Love, Obedience and Joy Go Together

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John 15:1 – 17

As I studied this passage, I was fascinated by how there seemed to be a repetition in what Jesus was saying to His disciples, that what He said in verses 1-8 were echoed or expanded in verses 9-17.  This really should not come as a great surprise though, for we must remember that chapters 13 to 17 of John’s Gospel all took place on the last evening that Jesus spent with His disciples before He was crucified.

If you or I knew that we were just about to die, then I’m sure that we too would want to be very clear to our family and friends that they hear and understand our last wishes.  And to make sure that they really heard us, we too would probably repeat the most important parts again to them.  It seems to me that this is what Jesus did.  And to help see this, I have paired the verses together from the two halves.  Jesus said:

1 “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener.

“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.

Both God the Father, and God the Son love you and I very much.  God tenderly cares for us as the Master of a beautiful garden.  It is a love relationship that ties us to God and God to us, and we must choose to remain in that relationship to experience His love.

    

He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.

10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.

Here we see that love and obedience go together.  Jesus modeled for us what obedience to God looked like, and showed that this is the path to experiencing God’s love.   When we truly love God, we desire to obey Him.  If we refuse to live in obedience to Him though, God will remove His watch care over us, and may allow painful events (pruning) to shape our lives to bring about positive growth in our lives.

    

You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!

As Christians, we must allow Christ to rule completely in our lives.  And we establish and maintain this relationship through regularly spending time in the Bible, God’s Word.  As we drink in the riches of His Word, we will experience such tremendous joy in connecting and communing with God.

    

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.

12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command.

All that we think we accomplish in this world mean nothing though in the light of eternity.  We need to pursue actions that have eternal significance, such as loving God and others, even as the cost of our own lives.  God will reserve our reward for us in heaven which will never be destroyed.

    

Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned.

15 I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.

All of us begin as broken, sin corrupted people whom God cannot tolerate in his holy presence.  We all deserve to be cast into the fires of hell.  But then God showed His love by sending Jesus to become one of us.  And Jesus showed His love by taking the punishment for our sin.  He then elevates us, who believe in Him, from being slaves to sin to becoming children of God and brothers and sisters to Christ.  Praise God for His great love.

    

But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!

16 You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name.

When we make that choice of accepting Jesus as the Lord of our lives, the things that He wants become the things that we want.  We begin to know God’s mind on important matters, and so when we ask for things from God, it is not out of our own selfishness that we ask, but rather a desire to see the Kingdom of God advance in the world.  Therefore, what we ask for will already be within the will of God and He will naturally want to give us those things that we are praying and asking for.

    

When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.

17 This is my command: Love each other.

The final result is that we will be true disciples, that is, as we follow Jesus, we will become like Jesus, and this will bring honor to God.  In practical terms, we will love others just like Jesus loves others, and was willing to die to demonstrate the love of God to the world.  Wow!!  What deep truths are contained within this passage.

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God’s Kingdom Will Come

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 19

We now come to the last chapter in this great book of Max Lucado’s that we have been looking at throughout this year.  As we have gone through the book, we have learned much about God and how He is very interested in and involved in our lives today.  That fact alone is a great encouragement to us, knowing that God is with us, guiding and helping us as we go through the difficult stages and events of life.

But now we must ask ourselves about what to expect at the end of our lives.  For those who do not even believe that God exists, or that there is anything past this life, they have absolutely nothing to look forward to at the end of their lives.  And that is why they try so desperately to experience and enjoy all that they can now.

But that is not really a satisfying answer for many people.  And for those who do believe that there is some kind of afterlife, there is often the accompanying feeling of fear or worry because they have no certainty that they will be granted access to the eternal life of joy and happiness.  Even those who joke about the idea of going to Hell would tremble at the picture of what Hell is really like as portrayed in the Bible.

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Blaise Pascal was a famous 17th century philosopher and mathematician.  He came up with what is known as “Pascal’s Wager“.  He stated that if we had to bet on whether God exists or not, then the obvious (or rational) decision would be to say that God does exist.  For if we gamble and say yes, and it is true, then we will win with eternal consequences.

