The Lord Is My Shepherd

This week, we are looking at the character of this One to whom we are called to submit. And one way we know the Lord is as our Shepherd.

Psalm 23 begins with the Hebrew words “Yahweh rohi,” the Lord my Shepherd. Yahweh, in our English Bibles LORD (in all caps), is the unique and sacred name of the Everlasting and Eternal God – the almighty, omniscient and omnipotent Creator.

The New Testament focuses on God incarnate, God in human flesh, Who we know as Jesus Christ. He is identified in John 10:11 as the Good Shepherd. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” So both Father (Yahweh) and Son (Jesus Christ) are the Shepherd of those who have surrendered to their rule.

Psalm 23 was written by David, who during his youth had been a shepherd over his father’s flock. He took seriously his responsibility as the protector of the sheep.

In 1 Samuel 17, we read of some of young David’s experiences as a shepherd. In answer to King Saul’s concern that David was only a youth, not able to go against the Philistine giant Goliath who was taunting the army of Israel, David recalls some of the dangers he faced and overcame as he was tending sheep for his father, saying this Philistine would be like one of the lions or bears he battled as a shepherd.

“Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him.” (1 Samuel 17:33-34 ESV)  

Sheep are definitely not the smartest animals God created! They constantly need to be under the watchful eye of a shepherd as they graze. In the hilly terrain of Palestine, sheep faced many dangers. For example, if one sheep jumped off a cliff, and there was no shepherd there to protect them, the whole flock would likely follow. Therefore having an alert and vigilant shepherd to watch over them was essential.

Let’s look at Psalm 23 verse by verse. In these six short verses, we are promised:

* RELATIONSHIP AND PROVISION:The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” (Psalms‬ ‭23:1a‬) (The word translated “want” ‬refers to not lacking anything we need.)

* REST AND RESTORATION:He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:2-3a)

* GUIDANCE AND PURPOSE: “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (Psalms‬ ‭23:3b‬)‬

* GOD’S PRESENCE AND COMFORT:Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalms‬ ‭23:4)‬

* BLESSING AND ABUNDANCE: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Psalms‬ ‭23:5)

* GOD’S GOODNESS AND MERCY AND AN ETERNITY WITH HIM: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalms‬ ‭23:6‬)‭

Like sheep, we are helpless, defenseless, and even purposeless without God in our lives. We need a Shepherd who will protect, provide, and give purpose to our lives. And God wants to be that good Shepherd in our lives.

There’s just one problem. As sheep we are not always wanting what our Good Shepherd provides. W. Phillip Keller, author of A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, wrote, “It takes some of us a lifetime to learn that Christ, our Good Shepherd, knows exactly what He is doing with us. He understands us perfectly.

We want the care of the Good Shepherd while still reserving the right to do things our way. But that’s not the way it works. Surrender to the One who is our Good Shepherd is to key to being able to partake of all the benefits of being one of His sheep. On this Thankful Thursday, let’s make sure there are no areas of our lives we are refusing to surrender to the Lordship of Christ and then give thanks to God for all the blessings that are a part of the life of surrender.

9D6ACD6D-4122-4122-949D-6CB77B736CA6

Resting in the Strong Arms of God

Have you been feeling restless because of the current circumstances we are walking through? Are you longing for the lifestyle changes due to the coronavirus outbreak to be behind us so we can get back to life as usual? These thoughts have definitely crossed my mind several times recently.

Unfortunately, it looks like the “new normal” we’ve been living with the past few weeks will not be going away anytime soon. So how do we overcome the feelings of restlessness that only steal our peace and joy and live a God-pleasing life during the coming weeks or months? How do we walk in peace and contentment as we move forward in this season?

This is what was on my mind as I sat down to spend some time this morning being quiet before the Lord. I was asking God to show me His purposes during this time unlike anything any of us have faced before. His answer was not one I was expecting.

The following words came to my mind, “You are loved with an everlasting love. And underneath are the everlasting arms.” I recognized this as the signature line for Elisabeth Elliot’s daily radio program, something I hadn’t heard since she passed away in 2015.

