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).

It’s Just a Wedding Ring!

This Saturday Shirley and I will celebrate twenty-three years of marriage. I remember back in 2004 when we were celebrating our ten-year anniversary. Over the previous few months she had been trying to convince me that I needed to buy her a ten-year wedding ring to mark this special occasion. My reply had been consistently the same during the six months leading up to our anniversary, “I gave you a ring when we were married so I don’t think you need another one.” I know that may seem mean to some of you, but that ring had special meaning to me. As the months went on, I kept up my resolve to not buy her a ring, well, at least in front of her. Secretly, I had been putting money away so that I could get her the anniversary present she wanted. Shirley had no idea what was coming that special night.

I remember we were sitting in the restaurant talking about how wonderful the past ten years had been together. We made it through college; we were serving God at a wonderful church; we had a nice house; two dependable cars; we were healthy, happy, and deeply in love with each other. To make things even better, Shirley was pregnant. Doctors had told us just a few years before we wouldn’t be able to have children and yet here we sat on our ten-year anniversary just months away from our first child’s birth. Life was great!

After dinner we continued to talk about all the wonderful things we had experienced together, and I slid the box with the ring across the table and told Shirley how much I loved her.  She immediately started crying, put the ring on, jumped up from the table, and started hugging and kissing me right there in front of everyone! She was overjoyed.

For her the ring was a symbol of my love for her. She didn’t love the ring but was grateful for what the ring stood for—my unconditional love and commitment to her. The rest of the week she was showing off her new ring. She never said to people, “I am so in love with this ring” or “I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with this ring” or even “This ring has made me the happiest person in the world.” Instead, she was saying things like, “I am so in love with Bob and look forward to spending the rest of my life with Him. Being married to him has made me the happiest person in the world.” She understood the ring was a token of my love. It is a constant reminder that regardless of what comes our way I will always be by her side until death do us part.

I share this story because it taught me a wonderful truth about God and heaven. I often hear people talk about how great it will be to go to heaven. They talk about its beauty and splendor and about how there will be no more pain, suffering, sickness, separation, or sorrow. They eagerly anticipate seeing their loved ones once again. They go on and on talking about heaven when the truth is it is just the wedding ring!

Heaven is going to be great not because of the streets of gold, the pearly gates, or getting to spend forever with our loved ones. Heaven will be unbelievably satisfying because we will be in the presence of God forever. We will be able to behold our Savior. We will be holy and righteous before Him. We will spend eternity with our one true love. Heaven will be great because we get God!

Heaven, like my wife’s anniversary ring, is simply an expression of God’s love for us. We won’t fall in love with heaven, we won’t develop a relationship with heaven, nor will we worship and glorify heaven. We will love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We will develop an ever-deepening relationship with our Lord. And we will worship and glorify Him without end!

I am thankful that Jesus is preparing such a special place for me to spend eternity; however, I am overwhelmed at the promise of spending eternity with the one who gave everything so that I will get eternity with Him!

Push Against the Rock

Once upon a time, there was a man who was sleeping at night in his cabin when suddenly his room filled with light and the Saviour appeared. The Lord told the man He had work for him to do, and showed him a large rock in front of his cabin. The Lord explained that the man was to push against the rock with all his might. This the man did, day after day. For many years he toiled from sun up to sun down, his shoulders set squarely against the cold, massive surface of the unmoving rock, pushing with all his might.

Each night the man returned to his cabin sore and worn out, feeling that his whole day had been spent in vain. Seeing that the man was showing signs of discouragement, Satan decided to enter the picture placing thoughts into the man’s mind such as: “You have been pushing against that rock for a long time, and it hasn’t budged. Why kill yourself over this? You are never going to move it.” Thus giving the man the impression that the task was impossible and that he was a failure.

These thoughts discouraged and disheartened the man even more. “Why kill myself over this?” he thought. “I’ll just put in my time, giving just the minimum of effort and that will be good enough.” And that he planned to do until one day he decided to make it a matter of prayer and take his troubled thoughts to the Lord.

“Lord,” he said, “I have laboured long and hard in your service, putting all my strength to do that which you have asked. Yet, after all this time, I have not even budged that rock a half a millimeter. What is wrong? Why am I failing?” To this the Lord responded compassionately, “My child, when long ago I asked you to serve me and you accepted, I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all your strength, which you have done. Never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it. Your task was to push.