Thankfully, as I believe, we do not need to wager as to whether God exists or not.  I work from the point of the resurrection backwards.  If Jesus (whom all people now state that he did actually live and die in 1st century Palestine), actually did rise from the dead, then all the things that He taught and claimed to be true, must be true.

Now giving evidence that supports the resurrection is a whole other topic, but I also believe that there is sufficient strength of evidence and testimony to support this.  Perhaps the best book I’ve ever read on this topic was written by Frank Morison called “Who Moved The Stone?”  Suffice it to say again, if Jesus did rise from the dead, then all that He taught about this life and the next life to come must be listened to as credible.

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And this brings us to the topic that Lucado writes about in chapter 10 of his book, namely that there is going to be a day when God will wrap up things here on earth and will usher in His eternal Kingdom.  This is really big news! And the Bible tells us that this will not be quiet or hidden like the first time that Jesus came to earth.  Mark 13:26 says, “Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory.

Jesus also talked about how His coming would be like lightning as it streaks across the sky.  Everyone is going to see this great event when Jesus comes back again.  But please note this, that great event will not be received the same way by everyone.  This is what Lucado says on page 158:

“There will be one monumental difference.  Some people will continue the confession they began on earth.  They will crown Christ again, gladly.  Others will crown him for the first time.  They will do so sadly.  They denied Christ on earth, so He will deny them in heaven.”

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 There is perhaps one aspect about the “Kingdom of Heaven” that some people sadly misunderstand.  There are many people who want to be included in God’s Kingdom, and many who believe that they are in fact going to be enjoying the rich blessings of heaven.  But if they have not made the King of the kingdom also the King of their lives here and now, then it will be too late when Christ returns to take His people back home to be with Him and the Father forever.

It is really quite heartbreaking to know that people all around us are unaware of the danger that is coming if they are not prepared to meet with God.  Matthew 24:37-39 puts it this way:

When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.

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But for those who have accepted Christ into their hearts and made Him the Lord of their lives, this future day (which may not be too far away any more) will be the greatest day ever in all of history.  No matter how difficult life may have been here while on earth, the eternal life of God’s presence and His blessings for those who have faithfully loved Him and His Son will greatly outweigh all that has been so painful to bear in this life.

Let me close with a beautiful quote from Lucado on page 159:

“Let this sink in.  You will see the face of God.  You will look into the eyes of the One who has always seen; you will behold the mouth that commands history.  And if there is anything more amazing than the moment you see his face, it’s the moment he touches yours.  “He will wipe every tear from their eyes”  (Revelation 21:4)

* If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please share it and invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

Jesus Suffered So That We Might Live – Pt 2

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 10

At the end of Max Lucado’s book, “GOD’S STORY, your story“, there are study questions and activities to consider that relate to each chapter.  I invite you to read the book, and look over the entire question and application section.  In my articles, I will usually only pick up on two or three questions and relate them to my own experiences.

                                          

Chapter 5: When God’s Story Becomes Yours….
YOU WON’T BE FORSAKEN

Question #1: What does “forsaken” mean to you?  Share a time in your life when you felt forsaken.  How did someone encourage you?

The word “forsaken” to me has got to be one of the loneliest and saddest words in our English vocabulary.  It would be one thing to go off by yourself and feel alone.  It would be similar if say perhaps you had an accident, like a boat crash, and you were marooned and isolated on a remote island.  Yet these two kinds of experiences would not be as bad as “forsaken”, because you could either choose to join people again, or at least have the hope that you could be rescued and be with people again.

But to be forsaken means that there were plenty of other people around, but they all left for one reason or another, and then you were completely left by yourself.  You were abandoned, and you had no hope of rejoining the group.  I recall very vividly the few times that a baseball game or football game was started in our park or school ground, and I was not chosen to be on a team.  Everyone lined up, and they took turns picking team mates.  I was the last one, and even then, neither captain of the two teams wanted me.  They left to play the game, and I was forsaken.