EVERLASTING LOVE
In Jeremiah 31:3, we learn that the Lord loved Israel with an everlasting love, a love that was constant and unconditional. That love was seen in His continued faithfulness to His rebellious and idolatrous people. God used the imagery of a green and fruitful olive tree as a symbol of the covenant relationship He has with Israel. (Jeremiah 11:16)

God’s heart toward His chosen people hasn’t changed. But one thing has changed. God’s chosen people still includes the offspring of Abraham, the Jewish people, but as Christians we also are included among His chosen, in those upon whom He pours out His everlasting love. Galatians 3:29 says, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” We have been grafted in and we “now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree.” (Romans 11:17)

HELD IN HIS EVERLASTING ARMS
‭Deuteronomy 33:27 says, “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms…”

The Bible in Basic English says it this way, “The God of your fathers is your safe resting-place, and under you are his eternal arms…”

The message I heard from the Lord this morning is simple. Though we are in a season of “social distancing” we are not alone. God is holding us in His everlasting arms, which have the strength to hold us safely even in the strongest storm.

Elisabeth Elliot wrote,‭‭‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ “Restlessness and impatience change nothing except our peace and joy. Peace does not dwell in outward things, but in the heart prepared to wait trustfully and quietly on Him who has all things safely in His hands.”

Today, I want to encourage you to draw close to the Prince of Peace, to our Savior Jesus Christ.  Rest quietly in the presence and everlasting love of the Lord, and to wait trustfully in the truth that we are safe in His hands. He truly is our resting place in this storm.

06B53AA8-A671-460F-9151-D18DC8936B59

Rejoicing in Hope During Difficult Times

Earlier this year, officials at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that it wasn’t a question of if but of when the novel coronavirus would spread in the United States. They warned that the spread of this disease would drastically change our daily lives. In this past two weeks, we have seen what was expected and more.

The spread of this virus has been not just in the US, but around the world. No matter where you live, you have probably experienced major changes in your daily life. Unfamiliar terms have become commonplace: pandemic, self-quarantine, social distancing, lockdown, shelter in place or stay at home orders. Non essential medical procedures have been put on hold. Churches are now restricted to internet broadcasts of services. Grocery stores are lacking the things we routinely buy, from milk and eggs to toilet paper and sanitizer products. And the list goes on and on.

We are living in a drastically different world, with no idea if or when we will return to the world we once knew. The Coronavirus Pandemic has produced a “new normal” for all of us!

The question on my heart as I’ve walked through these last two weeks has been how does God want us to live during times like these? In an atmosphere of fear and panic, how can we walk in a way that both enables us to have joy and peace and also draws others to the God we serve? This was on my heart when I sat down on Monday for my daily quiet time.

I had my quiet time all mapped out, but as I sat down to spend time in God’s Word the Holy Spirit led me in a different direction than I had planned. In essence, the Lord led me to a verse providing the instruction I was needing to walk in peace and victory during this unique season none of us have ever experienced before. As I was reading Romans 12, a familiar passage, verse 12 jumped out at me like I had never seen it before.

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Romans 12:12

REJOICE IN HOPE
To rejoice is to be in a state of happiness and inner sense of well being that is not affected by outward circumstances. It is to be “cheer” full, calmly happy. Rejoicing includes both inner joy and outward rejoicing.

The Greek word translated “rejoice” is in the present tense. It paints a picture of living with a habitual attitude of inner joy that results in outer rejoicing. Joy is the deep-down sense of well-being that abides in the heart of the person who knows all is well between them and the Lord and is independent of whether circumstances are favorable or unfavorable.

God is not asking us to rejoice in our circumstances. He is calling us to rejoice in Him in the midst of the circumstances. We do that as we walk in anticipation of what He is able to do in them, through them, and in spite of them.

According to Psalm 118:24, rejoicing is an act of our will, a choice we make. “This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.”
‭‭‬‬‬‬
Our rejoicing is to be in hope. Worldly or cultural hope is an optimistic desire that something we desire will happen. Biblical or Christian hope is different. It is the assurance that God will do what He has promised. This is the only kind of hope that has the power to anchor our souls, holding us steady during times of uncertainty. It is the kind of hope described in Hebrews 6:19, “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul…”
‭‬‬
BE PATIENT IN TRIBULATION
The Greek word translated “patient” literally means “to stay under”. And what are we to stay under? Pressure or pressing circumstances. Sounds a lot like our daily lives since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. This is basically a call to stand firm in our faith when circumstances feel overwhelming.

Persevering when you are experiencing crushing circumstances is not a call for you to just “man up” or to “grit your teeth” and “bear it.” That is the “world’s way” of dealing with difficult situations.

As followers of Christ, the answer is not found in self-reliance and self-effort. If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, the Holy Spirit now indwells your body (see 1 Corinthians 6:19). He came to be your Helper in situations like the one we are currently walking through. He provides what is needed for us to walk through difficult circumstances, as we yield to His supernatural enabling power.