And now you come to me, your strength spent, thinking that you have failed. But, is that really so? Look at yourself. Your arms are strong and muscled, your back sinewed and brown, your hands are callused from constant pressure, and your legs have become massive and hard. Through opposition, you have grown much and your abilities now surpass that which you used to have. Yet you haven’t moved the rock. But your calling was to be obedient and to push and to exercise your faith and trust in My wisdom. This you have done. I, my child, will now move the rock.”

Source unknown

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)

LOVE IS A VERY SPLENDID THING

Love is a very splendid thing

It has been said that “love is a very splendid thing.”

Of the endless list of splendid things I could say of my love, Shirley, one that comes to mind today is all the love and care she has put in over the years to record our lives in pictures. We have a cabinet full of photo albums that hold the treasure of our journey together.Cabinet of Photo Albums

Every once in a while we will pull out an album, sit side-by-side, and look through the pictures and talk about our memories of each picture and how much fun we had. When we finish that album, usually one of the three of us will suggest looking at another specific vacation or event. The pictures are a reminder of the love, joy, happiness, adventure, fun, and laughter we have had throughout the years. It also reminds us of how far we have come over the last 22 years.Family Photo Albums

The love and anticipation that we felt when we stood at the altar and exchanged vows doesn’t compare to that which we have now. Why? Because now we have experienced the events of life that have been built upon the foundation of the love and anticipation we felt all those years ago. We now have hindsight into what it took to get to this point.

It is remembering that in all the joy and sorrow, happiness and sadness, peace and pain, accomplishments and failures, hopes and disappointments that we can make it through together until death do us part.

There is another picture album I like to look through when individually I am struggling—it’s the Bible.

In the Bible I see one picture after another where the grace of God empowered and equipped men and women just like me to accomplish great things, even in the midst of fear, pain, and tragedy.

Some of the pictures of grace I see are:
• God’s grace upon Adam and Eve after they sinned. (Genesis 3)
• God’s grace upon Cain after he killed Abel. (Genesis 4)
• God’s grace upon Noah of wisdom for the message to preach and how to build the ark. (Genesis 6)
• God’s grace upon Moses to be able to speak and stay humble in the midst of great victories. (Exodus)
• God’s grace upon David to go from shepherd to king. (I Samuel 16)
• God’s grace upon the 12 disciples to leave their possessions, follow Jesus, overcome fear, preach the Word, spread the good news of Christ, and endure martyrdom. (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts)

Regardless of what we are going through, we can pick up the Bible and find pictures of God’s grace being poured into the lives of His children to help them through every possible challenge.

God’s grace still empowers believers today, just as it did those in Biblical times.

God’s grace is truly amazing. But not only is God’s grace amazing, it is also timeless.  In tomorrow’s post, we will explore 1 Corinthians 1.4-9 and see pictures of God’s Timeless Grace.

What challenges have you walked through where you found God’s grace poured out into your life? What struggles are you currently going through that you need an extra measure of God’s grace to help get you through?

God’s Timeless Grace is Part 2 in the Sermon Series Church 101: A Study of 1 Corinthians at Living Oaks Baptist Church in Tulsa, OK.

Join us at 10:45 AM each Sunday for contemporary music and worship as we continue the series Church 101.Saving a seat for you

Living Oaks Baptist Church 8855 E 91st St
Tulsa, OK 74133

No, I Won’t Bless the Food

PrayerDo  you pray before you begin eating a meal? I don’t mean “God is great, God is good, thank You for this food, Amen.” I mean a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving for God’s provision. I once heard of a family who prayed over their grocery sacks before unpacking them so they didn’t have to pray at each meal. I don’t think this is the right motive or means for giving thanks for the nourishment God provides through our daily bread.

In his post “No, I Won’t Bless the FoodDonald Whitney gives some great instruction on why and how we should pray before we begin each meal.

Whitney writes:

In my travels, at the start of a meal with Christian brothers and sisters, I’m often asked, “Will you bless the food?”

“No.”

My hosts sit there in stunned silence for a moment. Then, with everyone staring at me with awkward, “What do we do now?” looks, I’ll add, “But I’ll be happy to ask the Lord to bless the food.”

Maybe it reflects the limits of my own experience, but it’s been my observation that nowadays fewer followers of Jesus pause like this at the beginning of a meal to give thanks for what they are about to eat.

This seems to be true for individuals and for families, at home and in public.

Why the decline? As with all Christian practices and disciplines, unless each successive generation is taught the reason for something, it soon devolves into mere a routine, then an empty tradition, and then disuse.

Biblical origins of mealtime prayers

Have you ever been taught the biblical reasons for the Christian tradition of praying before a meal? To continue reading follow this link: No, I Won’t Bless the Food.