Friday, March 30, 2007

John 15:1-17 --- Remain in Him

Scripture:
1"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. 9"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command. 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17This is my command: Love each other.


Insight:
Jesus makes some incredible statements in these passages. He appears to be talking to his followers who have already made a commitment to follow him because he uses the concept of “remaining” in him. However, he makes a sobering statement that if his followers do not bear fruit that they will be cut off and thrown into the fire and burned. This sounds like it has eschatological overtones making reference to spending eternity separated from God in hell. Jesus has gotten my attention. So, how do we know if we are truly connected to Christ? Check out our fruit. Do we have fruit? Is our fruit good? Are our actions Christ-like? Are our thoughts those of Christ? Are we selfish or are we selfless? Jesus says that if we, followers of him, are not bearing (good) fruit, then we will be cut-off. This is a serious statement that should make us all sit up and take inventory.

Jesus then tells us how to remain in him: “obey my commands”. He simply says that if we obey him as he obeyed his father’s commands then we will remain in his love. What are the commands? In verse 12 he lays it out for us: “love each other as I have loved you”. He then follows that up with “greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends”. Jesus is saying that just as he laid down his life for us in obedience to his father so we need to lay down our life for him (Jesus) and for others.

“But the disciples (followers) themselves must make an effort to remain. Remaining is not simply believing in him, though that is crucial, but includes being in union with him, sharing his thoughts, emotions, intentions and power. In a relationship both parties must be engaged. The divine must take the initiative and provide the means and the ability for the union to take place, but it cannot happen without the response of the disciple.” BibleGateway.com Commentary.

Here’s another aspect of these passages that is very encouraging to those who remain in him. He actually prunes (sanctifies) those who do remain in him and produce (good) fruit. When we remain in him, he actively works in our lives to make us more like him and this produces even more good fruit. God’s grace is incredible and at work in those who remain in him. We must respond to his pruning and allow it to happen. Cutting away the weak, unnecessary, and sick parts of our lives can be uncomfortable and often painful, but it ultimately makes us stronger and more useful to God. May God never stop the pruning.

One more interesting thing in these passages is that when we surrender to Christ and thereby begin to bear good fruit that lasts, we will be able to ask the Father for anything in the name of Jesus and it will be given to us. Wow, this is so incredible and powerful. Keep in mind that if we are truly and wholly remaining in him, what we ask will be his will and not ours.

It all begins with remaining in Jesus, obeying his command of loving others, and bearing good fruit that comes from a life surrendered and grafted into Christ.

Prayer:
Thank you Lord for Jesus. Thank you for giving us the living vine that is our salvation and life; both now and forever. We can produce no good thing apart from Jesus. Our only destination disconnected from him is death. Continue to prune me and thereby strengthening me. Make me more useful to you. May I produce more good fruit for your glory. Perfect in me a sincere love for others. Show me daily what this means and how I should live this out. Pour out your grace on me that I may love others, that I would daily lay down my life for Christ, and remain in him.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Matthew 5:1-12 --- The Beatitudes

Scripture:
1Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2and he began to teach them saying:
3"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
11"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Prayer:
Lord, thank you for leading me to your words of truth and life. I need you to continue your work in my life and this is a key area that I need more victory. Help me to finally and fully put my selfishness to death. I am tired of my selfishness and pride. I do not want to live for myself and be concerned about my own desires and comfort. I want to be poor in spirit, meek, merciful, pure in heart, and a peacemaker. I want to place others before myself. I want to serve you and others – not myself. I want to, no need to, value the feelings of others more than I do today. I want to live a life that is compassionate and tender towards others; especially my beautiful wife and children. God, sanctify me in this area. Do a miraculous work in me. I place myself at your feet and submit to your will in this area. Show me practical ways in which I can live out compassion, mercy, and tenderness. Change me and make me more like you today. I am wholly yours.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Philippians 1:9-11

Scripture:
9And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Prayer:
Lord, I want to have the fruit that is produced and flows out of a life lived in righteousness for Jesus. I desire to know that which is best; those things that please you; those things that bring you glory. I want to be sanctified and be made pure and blameless for your glory. This is your desire and plan for me as I am in Christ Jesus. Fill me with a deeper insight and knowledge of this reality. I want my love for you to reflect this in real ways. God, take me and use me to your glory and praise.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