    

Thankfully I have matured past those silly old ball game days.  But at that age I do remember feeling left out of life itself and didn’t seem to be accepted anywhere.  I praise my God that He found me, and I found Him, and invited Christ into my life.  Ever since that, I have always known that I am accepted by God and would never be alone again.

As a Christian adult and aspiring missionary though, there was still a moment when I felt rejected and forsaken.  Jill and I had made a tentative start with one mission group, and had submitted our application.  But just as I thought they were going to accept us, they told us that “we were not ready yet”, and that there were some life issues and finances to get straightened out first.  I felt so rejected.  But again, I praise God that a caring friend a few years later said, “I thought you were going to be a missionary?”  So we moved forward again, and that time we were accepted and we have been doing Bible translation work ever since.

Question #4: How crucial is the cross to your personal story?  In what ways has the fact that Jesus died on the cross changed your life?  How would your life be different today if Jesus hadn’t died on the cross?

This is an easy question for me in some ways.  Simply put, without Christ and His offer of spiritual life through His death, I would be so truly lost and messed up, not just in this life, but for eternity.  I now know as I look back over the years, that if I had not accepted Christ, then I would have become such a self-centered and self-serving person.  But knowing that Jesus, God’s Son, gave up his life for me so that I could live, that helps me to give up my life to serve others in order that they too might live eternally with God in the glorious Kingdom that He will usher in one day.  All I can say is “Thank you, Jesus!”

                                          

[Editor’s Note:  In the “Ideas” part in this section for Chapter Five at the back of his book, Lucado challenges his readers to consider what we used to be like and how we felt before we knew Christ and accepted Him into our lives, and then what our lives became after we invited Christ into our lives.  He suggests making a list of the two sides, a “Before” and an “After” shot.  He provides some good examples for us.  I challenge my readers to look this chart over and then make a list.  You can use some of Lucado’s examples if they fit, but try to think of other features so you can reflect well on your true identity as it stands now by being “in Christ“.]

OLD

NEW

I was alone because of sinful choices.

I am complete in Christ.

I was accused and ashamed.

I am free from condemnation.

I was fearfully running from God’s purpose  for my life.

I am established and anointed.

I was lazy and unmotivated.

I am God’s co-worker.

I was harming my body with my actions.

I am God’s workmanship.

I was living without care or responsibility.

I am a royal priest in God’s eyes.

I was unethical.

I am honest and hard-working.

I was a bad parent.

I am a good, intentional parent.

I was feeling forsaken.

I am forgiven.

I was prone to wander.

I am a faithful spouse.

I was addicted.

I am dependent only on God.

* If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

                                           

[God’s Story, Your Story] Max Lucado.  Copyright [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011]  Used by permission.

Heaven Is Our True Home – Pt. 2

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 6

At the end of Max Lucado’s book, “GOD’S STORY, your story“, there are study questions and activities to consider that relate to each chapter.  I invite you to read the book, and look over the entire question and application section.  In my articles, I will usually only pick up on two or three questions and relate them to my own experiences. 

                                          

Chapter 3: When God’s Story Becomes Yours….
YOU FIND YOUR TRUE HOME

Question #1: In what ways do you long for the kingdom of God and heaven to come?  Instead of talking about what you imagine will happen, talk about why you want it to happen.  Share reasons you have for anticipating the day when all will change for eternity.

Many people ask the question about “Why is there evil?”  Or more specifically, they ask “How can God be a God of love when so many bad things happen in this world?”  I recognize the significance of these questions, but I believe the focus is wrong.  When these questions are asked, the focus is very man-focused, or can I say “anthro-centric”.  The Bible makes it clear that God created mankind with freewill and they exercised it and rebelled.  That is the primary reason for the broken world that we live in.

When I look at the picture this way, it does break my heart to see all the suffering and sickness, disease and death we have in the world.  It is not easy to live in developing countries like I have and not be affected by the suffering that goes on all around us.  And it is for this very reason that I yearn for the Kingdom of God to be fully realized here on earth.

