Thursday, December 31, 2015

Day Ten - An Astonishing Promise


“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 15:7-8

John 15:7-8 is a bombshell. It is simply one of the most breath-taking and significant promises made to believers in the entire Bible. Therefore, it is important that we not pass over it quickly, or dismiss it because we find it hard to understand or believe. Rather, we must slow down here and take all the time it takes to understand the meaning and implications of this astonishing promise of Christ. For if we will take the time to understand it and walk in the paths Jesus lays out for us here, we will experience the grace and power and blessings of God, and our lives will be a glory to him. 

For today, I simply want to analyze the structure of the promise, and encourage you to spend some time meditating on it before I say what I see in it. There are, it seems to me, three main parts of the promise: (1) The conditions on which the promise is based: that we abide in him and his words abide in us. (2) The promise itself: that he will do for us whatever we fervently ask for in prayer. (3) The desired outcomes of the promise: that his answers to our prayers will produce fruit in and through us, bringing glory to his Father in heaven and proving that we are his disciples. 

Prayer Focus: Pray that Jesus will help us see the astonishing truths and implications of John 15:7-8, and that in understanding these verses we will walk in his ways, receive his blessings, prove to be his disciples, and so display of the glory of God the Father.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Day Nine - The High Price of Fruitlessness


“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.” 
John 15:6

Why is it that some people do not remain in Christ over time, and thus do not bear the fruit of the vine? Why is it that some people appear to be attached to Christ, but then leave the church and walk away from the Lord, never to be seen again? Jesus gives us several insights into this reality in Matthew 13:18-30. 

First, some people hear the Word of God and do not understand it because the devil has blinded the eyes of their minds. “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). And because they do not understand the Word of God, they cannot properly respond to it and they fall away. 

Second, some people hear the Word of God and receive it with joy, but as soon as trouble comes they forsake the Lord and leave the church. I once discipled a new believer named Gil. He was a gang member who some how heard the gospel and found his way to our church. At first, he was very excited and engaged in the process but as soon as his car broke down and he lost his girlfriend, he fell away. Why? Because the joy he had in Christ was contingent on particular blessings, and as soon as the Lord removed these blessings from his life, his lack of authentic love for Christ was exposed and he fell away. 

Third, some people hear the Word of God but then get caught up in the things of the world and the pursuit of wealth, and these things choke out the word. For example, consider the words of Paul in 1 Timothy 6:9-10. “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” 

Fourth, some people hear the Word of God and become like weeds among the wheat, who for a variety of reasons work to undermine the Word and do violence to the church. Prominent examples of this in the New Testament are Judas Iscariot (betrayer, Matthew 26:47), Ananias and Sapphira (deceivers, Acts 5:1-11), and Hymenaeus and Alexander (false teachers, 1 Timothy 1:20). 

What is the destiny of these four types of people? According to John 15:6 it is this: God the Father will cut them off, throw them aside and let them wither, and eventually gather them up and burn them in a fire. I take this to mean that he will cut them away from Christ, expose their hypocrisy, and eventually send them to hell. As the Lord later says in Revelation 21:8, “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.” 

The high price of fruitlessness is eternal severance from Christ in hell, and this is something we would do well to contemplate that we might search our hearts and surrender our lives in truth to Christ. 

Prayer Focus: Pray that God will keep us from being like these four types of people, and will instead give us the grace to be fertile soil that receives the Word of God with joy, endures through many trials, and bears much fruit to the glory of the Father. And pray that God will give us extraordinary grace so that we can woo people away from the world and toward Christ. Perhaps God will grant us the grace to snatch some from the fire, as it were.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Day Eight - Apart from Christ We Can Do Nothing


“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

Have you ever seriously thought about the fact that it is possible to bear false fruit that looks very much like authentic Kingdom fruit, but in the end is not? Have you ever seriously thought about the fact that it is possible to accomplish many great things in the name of Jesus, but not at the command of Jesus? Matthew 7:21-23 teaches us that it’s even possible to preach prophetically and cast out demons and do “many mighty works,” including growing big churches, all in the name of Jesus, but not at the bidding of his Father. 

Friends, we need to pray long and hard about this truth. For without him, we cannot bear one single piece of fruit that is a glory to God and a testimony for us that we are indeed abiding in Christ. There is perhaps no single statement in the Bible that is stronger than this: apart from Christ we can do nothing. 

The question becomes, then, how do we ensure that we’re abiding in the vine? First, we only abide in the vine because Jesus chose us out of the world and caused us to abide in the vine. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you…If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:16, 19, emphasis mine). It is impossible to abide in the vine until and unless Christ himself causes us to abide in the vine. 

Second, the first-fruits of the vine, as it were, are the efforts we make, by God’s grace and power (Philippians 2:12-13), to ensure that we are abiding in the vine. The visible display of the fact that, by grace, we have come to abide in Christ and treasure him above all other things is our commitment to seeking Christ no matter what the cost or consequence. This is precisely why we at Glory of Christ have chosen to take as our primary values worship, community, and mission. That is, the corporate pursuit of Christ in worship and in life, the corporate pursuit of one another in formal and informal ways, and the corporate pursuit of exalting Christ in our neighborhoods and nations. For us, the bottom line is that we long with all of our hearts to bear the first-fruits of the vine by passionately seeking our nourishment from the only true vine, Jesus Christ. 

