain, the snow, the breeze, the sunshine. It’s all part of God’s common graces.

Lastly, let’s get more personal. We all have gifts, as in things we are predisposed to and passionate about. For me, it’s writing, drawing, teaching, and certain outdoor activities. How about you dear reader? You are gifted. You have passion. You are creative. So create. Follow your passions. Develop your talents. And do so in a way to point others to the one who gave you that talent. Talent is wasted when it has the aim of self promotion. It’s best spent when it is spent in His honor. Spend your gifts bettering society, bringing beauty, sharing truth, and revealing God’s glory.

When we stop and think about it, we really have been given so much. And these things only scratch the surface of God’s gifts. How dare any of us live as ungrateful. We all probably need to be much more intentional about not wasting these amazing gifts. I know I do. Pray for me and I’ll pray for you.

As always, peace in Christ’s brothers and sisters.