For the past two months, our nation has been held in the grips of, as President Trump said, an “invisible enemy.” But this “invisible enemy” is not Covid-19. Nor is it the loss of jobs and the bankruptcy of thousands of small businesses and the inevitable collateral effect that will have on our economy for years, maybe even decades, to come. No, the “invisible enemy” we face is fear. And fear is a result of a lack of faith, and a lack of faith renders even the strongest believer useless as His light-bearer (Matt. 5:14-16).
But we know that. Yet, for some strange reason, it doesn’t seem to have any effect on us. Why?
Because many of us as believers in the West have surrendered our rights and privileges as children of God (Romans 8:16-17), in order to live comfortable lives in this fallen world. We have made ourselves, as James tells us, “an enemy of God” because of our “friendship with the world” (James 4:4). Just spend a few minutes on Facebook and you can see the narcissistic cancer that runs unchecked in our culture today… even in the church.
These are truly desperate times.
But what are we to do? How can we prepare ourselves for what the Lord is allowing to happen? And what lesson is there to be learned from watching Him bring our evil and proud society to its knees by events beyond anyone’s control? What do we need to do?
Simply this: We need to grow in our faith and our relationship with our Lord like never before. Like there is no tomorrow. Because there might not be. We are not guaranteed tomorrow (James 4:13-16). No one is.
Now is the time for serious soul-searching. Now is the time to put Him first in all things and to lay up for ourselves “treasures in heaven” and not spend our lives collecting trinkets and toys on earth (Matt. 6:19-20). And the best way to do this is to truly understand what our life is all about and why God created each of us in the first place.
Welcome to John 15.
The Vine and the Branches
For the next few weeks, we will be taking a detailed look at John 15 and our Lord’s teaching about His relationship with His Father and our relationship with Him. We will see the example of a vine, a vinedresser, and branches. And most importantly, we will grow to understand the importance of fruit. More fruit (John 15:2). Much fruit (John 15:5). And fruit that will last and remain when all else fails (John 15:16).
Jesus began this incredible teaching by saying He is the true Vine, and His Father is the Vinedresser (John 15:1). Have you ever thought about the nature of a vine, its branches, and the vinedresser? After all, this is the example Jesus chose to teach us about this relationship.
The vine is planted by the vinedresser wherever the vinedresser desires. The vine has no say on where it is planted.
The vine is cared for by the vinedresser.
The vine is dependent totally on the vinedresser.
The vine’s only function is to produce fruit.
But the fruit is for the benefit of the vinedresser.
The glory of the vinedresser is his vine, but only if it produces fruit.
And the glory of the vine is its fruit.
The only function of the branch is to bear the fruit produced by the vine and for the glory of the vinedresser. It is good for nothing else.
And this is only the beginning. Join with us as we endeavor to grow closer to the Lord by becoming a fruitful branch of His vine, for the glory of the Vinedresser. Because at this time in our history, nothing else really matters.
The following is a study on John 15:1-2 on the Vine and the Branches.
Join us today as we look into Satan’s first shot at Jesus, tempting Him to turn stones into bread (Matt. 4:2-3). On the surface, this doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. But as you will discover, this temptation of Jesus is so effective against each of us today. In fact, I think you’ll see how easily we all fail and turn our own stones into bread.
“Command that these stones become bread.”
And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If (since, because) You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” (Matthew 4:2-3)
Intrigued? Good. Then let’s look at this incredible event together.
One of the vital truths regarding our desire to follow Christ is to fully understand our union with Him. After all, we are invited to become one with Him and are described in Scripture as being “in Christ.” In Romans 8 we are called “children of God” that are “adopted” into His family and are now “joint heirs with Christ.” Romans 6 tells us our old man has died and Christ now lives in us in the Presence of the Holy Spirit. But do we really understand the implication of what this means?
Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, states “Union with Christ is a phrase that summarizes several different relationships between believers and Christ, through which Christians receive every benefit
of salvation. These relationships include the fact that (1) we are in Christ, (2) Christ is in us, (3) we are like Christ, and (4) we are with Christ.” Ok, I’ve got that. But is there more to this union with Christ than dry theology? Can I really experience union with Him? And, if so, how is that done? What do I have to do to experience the fullness of my union, my relationship, with Christ?