Therefore, the key thought for the day is this: let us humble ourselves before Christ and search our hearts to see if we are truly in the vine. And if we are in him, then let us pursue him, by grace, with all the passion we can muster. Let us rise each day with a longing to know Christ, and let us take our rest each day with a desire to thank him for all he’s done in and through us. And let us remember that apart from him we can do nothing but that in him—by abiding in him—we will bear much fruit to the glory of his name. 

Prayer Focus: Pray that we will be sober and thoughtful about the fact that apart from Christ we can do nothing. Pray also that by God’s grace we will possess an ever-increasing passion and commitment to bear the first-fruits of the vine. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Day Seven - Striving to Abide in the Vine


“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.”
John 15:4

To this point in our text, Jesus has only implied what it takes to bear fruit. Now in verse 4, he makes the process explicit: in order to bear fruit, we must abide in the vine; we must be rightly connected to Christ himself. But whereas a branch has only a passive role in its relation to a vine, we must take an active role in our relation to Christ. Whereas a branch cannot help but suck its nutrients from the vine, we must be careful and diligent to seek our nourishment from Christ alone. Consider Philippians 2:12-13:

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” I love this verse! On the one hand, it teaches us that we must strive with all of our might to be found in Christ and not to be found a hypocrite. 

But on the other hand, no text more clearly states that the reason we have the passion, energy, ability, and commitment to abide in Christ is because God the Father is working in us to will and to act according to his good pleasure. He is working in us so that we’ll want to abide in Christ. He is working in us so that we’ll know how to abide in Christ. He is working in us so that we’ll take necessary and appropriate action to abide in Christ. He is working in us so that we’ll bear much fruit through Christ. He is working in us so that we’ll glorify his matchless name through Christ.

So, the key thought for today is this: strive with all of your might to abide in Christ, knowing that it is the Father working in you to will and to act according to his good pleasure. Seek your nourishment from Christ alone and die to everything else in your life, knowing that it is the grace and power and will of the Father that is causing and empowering you to do so. Strive after Christ, knowing that you strive with the strength of God! 

Prayer Focus: Pray that God will cause us to strive after Christ with all of our might, and that he will cause us to rejoice in his grace and strength which is at work within us. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Meditation - Jesus, Our High and Humble Savior

Although this is long for a blog, I've decided to post my Christmas sermon here which I delivered on Sunday, December 20. 

Perhaps it will help you to see a little more of the glory of Christ revealed in the Christmas story, and to gain a source of vision, love, and power so that you can share the grace of Christ with your family and others who need his touch this Christmas season. May the Lord bless us as we contemplate the height and humility of Jesus on this sacred day!


“Jesus, Our High and Humble Savior”
Hebrews 2:10-18
December 20, 2015

Introduction
When I was a child, Christmas was always my favorite time of year. Along with the normal decorations we would put up around the house, our family would also make a countdown calendar that started with December 1st and, in one way or another, marked off the days until December 25th. And so as the days went by each December the anticipation would rise, and the excitement would rise, and the wonder of what was going to be under that tree for me would rise, and the joy of putting things under that tree for others would rise.

By the time December 24th came around, well, I could hardly wait! That day was always the longest day but when night finally came, we would bake fresh cookies and pour a cup of milk and leave them out for Santa, and then go to bed and try to get some rest. Early the next morning I would wake up and run to the living room to see what was there, and oh I have so many memories of the joy that was mine on so many Christmas mornings.

Perhaps chief among them all was Christmas of 1975 because on that day I awoke to see a brand-new bike standing beside the tree that my older brother had built for me. I was so surprised to see it there—it was a red BMX bike with shiny silver handle bars and a black grips and a black seat and knobby tires; it was everything I wanted in a bike and I couldn’t believe that my brother had done that for me. I don’t think I paid much attention to anything else that morning because I just couldn’t wait to get outside and go for a ride—you will remember that I grew up in southern California where it gets super-cold in December, like around 60 degrees!

You know, it amazes me that I still feel so much joy in my heart when I think about that day. It was forty years ago, and the present was just a bike that eventually got replaced by another bike and another bike and another bike. But I think the reason that particular present still brings light to my heart is because it came from my brother’s heart. The bike wasn’t about the bike. It was about my older brother, who was one of my heroes, who loved me and knew what I really wanted and actually took the time and spent the money to build rather than buy what I wanted. My brother gave me his heart, and that’s why his gift still gives me joy to this day.

I’m sure that many of you could tell similar stories, and that you’ve experienced similar joys on Christmas Day throughout the years. And I’m sure that some of you will create new stories and experience similar joys in four or five days from now. From my point of view, we’re free to enjoy the cultural expressions of Christmas in our country so long as Jesus remains first in our hearts and we remember to give him thanks in all things.

But having said that, I must also say that embedded in the Christmas story is a much greater joy that’s waiting for us all this very day and that, if we will receive it, it will give us joy in forty years from now, and in forty million years from now! Indeed, this greater joy will increase in measure and intensity forever because the fountain of this joy lives forever.

