Struggling With Depression?

-Let God Be God!

It’s incredibly freeing when you stop trying to be your own savior; and, everyone else’s savior too! To just let God be God! To admit you don’t know what to do next! To feel the helplessness of being out of control! Only then can you fully abandon yourself to the only One who can part the Red Sea; to the only One who can use 300 weaponless soldiers to overthrow a vast Midianite army; to the only One who can knock down a giant with a little stone; to the only One who can feed 5000 with a piece of bread and a few small fish; to the only One who can raise a Messiah from the dead to save a people from their sin!

-Thank God For Failure!

I can honestly thank God for all the times of failure in my life! I praise Him for allowing me to fail! Be honest with God! Admit you’re not big enough or strong enough or smart enough! Admit you’ve tried! But, praise him when your strength fails! Thank Him for it because your failure is the only thing that drives you back to the only One strong enough & beg enough & wise enough to fix it! Be honest with God when you’re afraid! King David wrote this Psalm during a time of fear:  “I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant with joy; their faces will never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him from all his troubles. The Angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them” Psalm 34:4-7. 

-Fear God! Not Circumstances!

Be honest with God when you’re afraid! Fear Him instead of your circumstances & He will deliver you from them; or, He will deliver you THROUGH them! Sometimes He removes them; but, sometimes He grows you THROUGH them! Be honest with God when you’re struggling with depression! And, praise Him anyway! I love Psalm 42:5. It’s a Scripture that has so impacted me that I’ve put it to memory:  “Why am I so depressed? Why this turmoil within me? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him, my Savior and my God.” The writer is asking himself why he’s so depressed! Why is he struggling with turmoil inside?

-Sing About Your Depression!

Do you ever feel that way? It’s okay to admit that to God! In fact, it was God who inspired the writer to include it in Scripture! And, let’s remember that the book of Psalms contained songs that Israel sang to God! So, they sang about depression! And, while I truly believe that, at times, depression needs to be treated medically as an illness, there are times in life when we just feel “blue” over the weariness of life!

-Overcoming The “Blues”

The best way to overcome those “blue” feelings is to place your hope in God & begin to offer Him praise for all the blessings He has given you! Praise Him because He alone can satisfy your soul! King David also was inspired by God to include these words in Psalm 63— ”My lips will glorify You because Your faithful love is better than life. So I will praise You as long as I live; at Your name, I will lift up my hands. You satisfy me as with rich food; my mouth will praise You with joyful lips” vs. 3-5.  Oh that God would bring all of us to that place where we would see that He is all we need! That we would truly live like we believe that His faithful love is really better than life! That our souls would be satisfied with Him alone! That all the other created things that we enjoy in this world would pale in comparison to the beauty of our Great God!

Trip Hazard!

-We’re Our Own Biggest Problem!

There are several verses, in the Old Testament book of Psalms, that bring “trip hazards” to mind as I read them! This wisdom literature points us to ourselves! We, ourselves, are probably the most problematic “trip hazard” that we face as we attempt to walk with God. For example, Israel’s King David says that any unconfessed sin we hold onto will harm our health! “When I kept silent, (about my sin),” he says, “my bones became brittle from my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy on me; my strength was drained as in the summer’s heat” (Psalm 32:3).  Even our bones become brittle when we hold onto our sin! Our strength is sapped like every day is a 100-degree day!

-God’s Heavy Hand Against Us!

God’s hand is heavy against us as long as we refuse to confess our sin to Him! “But,” he says, “Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not conceal my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and You took away the guilt of my sin” (v.5).  I vividly remember carrying the burden of my sin as a 13-year old boy. But, when I confessed my sin & accepted Jesus’ payment for my sin, by His death on the cross, I remember how my guilt vanished! What a great Psalm! Mark it in your Bibles! You’ll need it when Satan comes to accuse you of your sin— ”You say you’re a follower of Jesus? And, look at you! You’re nothing but a sinner!”  Rebuke the devil! Remind him that you’ve been forgiven for every sin you’ve ever committed! Once & for all they were nailed to Christ’s tree of crucifixion. Your sins are forgiven by the blood of Jesus! God promises never to count them against you again! He makes you righteous in Christ!

-You Really Aren’t Strong Enough!