Scripture promises us that all of our suffering will one day be gone completely.  Revelation 21:4 says, “and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”  As someone who himself carries the burden of a muscle disease, I long for the day when not only will I not have pain, but I will be able to “run and not get weary, walk and not get faint.”  (Isaiah 40:31)

Question #5: Why is it important that we not only enjoy the journey but also long for the destination of eternity with God?  How does this adjust the way we talk about “journey” and “destination” as Christians?

As I said in part one of this article, there is certainly a lot of beauty and good things in this world.  And there is no reason why we should not enjoy this world.  Isn’t it natural to want to take our family on a trip out to the mountains (that’s what I like) or to go swimming at a beautiful beach (that’s what my wife likes)?  Of course!  And it is good to want to share all of God’s glorious creation with those whom we love the most.

But let us remember that there is One whom we ought to love even more than our spouse; there is Someone who ought to be our closest most intimate Friend.  And that would be Jesus, our Lord and our Saviour.  So now let me extend my thought from above.  While we are on our journey through life here on earth, we can and need to share our joy with Jesus in our daily affairs.  But think about how much more special it will be to explore the universe and share that joy when we are with Him forever in heaven.

Everything that we thought was beautiful and glorious here and now will pale in comparison with how beautiful and glorious they will be in the new heaven and the new earth.  And we will have the privilege of sharing that joy and that experience with Jesus face-to-face.  Wow!!  I can hardly wait to go roam the galaxies with the Creator of it all.

Question #6: Describe how it might affect one’s life to believe there is “no more beyond” this world.  How should it change us to believe there is “more beyond”?

Paul said it very well in 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 when he said, “And if Christ has not been raised [from the dead], your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep [i.e. “died”] in Christ are lost.  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”  The entire Christian faith rests on this one central belief that Jesus died for our sins, but He also rose from the dead to prove He is God and can forgive us our sins and offer us the hope of life after death.

But if that is not true, then we will have lived a life of lies and we can only be thought of as fools.  If our belief is wrong, then all our self-sacrificing and serving others is pointless.  We might as well do as the agnostics and narcissists would do: “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”  If there is no “life beyond”, then we might as well get all we can for ourselves while we still can.

But we have such good grounds to believe that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead, that all of our sacrifice and service to others has meaning and purpose.  And in fact, knowing that all of us have such a short time to live here, and that an eternity awaits all of us, we ought to be even more concerned about the spiritual welfare of others before it is too late.  Therefore, believing there is “life beyond” becomes the motivation for evangelism.  Are you with me on this?

                                          

[God’s Story, Your Story] Max Lucado.  Copyright [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011]  Used by permission.

Why Pray? Why Read? Why Go?

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Read Hebrews 10:1

The Law is a shadow of the good things to come.   The Law which required sacrifices to be made day after day, year after year, could not make the people spiritually perfect in God’s sight.  So why do it?  Same questions today?  Why pray…why read the Bible…why go to church?

Can praying more prayers, reading or even memorizing more Bible verses, or going to church every week get us into any better position with God?  Yes and no.  These activities can bring us into a deeper more intimate relationship with God.  But these practices, or rituals, cannot in and of themselves, gain us any more credit with God.

So why do them?  Because just like the sacrifices, they in turn speak about the relationship we will have one day when we are forever with Him in heaven.  We pray now to God, even though we do not see Him.  We read His Word, which gives us spiritual light and life here, but there we will see the Living Word and be energized by His presence forever.  We attend a church to be encouraged by fellow believers, and become part of a small community of faith.  But in heaven we will belong to a community of believers whose number cannot be counted, from every nation and tribe and language on earth.

So when we pray, we connect with God.  When we read Scripture, we are illuminated by God.  And when we go to church, we share a worship experience of God.  But these are fleeting moments of great experiences with God.  Like the sacrifices of old, they point to a bigger picture, a bigger reality, that goes beyond this world of space and time, and helps us to see we are even now part of an eternity which will include walking and talking and living together with an Almighty God.  Wow!

“What I practice here in part, I will experience forever in full when I see Him face to face.”                   (A paraphrase for 1 Corinthians 13:12.)