“Fingerprints” by Rick Sons

We have been in a series over the past year regarding the body and how it compares to the body of Christ. 

We have spent time comparing each part and we have seen how each part works individually but also as a unit so that the body can live and grow.

Today I want to speak on the one part of the body that I have the most experience with – fingerprints.

In 1901, Scotland Yard established its first Fingerprint Bureau. The following year, fingerprints were presented as evidence for the first time in English courts. In 1903, the New York state prisons adopted the use of fingerprints for prisoner identification, followed later by the FBI. 

Today we have The Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems (AFIS), which enables law enforcement officials around the world to cross-check a print with millions of fingerprint records of anyone who has ever been fingerprinted around the world.

Take a look at your fingers.

Fingerprints are the tiny ridges, whorls, and valley patterns on the tip of each finger. In Law Enforcement they are referred to as loops, whorls, and arches. 

They form from pressure on a baby’s tiny, developing fingers in the womb. No two people have been found to have the same fingerprints they are totally unique. In fact the possibility of having only one fingerprint that matches someone else is 1 in 64 Billion.

Fingerprints can change over time, due to damage or outside effects from work or your daily activities. These changes add to the uniqueness.

The only exception to this rule is in the case of mirrored twins, not identical twins.  The term “mirror image” is used because the twins, when facing each other, appear as matching reflections. They have the same physical features but some are opposite.  Their fingerprints may be mirror images. We have a set of mirrored twins here in Atchison County that some of you may know. The Paris twins are mirrored and the prints on the left hand of one exactly match the right hand of the other. We found this out when they both came in for prints.

Once the first was printed AFIS would not accept the other.

Like I said, there’s only a 1 in 64 billion chance that your fingerprint will match up exactly with someone else’s. As of 2018, there are only 327 million people living in the US and only 7.53 billion people in the world. It is hard to determine since complete early records have never been kept but some historians agree that since creation (Adam and Eve), or should we say the birth of Cane, there have only been 108 Billion people born on earth.

Fingerprints, everybody has them.

Does God have fingerprints? 

I think that, at least figuratively, we have to say that He does.

Let me give you a few more facts about fingerprints before we get into the message today.

In about 2000 BC, Babylonians put fingerprints in soft clay to protect against forgery of important documents.

In ancient China impressions of fingerprints or (chop) were used as signatures of those who couldn’t write.

Fingerprints first appear on a fetus about four months into a pregnancy. So when someone tells you that these children are not people you can say that they already have a unique identity and they are people.

Each of you has a unique identity, take a look at your thumb, guess what you are all Thumbbody, and God knows you.

Scripture tells us in Psalm 139:13-16: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

Even before you were born you had an identity and God knew you.

So now, back to fingerprints, what does a fingerprint do? Well, they positively identify a person.

A “latent” fingerprint, the image left behind by someone’s touch, (barely visible, but can be developed for study) is positive physical evidence that a person has been at a given location, or came in contact with an object.

So now, back to my original question, “Does God have fingerprints?”

To answer that question, let’s look at some of the body parts we over the past year have mentioned in scripture.

God has a face: Rev 6:16 says, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb,”

God has a hand: In John 10:29, Jesus teaches, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

God has arms: Deuteronomy 33:27 reveals, “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

God has fingers: In Exodus 31:18, the Bible tells us, “And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.”

Let’s look back at this Scripture, the 10 Commandments were written by the “finger of God.” This not only gives a personal touch, but we could possibly make the argument that, in a way they are an example of the fingerprint of God.

Friends we are the Body of Christ. Ephesians 1:22-23, makes this clear. “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” 

The church is his body; we are the church so this tells us that as a body then we must have fingerprints.

So let me ask, does the Bible speak about fingerprints? I believe we can go to Job 37:7 and give a yes to that question.

Job 37:7 says, He seals up the hand of every man, that all men whom he made may know it.

(He Seals) I want you to remember that!

Now let me give you some definitions of some of the words from this Scripture.

Seals: A mark, seal, stop up, close up, make an end. 

Hand: Among many other things, it is a thumb. 

Know: To discover, to know by seeing. To know by sight.

Work: Action (good or bad), activity.

Now to help me make my point I want you to open your Bible to Revelation 7:1-8 and place the word “fingerprint” each time the word “seal” or “sealed” is used in the following verses.

Revelation 7:1-8 says, “After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 12,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.”

Again, let’s look at verse 3: Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.

Side Note here: I want you to think about nature, the land, sea and trees.

Can anyone tell me straight that they can look at the Earth, the Sea and the Trees and not see God’s fingerprints?

I myself have seen wonderful sites all over the world, oceans and mountains.

Andy, and the rest, can tell you when we were driving through the waste land of Kenya, dry and brown, I will tell you that to me it was a lovely site and I could see God’s fingerprints.

Let’s return to the message.

A “seal” or fingerprint is a mark placed on something to mark it as private, personal, or for security and preservation. 