Rejoicing in hope enables us to persevere or remain under the circumstances that are pressing down on us. As we lean on the Helper, we are empowered to wait calmly as the Lord works everything in conformity with the purpose of His will.
‭‭
BE CONSTANT IN PRAYER
Someone has said that prayer is the breath of the Christian life. There is nothing more more vital to living a victorious Christian life than prayer. Unfortunately, few aspects of the lives of Christians are more vulnerable to neglect.

Prominent nineteenth century American evangelist Dwight L Moody said, “I’d rather be able to pray than to be a great preacher; Jesus Christ never taught his disciples how to preach, but only how to pray.”

Charles Spurgeon, England’s best known preacher during the second half of the nineteenth century and known as “the prince of preachers,” said prayer and an open Bible together were the key to bringing the will of God to bear upon the distresses of this life.

“Whenever your hope seems to fail you and your joy begins to sink, the shortest method is to take to your knees. By remembering the promise in prayer, hope will be sustained and then joy is sure to spring from it. An open Bible and a bowed head create a powerful atmosphere in which God’s will is brought to bear upon the distresses of life. Jesus even recommended we “nag” God with our requests, like a persistent neighbor at a friend’s door or a relentless widow harassing a presiding judge.”

GOD IS THE GOD OF HOPE                                                                                                              In Romans 15, the apostle Paul shares a Messianic prophecy from the prophet Isaiah. He says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” The following verse gives a name of God that is only seen in this passage. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans‬ ‭15:12-13‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Biblical hope is found in a person, the root of Jesse, the One we know as Jesus Christ. He is the foundation upon which our hope is built, and He has promised to return for His body, the church. We are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus‬ ‭2:13-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬) That truth keeps us firmly anchored as  we go through hard times.

One powerful way to pray is to use God’s own words to seek His help in situations that we are powerless to change. We are enabled to rejoice in hope when we remember that our God is the God of hope. He is the foundation upon which our hope is build. And his desire is to fill us “to the brim” with peace and joy.

Are you feeling discouraged, fearful, anxious about what lies ahead? Let’s take our petitions to “the God of hope” and leave the burden on His shoulders. Let’s with confidence draw near to God’s throne of grace, that each of us may receive the mercy and grace to help us walk through this time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

My prayer for you today comes from Romans 15:13 (NLT):
“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
‭‭88A6CE19-65EB-4527-997A-4FCCE127D306Hope

Overcoming Fear With Faith

“Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’” Matthew‬ ‭8:23-27‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬

SUDDENLY! One minute the lake was calm. The next angry waves were battering the boat, and the disciples were filled with fear. Yes, Jesus was with them, but why was He sleeping? Didn’t He care if they perished? These may have been some of the thoughts going through the minds of Jesus’ disciples as they went to wake up their Teacher and Friend.

As I look back over the last couple weeks, life feels like being in a boat tossed around in a storm. Coronavirus – COVID-19 – has now been declared a pandemic, rapidly spreading around the world. This tiny virus of only 125 nanometers (a nanometer is one billionth of a meter) has literally changed our daily lives. A comment from an email from one of my nieces says it well: “Life as we know it is changing dramatically.

Each of us probably have our own list of the changes this pandemic has already caused, so I’m not going to share my list. What I’ve been holding onto during this time is the truth that our God has power over every storm.

We can be like the disciples and turn our focus on the waves sweeping over our “boat.” Or we can choose to fix our eyes on the One who is Lord over the storms that touch our lives. We can give place to fear and panic like those who don’t know Jesus are doing during this time of uncertainty, or we can remind ourselves that our God is bigger than any storm and choose to keep our eyes on Jesus and walk in faith.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27 NIV

The peace that will carry us through the uncertainties of life, what we are facing now and anything that may lie ahead, is a supernatural peace. It is the peace of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. But a small 3-letter word in the above verse is important. Will we LET our hearts be troubled? Or will we choose to turn our eyes on the Lord and walk in His peace?

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” Isaiah 26:3

We normally live with an illusion of certainty, and that has been removed by the unknowns that lie ahead. We don’t know what lies ahead, even our leaders and experts aren’t sure what to expect during the coming months. And this makes us feel vulnerable.

But there is One who does know the future, and He lives within us if we have surrendered to Jesus as Savior and Lord. He is still in control, and His perfect love has the power to cast out fear. By the strength He gives, we can walk in His peace and have victory over fear and panic.

Remember, Jesus still has power over the storms that we go through. Fix your eyes on Him. Remember you are not alone. Walk in wisdom and take every precaution advised by health authorities. But remember God has not given us a spirit of fear. He has given us power to overcome fear, assurance of His love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).