Now, those of you who’ve been part of a church for any length of time might be wondering why we’re meditating on Philippians 2 today and not some passage from Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. The answer is simple—while Phil 2 is not a traditional Christmas text, it’s actually one of the most profound Christmas texts because it helps us see more than a barn and sheep and shepherds and wise men and a blazing star that led some to journey toward Bethlehem.

Each of these things and people are integral parts of the Christmas story and have a measure of importance. I don’t mean to demean any of them, however, Phil 2 helps us see the more profound wonder of the Christmas story and it leads us to the place where the gift of long-lasting joy is waiting for all who will receive it—a joy that’s much greater than a bicycle; a joy that’s much greater even than a brother’s love. So with this in mind, let’s walk through this text together from beginning to end, and know that at first it’s going to seem like it has nothing to do with Christmas. But soon we’ll see that it has everything to do with Christmas.

Sharing in Christ Together (2:1-5)
The letter to the Philippians was written by the Apostle Paul to a church he had started in the city of Philippi. For a number of reasons, Paul had to move on from that place and eventually ended up in jail for boldly preaching Christ in places where they didn’t want Christ to be preached. However, while he was in jail the Lord used him to write a number of letters which are still in our Bibles today, including the letter to the Philippians.

So Paul begins this letter by saying that he’s thankful for their partnership in receiving and living and spreading the good news of Jesus Christ, and that he’s confident that Christ will in fact finish the life-transforming work he began in them some years earlier. Paul is certain that when Jesus comes into someone’s life, he stays in their life until they have the fullness of gift he came to give them. And so it is that Paul prays that the Philippian Christians would abound in the love of Christ with all knowledge about Christ and discernment in Christ, so that they might know the difference between right and wrong, that they might be holy and blameless before God and others, that they might bear much fruit to the glory and praise of God, and that they might have deep and growing joy in God through Christ.

Then having offered this prayer, Paul wanted his beloved friends to know that though his time in jail was hard, it was also good because more and more people were believing in Jesus and those who already believe were being emboldened to tell others about Jesus. And what’s more, Paul was sure that he would be released from jail and see the Philippians again so that he could labor in Christ for their progress and joy in the faith. With that, he encouraged them to keep pressing on that they might not sink again into the shame of the world, and that they might instead be of one mind together for the sake of Jesus; that they might have the privilege of suffering together for the sake of Christ and so share in his very heart and ministry.

This was Paul’s deep desire for his precious friends. Like my brother, Paul knew them well and loved them deeply and wanted the very best for them. But in this case the question was, How were the Philippians to in fact achieve this kind of unity in Christ for the sake of the gospel and the glory of God? How were they to press on in love for God and one another and those outside the church? Paul begins to answer in the first few verses of chapter 2, so please look there with me and let’s read them again.

1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…”

Beloved, the way Paul wanted his precious friends to press on together in Christ was simple—he wanted them to make a life of receiving from Christ and then overflowing with Christ toward one another. Notice that he didn’t encourage them to strive toward these things in their own strength. He didn’t insist that they try harder and do better. He didn’t demand that they give their all to obey God’s commands.

Rather, Paul told them to look to Christ and receive encouragement from Christ, and comfort from the love of Christ, and fellowship with the Spirit of Christ, and affection and sympathy from the heart of Christ—and then to overflow with these things toward one another. Paul knew that the fount of their love for one another was the eternal spring of Christ’s love for them, and thus he said, “Beloved, receive from Christ and then share in Christ with one another.” This was Paul’s simple but profound answer to the question: How shall we press on in Christ together to the glory and praise of God?

With this in mind, Paul then gave the Philippians, and us, some practical counsel. He said that because the love of Christ is so powerful in our lives, we should not be self-serving but other serving (vv 2-4). We should live Christ-centered, other-serving lives to the glory of God the Father. We should learn from Jesus how to do nothing out of selfish ambition or the desire to have prestige and power. We should learn from Jesus how to see others in such a way that we actually think them more important than ourselves. We should learn to walk into a room and truly think about how we can serve others and not just be served by others. We should come to church on a day like this with the attitude, “How would Jesus use me to bless someone else today?” Not with the attitude, “How are these people and this church going to give me what I need today?”

Now, Paul doesn’t say we should think nothing of our own interests. Jesus knows that we have needs and the whole assumption of v 1 is that Jesus is ready and eager to meet those needs. But Paul is saying that we should not be consumed with our own needs but that, having received so much grace and so many gifts from Christ, we should then be free to share these things with others by the power of Christ and for the glory of Christ. 

O Beloved, I hope we can see clearly that all Paul wanted them and us to do was to live of life of filling up in Christ and then overflowing. He wasn’t calling on them to be humble. He was calling on them to look to Christ and be humbled. This is what would give them the resources, desire, and strength to bless others. And this is what would make Paul’s complete, indeed, this is what would make God’s joy complete, for it would bring the good news of their salvation to full fruition.