An example of a mark of security or preservation is found in Exodus 12:1-14, in speaking of the Passover. Verse 13, specifically says,

13 The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.

When we bring Passover up into the New Testament we find Jesus speaking in Luke 22:20 where He & His disciples were at their Passover feast.  He said, “This cup is the New Testament in My Blood which is shed for you.”

Again do you see the fingerprint?

So, what is this seal or fingerprint that I’ve been talking about? 

In my study I believe that it’s a combination of two things.

First: A fingerprint, if you will, is placed on our foreheads in the Blood of Christ at the time of our salvation. Think of it like this. At the exact time of our salvation, the time that we actually surrender our lives to Christ, God dips His thumb into the shed blood of Jesus Christ and places that fingerprint on our forehead (spiritually) as a mark of security. When He looks at us in the future, that mark is what He sees.

We spend our life asking if we will be in the book, when we get to heaven, in this case we must ask will the fingerprint of God be seen?

Second: The Holy Spirit who was sent to earth by Christ at His ascension into Heaven, is to protect us, teach us, and to represent Christ on this earth until His return.

John 14:16 says, I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.

As we continue in Scripture, 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 says, And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal (or as we are now saying Fingerprint) on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

Again I say:

Think of this a seal or fingerprint, as God’s mark of ownership. The Holy Spirit, who guarantees that we’re the genuine article, protects us and teaches us.

For those of you who get my email, you know we have been hearing from Ephesians and how we are new.  I want to continue here in Ephesians chapter 1, verse 13, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed (fingerprinted) with the promised Holy Spirit.”

If you remember my last sermon it was on the restoration of an old car. With that idea, think of the paint on a car. 

If the paint is applied without the clear coat, it’ll begin to fade and pick up impurities from its exposure to the weather, or in our case the world. 

The clear coat seals the paint and keeps it pure and free from impurities, maintaining its original luster.

God’s fingerprint is our clear coat.

My friends you leave spiritual fingerprints on everyone you come in contact with.  Ask yourself, whose prints am I leaving, those of Jesus Christ or those of Satan?

2 Corinthians 3:2-3 says, “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all.  And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” 

We are God’s fingerprint for all to see.

Brothers and sisters, I want you to hear this, as a Christian (a part of the Body of Christ which we have heard about all year), you need to “know” that you have God’s seal (His fingerprint) on your forehead & that this seal is your security, not only from Satan, but from God’s judgment. 

It’s also a mark showing God that you are genuine, the real thing.

In Law Enforcement a fingerprint is excellent evidence that you were at the scene. Only you no one else can leave your fingerprint. 

As a Christian you must always remember that you leave a mark (fingerprint) on the life of everyone you come in contact with, and the mark you should leave is the mark (fingerprint) of Christ.

JOURNEY

The Journey letter for today is J for Jesus, who left his mark on us so that we could leave his mark on others.

“Passing the Test (Part 3)”

Again, this month’s system is the excretory system. The excretory system is responsible for removing waste from the body. In particular, the wastes to which I am referring is waste from the kidneys. Blood flows into the kidneys carrying wastes. The blood is filtered by nephrons and then released back into the rest of the body and the waste is dispatched from the body as urine.

But what happens when the kidneys do not work right? When this happens, it is known as renal failure, and renal failure can be caused for a few reasons such as one or both kidneys:

      • not getting enough blood to filter
      • being diseased (caused by any number of factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.)
      • blockage caused by a kidney stone or scar tissue.(1)

Renal failure can be acute, which can be serious, but with proper treatment, the kidneys usually regain their function. However, chronic renal failure leads to a permanent loss of function and lead to a buildup of wastes in the blood which causes a need for dialysis or a transplant. (2)

Thus, as we have seen over these past couple of weeks, the kidneys play a vital role in our health because if wastes are not removed, then we can face serious health risks. And these wastes are removed by the filters (called nephrons) which must “test” the blood in order to remove the necessary waste.

Again, as we have seen all year, the church needs systems which parallel the systems of the human body. Our series this year has focused on the body of Christ (i.e. the church) as we have reviewed ten different systems of the body and equated those systems to some aspect of the church.

This month, the excretory system is providing a backdrop for us to review a series of tests Scripture provides for us to make our lives better which is similar to the nephrons filtering out what would make us unhealthy.

The past two weeks, we have looked at the tests from an individual perspective first, and then from the perspective of the church. And that makes sense in one way, because it is more difficult to function as a group of people if we cannot function individually. However, as I often remind us, within the New Testament, almost all of the commands are plural. That is, these commands are to y’all, or for our purposes, the body of Christ.

So, even as we consider how to live out these commands individually, we must focus on living them with each other collectively.

With that in mind, let us turn to the last five commands in the verses we have been reviewing from 1 Thessalonians 5.

The Test of Quenching (1 Thessalonians 5.19)

The command here is about quenching the Holy Spirit. We are commanded not to do so. What does Paul mean by the word quench? One definition would be to extinguish. This idea is what mean when we say we want to quench our thirst. We want our thirst to be gone (or extinguished). That definition could be true in Paul’s writing, but I think he has a different idea in mind.