But, there’s another way that we are our own worst “trip hazard.” We get in the way when we think that we can do life in our strength! One of the clearest signs we have a problem, in this area, is our lack of prayer & our lack of time spent in Scripture! When we fail to pray & when we fail to read His Word, we’re telling God—by our actions—that, “I Got This! I don’t need your help, God!” We erroneously think we’re strong enough! We’re wise enough! We trust our resources! The nation of Israel’s failure, in this area, should serve as a warning to us:  “A king is not saved by a large army; a warrior will not be delivered by great strength. The horse is a false hope for safety; it provides no escape by its great power” Psalm 33:16. Large armies won’t save us!

-Fear God!

The great strength of a warrior will not deliver him! A horse’s great power offers false hope! Our strength & intelligence & ingenuity is a curse when we depend on it to save us! Rather, “The eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him—those who depend on His faithful love to deliver them from death and to keep them alive in famine. We wait for Yahweh; He is our help and shield” Psalm 33:18. We need to fear God for His great power! Depend on His faithful love to deliver you! He alone should be our help & shield! Though it’s never fun when our world is crashing around us, it proves to be a blessing when we see God turn things around! And, He’ll only do that after we’ve come to the end of ourselves! When all our resources & all our strength & all our wisdom just isn’t enough! It’s incredibly freeing to stop trying to be your own Savior; and, everyone else’s Savior too! To let God be God; and, admit you don’t know what to do next!

Praise God!

-Your Deepest, Darkest Secret!

Do you realize that you really can be honest with God about everything! Even the deepest, darkest secrets— that you’re reluctant to share with anyone— you can share with God! You can tell Him everything! He already knows how you feel; so, just be honest with Him! Be transparent with Him— “Lord, I know I shouldn’t feel like this; but, I do! Help me!” And, when He answers your prayer, offer Him praise! That’s the pattern we see in Scripture! For example, the writer of Psalm 30 says:  “LORD my God, I cried to You for help, and You healed me” (v.2).  King David wrote that Psalm. He cried to God for help & God answered!

-Don’t Put Limitations On God!

And, don’t limit your understanding of God’s healing to the physical. There is a spiritual & emotional part of you also! And, there are times when life is so painful that we need God’s healing in all three—physically, spiritually & emotionally! Perhaps David is alluding to some pain that was self-induced by his sin because he speaks of God’s anger a couple of verses later:  “Sing to Yahweh, you, His faithful ones, and praise His holy name. For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor, a lifetime. Weeping may spend the night, but there is joy in the morning” (30:4).  And, he concludes this Psalm with this praise to God:  “You turned my lament into dancing; You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness so that I can sing to You and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise You forever” (30:11-12). 

-Don’t Depend On Improved Circumstances!

What began as a Psalm of lament, David says, God has turned into dancing! And, for that He praises God! We need God’s help to speak the gospel into every negative situation of our life! God will redeem it all! Just remember that our worst day in heaven, with Him, will still be better than our best day in this life! Keep things in perspective! Don’t depend on your circumstances to improve! They may! But, they may not! But, God is faithful even when the circumstances are not! Depend on Him regardless of your circumstances.

-Brokenness Into Dancing!

By Jesus’ work on the cross, God removes the great canyon between Himself & us— that our sin created— and, He turns our brokenness into dancing! Offer Him praise! So, be honest with him about your suffering! But, don’t stop there! Be honest with Him about your sin; because He forgives! And, then, praise Him for that! Praise Him for forgiveness! There is no bigger burden you can carry through life than your sin! Again, it’s David who writes the 32nd Psalm out of deep shame & guilt over his sin! But, he no longer lives under the weight of his sin!

-Experience Forgiveness!

He’s experienced forgiveness! Look at the start of his psalm:  “How joyful is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How joyful is the man the Lord does not charge with sin and in whose spirit is no deceit” (Psalm 32:1-2). Do you lack joy in your life? Is it because you’re haunted by your past sins? They can be forgiven! God gladly forgives sin & covers it by the shed blood of His Son, Jesus, on the cross! But, forgiveness comes when we get honest with God! No more deceit, David says here! We have to own our sins! Own our misdeeds! Then, we have to humble ourselves before God & agree with Him that we’re guilty of sin. That’s what David says next:  “When I kept silent, my bones became brittle from my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy on me; my strength was drained as in the summer’s heat” (v.3). Our unconfessed sin even harms our health! So, ask God to forgive! He will!

You Want To Be Happy?

-It Begins With Your Relationship With God!