The Height and Humility of Christ (2:6-8)
This call is as strong as it is inspiring but I think Paul still had an instinct that what he said was not enough. Paul knew that he still had to help his dear friends find a treasure-trove of resources that they might be able to love one another in this way. And so it is that he penned the famous words of vv 5-8, please look there with me: “5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus [that is, don’t try to live this way on your own but rather seek to admire and imitate Christ], 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

I see three stages of the height and humility of Christ expressed in these verses. Stage One is found in v 6 and it is simply this – before he became a man, Jesus was God, without measure and without end. Indeed, we learn from other portions of the NT that all the fullness of deity dwells in him, which simply means that Jesus is everything God is. We learn that he is the exact imprint of the nature of God so that to see him is to see God – who else do you know who can make a valid claim like that? We learn that he is the very radiance of the glory of God which means that to the extent that God’s glory is visible, Jesus himself is the one who makes it shine.

We learn that he is the one through whom God the Father created all things so that when we see the stars and sun and moon, when we see land and seas and lakes and trees, we’re seeing the designs of the Father and the handiwork of Jesus. We learn that he is the one to whom God the Father has subjected all things so that Jesus is personally controlling nations and neighborhoods, peoples and persons, physical things and all of the purposes of God until that day when all things come to their appointed end and every soul stands before their Maker. We learn that Jesus is the one who, on that day, will judge the living and the dead with a perfect and powerful judgment so that all of his verdicts will have eternal effects and give rise to eternal praise to the glory of his name and of God the Father.

O Beloved, before Jesus took on flesh he was unthinkably exalted. Indeed, no one has ever dreamed of reaching the heights that rightly belonged to Christ because no mind has ever conceived the height of those heights! And this truth is what makes Stage Two so amazing, so stunning, so inspiring, so life-giving, so joy-producing. Stage Two is this – although Jesus was God, without measure and without end, he reasoned in himself that he did not need to cling to his position, his prestige, or his power. He reasoned in himself, not because of an outside force but in himself, that since he had perfect fellowship with God the Father and with God the Holy Spirit, he had all he needed and he could therefore let go of everything else. Since he had the love of the Father, he was free to empty himself for the sake of others, even for those who deserved the exact and extreme opposite of his love. To Jesus, the highest place is fellowship with God—it’s not a position; it’s a relationship—and since he fully occupied that place, he was free to go to the lowest place. Beloved, let us have this mind in us that was also in Christ Jesus; let us be full in God and then empty ourselves for one another.

This leads us to Stage Three which is this – since Jesus was perfectly content in his Father, he freely and gladly took on flesh. Jesus Christ became a human being, and herein is how Phil 2 connects to the story of Christmas. He who was so high made himself so low, for not only did he become a man but as a man he became a servant rather than a power-broker. And the word for “servant” here in Greek more literally means a “slave” and the fact of the matter is that Jesus became a slave to the will of his Father and for the good of others. For this reason, he located himself in a poor and powerless family. He didn’t need the things of the world because he already had all things in his Father. He didn’t live among the rich because he came to bring the good news of eternal life to the poor, although it turns out that even the rich are very poor and in desperate need of God.

Having took on flesh in this particular way, Jesus focused his life on but one thing – being happily and humbly obedient to his Father no matter the cost or consequence. And I hope we can see, Beloved, that the issue here is not so much sheer obedience as it is love. Jesus had a deep and lasting love with his Father, and so it was his delight to do the will of his Father. As it says in another place, “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God.” This is the primary reason Jesus manifest himself on this earth.

And so it was that Jesus was obedient when his Father instructed him to touch the untouchable leper and bring hope and healing into his life. He was obedient when his Father instructed him to forgive and transform the woman who was caught in the act of adultery. He was obedient when his Father commanded him to embrace that wealthy and despised thief, Zacchaeus, replacing his greed with a voracious appetite for God and a willingness to restore what he had stolen and to offer all of his wealth to God. He was obedient when his Father commanded him to confront the self-righteous Pharisees in love that they might repent of their hypocrisy and come to know the true and living God, and in the book of Acts we see that some of them did.

Jesus was obedient all the way until that day when his Father issued the impossible command that was conceived from before the foundation of the world – My Beloved Son, take up your cross and willingly give your life that you might take the punishment and pay for the sins of others; that you might become the one source of eternal life for all who believe.

Beloved, you know that Jesus did in fact obey this command, but what I want to highlight here is not so much his actions on the cross but the heart that led him to take those actions. Indeed, it was the glad, submissive heart of Christ that made the awesome sacrifice. The sacrifice of Jesus was absolutely necessary for salvation because without the shedding of his infinitely valuable blood there would be no forgiveness of sins. But again, it was the glad, submissive heart of Christ that made the awesome sacrifice. It was his happy and humble obedience that led him to the cross for the glory of his Father and the eternal life of all who would believe.

The Exaltation of Christ (2:9-11)
Because Christ did what he did in this particular way, it pleased the Father to highly exalt him and to lavish upon him the name that is above every name, so that in due time every single knee will bow down to Jesus Christ, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every single tongue will profess that he is the Lord to the glory of his Father. Indeed, Stage Three paved the way for Stage Four which is this – since Jesus gladly and willingly made himself low, the Father has exalted him to the highest place. Jesus has gone from the highest of heights to the deepest of depths and back to the highest of heights again, only this time it seems that he’s reached an even more exalted place.

