I Am the Vine…

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 bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also 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 so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15.1-11 NASB).

God is glorified when we produce fruit consistently like Jesus exhibited while He walked among us. Abiding in the Father allowed Jesus to produce God-glorifying fruit. If we are to do the same, we must abide in Christ.

What does it mean to “abide in Christ?” Jesus gave us a beautiful word picture in John 15.5, “I am the vine, you are the branches…” Branches that produce fruit abide in, or are connected to the vine or the tree. Have you ever seen a branch on the ground after a big storm? The morning after the storm the leaves are still green, but they won’t stay that way for long. The nutrients needed from the tree have been cut off and the branch is now on its own. In truth, the branch is already dead, and within a few days its decay will become obvious to the naked eye.

When we try to live our lives without abiding in or being connected to Christ, this is what happens to us. We may look okay on the outside, but we have lost the vital connection which allows the Spirit of Christ to work through us to transform us into His image. We may be able to fool people of our condition by following moral expectations; however, before long the spiritual decay within will become obvious to everyone. Eventually we will look spiritually just like a branch torn from the tree—dry, withered, and dead.

Abiding in Christ is dependence on Christ. It is depending on Him for our direction, provision, protection, and transformation. It is a life-giving relationship in which we live and move and have our being in Christ. When we abide in Him we produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5.22-23). This fruit is not given to us for our enjoyment. It is given for us to share with those who are in need. It is given that the recipients might see our good works, turn to God, be forgiven, and then they too can abide in Christ.

Sometimes, when we get to focusing on the storms of life, we forget to spend the necessary time abiding in Christ. Eventually become weak, weary, and wonder why we are feeling so overwhelmed. If we take time to reconnect with the Vine we will be rejuvenated and restored to a fruitful God-glorifying life. “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15.5).

Seven Things to Pray for Your Children

Prayer (2)I first began to pray for my children in 1980 at the age of sixteen. At first I wasn’t sure what to pray, but over time my prayers became progressively more focused; especially after my son was born. Thirty-two years later I can clearly see the abundant return of all those hours spent on my knees praying for him. I am still praying today that God will continue working in him until he attains “to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4.13).

I would encourage you today to begin praying for your children, even if you are years away from starting a family. Here is a post by Jon Bloom that will assist you in beginning to pray for your children. Please remember, your prayers are most effective when they are an overflow of your lifestyle. The greatest witness to your children is you, so live out your prayers for them to see and follow.

Bloom writes:

So, here are seven helpful, specific things to pray for your children:

1. That Jesus will call them and no one will hinder them from coming.

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away. (Matthew 19:13–15)

2. That they will respond in faith to Jesus’s faithful, persistent call.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

3. That they will experience sanctification through the transforming work of the Holy Spirit and will increasingly desire to fulfill the greatest commandments.

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

4. That they will not be unequally yoked in intimate relationships, especially marriage.

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)

5. That their thoughts will be pure.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

6. That their hearts will be stirred to give generously to the Lord’s work.

All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord. (Exodus 35:29)

7. That when the time is right, they will GO!

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

No Greater Love

outrageous loveA crippled girl, living in the slums, underwent an operation that might enable her to walk again. When the operation was over, she needed a blood transfusion; her fourteen-year-old brother, a tough boy of the streets, volunteered. He was taken to the hospital, to the bedside of his crippled sister. He stared in tight-lipped silence while the vein in his arm was  opened so that the blood might flow into the body of his unconscious sister. When it was over, the doctor put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and told him that he was very brave. The boy did not comprehend; he had not understood the nature of a transfusion. After a moment, he looked up and said, “Doc, how long will it be before I croak?” As far as the boy was concerned he had been dying; slowly and willingly, he had stoically  watched the blood flow—drop by drop, expecting his sister’s life to mean his own death.

There, indeed, is the highest in human love. If this human love is to be seen in it highest degree, it will be through the words of Christ, who said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15.13).

Jesus willing let His life slowly fade away because He knew His death was the only way for us to have life!

Source: Timeless Illustrations for Preaching and Teaching by Donald Grey Barnhouse



 

 

Is Suicide an Unforgivable Sin?