2 Corinthians 10:17-18 --- Don't be like the woodpecker

Scripture:
17But, "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." 18For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

Insight:
What a wonderful reminder that we must remain humble at all times. It just doesn’t matter what we think of ourselves or even what others think of us. In the end it is only what God thinks of us that matters. He is the one for whom we should be living our lives. We must be careful not to think that we are the reason God is moving. He is moving and things are happening because he is moving. We should not seek the glory. We should always be quick to give God the glory. Yes, God uses us to help do his work. What an awesome privilege to be used by him. But, let’s never forget that it is God who does the heavy lifting and transforms.

I liked the following depiction found in the BibleGateway.com commentary about how we can sometimes think we are “making it all happen” and then ignorantly (or worse with pride) take the credit. “Some Christian workers are like the woodpecker who was pecking on the trunk of a dead tree one day when lightning struck the tree and splintered it. Not realizing what had happened, the proud bird exclaimed, ‘Look what I did!’” Let’s not be like that woodpecker. Instead, let’s give God all the glory.

Prayer:
Lord, may I always boast in you. I want to stay out of the way. I do not want my pride to mess things up. I want to decrease and see your name increase in all things. May I not seek the approval or applause of man. What foolish desires and motives. What temporal satisfaction. Lord, I want to please you, serve you, and give you the glory. Thank you for allowing me to be used by you.

Monday, March 19, 2007

2 Corinthians 7:1 --- Purify Ourselves

Scripture:
Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

Insight:
Remember the promises in verse 17 – 18 of chapter 6: “come out and be separate, touch no unclean thing and I will receive you. I will be a father to you and you will be my sons and daughters”. Paul is therefore stating that it is clear that we should purify ourselves and thereby perfect holiness in our lives. Why? Because God is God. Striving to live a holy life is the appropriate response to the promises of God's presence, his welcome, and his fatherhood. Paul calls the Corinthians to purify themselves to perfect holiness. He doesn’t say that they are already holy and just to sit back and let it happen. No, he tells them to take action and rid themselves of those things that “contaminate” their bodies and their spirits. Holiness becomes a reality as we purify ourselves from physical and spiritual pollutants. Purifying ourselves is to be done out of reverence for God. Additionally, Paul doesn’t talk about this being optional. So, let’s respond ourselves to God and his promises and heed the instructions of the Apostle Paul. Let’s purify our lives in Christ and for the glory of God.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

2 Corinthians 6:14-18 -- Fellowship with Who?

Scripture:
14Do not be yoked together (partnership or close relationship) with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” 17"Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you." 18"I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty."

Insight:
Many believe that it is a noble role of Christians to engage in and seek friendships with non-believers in order to reach our world. This is often referred to as “friendship evangelism”. However, how do we reconcile this theory of Christian life with Paul’s exhortation to not be in close relationship with non-believers? When Christ is in us, we are not to unite ourselves with the world. Jesus spent much time ministering to sinners (unbelievers) but he didn’t become close friends with them. Ministry, sharing, serving, and having compassion on others are completely different than yoking ourselves in close relationship with others. It is clear in scripture that we are to help others in need: both physical need and, more importantly, spiritual need. However, we must remember that we are to be “in the world, but not of the world” in close fellowship with the world (those living in darkness). This is not harsh. Rather, this is reality and Paul is instructing the Corinthians on this matter to protect them from being polluted by the world. We are called to remain pure and “touch no unclean thing” and our Father “will receive us”. So let’s continue to minister the gospel to the world, but let’s heed Paul’s warnings to not fellowship too closely with it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

1 Corinthians 15:9-11 -- work it out.

Scripture:
9For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Insight:
Paul presents an interesting picture of how we are grounded in grace. Yet, this produces action. However, this action too is grounded in grace and not a stand alone human endeavor apart from the grace of God. Here’s the deal, it is only by God’s grace that you are justified and it is only in God’s grace that you are being sanctified. However, like Paul, we must work out this grace and not let it be without effect. Paul says he worked harder than all of them. He didn’t say I rested in God’s grace, took refuge and just sat back and waited to see what might happen. No, he grabbed hold of God’s grace and understood it so much that he was propelled into action. He exercised the grace of God and by doing so was mightily used by God. Do you understand God’s grace? Are you driven to allow God’s grace to be effective in your life? Are you working out what he has worked within you?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 -- It's a race, not a Sunday social.