Great questions. And the simple answer is, “Yes, you can know the wonder of our union with Him.” And the wonder of it comes with the invitation of Christ to be joined with Him.
Consider the following invitation found in Matthew 11:28. It is a familiar passage:
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Now, let’s see what it means by defining a few terms.
“Come to Me, all you who labor (to be worn out, fatigued, faint, weary) and are heavy laden (to overload, heavily burdened, like with the freight of a ship), and I will give you rest (to cease from labor, to refresh, relax, loosen, to be at peace or rest).”
Do you see the trust relationship implied in this invitation? Do you see Christ’s invitation to let Him carry your troubles and you rest in Him? To be united in Him?
Many of us struggle with this and ask how is that accomplished? How can I truly experience rest in Him? Is it just a mental thing? Or is it some sort of resolution I make and then fail at when things get uncertain or tough? Is it a mantra I go over and over again in my mind, like “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can”? Or is it something else?
Oh, it is definitely something else. Let’s look at the second invitation.
To Abide in Him
The second invitation reveals to us the “how” of our union and complete trust in Him. This invitation is found in John 15:4, and elsewhere in that chapter.
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”
Note the two-fold relationship. One, I abide in Christ. And two, He abides in me. This is vital. And “abide” means, “to remain, dwell, live, to make one’s home, to be united with one heart, mind, and will.” So I “remain” and “make my home” in Christ, “to be united with one heart, mind, and will” with Him. And He will “remain” and “make His home” in me, “to be united with one heart, mind, and will” with Me. This is what it means to abide.
As you listen to this podcast in order to understand more of this marvelous relationship we have with the Lord, remember the following:
The branch (you and I) does not produce the fruit. That comes from the Vine (Christ).
The branch does not secure the nutrients necessary to produce the fruit. That again comes from the Vine (Christ).
The branch does not position the buds to get the most sunlight. The Vinedresser (Father) does that.
The branch does not prune dead wood. Again, that is the Father’s job.
The branch does not provide water nor sunlight.
The branch does not participate in harvesting.
The branch (you and I) only bears the work of the Vine (Jesus) for the glory of the Vinedresser (the Father).
The key to all Christ has provided for us is found in a dependent, branch to vine, relationship with Him. He would not require from us what He has not equipped us to give. This kind of life is possible and provided for you and is the default position as a believer in Christ. But to experience the fullness of this relationship, we must surrender our petty desires to Him.
So, once again, the choice is ours. We can continue to live in lukewarm Laodicea satisfied with less than the abundant life Christ promised. Or we can jump into the deep end of the pool and surrender all to Him. It’s not complicated. It’s just hard. What do you want to do? The ball is in your court.
The following is a study on being Fully Surrendered to God from John 15.
How does one receive the Holy Spirit? Simple. As Peter said in Acts 2:38-39, you “repent” and “believe.” Which just happens to be the same requirements for salvation. After all, the guarantee of our inheritance in Him is the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14). This is a truth most Christians know and understand. No Holy Spirit, no salvation. It’s as simple as that.
But how does one experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit? How do we find our joy in Him? Or, how do we experience the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8) as a daily, living reality? How is that possible?
Consider the following:
Every believer has received the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is only received by repentance and faith in Jesus at salvation.
There is a fullness of the Holy Spirit that is usually greater than what is experienced at conversion. Your own experience confirms this truth.
As there are certain conditions for receiving the Holy Spirit, there are also certain conditions for experiencing the fullness of the Spirit.
They are primarily found in Romans 6 and 12.
Let’s dig a bit deeper, shall we?
Two Words: Deny and Surrender
The fullness of the Holy Spirit is found in the same way, and under the same conditions, as following Jesus. Do you remember the requirements Jesus placed on those who desired to follow Him? They are self-denial and surrender and are found in Matthew 16:24-25, among other places.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
Denial and surrender. Or, by letting the Lord be Lord over our lives. The same principle is required to experience the fullness of the Spirit. To experience the fullness of the Spirit requires the absolute, unqualified surrender of your life to God, to do His will and not your own. But this shouldn’t surprise you. You had to do this to receive salvation by declaring someone other than yourself as Lord.