Remember to wash your hands well. And every time you do, remember Whose hands you are in. Today and each day until this difficult season is behind us, CHOOSE FAITH OVER FEAR!

A2EF6FAB-CF26-456C-A3AB-B9251C3BB97E

Growing in the Grace and Knowledge of Jesus Christ

“You already know these things, dear friends. So be on guard; then you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen.” 2 Peter‬ ‭3:17-18‬ ‭NLT‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

754DF735-DA84-436A-98EE-13089DAE37A0

If you’ve watched the news on television recently, or read a newspaper or even posts online, the reports have been full of warnings concerning the Corona Virus. It’s wise to be on guard and take seriously what we hear from dependable sources on how we can protect ourselves. But to do that we first have to sift out the lies from the truth.

Today’s Scripture begins with another kind of warning, one that is the theme of the book of 2 Peter. This letter was written just before Nero began his persecution of Christians. ‬‬Peter recognized his time on earth was coming to an end (2 Peter 1: 13-15) – shortly after this, he was martyred for his faith – and this final epistle was written to both warn and comfort the church in a time when their future looked unsettled. It was a time when the church also needed to recognize the lies and stand on the truth.

After encouraging the believers to remember that God’s power had given them everything they needed to live a godly life (2 Peter 1:3), even in the midst of the problems they were facing, the beloved apostle closed the book with the above two verses. To these who had been entrusted to his care, Peter was saying it’s time to be on guard, to both the dangers from without and complacency and heresy from within.

After warning the believers to maintain their secure footing in the midst of the false teaching that had infiltrated the church, he says the words that I’m focusing on today. “Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” In essence, he was reminding them to become aware that the main business they were there for was growing in God’s grace and in their knowledge of Jesus.

GROWING IN GRACE

Dwight L. Moody said concerning grace, “Grace isn’t a little prayer you chant before receiving a meal…Grace means undeserved kindness. It is the gift of God to man the moment he sees he is unworthy of God’s favor. It’s a way to live. The law tells me how crooked I am. Grace comes along and straightens me out.”

One definition I’ve read is that grace is the power of God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. By grace through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross we are saved. Saving grace is explained in Ephesians 2:8-9, “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.”
‭‭‬‬‬‬‬‬
But grace isn’t only for salvation. We need God’s grace every day we live on this earth. God gives not only saving grace but also sustaining grace, the type of grace seen in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
‭‭‬‬‬‬
Max Lucado said concerning sustaining grace, “Sustaining grace meets us at our point of need and equips us with courage, wisdom, and strength.

David Wilkerson said, “To me, grace is Holy Ghost empowerment to become more like Jesus. Therefore, to grow in grace means to increase in Christ-likeness through the unmerited power of God’s Spirit.

As we grow in grace, we talk and think less about ourselves. We become lower and lower in our own estimation. We also come to a greater understanding of God’s holiness, justice, and sovereignty, which in turn allows us to more clearly see our rebellion, selfishness and pride. We recognize our unworthiness and see the greatness of His undeserved favor and love that drew us to Himself. And as David Wilkerson said, we become more like Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit that indwells our spirit.

GROWING IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST

Knowing Christ is of incomparable worth–of more value than anything! The apostle Paul wrote about this in his letter to the Philippian church.

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
‭‭Philippians‬ ‭3:7-11‬ ‭ESV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Sometimes it takes a dramatic turn of events to alter our perspective. For me, that started with an accident that took the life of our firstborn daughter, Teresa, and left me crippled so badly my doctors did not expect me ever to be able to walk. Because of God’s grace, they were wrong. At the time, I was already a Christian who loved the Lord and wanted to please Him. My husband and I had met each other while attending Bible College, and we were now working with a ministry group in a small town in west Texas. Everything looked promising for the future.

What had I counted as gain? My health for one thing, my ability to walk whenever I wanted to, to get in the car and drive wherever I wanted to go, a relatively pain-free life, the desire to one day return to teaching kindergarten when our daughter was a little older. In one dramatic turn of events, all of those were lost.

How could I count these good desires as rubbish? How was all of this “for the sake of Christ.” Honestly, it took me a long time to come to the point where I could look at the losses and see any gain from them.

In his book The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence wrote,

“The difficulties of life do not have to be unbearable. It is the way we look at them – through faith or unbelief – that makes them seem so. We must be convinced that our Father is full of love for us and that He only permits trials to come our way for our own good.

“Let us occupy ourselves entirely in knowing God. The more we know Him, the more we will desire to know Him. As love increases with knowledge, the more we know God, the more we will truly love Him. We will learn to love Him equally in times of distress or in times of great joy.”