In April 2010, my younger brother committed suicide. It is always difficult to lose a loved one; however, when they die at their own hand it just leaves you feeling guilty. You wonder why you didn’t recognize the signs, why didn’t they call to talk, where is the note telling how much they care. No matter who you talk to there is a sense that you should have done more, that you should have known, that it is somehow your fault.

Over the years, I have noticed that one of the first questions people ask is about the eternal home of those who commit suicide. As if the guilt of not being there to help them wasn’t enough, now the fear of wondering if their trying to escape what seemed like an impossible situation could have led them to an eternally worse torment. You see, there are those who believe that suicide is an unforgivable sin. There is no way you can take your life and repent afterward; therefore, the soul is lost for all eternity, forever separated from God. Clearly this is a question that needs to be addressed, and there is no better place to look than the Bible.

In the New Testament, Jesus teaches that the only unforgivable sin is “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” (Mark 3.22-30). Mark says the scribes were accusing Jesus of healing people by the power of Beelzebub—the prince of demons. The scribes believed Satan and his demons were behind Jesus’ power instead of the Holy Spirit. Jesus quickly warns that to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness and carries a punishment of eternal condemnation. To blaspheme the Holy Spirit, one refuses to acknowledge God’s completed work through Jesus Christ His Son.

This idea is clarified in 1 John 5.10, “He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son.” Here we are told the person who does not believe the Holy Spirit’s convicting witness about Jesus as God’s Son and our propitiation has made God a liar. Clearly those who do not believe in Jesus are declaring that the message from the Holy Spirit is a lie. The Bible teaches that God cannot lie and that Satan is the father of lies (Titus 1.1-2; John 8.44). Therefore, those who do not believe are calling the Holy Spirit a liar; which is another name for Satan.

There is no forgiveness for those who reject Jesus as the only way to heaven. Since suicide is clearly not ascribing the works of the Holy Spirit to Satan then it cannot be the unforgivable sin.

The Bible also helps us find hope in Christ’s finished work. There are several passages which show that at salvation we are forgiven of all sin—past, present, and future.

  • “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ”         (Romans 8.1)
  • “For He made Him who knew no sin [to be] sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5.21)
  • Jesus, “who does not need daily…to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself” (Hebrews 7.27)
  • Christ “with His  own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9.12b)
  • “…once at the end of the ages, [Jesus] has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9.26b)
  • “…we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10.10)
  • “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit…” (1 Pt 3.18)

These verses make it clear Jesus’ substitutionary atonement was once for all time. Those who believe in Him are justified before God. There cannot be any condemning accusation brought against them as Jesus has already taken their punishment. God has taken their sin and cast it as far as the East is from the West (Psalms 103.12). Since this is true, then the sin of suicide is among the many sins Christ has forgiven.

It has been four years since my brother’s death. Prior to his suicide I knew what I believed about forgiveness and suicide; however, in light of his death I was forced to put my faith to work in the promises of God. I spent hours studying God’s Word and praying for clarity and wisdom. In the end I simply had to trust God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, and the promises of His Word to keep those secure who have trusted in Him. I know the life my brother lived and the faith he had in Christ, so today I am sure that he is with Jesus in heaven.

In closing let me say this, in writing an article of this nature there is a fear that there may be those who say, “Hey I can take my life and still get to heaven.” Please, please don’t take all this as a reason to escape the troubles of this life. I have not written this to make it easier for you to take your life, but for those who live every day with pain because of a loved one who took their own life. The pain, loss, guilt, and fear we live with every day can only be softened by the hope that is found in Jesus. If your life seems hopeless and the only reasonable solution in your mind is suicide, please do me a favor and call someone. Go to a hospital, a pastor, a family member, a co-worker, or even a good friend. Just find someone and tell them you need help. There is hope for a better life. It might take time to overcome whatever is causing you such great pain, but I promise, if you will trust Jesus, He will lead you to an abundant life here and now. Please believe me, Jesus is your hope!

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (for the hearing impaired TTY 1-800-799-4889) or visit the website.