Remember, when we surrender our sins and believe, we receive the Holy Spirit with salvation. And when we surrender our lives and believe, we are filled with the Holy Spirit. Why? Because the receiving of the Spirit is God’s answer to repentance and faith and the guarantee of our salvation. And, in a like manner, experiencing the fullness of the Spirit is God’s answer to a life surrendered to Him. When we are saved the Spirit enters into our life. But at surrender, the Spirit takes full possession of our lives and brings us the blessings that come from a life that is fully surrendered to God.
So the choice is ours. We can continue to live in lukewarm Laodicea satisfied with less than the abundant life Christ promised. Or we can jump into the deep end of the pool and surrender all to Him. It’s not complicated. It’s just hard. What do you want to do? The ball is in your court.
The following is a study on being Fully Surrendered to God from Romans 6.
When Jesus began His earthly ministry, His initial message was the same as John the Baptist. He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). And throughout the next three years, one underlying theme in His teaching was about life in His Kingdom. When Jesus sent out His disciples to preach His message, He said, “As you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’ ” (Matt. 8:11). Jesus even told those close to Him why He spoke to the crowds in parables. And His answer had to do with concealing from some the knowledge of the kingdom of heaven. He said, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matt. 13:11). Which begs the question, what does it mean to follow Jesus? And what is life like in His kingdom?
Finally, He shared parables specifically pointed to revealing what the kingdom of heaven, His Kingdom, was like. He said it was like a “man who sowed good seed in his field” (Matt. 13:24). Or, it was like a “mustard seed” which, being small, grew into a tree “so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches” (Matt. 13:31). Jesus likened His Kingdom to “leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened” (Matt. 13:33). And to express how wonderful His Kingdom is for those who possess it, He said it was like a “treasure hidden in a field” (Matt. 13:44) or a “pearl of great price” (Matt. 13:46) that was worth all one had on earth.
Jesus then asked His disciples, “Have you understood all these things?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord” (Matt. 13:51).
I wonder what our answer would be today? Do we understand His Kingdom? Do we fully know what it means to follow Him? Can we honestly say we are proficient in following Jesus?
I’m not so sure. And maybe you aren’t either.
What Does it Mean to Follow Jesus and Live in His Kingdom?
Let’s just take a flyover view of the first few chapters in Matthew and see if we can determine some principles and instructions for what it means to live in the kingdom of heaven. And then compare them to what we teach in church today, and I think you’ll be as shocked as I was.
Blessed… or Not So Blessed – Matthew 5:3-12 Self Identity – Matthew 5:13-16 His Standard of Righteousness – Matthew 5:20 Anger – Matthew 5:21-26 Lust and/or Sexual Sin – Matthew 5:27-30 Marital Relationships – Matthew 5:31-32 Oaths and Dishonesty – Matthew 5:33-37 How to Respond to Evil – Matthew 5:38-42 How to Respond to Haters – Matthew 5:43-47 Be Perfect – Matthew 5:48 Self-Promotion – Matthew 6:1-4 How to Pray – Matthew 6:5-13 How Much Forgiveness? – Matthew 6:14-15 Fasting and Other Disciplines – Matthew 6:16-17 Our Life Focus – Matthew 6:19-21 Everyone Serves Somebody or Something – Matthew 6:24 Worry, Doubt, and Fear – Matthew 6:25-34 I’m Right and You’re Wrong – Matthew 7:1-2 I’m Good and You’re Bad – Matthew 7:3-6 What is a Life of Faith – Matthew 7:7-11 Treat Others Like You Treat Yourself – Matthew 7:12 Turnstile or Interstate – Matthew 7:13-14 Fruit Inspector – Matthew 7:15-20 Doing and Not Just Talking – Matthew 7:21-23 Don’t Be Stupid! – Matthew 7:24-27 Minister Within Your Reach – Matthew 8:1-17 Everything Costs Something – Matthew 8:18-22
And so much more!
Remember, following Christ means to forget everything we think we know about everything but Him, and simply trust in child-like faith. Our entire reality now changes, as citizens in His Kingdom, to something incredible and supernatural.
Do you want to learn more about what it means to follow Jesus? If so, then keep listening.
The following is a study on What it Means to Follow Jesus.