Another definition for quench could be to thwart or suppress. Of course, if we suppress the Spirit, eventually, we may extinguish the Spirit, but that is why we have the command here. It serves as a warning for the church there and then, and to us here and now, to test ourselves to ensure the Holy Spirit is not only a part of our lives and church, but that He is welcome among us and is allowed to do what He wants to do.

Can you imagine a church that suppresses or thwarts the Holy Spirit? I can. Why? I do. And I would guess that you do too. I seek to be sensitive to how the Lord is leading, but sometimes I sense He desires something from me and I balk. In fact, while writing this paragraph, I knew He was asking me to stop writing and take time to just be with Him. And part of me wanted to do so. And part of me wanted to finish my sermon. But how can I write about not quenching (not thwarting) the Spirit if I am going to do it while I am preparing to discuss it? So, I did stop for a while.

But the point is that I do not always stop. And I do not always follow. And that is sin. I would suppose we are all guilty of being an obstacle to the Spirit at times. We would rather do what we want to do. And, if that is the case individually, imagine what we, as a church, may do to suppress the will of the Lord.

Ugh!

So, let us aim to welcome the Spirit, not suppress Him. Let us desire what He wants from us rather than trying to thwart Him. Indeed, let us let Him quench our wants by giving of ourselves to Him.

The Test of Truth (1 Thessalonians 5.20)

This test is very much related to the previous test. When Jesus was teaching His disciples about the Spirit, He called the Spirit the “Spirit of truth” (John 14.17) and said it was the Spirit who would remind them what Jesus taught (John 14.26). And remember, it was Jesus who made the statement, having just called Himself the truth a few moments earlier (John 14.6).

Paul’s choice of words in 1 Thessalonians 5.20 is a Greek word that means prophecies. But a prophecy is “communicating and enforcing revealed truth.” (Strong Concordance, prophetia, #4394). So, to prophecy is to reveal the truth.

Therefore, what Paul is commanding to the church in Thessalonica is to not despise the truth. Now, the reality is that in our day, it is becoming increasingly difficult to know what truth is, apart from the Bible. We have #fakenews. We have people who are paid to spin the details. We have people who craft new words and phrases (such as reproductive health) to avoid using others (such as abortion).

Why do we have these challenges? Because people despise the truth! And Paul is commanding the church then, and us today, not to be among those who do despise the truth. Very bluntly, a part of that is to accept the Bible for what it says rather than to attempt to alter its meaning so we feel better about what we read or hear. The standard for understanding is not determined by the reader; it is the author who controls the meaning. And, in this case, the Author is God, and specifically, the Spirit. Thus, if we do not want to quench the Spirit, we need to embrace the truth as He has communicated it.

In other words, by despising the truth, we quench the Spirit. But if we embrace the Spirit, we should receive His truth, and He will then allow us to better understand the truth (1 Corinthians 2.11-16).

The Test of Evaluation (1 Thessalonians 5.21)

How do we know the truth? We test it. But we must evaluate the truth against something objective to know that it is the truth. Otherwise the truth begins to shift and then it is no longer truth.

What is 2+2?

4. That is objective truth.

Fairfax is in which state?  Which Fairfax?  Missouri?  The Fairfax district of Kansas City, Kansas?  Or the Fairfax found in 11 other states, not counting other districts within cities.

The answer to that question is objective truth, even though the answer has multiple possbilities. But it is still truth. How do we know? We can evaluate it.

But our methods of evaluation are changing. For instance, some children’s sports leagues now do not have winners and losers. It is one thing to say, “It isn’t whether you win or lose, it is how you play the game.” And it is another to not allow anyone to keep score.

The truth, as truth has traditionally been defined, is that our world wants to change the standard of evaluation. The new standard is to accept what we want to believe in the moment rather than remain true to standards which have been proven for centuries, if not millennia. We have replaced truth with existentialism. Now, I am not overly averse to change, but some concepts, such as morality are not meant to change. For instance, most everyone here is thrilled that technological advances have made medical care much better over the past 50 years. But stealing someone’s medical information should still be considered a crime. So, the change in technology is good, but the moral code needs to remain as it has for eons.

But to evaluate either issue (technology or morality), we must have a standard. And that standard is otherwise known as a truth.

The Test of Remaining True (1 Thessalonians 5.21)

So, Paul next wrote that we should hold fast to what is good. Now, what is good, in this sense, means something that is true. It does not mean holding on to an ice cream cone until it melts. Why should we hold fast (or cling) to what is good? Because what is good is something that is true. The truth may not always feed good, but it is good for us. For instance, if the doctor tells us some truth about our health situation, the truth may hurt, but that does not mean it is not the truth, and something we need to hear.

However, in today’s world, an understanding of what truth is, is being distorted. The challenge of remaining true is that if we do not measure truth against something permanently known to be true, then how can we know what truth is. The general philosophy of truth being a relative concept is known as postmodernism.

Postmodernism does not believe in a standard of knowledge or truth. Thus, truth is always evolving and is existential – what is true for you is not true for me. But some ideas are true. You may want to use a different word for gravity, but the idea of gravity is real. You may want to jump to the moon, but regardless of what other truth you may hold, gravity will not let you jump that high on your own power.