What I mean is that Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Majesty on High as one who has perfectly displayed love and humility and grace and mercy and forgiveness to a measure and to a degree that we can neither comprehend nor communicate. Because Jesus made himself so low out of love for his Father, his Father has granted him to dwell in the highest of heights…and as I said, it seems that the heights are even higher now.

The Call and Power to Emulate Christ (2:12-13)
O Beloved, this is the mind Paul wants his dear readers to have in Christ Jesus, and it’s the mind Christ Jesus wants us to have as well. Look at Paul’s words in vv 12-13: “12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” In light of the stunning vision of the height and humility of Christ, Paul now calls upon his readers to do two things. First, he calls on us to passionately apply the grace of God in Christ to our own lives and to one another’s lives. The words “work out” in v 12 mean “to work with great passion and focus,” and what Paul wants us to so passionately work out is being like Jesus which is our salvation. And he wants us to do this with fear and trembling, that is, with deep awe and profound respect as we look to and meditate on this glorious Christ who was so high and made himself so low and was made to be so high again.

But having said this, he quickly adds in v 13 that the reason we’re able to passionately apply the grace of God in Christ to our lives is because God the Father is working in us even as he worked in Jesus. The same one who led Jesus is leading us. The same one who commanded and supported and empowered and blessed and received Jesus is doing these same things for us. It is God who is energetically at work in us—that’s what the Greek word here implies, he’s energetically at work in us—that we might want to do his good will and that we might in fact do his good will. Do you see, Beloved? This is not about what we’re supposed to do for God, it’s about what he’s doing in us through Jesus Christ, the one who has promised to finish the work he began in us.

And what does this energetic, glad-hearted obedience look like in our lives? I go back to the beginning. “1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…”

O Beloved, the best gift ever given is Jesus Christ, crucified and risen—this is so much better than a bicycle or a brother’s love. The best gift ever given was the humble self-sacrifice of Jesus for our sins, so that whoever believes in him and looks to him alone for the forgiveness of their sins and the restoration of their relationship with God will not perish but have everlasting life. They will, along with Christ, be exalted to the highest place, for the Bible tells us that those who believe in him will be seated with him. They will have deep and increasing joy, not only for forty years, but for forty million years and more as God helps them to see the glory of Christ and to be shaped into his very image.

Conclusion
So the call to action is very simple and very profound today—two things. First, let us take the time to meditate on Philippians 2 alone and with our families that we might behold the height and depth and width and breadth of the glory of Christ. The blessing is in the doing, Beloved, and so as one of your pastors I urge you to join me in doing this.

Second, as we receive insight and encouragement and comfort and love and affection and sympathy from Christ, let us overflow toward one another with the love of Christ. Let’s allow Christ to bless us with his own way of thinking and living, with his deep and everlasting joy, with the mind that was in him and that belongs to us through him. Let us not only meditate on Christ and speak of Christ, but let us humbly allow God to shape us into his image that we might love one another and so complete his joy.

And as we learn to love one another, let’s also learn to love those outside the church with the love of Christ. By overflowing with love toward one another, we learn to overflow with love toward still others. So let us go as ambassadors of light into this world, not compelled by duty but deeply driven by humble love.

Behold Christ, receive the love of Christ, overflow with the love of Christ—that’s the call to action for today. Let’s pray for God’s help. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Day Six - Pruning and the Word


“Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” 
John 15:3

Yesterday I mentioned that God uses various kinds of shears to prune the fruitful to the end that they might bear much fruit: he will use discipline, various sorts of tests and trials, suffering, the Word of God, the Body of Christ, and whatever else he deems necessary and appropriate (see Hebrews 12:3-11, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 4:12-19, 2 Timothy 3:15-17, Romans 12:1-2). But in John 15:3 Jesus explicitly mentions one of these shears, namely, his word. In the original language of the Bible this verse literally reads, “Already you are pruned because of the word that I have spoken to you.” Good enough, but specifically how does the word of Christ prune us? 

Although Jesus probably had in mind here the words he used to call and teach his disciples, it is fair to apply his comments to the whole of the Word of God, the Bible, because Jesus is the ultimate author of those words and he daily uses them in the lives of those who follow him. With this in mind, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 shows us four ways that Jesus uses the Word of God to prune us. The Apostle Paul writes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” 

First, the Word of God prunes us by teaching us the will of God and the difference between right and wrong. It prunes us by guiding us, by showing us the way we should go, and then shedding light on our path so that we will not stumble. 

Second, the Word of God prunes us by reproving or convicting us of our sin. It rebukes and disciplines us and leads us back into the way we should go. 

Third, the Word of God prunes us by correcting or restoring or improving us. When we have gone astray but not purposely or consciously so, the Word of God grabs ahold of our shoulders and gently leads us back into the way we should go. 

Finally, the Word of God prunes us by training us for action, for obedience to the commands of God, for zealously walking in the good works which God has prepared beforehand for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). 