It took many years before I could look at these difficulties and others that came years later and see them through the lens of faith. I still don’t know why God allowed the accident that took the life of our firstborn. I still don’t understand God’s purposes in making my husband and I parents of a little boy who lived with profound mental retardation and was completely dependent upon others to meet all of his needs for all 34 years of his life. I don’t know why in the midst of this, we also became the caregivers of my dear mother-in-law who had Alzheimer’s. In fact, I stopped asking “why?” many years ago.

But there are some things I do know. I know God is good. I know He is faithful. I know from experience that His grace is sufficient, even in my weakness. And above all, I know that the circumstances I’ve lived through have changed me into a different person than I was when all of this began in December 1975. My love for God is deeper, and my peace surpasses my understanding. And finally, I know a time is coming when the Lord will wipe away every tear from my eyes, when death and mourning and pain will be no more, when God will make all things new (Revelation 21:4-5).

Until then, my desire is to continue growing in the grace and knowledge of my Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. And to continue trusting my unknown future to a God I’ve come to know.

F7465035-2DE9-4147-BE1E-F2BAB8A4DB78

The True Vine and the Branches

For the first-century Jewish men who walked with Jesus during His earthly ministry, the idea of comparing people to vines and vineyards would have been familiar. Grapevines were a familiar sight in Palestine, and the disciples would have read the words of the Hebrew prophets who likened Israel to a vine or vineyard.

They would have recalled the words of Hosea saying, “Israel was a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit” (Hosea 10:1a). The prophet Isaiah’s words were equally familiar, “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting” (Isaiah 5:7a).

Unfortunately, when Jehovah looked for healthy grapes in His vineyard, all He found was worthless fruit (Isaiah 5:2). When He looked for justice and righteousness, He found idolatry and bloodshed. Israel failed to be the healthy vineyard of God (Isaiah 5:7).

I’ve been doing a 7-day YouVersion Bible reading plan by Lysa TerKeurst based on her book Finding I Am, in which she explores the seven “I Am” statements of Jesus found in the Gospel of John. The final “I Am” statement is found in John 15:1, where Jesus says, “I am the true vine…”

Lysa says,“In essence, what Jesus is saying in this I AM passage is—I am doing what you could not do. I am the true Vine. Israel, you were supposed to be the vine, but you couldn’t do it. So, I AM is coming and saying that He is about to step in and fulfill what you could not do.”

She continues, “We are in that same boat, my friend. We cannot do what God has called us to do without Him. We are unable to be faithful to His commands. We have failed over and over just like the Israelites failed time and time again. The Jewish people hearing Jesus that day needed Him to step in as the True Vine. And we need Him to do that for us as well.

Last week, we began a study of John 15:1-11, looking at our heavenly Father as the vinedresser. Today, we are exploring what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the True Vine” and how to be branches that glorify our heavenly Father.

THE SETTING
First, let’s look at the setting in which these words were spoken. Jesus had gathered with His disciples in the Upper Room to celebrate their final Passover together. These words are part of what Bible scholars call Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. Judas had already left to do his infamous deed (John 13:30), so these words were to the eleven who had been with Him from the start.

John 14 concludes, “Rise, let us go from here.” So it seems likely to me that these words about the vine were spoken as they left the Upper Room and walked through the vineyards between there and the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was going to pray.

Jesus was preparing these men for His soon departure for heaven. The suffering of the cross was ahead of Jesus, but He wanted these beloved friends to know He was not going to desert them, even though they would no longer enjoy His physical presence. He would continue to nourish and sustain them, through His Spirit which was with them and would be in them. As the Vine, Jesus is our source of life. He is the source of all real strength and grace to His disciples.

I AM
Jesus begins with “I am.” These words were clearly received by those who heard Jesus teach as a claim that He is God. Earlier in the book of John we read, “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’ So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” (John‬ ‭8:58-59‬) Why this extreme reaction to two small words. To the Jews, it was the name of God revealed by Abraham in Exodus 3.‬‬‬‬‬

“Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, ” I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘ I am has sent me to you.'” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.” (Exodus‬ ‭3:13-15‬)‬‬‬‬‬

THE TRUE VINE
Jesus was saying He is “the True Vine”- the real thing, the genuine vine in contrast to Israel, a nation which had degenerated and become a wild vine. “Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine?” (Jeremiah‬ ‭2:21‬)‬ ‬‬‬‬‬

THE VITAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE VINE AND THE BRANCHES
The vine is the source of life for the branches. It provides the water and nutrients by which the grapes are produced. Without the vine, no fruit could ever result. Branches are utterly dependent upon the vine.