But let us lay aside human arguments (of which we have plenty to consider) and think of the Bible. Because the most important truth we can hold is to be true to God through Jesus Christ. It is Jesus to whom Scripture refers as Faithful and True (Revelation 19.11). And it is to Jesus that we are to be faithful and true. That is the very essence of holding fast to what is good.

Our world is seemingly becoming more challenging to those who hold fast to Jesus. Recent statistics show that Christianity is growing and atheism is declining. (3) So what is the problem? The problem is that those in the middle are shifting away from Jesus. We have seen it in the attendance in this church – not because people leave this church to go somewhere else (although some have), but because most quit going to church at all.

That is why Paul commands us to hold fast to what is good. And it is why we, as the church, must not only encourage each other to do the same, but to reach out to those who have let go, and help them to hold fast once again. Whether they have lost their grip, or forgotten what is good, we can show them again, in addition to helping others discover for the first time, what is truly good – Who is truly good, and why we must hold fast.

The Test of Avoiding Evil (1 Thessalonians 5.22)

If we are successful in the previous four tests, we should pass this test easily – not because of our own strength, but because we have not quenched the Spirit. See, if we quench the Spirit, then we are going to do battle on our own. But if we embrace the Spirit, then we will not despise prophecies, we will test and know what should be held and what should be avoided, and that will allow the Spirit to help us better understand truth and avoid the evil around us. It is a big circle.

But when we embrace evil, all of that breaks down and the Spirit’s presence (really, His impact) is limited because we have suppressed/thwarted Him, and we must stand on our own. And the Bible is clear, in a statement of truth to which we must hold fast, that we cannot stand on our own. As Paul wrote to the church in Rome, we all fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3.23). We need Jesus (Romans 6.23).

CONCLUSION

The list of seventeen commands in these eleven verses of 1 Thessalonians 5 (vv. 12-22) are quite evident. As commands, each truly represents a test we need to pass. And, as verses 18 and 19 say, these tests represent a part of God’s will in Christ Jesus, and thus the Holy Spirit is mentioned as one who can and will help us to succeed. Truly, when we review many of these tests, we see similar words that are used in Galatians as related to the Holy Spirit. That passage is Galatians 5.22-23, which contains the fruit of the Spirit. Let’s compare.

The fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22-23) is love (c.f. 1 Thessalonians 5.13), joy (c.f. v. 16), peace (c.f. v. 13), patience (c.f. v. 14), kindness (c.f. v. 14, help the weak), goodness (c.f. v. 20, do not despise prophecies – truth), faithfulness (c.f. v. 21, hold fast to what is good), gentleness (c.f. v. 14, encourage the fainthearted), self-control (c.f. v. 22, abstain from every form of evil). Against such things there may not be a law, but with such things we can test ourselves.

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

I really wanted to use O for our letter today because passing each test would mean we have Observed or Obeyed God. But the reality is that we cannot pass these tests without God’s help through His Spirit. And we do not receive the gift of the Spirit unless we embrace the truth of our need for Jesus. So, our letter for today is the J for Jesus.

PRINCIPLE:  Our ability to live according to the unchanging nature of God’s truth is dependent on the presence of the Holy Spirit within our lives.

QUESTION:  How can we make certain that we, as a church, do not quench the Spirit?

OPPORTUNITY:  Confess to God a desire to know and embrace all of His truths, regardless of the cost, in order to unleash the power of His Spirit in your life and in this church.

NEXT STEP(S)LEARN: Take time to evaluate any areas from 1 Thessalonians 5.12-22 that might quench what the Holy Spirit wants to do in your life. Then move from evaluation to acting (LIVE) upon any changes that need to take place.

1 https://www.urologyhealth.org/urologic-conditions/kidney-(renal)-failure (accessed October 18, 2019).

2 Ibid.

https://factsandtrends.net/2019/06/11/7-surprising-trends-in-global-christianity-in-2019/ (accessed October 20, 2019).

“Passing the Test (Part 2)”

As I mentioned last week, our system this month is the excretory system. The excretory system is responsible for removing waste from the body – particularly, wastes that are filtered out from the blood.

The kidneys are a crucial part of this system. It is their job to filter the blood in your body. We all know that the blood flows through the heart, but actually all of our blood flows through our kidneys several times per day as well. The filters in the kidneys are called nephrons and it is estimated that each of us has about one million of these filters.

The filters collect any waste which is then removed from the body as urine. But the kidneys also ensure that the levels of salt, water, and minerals (i.e. electrolytes) are in balance. If not, the kidneys work to adjust the balance of those items. (1) Source webmd.com

Again, the filters in the kidneys are called nephrons. The name may not be important to us, but their function is critical. These filters test the blood as it passes through the kidneys and determines if it meets the criteria for the body. In other words, these filters and the kidneys as a whole, perform a test on the same blood several times per day and remove any contaminants that would otherwise affect our health.