What, then, is the end result of this good, necessary, painful, and loving process of pruning? That every man and woman of God, by means of the Word of God, becomes “competent and equipped for every good work.” Or to put it in the language of John 15, that every man and woman of God, by means of the pruning shears of the Word of God, will be made to bear much fruit to the glory of Christ. 

Prayer Focus: Pray that, by his grace, God will use the pruning shears of his Word in our lives that we might bear much fruit to the glory of Christ. Pray that he will give us passion for his Word and a practical plan for being in his Word for 2016 that he might have the daily opportunity to do his loving work in us. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Day Five - The Fate of the Fruitful


“Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
John 15:2

Yesterday we learned that the fate of the fruitless branches is that God the Father will eventually cut them off. He will remove all vestiges of their hypocrisy from the vine. He will reveal them for what they are, and punish them in hell for their sins (see v 6). But what of the fruitful branches? What is their fate?

The fate of the fruitful branches is to bear yet more fruit, and the process by which they will bear more fruit is called pruning. Consider this definition of pruning from the Department of Horticulture at Texas A & M*: 

"Pruning, like any other skill, requires knowing what you are doing to achieve success [Praise God that he knows what he’s doing!]…Remember that pruning is the removal or reduction of certain plant parts that are not required, that are no longer effective, or that are of no use to the plant. It is done to supply additional energy for the development of flowers, fruits, and limbs that remain on the plant."

In other words, pruning is done that plants or trees might bear more fruit. 

The truth of the matter is that, even for those who are rightly connected to the vine, much remains in us that must be cut away. And because of his great mercy and love toward us, the Father is willing to do whatever he must to in fact cut these things away. He uses as his pruning shears discipline, various sorts of tests and trials, suffering, the Word of God, the Body of Christ, and whatever else he deems necessary and appropriate to prepare us to bear more fruit (see Hebrews 12:3-11, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 4:12-19, 2 Timothy 3:15-17, Romans 12:1-2). Such is the steadfast love of the Father: he will go to any lengths to bring us into the fullness of what he’s prepared for those who believe in Christ and cling to him with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength. 

Thus, the short-term fate of the fruitful is to suffer what we must in order to bear more fruit to the glory of Christ. And the long-term fate of the fruitful is to forever be united with Christ and delight ourselves in the ever-increasing joy of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Any pain we must suffer in the process of pruning will be well worth this eternal prize! 

Prayer Focus: Pray that during these forty days (and beyond) God will do whatever he must to prune us that we might bear more fruit to the glory of his name. Pray that he will give us eyes to see his grace in the midst of the pruning, and hearts that will not rebel against his wise work in us.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Day Four - The Fate of the Fruitless


“Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
John 15:2

Yesterday we learned that the phrase “every branch of mine” literally reads “every branch in me,” and that every branch thus connected with Jesus will bear the fruit of Jesus. Indeed, the proof of our actual relationship with Christ is revealed in the fruit of our lives. Today we turn our focus to the next few words, specifically, "Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he [God the Father] takes away." 

What do you think: does this passage teach that a person can lose his or her salvation? Does it say that when someone is rightly connected with Jesus and then fails to bear fruit that the Father will cut them off, take from them the life of the vine, and then cast them away? My answer is “no,” and here’s why. 

It is possible to name the name of Jesus and seem to be rightly connected with him but all the while drawing life from false vines. In this way, a person can over time seem to know Jesus but finally fail to bear the fruit of Jesus. 

As the Lord said elsewhere, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23; see also the parables of the sower and of the wheat and weeds in Matthew 13:3-9 and 13:24-30). 

To be rightly connected with Jesus is to be submitted to God the Father along with Jesus; and to be submitted to God the Father is to do his will; and to do his will is to be in the Son; and to be in the Son is to bear the fruit of the vine. Indeed, it is impossible to be rightly connected with Jesus and fail to bear the fruit of Jesus. 

So if John 15:2 is talking about those who only seem to be in the vine but are not, what is it saying about them? Answer: the fate of the fruitless is that God the Father will cut them off, remove all vestiges of their hypocrisy from the vine, reveal them for what they are, and punish them for what they have done (see verse 6). 

Friends, this truth should strike an appropriate fear into all of our hearts. For, on the one hand, our God is long-suffering, merciful, patient, and steadfast in love. Indeed, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench.” And from the words of a parable, “Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down” (Matthew 12:20; Luke 13:8-9). 

But, on the other hand, God the Father will not tolerate impostors forever. In due time, he will punish the wicked. He will pull up the weeds. He will cut off every fruitless branch. He will declare, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” And those are words we never want to hear spoken to us. 

“Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off” (Romans 11:22). 

Prayer Focus: O Friends, join me in earnestly praying that God will reveal to us the true state of our relation with him, and give us eyes to see whether or not we are bearing the fruit of the vine. For even if the answer is, “No, you are not,” he may yet be gracious and grant us repentance.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Day Three - The Proof is in the Fruit


"Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit."
John 15:2

Over the last two days we have seen that Jesus Christ lives in absolute, happy, and willing submission to God the Father, and that the Father’s will for the Son is that he be the one true vine: the one true source of nourishment, growth, passion, power, fruitfulness, purpose, and joy in life. In John 15:2 we learn that the proof of whether or not we are in the true vine is whether or not we bear the fruit of the vine. In other words, discerning our actual relationship to Jesus is not a mystery because the proof is in the fruit.