But this is a mutual relationship. The branches abide or maintain an unbroken connection with the vine. Without this, they are unable to bear fruit… in fact, without the vine they will shrivel up and die.

But John 15:4-5 says that not only do the branches abide in Jesus, the Vine, but He also abides in them. The branches need the vine, but the vine also needs the branches. Without them there would be no fruit.

“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.” (John‬ ‭15:4-5‬)‬‬‬‬‬‬

THE PROMISES OF ABIDING
For those who abide, Jesus gives two promises. The first is that of bearing much fruit. What kind of fruit does this refer to? I think there two possible types of fruit produced.

First, we should experience a growth in the fruit of the Spirit, as listed in Galatians 5. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians‬ ‭5:22-23‬)‬

But when we look at this parable of the vine in light of the Old Testament passages above, I believe there is another possible “fruit” – the same fruit God was looking for when Isaiah wrote these words. “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” (Isaiah‬ ‭5:7‬) The fruit of justice and righteousness were what God was hopeful to see from Israel as a nation. Malachi 3:6 says the Lord does not change, so I believe He is still looking for justice and righteousness.‬

The second promise is found in John 15:7-8, the promise of answered prayer. “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)‬

In addition to these promises of a fruitful life and answered prayer, a life of abiding is a life filled with joy. Jesus brings this lesson to an end with these words. “

THE TRUE VINE AND BRANCHES
For the first-century Jewish men who walked with Jesus during His earthly ministry, the idea of comparing people to vines and vineyards would have been familiar. Grapevines were a familiar sight in Palestine, and the disciples would have read the words of the Hebrew prophets who likened Israel to a vine or vineyard.

They would have recalled the words of Hosea saying, “Israel was a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit” (Hosea 10:1a). The prophet Isaiah’s words were equally familiar, “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting” (Isaiah 5:7a).

Unfortunately, when Jehovah looked for healthy grapes in His vineyard, all He found was worthless fruit (Isaiah 5:2). When He looked for justice and righteousness, He found idolatry and bloodshed. Israel failed to be the healthy vineyard of God (Isaiah 5:7).

I’ve been doing a 7-day YouVersion Bible reading plan by Lysa TerKeurst based on her book Finding I Am, in which she explores the seven “I Am” statements of Jesus found in the Gospel of John. The final “I Am” statement is found in John 15:1, where Jesus says, “I am the true vine…”

Lysa says,“In essence, what Jesus is saying in this I AM passage is—I am doing what you could not do. I am the true Vine. Israel, you were supposed to be the vine, but you couldn’t do it. So, I AM is coming and saying that He is about to step in and fulfill what you could not do.”

She continues, “We are in that same boat, my friend. We cannot do what God has called us to do without Him. We are unable to be faithful to His commands. We have failed over and over just like the Israelites failed time and time again. The Jewish people hearing Jesus that day needed Him to step in as the True Vine. And we need Him to do that for us as well.

Last week, we began a study of John 15:1-11, looking at our heavenly Father as the vinedresser. Today, we are exploring what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the True Vine” and how to be branches that glorify our heavenly Father.

THE SETTING
First, let’s look at the setting in which these words were spoken. Jesus had gathered with His disciples in the Upper Room to celebrate their final Passover together. These words are part of what Bible scholars call Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. Judas had already left to do his infamous deed (John 13:30), so these words were to the eleven who had been with Him from the start.

John 14 concludes, “Rise, let us go from here.” So it seems likely to me that these words about the vine were spoken as they left the Upper Room and walked through the vineyards between there and the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was going to pray.

Jesus was preparing these men for His soon departure for heaven. The suffering of the cross was ahead of Jesus, but He wanted these beloved friends to know He was not going to desert them, even though they would no longer enjoy His physical presence. He would continue to nourish and sustain them, through His Spirit which was with them and would be in them. As the Vine, Jesus is our source of life. He is the source of all real strength and grace to His disciples.

I AM
Jesus begins with “I am.” These words were clearly received by those who heard Jesus teach as a claim that He is God. Earlier in the book of John we read, “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’ So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” (John‬ ‭8:58-59‬) Why this extreme reaction to two small words. To the Jews, it was the name of God revealed by Abraham in Exodus 3.‬‬‬‬‬

“Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, ” I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘ I am has sent me to you.'” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.” (Exodus‬ ‭3:13-15‬)‬‬‬‬‬

THE TRUE VINE
Jesus was saying He is “the True Vine”- the real thing, the genuine vine in contrast to Israel, a nation which had degenerated and become a wild vine. “Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine?” (Jeremiah‬ ‭2:21‬)‬ ‬‬‬‬‬

THE VITAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE VINE AND THE BRANCHES
The vine is the source of life for the branches. It provides the water and nutrients by which the grapes are produced. Without the vine, no fruit could ever result. Branches are utterly dependent upon the vine.