So, we’ve spent the last few posts talking about being happy! And, about what that looks like through the grid of Scripture! According to Psalm 1, God’s word says that your level of happiness is directly related to the depth of relationship you have with Him! Let’s look a little deeper at that Psalm! The writer, inspired by God’s Spirit to write these exact words, says that your happiness also depends on what you meditate on! It says in v.2, “…his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night.” The happy person is happy, in part, because he meditates on God’s word at all times throughout his day!

-Meditating On God’s Word!

In the original language, that word we have translated “meditate” means to speak or to mutter! So, the writer says that meditating on God’s word means that you speak to yourself; or, you mutter the words of God to yourself all day! You wanna be happy? You find happiness when you chew on the word of God! When you speak & mutter the word of God to yourself day & night! There is no end to the applications we can make from God’s word! His word is eternal in its depth of wisdom! It’s impossible to plumb the depths of it in this lifetime. 

-The Fruit Of Your Life!

The writer of this Psalm also gives us one more significant point to mull! Your happiness, he says, depends on the fruit your life bears! He sums it all up here! The person who rejects the advice of the world; who delights in God’s Word; and, who meditates on it day and night, “…is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers” (v.3).  Every life bears fruit! In this Psalm, the writer points to 2 different kinds of people who have 2 different ways to live their lives; and, who bear 2 different types of fruit! So, choose wisely who you listen to!

-Two Different Kinds Of Fruit!

The Apostle Paul picks up on this theme in his church letter to the Galatian believers. He writes that one way produces the fruit of the flesh:  “… sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these” (Galatians 5: 19-21).  While the other way produces the fruit of the Holy Spirit:  “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness & self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).  The Psalmist concludes with the end; or, the resulting fruit from the 2 different ways to live your life:  “…the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1:5,6).

-Judgment Day Is Coming!

In this life, the way of the righteous & the way of the wicked may appear to run parallel! The way of the wicked often looks pleasant & fun! But, there is coming a judgment; a day of reckoning when those who took their advice & counsel from God’s word; and, delighted in it; and, meditated on it, will be gathered into a glorious congregation around the Throne of God! Forever they’ll enjoy eternal happiness! While, the wicked will face the Great Judge of all the earth; who will give them what they always wanted—an eternity without God! The Lord watches over you if the advice you follow & the things you take delight in & the content of your meditation bear the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit! If you don’t have this, you need help! Jesus said: “You will know the truth & the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). That delivers happiness!

Lessons Learned The Hard Way!

-Last Post Until September 16! Vacation Time!-

 

-Experience, The Great Teacher!

Some lessons in life are learned the hard way. For example, putting a can of soda in the freezer, to get it cold, may sound like a smart idea! It’s NOT! Also, if you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur! Cheaper isn’t always better, is it? Some lessons are hard and painful to learn! I’ve watched kids, at the zoo, learn one of life’s lessons the hard way— don’t mess with the geese! I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve seen a kid chasing after a goose; only, a little later seeing him run the other way with the goose in hot pursuit! I love what someone said about learning lessons the hard way: “Experience is a great teacher; and, a fool will learn no other way!”

-Gaining Wisdom!

Don’t be that guy! I big part of the wisdom gained, from reading Scripture, is learning from the hard lessons others learned the hard way! I don’t want to sound arrogant or be overly critical of Israel’s constant failures because I’ve been equally as guilty of falling into sinful patterns in my own life. But, don’t you just wonder sometimes if they’re ever going to learn some of the lessons God puts in front of them? Over and over they fail to listen to God’s Word & the results are never good!

-Don’t Be Foolish!

I want to challenge you, in this post, to learn God’s lessons well! Don’t be foolish & hard-hearted & stiff-necked like Israel often was! Be committed to reading God’s Word! To hearing God speak! And, determine to trust whatever God says! With your whole heart! A devotion to obeying God’s word will keep you from sin; but, sin will keep you from obeying God’s word! You can have no better life than the one spent in obedience to God! Don’t be the fool that finds out the hard way! God is good! He is gracious! He is merciful! He promises to forgive every sin when you trust Jesus’ work on the cross to atone for your sin!

-You Reap What You Sow!

But, you will reap what you sow! That is a principle in God’s word! He will forgive the sin of the drunkard who weaponizes his car & crosses lanes, killing someone driving in the other lane! But, God doesn’t give him back the arm that he also lost in the crash! Though God offers grace to endure the terrible consequences of our sin, He doesn’t always remove the consequences! I’ve found it deeply disturbing to read the account, in Joshua chapters 7 & 8, of Achan’s sin.  God had commanded Israel to set apart, for destruction,  all the plunder from a military victory over Jericho!