The Bible also gives us tests that we should seek to pass repeatedly to ensure we are a healthy part of the body of Christ. These tests are not required for salvation – that is, passing these tests does not provide a key for entry into the kingdom of heaven. However, the tests provide a means of helping us know we are living according to the principles of the kingdom.

If God were only concerned about our salvation, then we do not need any part of the New Testament after the first four books. But God wanted to show us how the church spread (Acts), how to live as a member of the kingdom (Romans thru Jude) and what will happen at the end of time (Revelation).

So, it is important to understand that passing one test is critical, and that test relates to our response to what Jesus has done. But once we pass that test, many other tests remain, including the list of tests provided by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5. And the eleven verses from 1 Thessalonians 5.12-22 contain a minimum of seventeen such tests. We looked at the first seven last week. We will cover the next five today and conclude with the last five next week.

BODY

It is always awkward to start a message in the middle of what has happened before, so let me remind us that in the previous sentence Paul has just charged the Thessalonians to admonish the idle (likely for not laboring for the Lord), to encourage those who were fainthearted, to serve those who needed help, and to be patient with everyone. And then, he gives a direct command on our actions, and potentially our attitudes.

The Test of Justice (1 Thessalonians 5.15)               

When people offend us, the human tendency is to want to get even. That is, it is natural to have a thought of retribution. But Paul says that we are not to act naturally; we are to act supernaturally.

Sometimes the offense is not directly against us, it is just how we perceive what happens. Again, consider the previous sentence in Paul’s writing. Perhaps we think less of people (even thinking they are evil) for not doing their fair share (the idle in v 14). Perhaps we do not understand those who are weary (the fainthearted), or we are frustrated with those who might otherwise give up (the weak). And, in turn, we lose our patience, which causes us to respond negatively.

Specifically, Paul says do not repay evil for evil. And, of course, we should not. Jesus has not repaid our sins (i.e. evil against God) by evil; rather, His response was love. But sometimes if we feel slighted by others, or do not understand them, we can convince ourselves they are evil even if they are not, or do not mean to be, or are unaware of what they are doing to us.

In any event, whether the evil is real, or perceived by us, our response is not to be evil in return. This is the test of justice. And to pass that test, we must trust that God will respond in His way, in His time.

The Test of Grace (1 Thessalonians 5.15)

Within the same sentence commanding not to return evil for evil, Paul provides the correct response – we are to seek to do good to everyone, always! Always.

I have preached on the idea of being nice versus being kind many years ago. Being nice is passive; it is not causing trouble. Being kind requires action; it requires us to do something positive for someone else. A mother might tell a toddler to be nice while playing, but kindness is taking the initiative. In this verse it is the doing good to one another.

The first command in this section was to respect others (this could include niceness) and to esteem others in love (that requires an act of kindness). Niceness could be not talking bad about someone, not because you do not want to do so, but because of some inherent respect. Kindness requires more than avoiding unpleasant actions, it requires acting with a positive intent.

You may have seen an example of this difference this past week. Ellen Degeneres was criticized for sitting next to George W. Bush and sharing a laugh at a football game last weekend. Her response this week went viral, and rightfully so. (I wish that we could show the clip!). She basically said that she is friends with a lot of people who may not agree with her, but civility is important. And then her statement, which is pertinent here is, “When I say be kind to one another, I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do, I mean be kind to everyone.” That’s a great statement, and it is almost the exact words that God wanted the Thessalonians to hear nearly 2000 years ago, and which have been read since that time.

The question is: will we pass the kindness test? Not because Ellen said it, but because God did.

The Test of Rejoicing (1 Thessalonians 5.16)

Paul likes this word. Verse 16 has two easily understood words. But living them out is much more difficult. A literal translation from the Greek would say it this way: Be cheerful, every when. I like that. Be cheerful. Every when you can imagine. When life is good. When life is a challenge. When you are well. When you are sick. Every when. Again, much easier said than done.

Why?

Because we are too worried about getting even. We are concerned with being fairness. We are concerned with matters of the world. And so were the people of Thessalonica. Remember, as I said last week, they were concerned that they had missed the return of Jesus. But they had also been heavily persecuted. In fact, Paul left the area because of intense persecution, and likely did so in hopes that the persecution against these new Christians would cease.

But in the midst of all the Thessalonians were facing, Paul says to rejoice – every when. In fact, Paul uses the same two words in Philippians 4.4, but He adds the word for Lord between them. And, let us not forget, he wrote to the church in Phillipi while he was in prison. So he practiced what he preached. Rejoice every when. No matter what, rejoice always!

How can we possibly do that? Well, let us look at the next verse.

The Test of Prayer (1 Thessalonians 5.17)

It is easiest to rejoice when we take God’s perspective as our own. We do that through prayer. (I have mentioned the book a few times earlier this summer, but I highly recommend the book, A Praying Life, by Paul Miller. It is an excellent book on prayer that I recently finished.)

Psalm 37.4 says God will give you the desire of your heart if you delight yourself in the Lord.