Incredible Inheritance

Holiness Day By Day

Years ago our pastor told about a southern plantation owner who left a $50,000 inheritance (perhaps equivalent to half a million dollars today) to a former slave who’d served him faithfully all his life. The estate’s lawyer duly notified the old man and told him the money was deposited at a local bank. 

Weeks went by, and the former slave never called for any of his inheritance. Finally, the banker called him in and told him again he had $50,000 available to draw on at any time. “Sir,” the old man replied, “do you think I can have fifty cents to buy a sack of cornmeal?” 

That story illustrates the plight of many Christians today. Paul wrote of preaching “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8) -referring not to financial wealth but to the glorious truths of the gospel. It’s as if each of us has $50,000 available in the gospel, yet most of us are hoping we can squeeze out fifty cents’ worth. We don’t understand the riches of the gospel any more than the former slave understood his inheritance. 

Suppose also that the slave was not only poverty-stricken but also deep in debt for back rent. With his inheritance, he could not only pay off the debt but also buy his house. His inheritance far surpasses his debt. This is the truth of the gospel. We owe an enormous spiritual debt to God; there’s no way we can repay it. The gospel tells us Jesus Christ paid our debt, but it also tells us far more: We’re no longer enemies and objects of God’s wrath. We’re now His sons and daughters, heirs with Christ to all His unsearchable riches. This is the good news of the gospel.

 Source: Jerry Bridges. Holiness Day by Day: Transformational Thoughts for Your Spiritual Journey (page 7) 

Come Drink the Water of Life

water of lifeI love to hear others talk about how they came to know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Their stories always cause me to reflect on that day thirty-nine years ago when I became a child of God. They also remind me that we are never so far gone that God’s grace cannot reach us, we have never committed so great a sin that His mercy cannot forgive us, nor have we ever fallen so far from our walk with Him that His love will not restore us.

Regardless of what you have done, the new life in Christ is within your reach. Call out to Him and He will offer you life-giving water. This water brings an abundant life of joy and peace; even in the midst of a terrible tempest you will be able to rest knowing that Jesus is always with you.

This morning Ray Comfort shared part of his testimony on his Facebook page. I think he painted a beautiful picture of how Christ Jesus brought him to life.  I hope this blesses your heart as it did mine.

Comfort writes:

I love the scene in the movie “Ben Hur” where a Roman soldier is marching condemned galley-slaves through the desert. They stop in Nazareth for a break, but as the thirsty slaves are being given water, the head honcho says that Judah Ben Hur wasn’t to have a drop.  Judah collapses on the ground and gasps “God help me…”  Suddenly, a shadow comes over him and a hand gently lifts his weary head from …the dirt, and pours water into his parched lips.  I have watched that scene numerous times and have never failed to sob like a child, because what I see is so similar to what happened to me in my conversion experience. At the age of 20, I began to think deeply about life. I was very successful, financially secure, extremely happy, healthy,  I was my own boss, had a loving and beautiful wife…and I was suddenly very aware that, despite all my happiness, I was waiting around to die.  It seemed that the whole of humanity was in a long line, moving closer and closer to a 1000 foot cliff, and was, one-by-one, jumping off to their death. It was as though everyone accepted the inevitability of it, and so no one was trying to get out of line. So I, ever so reluctantly, stood in line and waited for my turn. At the age of 22 I heard the gospel for the first time. I am not exaggerating to say that I was like Ben Hur laying hopelessly in the dirt, and Jesus turned my head and poured the waters of life into my parched lips. I cannot express the relief and joy I found when I received the gift of everlasting life. To try and explain it to a non-Christian is like trying to explain light to a man who has been born blind.  To use another somewhat lacking analogy, it’s like looking at a crying newly delivered baby. You know what he is crying for, so you put him on the mother’s breast, and he immediately stops crying. He is suddenly gratified. He was born with an instinct to suckle, but he had no idea what he was looking for because he had never experienced it before. I had no idea that in my darkness I was searching for light, until I found it in Jesus Christ (see John 8:31-32).  He is the one who said “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” And Jesus is the only one who can say, “… whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13).
To learn more about receiving Christ’s life-giving water,visit www.NeedGod.com or read God’s Purpose for You.