-What If He Had Repented?

But Achan disobeyed; and, he had done so secretly! I’ve often wondered what might have happened if he had quickly acknowledged his sin? What if he would have come running to Joshua with the stuff he had taken; and, confessed his sin & asked God for forgiveness? In the epistle of 1 John, it’s recorded, “If we say, ‘We have no sin,’ we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:8-9). I can only imagine that the story, for Achan & his family, would have had a happier ending if he had only confessed his sin & repented quickly! But, he did not confess until he was caught! Until he was found out! And, his sin resulted in the death of himself, his family, and 36 men in Israel’s next battle! God’s judgment for unconfessed, hidden sin was harsh! God, help us to learn well this lesson; and, not to learn the hard way!

 

Yahweh: Merciful & Gracious!

-Living With Shame & Guilt!

Bettina Goering is the great-niece of Hermann Goering, one of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi leaders, who founded the Gestapo Secret Police & helped organize the holocaust. In a newspaper interview, from May 2016, she revealed how she & her brother were voluntarily sterilized.  “I had my tubes tied at the age of 30,” she said, “because I feared I would create another monster.” Monika Hertwig lives with the haunting memories of her own father, who was the commandant of an Auschwitz prison sub-camp. He was hanged, in 1946, for the murder of 10’s of thousands of people, at least 500 of them by his own hands.  “He liked to shoot women with babies in their arms from the balcony of his house,” she recollects, “to see if one bullet could kill two.” And, then she asks out loud, “How much of the murderer is in me? These are the things that torment me.”

-The Shadow Of Family Sin!

I find it haunting how the relatives, of Nazi war criminals, try and deal with the shame & the guilt they feel. What a tragedy that they continue to live in the shadow of the sins of family members! Could that be, in part, what Exodus 20:5 is referring to when it says, “You shall not bow down to idols or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” Could the guilt & shame, their offspring feel, be, in part, the punishment that they endure?

-Yahweh! God Of Compassion!

There’s a similar passage, in Exodus 34, that follows Israel’s breaking of the covenant, with God, when they made an idol, of a golden calf; and, worshipped it! “The Lord came down in a cloud, stood with him (Moses) there, and proclaimed His name Yahweh.  Then the Lord passed in front of him and proclaimed: Yahweh—Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth,  maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation. Moses immediately bowed down to the ground and worshiped” Exodus 34:5-8.  There’s perhaps no greater example, of God’s grace & compassion, then that passage! Israel broke the covenant with God! They didn’t believe God at the Red Sea! They complained against God & Moses in the wilderness! When would enough be enough? I wanna tell you that you all ought to be glad that I’m not God! I’m equally glad you aren’t; because, none of us have God’s love, grace & mercy for sinners!

-The Way To God!

Sin devastated man’s relationship with God! So, God established the sacrificial system for Israel, His covenant people, as a way for them to worship Him & restore fellowship with Him! It provided for repentance and forgiveness! Hebrews reflects back on the Old Testament sacrificial system:  “According to the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” Hebrews 9:33. No sacrifice! No forgiveness, God says! If you study each of the 5 sacrificial offerings, in the book of Leviticus, you’ll see how they foreshadow the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus’ life on the cross! Galatians 3:24 says, “The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith.”  The old KJV says, “The law was our SCHOOLMASTER…” that hands us off to Jesus Christ, God’s ultimate sin sacrifice!

 

Jesus Fulfilled The Law!

-The Law Reveals God’s Character!

The law, of God, reveals the character of God! It speaks to His righteous judgment & His love! Some people want to “judge” God because He judges people! But, His love clearly balances out His judgment:  “…I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the fathers’ sin, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me,  but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commands “ Exodus 20:5-6.  He judges & punishes sinners to the 3rd or 4th generation; but, He shows love, His “faithful love”, to a thousand generation those who love Him and keep His commandments! He is a kind, benevolent God!

-But, We Have A Problem!

Our problem, as the human race, is our pride & arrogance that keeps us from being open to God’s revelation about the truth of our sinfulness! The depth, of our brokenness & depravity, is such that we’re not even aware of all the times we sin against God. This is why God gave us the law; to, reveal our sin! The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Rome:  “What should we say then? Is the law sin? Absolutely not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin if it were not for the law. For example, I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, Do not covet” Romans 7:7.  Paul, under the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit, says that I wouldn’t even know that it was a sin to covet or lust after my neighbor’s wife if God’s law didn’t call it sin!