Do you know why He will do that? Because if you are delighting yourself in Him, then your thoughts and actions will be in tune with His. God would not deny Himself, so why would He deny those who want what He wants?

Now, of course, Jesus had a special task and certainly He delighted in the Father. And although Jesus asked to be removed from the curse, His delight in the Father included the cross, ultimately, giving Jesus the desire of His heart – the joy of reconciliation with us (Hebrews 12.2).

So, we are to pray – without ceasing. This does not mean that we stop everything we are doing to pray or that we are consciously in a focused moment of prayer every day. What it does mean is that we find ourselves constantly communicating with God. (Again, I encourage you to read Paul Miller’s book, A Praying Life.)

The Test of Thanksgiving (1 Thessalonians 5.18)

The last test for today is the one of giving thanks. It is important to notice the preposition here. Give thanks in everything, not for everything. In everything, means in every circumstance. Even in the worst moments of our lives, we can find reasons for giving thanks. Someone on their deathbed can be thankful for the life s/he lived, for family, friends, something. Someone facing a terminal illness can be thankful that s/he does not have to face it alone or that the medical care being given is helping to manage the process. Someone who loses a job can be thankful for having one in the first place. It might be hard to find an exact something for which to be thankful, but if it is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus to do so, and verse 18 says it is, then we must find a reason for giving thanks. Perhaps the greatest reason is knowing that God hears the prayers of His children! That alone is a great reason to give thanks.

CONCLUSION

As I mentioned last week, each of these tests could be a sermon (or a series) unto themselves. Maybe that will happen in the future, but for now, I am simply highlighting the words of Paul and presenting them as tests that each Christ follower will face throughout the lives.

So, which of these tests do you pass? Which of these tests do you fail? What about this church?

It is estimated that as long as 10% of a kidney is functioning, we may be unaware of any issues with our kidneys. (2)

But how many of us would be comfortable knowing that only 10% of our kidneys is functioning properly? We may be able to function, but how well and for how long? Eventually, the body will not be able to function properly.

Likewise, as we think about being the body of Christ, if 10% of the people are doing the majority of the work, then how well can the church function? For how long? Maybe it is better with 20%? But again, if any one part of your body was only functioning at that level, you would be alarmed. And, if all of your body were only functioning at 20%, hospice would be called.

Are we guilty of accepting less from ourselves and our faith? Are we giving Jesus 10% of our income? Of our time? Of our energy? Should He accept as little as 10% after He gave us His all?

The tests we reviewed last week and today (and will finish next week), are just a part of how we can give back to God. It is a test. And He knew that we would fail that test. Thus, God made a way to filter out the problems and make sure that not only do we not waste our lives, but our lives are not a waste in His eyes.

The filter? Jesus!

And that is why our JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

Remember, every ounce of your blood passes through your kidneys multiples times each day. And the kidneys remove what is bad and keeps what is good.

Let’s be thankful that the blood of Jesus covers our sinful blood – our sinful lives. The righteousness of Jesus passes through the filter of God’s judgment on our behalf and makes sure that we are clean and remain a part of the body, after we choose to follow Jesus.

PRINCIPLE:  Humans are constantly evaluating, but we must make sure to evaluate the right things based upon the right criteria for our evaluations to really make a difference.

QUESTION:  Which areas do you need to improve in order to pass the test?

OPPORTUNITY:  Choose one area and begin to focus on passing that part of the test.

NEXT STEP(S)LIVE: Write down one thing different you will do each day this week and then commit to doing it every day. If you do, you will be closer to passing the test.

(1)  webmd.com.

(2)  Ibid.

“Passing the Test” (Part 1)

Last month, we reviewed the digestive system. This month we move to the system that handles what remains after the digestive system has completed its function. What is left? Waste.

The digestive system extracts any and all nutrients it can from what we eat and drink. And then, the rest that remains is removed from the body as waste. It is the excretory system that handles the waste. Technically, the excretory system relates to fluids and thus the kidneys are key. However, for our purposes, we are going to include all waste which then involves the latter stages of the digestive system (particularly because we had such a short month with that system – 2 messages).

The reality is that all food and drink that enters the body undergoes a form of a test. The digestive system works to break down all that it can from what is ingested and then uses that as fuel to keep the body going. The breakdown of that food and drink is a major purpose of the digestive system.

However, not all of the substance of what is ingested is used (or usable, in some cases). And thus, the body needs a way to remove what is left over. That is, what is not helpful to the body, at that point, is removed by the body in order to keep the body healthy.

Now the reality is that we do not often think about the work that the digestive and excretory system are doing. Of course, we feel the effects and find ourselves making time to allow the waste to pass from our bodies each day. But in the moment, unless we eat something that does not agree with us, we rarely think about the process. And when something does not agree with us, we hope that it passes through our system quickly!

How does this relate to the church?

Well, over time a church takes in many ideas, offers many opportunities, supports many ministries. But it is important to evaluate those ideas, and opportunities, and ministries from time to time to see if they are still good, proper, and necessary. If they are, they may still need to be tweaked. But sometimes it is necessary to purge what is being done in order to do something different, and perhaps even better.