In the original language of the Bible, the phrase “every branch of mine” literally reads “every branch in me.” Therefore, the picture is not so much that the branch belongs to Jesus but that it is intimately and irreversibly united with Jesus. And any branch that is connected with the vine in this manner, and ever drawing life from the vine, will bear fruit. It would in fact be impossible for it not to bear fruit. 

It is as Jesus said in Matthew 7:16-18: “You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” 

Please take the time to let this truth sink into your heart: the one who is rightly connected to the vine, will bear the fruit of the vine. Indeed, the proof of our actual relationship to Christ is in the fruit. 

Prayer Focus: Pray for eyes to see if the fruit of the vine is being borne in your life, or not. Both are a grace: the one for rejoicing and the other for repentance. Jesus Christ came “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), and if we are to experience his grace we must know the truth. May the Lord give us eyes to see and hearts to bow before his great and life-giving name. May the Lord do whatever it takes to ensure that we are intimately and rightly connected to the true vine of life. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Day Two - Jesus is the True Vine of Life



“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” 
John 15:1

Yesterday we learned that Jesus Christ is in absolute, willing, and happy subjection to God the Father, and therefore that he is subject to the Father’s every whim and perfect will. What, then, is the perfect will of the Father for the Son? 

Answer: that he be the one true vine of life. That he be the one true source of nourishment, growth, passion, power, fruitfulness, purpose, and joy. Or to borrow the language of John 14:6, that he be the only way, the only truth, and the only life. 

Indeed, may we understand this truth - Jesus does not simply lead us in the way; he himself is the way. Jesus does not simply tell us the truth; he himself is the truth. Jesus does not simply lead us to life; he himself is life. Jesus does not simply bring us to the vine; he himself is the true vine. Friends, to have him is to have all and to reject him is to reject all. 

This is the perfect will of the Father for the Son. 

Surely there are many who reject Jesus in favor of false vines. Surely there are parts of us, even as believers, that forsake him and seek nourishment from false vines. We turn to the praise of others and money and career and power and prestige and television and sports figures and actors and actresses and 1,000 other things, seeking from the world, from false vines, what can only be had in Jesus Christ. 

But no matter how long and far our wanderings, the fact will remain the same - Jesus Christ is the true vine of life and there is no other. 

Prayer Focus: Pray that in these forty days God the Father will be gracious to us and reveal the false vines in our lives. Pray that he would grant us the desire to turn toward Jesus and away from these things, that we might have the power and passion to eat and drink of Jesus alone, for he is indeed the only true vine of life. 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Day One - Life is All About God the Father


“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.”
John 15:1

Jesus begins the life-shaping message of John 15:1-11 by making a statement about himself. And having done that, he quickly places himself within a larger relational context. He is indeed the true vine, but he has a vinedresser, namely, God the Father. What do you suppose this admission implies about the relationship between Jesus and his Father?

At the very least it means that God the Father is ultimate. It means that he is eminently great in power and that he has all power over the Son. It means that the Father superintends the life, growth, spread, and fruit of the Son. And as for the Son, it means that he is absolutely, willingly, and gladly submitted to the Father. He is utterly vulnerable before him. The Son is humbly subject to every whim of the Father and happily surrendered to his perfect will. 

Please don't pass by this truth too quickly - there's great treasure here. Please take the time to prayerfully meditate upon it, to think of its implications and savor the vision of God that's being lifted up before us. 

Even for Jesus Christ, who is very God of very God, life is not about himself but about God the Father. And if this is so for him, should it not be so for us who are infinitely less than God? We will never see ourselves aright until we see God aright, and we will never live our lives aright until we live them in humble and happy submission to God. 

Prayer Focus: Pray that over the next forty days God will open our eyes and ears, that he will soften our hearts and wills, that we may see Jesus for who he is, delight in who he is, and gladly surrender to what he has for our lives. 

Life is all about God the Father. 


Friday, December 18, 2015

A Call to Prayer - Meditations on John 15:1-11

It's been a crazy few months but I'm back to blogging again, and glad to be doing so. I'd like to close out 2015 and begin 2016 by posting a series of brief meditations on John 15:1-11 I wrote about eight years ago and have more recently updated. I pray that Jesus' words in this important text will not only inform your mind but inspire you to seek him by the Word and prayer, and perhaps even by fasting. 

Whatever the Lord puts on your heart to do, know that I'll be praying for whoever reads these posts and that I'll be posting one per day for the next forty days. For today, take a few minutes to read and meditate with me on the words of Jesus: 

"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. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.

"These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full" (John 15:1-11, English Standard Version). 

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Moving Schedule

Over the last few days several people have asked exactly when we're moving and how they can help, so I thought I'd post the details here. If you can help, please e-mail or call me so that I'll know. Also, some of my non-Glory of Christ Fellowship friends have asked if we're moving to another city and church--the answer is yes and no, in that order! We're moving about ten miles down the road to a nearby city but we're still at Glory of Christ Fellowship. We had to move for a number of reasons but have no desire to leave the church or the area. 