But this is a mutual relationship. The branches abide or maintain an unbroken connection with the vine. Without this, they are unable to bear fruit… in fact, without the vine they will shrivel up and die.

But John 15:4-5 says that not only do the branches abide in Jesus, the Vine, but He also abides in them. The branches need the vine, but the vine also needs the branches. Without them there would be no fruit.

“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.”
‭‭(John‬ ‭15:4-5‬)‬‬‬‬‬‬

THE PROMISES OF ABIDING
For those who abide, Jesus gives two promises. The first is that of bearing much fruit. What kind of fruit does this refer to? I think there two possible types of fruit produced.

First, we should experience a growth in the fruit of the Spirit, as listed in Galatians 5. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians‬ ‭5:22-23‬)‬

But when we look at this parable of the vine in light of the Old Testament passages above, I believe there is another possible “fruit” – the same fruit God was looking for when Isaiah wrote these words. “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” (Isaiah‬ ‭5:7‬) The fruit of justice and righteousness were what God was hopeful to see from Israel as a nation. Malachi 3:6 says the Lord does not change, so I believe He is still looking for justice and righteousness.‬

The second promise is found in John 15:7-8, the promise of answered prayer. “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)‬

In addition to these promises of a fruitful life and answered prayer, a life of abiding is a life filled with joy. Jesus brings this lesson to an end with these words. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”(John‬ ‭15:11) ‬Let’s aim for unbroken connection with the True Vine, Jesus Christ, so we can bear fruit that glorifies our heavenly Father.

0DFD5516-EEC4-48B2-A1AF-6FEDFEFBB525

The Vine and the Vinedresser

My “One Word” for 2020 is ABIDE, and one of my planned Bible readings this week was John 15:1-11. As I sat down to read this well known passage, my thought was, “this shouldn’t take long.” I already knew that the passage says Jesus is the true vine, we are the fruit-bearing branches that need to stay attached to the true vine in order to bear fruit, and the process includes pruning. Since this is such a familiar passage, I expected to spend five or ten minutes in this chapter and then get on to something else.

But that’s not at all how it turned out. I read John 15:1, where Jesus says (in ESV) “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” The word “vinedresser” jumped out at me, and I realized I had no idea what a vinedresser did – other than prune the vine, which is mentioned later in this passage. I felt a strong impression that the Lord wanted to use this single verse to teach me some new understandings from this passage I’ve read hundreds of times.

As I did some research, I learned of several of the tasks that a vinedresser does, the first found in the first half of verse 2: “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away…”

As I read this, I decided to look up the meaning of the Greek word using one of my favorite online reference sources, The Blue Letter Bible. The Greek word translated “takes away” is “airo.” While this word can mean “to take away,” this isn’t it’s primary meaning. Instead, the usual meaning is “to lift up, to take upon oneself and carry what has been raised.”

Unlike fruit trees, a grapevine cannot stand upright on its own. As a grapevine grows, the natural growth is downward. Before long, the lower part of the vine is laying on the ground where it gets wet on the bottom. One of the responsibilities of the vinedresser is to take hold of the vine and entwine it on a trellis or wires, to keep air flowing underneath it so it can bear healthy fruit.

Remember, these verses in John 15 are using the illustration of a vine to teach us how to live attached to the vine so we can bear spiritual fruit. Have you ever been in a place where you had become comfortable, only to have God in His wisdom determine it was time for an adjustment, a change in position in order for you to continue bearing spiritual fruit?

Like the wise vinedresser, our heavenly Father has the right to adjust our position in life to help us bear more fruit. Whether it’s an actual move to another location, or simply a change of circumstances, we may find ourselves facing change, moving from a place of comfort and self-assurance to one of uncertainty and even fear. Could it be that God is at work in your circumstances, preparing you for greater productivity for His Kingdom?

Now, let’s look at the rest of verse 2, “…and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

In addition to repositioning us for greater productivity, our heavenly Father like the good vinedresser prunes us so we can bear more fruit. Grapevines, when left untended, will sprawl out and produce leafy canopies. While their green leaves look healthy, they yield very little fruit. Since the purpose of a grapevine is to produce grapes, pruning is needed.