-The Law Is A Mirror!

So, the law acts as a mirror, revealing & reflecting our sin back to us! As Israel moves into the land, one sacrifice God tells them, to offer, is for all their “unintentional” sins.  In other words, God points out, to us, that it’s impossible for us to even name & confess all our individual sins because there are so many! God’s law reveals God’s 2 overarching concerns; and, we talked about this last week— Love GOD & Love PEOPLE! In that order! When we get our “vertical” love— for God— right, we’ll get our “horizontal” love— for our fellow man— right! Though God gives us His 10 Commandments, in Exodus ch.20, He actually expands on them in Exodus ch.21. He gave them laws in regard to slavery; and, laws regarding personal injury; and, laws, about theft; and, crop protection; and, personal property. He gave them laws about seducing someone & capital crimes; and, laws about protecting the vulnerable, the foreigner & the marginalized. And, Jesus came to fulfill the entire law!

-The Heart Of The Law!

That’s what He said! He didn’t come to abolish the law; but, to FULFILL it! Jesus loved God & His fellow man perfectly! There was no sin found in Him! Jesus also taught that the “spirit” of God’s law was more about the “heart” than the “letter.” He said, for example, that when we hate our brother that we murder them in our hearts! And, when we lust after someone, we commit adultery with them in our hearts! There is no way we can overstate God’s concern for the way that we treat each other; or, the way we think about one another; or, the way we talk about one another! God is concerned with justice! And, God’s law reveals the principle of “sowing and reaping” also! We’ll talk more about this next post! But, God’s bottom line is that the obedient life really is the best life we can experience! God honors those who honor Him!

 

When Church Culture Meets Needs!

-Haunted By A Scripture!

I grew up in a church culture that did relatively nothing to meet “physical” needs! It was argued that if you gave people money that they’d just spend it on booze & cigarettes & drugs. So, don’t give them anything, we were told! We had no food pantry to provide for the hungry in our city! We had no benevolent funds to assist with other needs! And, yet we thought we were being faithful to God’s Word.  But, there’s a scripture, in James, that always haunted me as I read it:  “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows” James 1:27.  What do you do with that?

-Playing The Legalist!

How can we just dismiss that? Or, play the “legalist” and limit the spirit of the text to caring for orphans or widows exclusively. At the same time, we cannot just be preoccupied with physical needs and omit the sharing of the Gospel! That’s the problem with many socially-minded churches! If we limit our care, for them, to physical needs & never share the Gospel, with them, all we’ve accomplished is to keep them alive longer, only to prolong their ultimate meeting with God @ the judgment, whereupon their unbelief will be exposed! It’s not “good deeds” or the “Gospel.” It’s not an EITHER-OR! It’s a BOTH-AND decision we must make!

-What Is Pure Religion?

To James, pure religion is not the RESULT of good deeds; but, RESULTS in good deed! We don’t take care of the orphan, the widow & the poor in order to ATTAIN pure religion! Rather, when our religion is the pure Gospel, of Jesus Christ, we become Jesus “in the flesh” when we meet the needs of the orphan, the widow & the poor! “Not by works of righteousness that we have done; but, by His mercy He saves us” Titus 3:5.  Salvation is “…not of works, so no one can boast…” Ephesians 2:9.  But, when we humble ourselves & trust Christ’s atonement work, on the cross, He changes us inside & the Holy Spirit gives us the heart of Jesus! As we are sanctified & grow, in our faith, we’ll want to meet the physical & spiritual needs of the down-trodden, of our world, just like Jesus did! This ought to be a core ministry value for the church!

-A Change That Includes Service!

Look again at that verse in James; but, this time let’s back it up one verse & see how it flows, in context, from one verse to the next:  “If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself. Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” James 1:26,27. Notice how James lumps together 3 very practical evidence of pure religion; or, 3 areas of obedience that evidence genuine saving faith— 1) Self-control in your speech; 2) A Ministry of Compassion to the needy; and, 3) Practical holiness. See that? Inspired by the Holy Spirit, James places ministry to the needy & cleaning up a potty mouth on an equal plane as living a holy life! More on that next week!

 

Give Up Your Life!

-Great In God’s Kingdom!