So, the idea this month is that we must test ourselves and the church in order to know how to best move forward. Just like the excretory system works quietly in the background, so do much of the evaluation processes in the church. But sometimes the processes come into focus because of need or because of intention. Right now, during our Sunday night discussions, it is through intention that we are reviewing the processes and determining what can be better and what, if anything, might need to be removed.

But all of that is through the basis of evaluation. And that evaluation begins with us. Fortunately, the Bible says a lot about evaluation. But it usually uses another word – the word test. So, let us see what kind of tests we should consider for ourselves and for the church.

Today’s passage is quite short considering it contains eleven verses. But within those eleven verses, Paul provides several points of reflection. Of course, reflection means that we are thinking or pondering something, and that is really a form of evaluation. And evaluation is another word for test. And, in these few verses, I find seventeen distinct tests, and a minimum of nineteen aspects of those tests. Today, we are going to look briefly at the first seven, and then review the rest over the next week or two.

At the end of each message, we will take time to reflect – that is, to evaluate. We will evaluate ourselves against each item, and then evaluate our church against each item as well. So, let’s begin.

The Test of Respect (1 Thessalonians 5.12)             

To respect is to hold other people with honor. Specifically, Paul write that believers should honor:

      • Those who labor with you
      • Those who are over you
      • Those who admonish you.

Do we respect others? Do we honor the people with who we work? That could mean taking extra work when someone else is struggling. It could mean not talking bad about them when they are always late.

Do we respect our leaders? Do we honor those who try to get more out of us than we think we have within us? Do we honor those who try to move an organization forward rather than allowing it to slip into oblivion?

Do we respect our managers?  Do we honor those who push us even when we think the demands are unfair? Do we stick up for those people that everyone else criticizes because they are trying to follow the guidelines that have been established?

The reality is that respecting others is often more difficult than we might believe. But Paul writes that we have a choice (we ask you), but we should to respect others.

The Test of Love (1 Thessalonians 5.13)

Not only are we to respect others, but we are to love them, in part, because of the work that is being done. It is hard to love others if we do not respect them. That is, when we think we are so much better than others, we de-value them and when we do that, it becomes more difficult to love them.

In our Sunday night discussions, it has been decided that love should be one of the values of Fairfax Baptist Church. We will not love perfectly, but we can learn to love others more and better. And to fulfill the Great Commandment, we must do so.

The Test of Peace (1 Thessalonians 5.13)

Peace is something that is missing from the lives of most people today. We can look at the news and see a world that lacks peace with each other. But the bigger challenge is often finding peace with ourselves. (And, of course, if we are not at peace with ourselves, we will often struggle to be at peace with others.)

This peace comes from being content, and that contentment often comes from having time. The Bible tells us that God is a God of peace (Romans 15.33), and that Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9.6). So, if we believe in God and claim Jesus as Lord and Savior, then why do we lack the peace we seek?

Honestly, it is because we have lost respect for others and love for others. And a part of this loss of respect is because we have made ourselves too busy to stop and consider the value of others instead of just thinking about how people might benefit us!

The Test of Admonishment (1 Thessalonians 5.14)

Remember, that Paul has just said to honor those who admonish. It was not hypothetical. He was about to suggest that the idle needed to be admonished or exhorted. Basically, that means to give someone a kick in the pants when they need it.

In this case, the people had become idle in their faith because they believed they had already missed the return of Jesus. Some in our day become idle because they give up and go to the top of a mountain to wait for Jesus. The truth is that neither reason for idleness is valid. The Bible does not say we are to become idle. In fact, we are told to work while we can because a time is coming when we will no longer be able to work (John 9.4). And the work we are to do, is to work for the Lord.

The Test of Encouragement (1 Thessalonians 5.14)

The world can be divided into multiple distinctions. Good versus bad. Strong versus weak. Big versus little. Some of these groupings matter more than others, but one grouping of people that is important is those who are encouraging and those who are discouraging.

I am sure you can tell a difference in your own attitude when you have been around one type of person or the other. And, of course, this verse is speaking to people of the church – and we are to be encouraging, particularly to the fainthearted. But the question is not just about whether the church is encouraging, it is whether you are!

Now, like the previous point, the fainthearted here are those who have grown so because of a misunderstanding about the return of Jesus. That is the primary purpose of this letter. But people today misunderstand the Bible and have grown faint of heart as well. Maybe that is you. Maybe you need the encouragement. If so, those who can encourage should help you, but if they do not know you need encouragement, how can they give it?

So, if you are an encourager, and I hope you are, we need to be intentional about giving it out – abundantly. And that means that we need to be around people who encourage us because we cannot give what we do not have. But the reality is that if we have Jesus, we should be able to encourage others in ways that truly matter.

The Test of Service (1 Thessalonians 5.14)

One of the greatest means of encouragement can come through service. In verse 14, the text says, “help the weak.” How we might help could bring hundreds, if not thousands, of different responses. But helping requires serving.