This reminds me of some rose bushes that were in front of a house our family lived in several years ago. When in full bloom, the bushes were beautiful. But I learned quickly that without pruning the beauty didn’t last. As winter began drawing to a close, around the end of February, they needed to be pruned.

When I finished pruning the bushes the first year, they looked almost like they were dead. I was afraid I had ruined our beautiful rose bushes. But by late spring, the bushes were filled with gorgeous blossoms.

Like roses, grapevines should be pruned during their dormancy, usually in late winter. When it comes to pruning grapes, the most common mistake people make is not pruning hard enough. Light pruning doesn’t promote adequate fruiting whereas heavy pruning provides the greatest quality of grapes.

God has the right to prune our lives, removing us from people and situations that are hindering our spiritual growth. When God prunes our lives, it isn’t because He is angry at us. It is because pruning is necessary for maximum productivity.

These aren’t all the works of a vinedresser. He also needs to remove any detached and dried up branches (verse 6: “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.”), because disconnected branches don’t bear fruit. He delights in the abundance of fruit, much as God rejoices and receives glory from the spiritual fruit bearing He sees in our lives (verse 8: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”).

2DD6B4C1-2810-4AFE-9772-235043320B62

Does your life feel like God has been doing some repositioning for greater productivity through your life? Or has God been doing some painful pruning in your life? Remember you are in the loving hands of your heavenly Father. Let’s not lose sight of the ending verses of this passage. It’s all rooted in the love of our heavenly Vinedresser!

“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 ‭15:9-11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

3F699667-B6DB-46FD-97BD-B30D19562701

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living For Eternity

SOMETIMES LIFE HURTS. That’s definitely been true in my life during the last fourteen months. First, we lost our special-needs son David, then I found myself dealing with a long list of new health issues that seemed to have no simple solutions. During such times, it’s easy to become disheartened.

As I was praying this morning about this Wednesday’s RECLAIMING YOUR LIFE post, one of the first books we studied in God-Living Girls came to mind. Choose Joy: Finding Hope and Purpose When Life Hurts, is the life story of Sara Frankl, co-written by Mary Carver.

Sara Frankl knew what it was to live with chronic pain. As a young woman, she was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, an autoimmune disease and form of arthritis that primarily affects the spine but can also attack other joints. As Sara’s disease progressed it became clear that her health was not going to get better.

The pain and loss could have easily become Sara’s primary focus, but she decided this wasn’t how she wanted to live. Sara chose to place her trust in a God Who is good all the time and to find hope and purpose in the midst of the pain. She chose joy, not happiness which she described as being “flimsy as a shirt blowing on a line in the breeze.” She chose “true heart joy, which sustains through obstacles, disease, death.” She lived with an “unwavering trust that God knows what He’s doing and has blessed me with the opportunity to be a part of it.” 

Sara lived with relentless pain, but she chose to focus on the blessings instead of the burdens. She believed God had a purpose for her illness or He would have taken it away. And she accepted God’s plan, though it was difficult, and focused on what God wanted to do through her life. She wrote, “It’s not about me; it’s about what He can do with me. My job is simply to pay attention and enjoy the rainbows.”

Sara made it her goal to live the best life she could with what she had been given. She knew it wouldn’t be the life she had expected to live before this disease touched her life, but accepted it as the one God meant for her to live. Though Sara may never have used the term RECLAIMING YOUR LIFE, that’s how she lived.

Sara Frankl came up with six life goals which she wrote on her wall. They were a constant reminder of what was most important to her and they became the motivation for every choice she made.

As we focus this year on reclaiming what chronic illness has stolen from our lives, I felt Sara’s Life Goals would be a good launching pad for each of us to come up with our own life goals as we press on to live in the fullness of what God has in mind for our lives. The following verses encourage us to forget what is behind and press on toward fulfilling the goals God has set before us.

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians‬ ‭3:13-14‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians‬ ‭2:10‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬

Sara’s Life Goals:

  1. To not be ashamed to stand before God.
  2. To fulfill God’s plan by living the best life I can live with what I am given.
  3. To be aware and present in every moment.
  4. To love what I have, not yearn for what I lack.
  5. To spread the Joy, not the fear.
  6. To be intentional in all things.

Now, it’s your turn. If you have surrendered your life to Jesus Christ, you will one day stand in His presence. Let’s look beyond our earthly desires for a while and focus on eternity. What are the goals you hope to fulfill before you see Jesus face-to-face? What principles do you go back to over and over again to guide your decisions? Share some of your personal life goals with us in the comments.

7E8980CF-6A81-4D21-8FB1-D36314490B80