Okay, here's the moving schedule: 

Wednesday, September 30: Load the U-Haul from 2:00 p.m. until we're done 
Thursday, October 1: Unload the U-Haul at the new house from 8:00 a.m. until we're done 
Thursday, October 1: Clean the old house from 2:00 p.m. until we're done (very light cleaning) 

God bless you all and thanks so much for praying! 


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Handrens are Moving...Again!

It seems that Kim and I have the calling of Abraham and Sarah on our lives, that is, to be sojourners who have no physical foothold in this world. When Abraham died the only land he owned was the grave in which he'd buried his wife, and I'm beginning to think that Kim and I will share this destiny. 

And if it was good enough for them, it's good enough for us! 

Like Abraham and Sarah, our hope is not in this world and we are actively looking for another City whose designer and builder is God. As long as our hearts are rooted in Christ, there's nothing at all wrong with owning property in this world and there's nothing wrong with owning no property in this world. The American Dream is much too small a dream for those who look to Christ in faith. The Kingdom Dream is a better dream and more sure, and Kim and I know that we will not be disappointed to have put all our hope in that dream. 

Having said that I must hasten to say that we'll not exactly be suffering in our new rental property. It's half the size of our current house with twice the property. The inside is more than enough to meet our needs, and the outside is almost park-like. We feel like we're moving to a retreat center. And amazingly it's cheaper than the townhouses that were available to us, and even some of the apartments that were available. God richly provided and we're deeply grateful to him. 

You can see a shot of the front of the house above. We'll share more after we move in. For now please be praying for the process as Kim, Rachel, and I are all very busy and have so much to do in the next fifteen days. We pack up on September 30 and move in on October 1, and if you can help we'd appreciate it. But if not we ask you to pray, for surely the Lord will provide in his own time and way. 

Details aside, the majority of our prayers are going toward how God will use our lives at this new property. Please be praying with us about this. Pray for our quiet time spots. Pray for our neighbors. Pray for various church meetings that will happen there. Pray for the owners of the property, that they would Christ in the way we steward their resource. 

And please join us in giving thanks to God for providing for our family. The details are too complex even to summarize here but suffice it to say that God has almost miraculously provided for us throughout this process. He is an amazing Father and we give glory to his great and gracious name! 

Once we get settled, we'll invite you all over for a big party. California friends, you're invited. You buy the plane ticket, we'll buy the food! 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Oh the Glory of the Steadfast Love of the Lord!

At the core of the love of God is steadfastness. Faithfulness. Undying commitment. The refusal to give up. The determination to lavish grace until it transforms the receiving soul. 

And oh the glory of this kind of love! It is the great hope and the fountain of joy in this life. 

The other day I read Psalm 36. It begins by bemoaning sin in the human heart and as we contemplate what's said there we realize that David's words are an accurate portrayal of our own hearts. As this sinks in, we begin to feel the weight of our sin and wonder how we'll ever be right with God and others. 

But then come these hope-filled words like a flood! They shift our perspective from our hearts to our Savior. Please savor them with me, remembering that the "steadfast love of the Lord" is the "never-ending love of the Lord." 

"Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O LORD. How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light" (Psalm 36:5-9). 

If we turn to the Lord and believe in him, the measure of our hope and joy is the measure of his steadfast love. So contemplate the measure of his steadfast love in these verses and you'll surely feel the power of the hope and the depth of the joy we have in him! And then remember that he kept his steadfast love, and best demonstrated it, all the way to the day when he sent his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to live and die and live again for the forgiveness of our sins and the restoration of our relationship with him. And then remember that the God who has been steadfast and faithful will be steadfast and faithful forever and ever. 

O Friends, may we allow the glory of the steadfast love of the Lord to grip our hearts! There is no greater hope and no deeper joy. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Fishing for the Glory of Christ to the Delight of my Wife!

I’m still in shock. Kim's still in shock--and she's totally happy, just look at her! 

Somehow, some way, this summer I bit the hook and took up fishing! It all started at the Wild River State Park where Craig and Jeralyn Prange graciously allowed Kim and me to use their camper for a week. Jeralyn had mentioned that the park arranged for canoe trips on the Saint Croix and so when we arrived we looked into it, signed up, and had a great 3-4 hours floating along, enjoying nature, and enjoying each other’s company.

A few days later, as I was contemplating how to take another similar trip, it occurred to me that I’d actually enjoy fishing in that kind of relaxed environment. So I did some research on river fishing, especially along the Mississippi, I discovered that bass are the main fish in the river, and I found some resources that taught me how to catch 'em! 

Next thing you know, I was the one saying, “Kimmy, let’s go to the bait shop.” “Kimmy, let’s go fishing.” “Kimmy, I’m done working for the day, meet me at the river!”

She was in shock. She was elated. She’s been trying to get me into fishing for twenty-five years, no exaggeration!

I too was in shock and I still am but I have to stop writing now because the fish are hungry and I want to throw a line in the water! Maybe I’ll see you along the shores of the mighty Mississippi as I’m fishing for the glory of Christ to the delight of my wife!