Scripture:
24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Insight:
So much for passive Christianity. Paul once again clearly portrays the Christian life as very interactive. It is a life of doing; of responding to who we are in Christ in an aggressive manner. We are not called to sit back and hope that everything will work itself out and that we will finish the race a winner. No, we are called run the race aggressively. We are are called to train ourselves (spiritual disciplines). We are called to fight. We are even called to "beat" our own bodies into submission and make it a slave (to righteousness rather than to sin). Why? So that we can live a happy life? No. We are called to live an aggressive life for Christ in which we forsake our flesh so that we may finish the race, not be disqualified, win the race, and get the prize. The Christian life is a race; not a Sunday social or an afternoon stroll. It is serious business with serious consequences; both for this life and the life to come. Be sober, be alert, be prepared, and run!

Prayer:
Lord, thank you for your grace that helps me run in such a way as to win. Thank you for helping me every step of the way. Thank you for Christ so that in him I can actually run the race without being disqualified. I am so lost without you. I am so prone to a life of selfishness and sin without you. Thank you for saving me and changing me so that I may run without being disqualified and instead win the prize.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Acts 8:39-40 -- "Beam Me" At Your Will

Scripture:
39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

Insight:
This is completely amazing and so cool. It appears as though the Holy Spirit instantly transported Philip to another place to perform additional ministry to others. Philip is so obedient to do the will of God that God actually did a Star Trek move on him and beamed him to his next mission. This is incredible. Who is to say God didn’t do this to others and doesn’t do this today to those who are so used by him and so abandoned to His will and service. God wants Philips. He wants people who are willing to do his will, listen to the Holy Spirit and obey Him. He wants people who are totally abandoned to His calling and service.

Prayer:
Lord, may I be like Philip. May I be totally abandoned to you and your will. I desire to serve you. I want to hear your voice and know your will in all things. I want to have the courage and obedience to just do it. Lord, use me. Direct me in your service. “BEAM ME” at your will.

Who Will Rise Up – Brother Jed!

I had the privilege of spending some time this week with George (Jed) Smock, founder of The Campus Ministry USA, as he was in town speaking truth on the campus of ASU. Jed is the real deal. His commitment to the Lord and his love for others is seen in his tireless dedication to preach the Gospel to over a million university students across the United States. He has been faithful to this calling for over 30 years. When I was visiting with Jed at dinner on Sunday night he indicated that he left his home and family in Missouri the first week of January and will not return until the first week of April. He preaches every week, Monday through Friday and hasn’t taken a sick day. Jed’s approach is considered controversial by many, but no one can argue with the results of thousands of lives surrendered to God because of his faithfulness and willingness to roll up his sleeves and do the hard work of an evangelist.

A couple of years ago God began challenging me with a renewed view of His Gospel; showing me the saving importance of both justification and sanctification; calling me to obedience; and showing me that through Jesus Christ and by His grace I am truly a new creation and no longer a slave to sin. During this incredible time in my life I read Jed’s book, “Walking in the Spirit: A Liberating Commentary on Romans 6, 7, and 8”, and it resonated with what God was showing me in his word. Jed’s book was used by God as an additional catalyst and confirmation to the incredible reality that I am no longer a slave to sin and that I am called to live a life of obedience today. This reality has resulted in a changed life, a life lived by the spirit and victoriously battling the flesh.

I encourage you to get a copy of “Walking in the Spirit”. It rocked my world and it will rock yours too. You can order it on Jed’s website at http://www.brojed.org/. I also encourage you to pray for Jed, his family, and his ministry. Finally, if you have the resources help support his ministry.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Ephesians 2:1-5 -- How do you live?

Scripture:
1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Insight:

Do you see the past tense that Paul used when talking about how the faithful saints in Ephesus used to live? They were dead in their transgressions, used to live in disobedience, lived gratifying the cravings of the sinful nature, and were objects of wrath. Then what happened? Christ made them new (alive) and they no longer lived this way in sin. When you accept the mercy and grace of Christ and truly surrender your life to him and live for him instead of yourself (repent), you no longer continue living in ongoing disobedience and sin. Rather, you will live to do the good works that he has prepared you to do. This is so incredible and refreshing. In Christ we are free from the grip of our sinful flesh – today! God’s grace empowers us to fight temptation, to say no, to live for him, to have victory. Victory is real in Christ.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Ephesians 1:17-21 -- Incomparable Great Power!