In my last post we talked about the kind of life that Jesus called great! We picked up on His conversation, with the disciples, after two of them— James & John— asked if they could sit in the seat of power, next to Jesus, in His Kingdom.  “Jesus called them over and said to them, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them.  But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many” Mark 10:42-45.  In so many words, Jesus was teaching them that if you’re great in God’s Kingdom, that this world probably won’t even notice you!

-Slave Or Servant?

Jesus calls you great when you reject the world’s leadership style (v.42). He also calls you great when your ministry is measured by the people you serve (v.43).  But, there are 2 more points I’d like to draw out, from this text, related to what Jesus calls great.  He also calls you great when you humble yourself & become the world’s slave (v.44).  We touched briefly, on this point, in our last post.  The word is “doulos” in the original Greek language; and, it can only be translated accurately as “slave” in the English. So, while the Holman version actually translates it “slave”, many translations choose to use the word “servant.” And, while they can be credited with sensitivity for choosing to translate the word as “servant” because the history of slavery, in America, is so repulsive & offensive, we probably ought not change the word Jesus used.

-The Humility Of A Slave!

He meant for us to take on the humility, of a “slave,” when it comes to our ministry & service. In this way, we actually serve like Jesus did:  “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,” the Apostle Paul wrote, “who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave” Philippians 2:5-11.  In other words, Jesus didn’t use His title— GOD— as a BIG STICK! In His incarnation, He took the form of a SLAVE!

-Suffering For Others!

Finally, from Jesus’ words here, we discern that He calls you great when you give up your life to suffer for others (v.45). Even Jesus suffered for others, willingly, all the way to the cross! He served ‘til it hurt! ‘Til it killed Him! And, you image Jesus when you live your life similarly! That’s probably not going to get you a fancy TITLE; or, the corner office in the big corporation! But, it will get you a “Well done, good & faithful servant” from Jesus! You may have noticed that the focus, in this post, was not on spiritual gifts, the reason being, that, the greater emphasis, in Scripture, is on the heart attitude toward ministry rather than giftedness or knowledge! Jesus emphasis humility over giftedness; and, the power is never said to be in our GIFTS; but, in the Holy Spirit! So, how will you respond to needs around you? I hope like Jesus did!

 

Is God Pruning You?

-Pruning Produces More Fruit!

My parents used to grow grapes; and, there were times when they had to cut away the dead branches that produced no grapes! But, they also cut back “living” branches; so, the vine would use it’s resources to produce more “fruit”—GRAPES! In the timeline, of John 15, Jesus is preparing His disciples for life after His death, resurrection & ascension. He begins with these words: “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 does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (vs. 1-2).

-Things To Come!

As you move, through the rest of the chapter, Jesus tells them that 2 things will come after his departure. First, He says there will be defections from inside the faith; or, inside the church body! People, who claimed to be followers of Jesus, will walk away from “the Faith.” They’ll quit! It’s not for them! And, second, Jesus tells them there will be persecution from the outside! Bogus faith inside the church & suffering from the outside! And, He uses the metaphor of a vine, a branch; and, the fruit produced, to illustrate the difference between a true disciple of Jesus and a fraud! Jesus is the Vine! The Father is the Vinedresser! And, there are 2 different kinds of branches here—ONE that bears NO FRUIT! And, the Father REMOVES it! And, the other—that produces FRUIT! And, the Father prunes it so that it produces more fruit!

-Responding To God’s Pruning!

So, here’s the bottom line—It is our RESPONSE to God’s pruning that proves what kind of branch we are! Are you a dead branch that produces no fruit? Or, a living, healthy branch that responds to the painful process, of pruning, by producing more fruit? Let’s talk about some of the points that Jesus makes, about fruitfulness, through His use of the metaphor of the Vine & the branches! First, He clearly indicates that fruitfulness is expected from every genuine disciple of Jesus. In the first 3 verses, of John 15, He says that if you don’t bear fruit, it’s because you’re “not abiding” in the Vine! In other words, you’re NOT “IN CHRIST.” So, what kind of fruit should we expect to see growing in the life of a follower of Jesus? While several passages answer that question; perhaps, none better than Galatians 5.

-The Fruit Of The Spirit!

The Apostle Paul, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, wrote the Church of Galatia to tell them that the indwelling Spirit will produce fruit in their life that looks like this: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (vs. 22-24). That’s some of the low hanging fruit that’s produced by those who belong to Jesus! The Spirit produces it! If you’re a believer, Jesus invested His life in you! And, He expects a “return”— or, FRUIT— from His investment! We’ll come back to this next week!