An Outrageous Love!

When we are truly in love with Jesus, there are no feelings within that can compare to the depth of love we hold for our Savior, Lord, and God. A genuine love for God requires every ounce of our being; there is no room for another. Nor is there a love like that between The Groom and His bride, between The Deliverer and the delivered, or between The Redeemer and His redeemed. A true love for Him consumes us. It compels us to “love the LORD our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength” (Mk 12.30).

Those who have never opened their hearts to receive this perfect love cannot fathom its depths. In fact, they think us foolish for demonstrating our devotion with lives surrendered to bringing Him glory regardless of the cost. They cannot comprehend the simplicity of thought that denies one’s self the temporal desires of this life in order to pursue the immeasurable, limitless, infinite pleasures which “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2.9).

However, those who have tasted the fruit of this sweet love gladly abandon their former worldly passions. They are no longer enticed by such bitter fruit, but are constantly satisfied and filled with a pure, unmerited, sacrificial love. A love with no pain, separation, or ending. They have gladly abandoned everything this world has to offer and counted it as loss that they might give themselves wholly to their one true love—JESUS!

It is curious that there are those who view such a love relationship with our God as foolish or strange. In his post “Oh, to Know Jesus!” Jon Bloom describes this relationship in simple terms that all can understand.

Bloom writes,

I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (Philippians 3:8).

One thing is for sure: Christianity is not for stoics. The Bible is the most wild, romantic book ever written. The New Testament is no cool, reasoned analysis of Jesus’s system of thought. It is a passionate book written by people who were ravished by Jesus, who felt and said ardent things like Philippians 3:8.

You know what the world calls statements like Paul’s? Religious extremism. Fanaticism. You “count everything as loss”? Sounds dangerous. Have you thought about seeing a therapist?

But the world is full of such talk when it comes to romantic love. We expect lovers’ language to be obsessive and imbalanced. Listen to the way the poet John Keats speaks to his beloved Fanny Brawne:

You have ravish’d me away by a Power I cannot resist: and yet I could resist till I saw you; and even since I have seen you I have endeavoured often “to reason against the reasons of my Love.” I can do that no more — the pain would be too great — My Love is selfish — I cannot breathe without you.

Keats’s overwhelming passion gave him a profound insight (in the same letter):

I have been astonished that men could die martyrs for their religion — I have shuddered at it — I shudder no more. I could be martyred for my religion.
 Love is my religion and I could die for that. I could die for you.

Paul is no fundamentalist extremist driven by fear or anger to force his creed on others. He’s a man in love. Keats idolized Fanny. Paul worshiped his Lord.

Christians are people in love with Jesus. He’s not our worldview; he’s our Bridegroom. We pour over the Word and pray to commune with our Beloved. Theology is only worth studying to help us know him! Preaching, teaching and evangelism is not our vocation or obligation but a longing that others know him too. “For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

Our love for Him is an outrageous love in the eyes of the world. It is a love that demands all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. It is not possible to express this love with mere words. No, it must be demonstrated through the works of genuine faith. It is a life designed to bring glory, honor, praise, and worship to our beloved. This love may cost us our goals, dreams, desires, or even our very life. Nevertheless, we gladly relinquish these ephemeral flowers, which are here today and gone tomorrow, in exchange for eternal love which has been poured out for us upon Calvary. It was there that Jesus’ love paid the dowry to remove any and all obstacles which would prevent us from being betrothed unto Him.

In a relationship that demands so much, one might ask, “What is in it for you?” Our Beloved gives us everything we need for life and breath and meaning. In Him we have light in the darkest of nights, warmth on the coldest of days, hope in midst of hopelessness, strength when we are too weak to stand, vision for eyes shrouded in darkness, love for the unlovely, forgiveness for the most egregious of sinners, rest for the weary, food for the hungry, and oh so much more. He is our Redeemer, our Sacrifice, our Propitiation, our Hope, our Light, and our Love, the God of all creation, and our personal Lord and Savior. Is it any wonder that we “count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus [our] Lord, for whom [we] have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that [we] may gain Christ” (Philippians 3.8).