Scripture:
17I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

Insight:
This is Paul’s prayer for the faithful saints in Ephesus. It is so rich and provides us so much insight why we exist and who we are in Christ. Why should we want wisdom and revelation? So that we can be happier and more successful in life? No. We should desire wisdom and revelation so that we may know God better. Where do we get wisdom and revelation? It comes from God and the primary tool he uses to dispense these riches is through the Bible. Therefore, if we are to get wisdom and revelation and thereby know him better, we must be intently studying and meditating on God’s Word of Truth.

We also should pray that the eyes of our heart may be enlightened. Why? In order that we may know the hope to which we were called (you are in Christ and a child of God), the riches of his glorious inheritance (as children we have an inheritance), and his incomparable great power for those who believe (we have power today to live as Christ in complete victory as Christ lived). This power is real. God’s word is very clear that we have the power of Christ right now in this present age to live as Christ. For instance, we have the power to truly love others, to serve others, and to obey God. We have the power in Christ to no longer be slaves to sin, but rather slaves to righteousness. Christ was tempted in every way yet was without sin. That is incredible. This reality of having this power because we are in Christ means that we can (are supposed to) say no to temptation and live victorious lives for God just as Christ lived. However, it is only in Christ and because of this incomparable great power. Be all that you are called to be in Christ. Be free!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Galatians 5:16-18 - Live by the Spirit!

Scripture:
16So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want (note: rather you do what the Spirit wants). 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

Insight:
It is so hard to hear people argue that fighting sin and striving for complete obedience to God is falling into works and serving the law. I just read through Galatians this morning and again I clearly see Paul’s distinction between serving the law and serving God. It is all about your heart and where your motivation lies. However, the end result must be a life lived through Christ not gratifying the desires of the sinful nature. There is no argument made by Paul that fighting sin is an act of the law. In fact he is arguing that if you live for the law you will continue to sin. However, if you surrender to Christ and live by the Spirit you will fight your sinful nature and it will be crucified. So walking by the Spirit (v. 16) means fighting in a war between the Spirit and the sinful nature (v. 17). The connection between verse 16 and verse 17 indicates that those who live by the Spirit are not neutral in this war. They are committed to fight on the side of the Spirit against the desires of the sinful nature. This is the conflict of a thoroughly committed Christian who is choosing each day to "walk by the Spirit." If you truly belong to Christ, the sinful nature will be crucified (daily) and your life will not be characterized by living in sin. In fact, these verses indicate that if you’re gratifying the desires of the sinful nature and therefore are not living by the Spirit, then you are the one under the law.

Again, it is so sad to hear people twisting the Gospel and Paul’s teaching about living by the Spirit rather than by the law. The law is man-made rules. But many throw obedience and the pursuit of a righteous, godly and Christ-like life into the definition of the law and thereby excuse themselves from this pursuit. They do this because it takes effort to do these things and they define effort as a bad (legalistic) work. Effort is not bad and is not the definition of the law. Each day the Christian who chooses to walk by the Spirit is engaged in a fierce battle (effort) between the Spirit and the sinful nature. However, it is in Christ and by the Spirit that we receive the power needed for victory as we engage in the fight!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

1 Corinthians 5:9-11

Scripture:
9I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.

Insight:
Two things are interesting to me in this passage: (1) Paul is reiterating the view of Jesus that we are to live in the world and minister to the world but not to be of the world and (2) that Paul calls Christians to not associate with those who “call” themselves Christians yet are characterized by living in sin. The danger is the false Christian who has not surrendered their life to Christ and is causing confusion and temptation within the church.

Here is some commentary from BibleGateway.com that gets right down to the point of this passage: “Christians are to avoid familiar converse with all who disgrace the Christian name. Such are only fit companions for their brethren in sin, and to such company they should be left, whenever it is possible to do so. Alas, that there are many called Christians, whose conversation is more dangerous than that of heathens!”