So, who needs to be helped? Perhaps it is someone sitting near you right now. Perhaps it is someone who lives near you. Perhaps the person you know is in need of help is a family member, a friend, or maybe they are a stranger. The Bible only says to help the weak.

Is the person physically weak, then serve them with your physical strength? Are they emotionally weak, then be an encouragement to them? Are they spiritually weak? Provide some truth for them while loving them through your service.

I am going to provide a thank you video to the church once the system is working again, but I recently had a weakness exposed. I have mentioned this weakness countless times, but Greg and Leon saw it firsthand. The weakness – a skill. The skill, carpentry work. Between Greg, Leon, Roger, and Shannon, with some help from Susan and me, the parsonage has a new room downstairs. You can come see it at the open house in December. But without the strength of others serving me in my weakness, the room would not have been built. But because it is built, I am now able to better serve others in my strength (teaching).

The Test of Patience (1 Thessalonians 5.14)

The final test for today is the test of patience. This one, quite frankly, is challenging for most of us. Particularly, if you are like me, and are more task-oriented than you are people-oriented. It is like Rick often says, when I ask for patience, I say to God, “Give me patience and give it to me now!”

Now, the reality is we must be careful to ask for patience. Because God answers that kind of prayer by putting us in positions to learn patience rather than just waving a magic wand and saying, “There, you are now patient.”

One of the best things about Atchison County is that we do not have stop lights. I love that. And because of that, when I go to KC or Omaha, I actually do find myself more patient when waiting at a light because I do not have to wait when driving up here. But a few weeks ago, I had to wait for about 15 cars (15!, no exaggeration!) at the T of US 59 and US 136. (I started counting somewhere around 7 or 8 and counted at least that many more because I had never waited that long anywhere in this county.) I needed patience and did not want it. And, as we are now in the midst of harvest season, I need to remind myself to leave several minutes earlier when travelling because I am certain to be behind an implement of some kind and that will require patience.

But again, the Bible here is speaking of a particular group of people. The text says to be patient with them all. Who are the all?

All people are those who are idle, those who need encouragement, and those who are weak. Those who need to be admonished, and those who may admonish you. Those with whom you work, and those who are your boss. In other words, all people.

And why should we be patient with them? Well, because we respect them. Ok. Because we love them? Sure. But also because we are to do to others what we would have them do to us. That is, if we want others to be patient with us, then we should be patient with them. In fact, it may be our example of patience that allows them to learn what being patient really means.

CONCLUSION

We have now briefly reviewed seven of the seventeen tests that Paul provides in this short passage. Passing any of these tests does not make a person a Christian, but for the Christian, improving in each area should be a goal. And, for any areas where we may find ourselves failing, we should make whatever changes are necessary in order to begin passing that test.

So, take a moment and do a quick response on each of these seven.

Which of these tests do you pass?

Which of these tests do you fail?

The goal is to make an evaluation of our church, but we are the church. And, if we are failing as individuals, then we must seek ways help one another pass, so we can all collectively pass as well.

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  OOBSERVE.

The O is for Observe because of Jesus words that we are to make disciples, in part, by teaching them to observe all that He has commanded. However, in our Sunday night discussions, it was determined that the word Obedience would clarify the idea. So, beginning next week, we will shift from Observe to Obedience. As Jesus said in Matthew 7, those that hear and obey will be considered as wise, those who hear and do obey will be considered as fools. So, let us be obedient to the words of Scripture. Let us observe.

But, of course, the big test that we all face is the one God will ask us about His Son. That question will be something like: What did you do with my Son? If you do not answer that question correctly, you fail the test, regardless of how many other answers you may get correct. And some will say that if we get that answer correct, it does not matter if we get the others correct. In one sense, yes. But if that were really true, then why does Paul have to write to the churches about how to live according to the faith that they already have?

So, we must know the right answer to the question, but we must live out our lives as proof of that answer. If you do not know the answer to the question, or if you are unsure, today is the day you can move from failing to passing.

PRINCIPLE:  Life is full of tests, but we must learn to evaluate what God says is important for each of us individually, and thus, all of us collectively.

QUESTION:  Which areas do you need to improve in order to pass the test?

OPPORTUNITY:  Choose one area and begin to focus on passing that test this week.

NEXT STEP(S)LIVE: Write down one thing different you will do each day this week and then commit to doing it every day. If you do, you will be closer to passing that test.

Hub Sunday – The Body Speaks

This week during the service, I wanted to hear from the body – that is, the church body…the body of Christ. Specifically, the body known as Fairfax Baptist Church.

The idea was to have church members share what they have been doing to engage with others in serving God. With a focus this year of seeking to have a healthy body, and thus a healthy church, I thought it was important to have the body be able to celebrate what others are doing, particularly, when some do not know what has been happening.

From the standpoint of Scripture, I draw my inspiration from Acts 14.24-28 (and elsewhere), where the people who have been out serving (in this case Paul and Barnabas) return to the church that sent them and proceed to give a report of their journey, and more importantly, all that God was doing. I wanted the church to know that it was not about going big (like to Kenya which would be the focus of a report that evening), but simply going. After all, it is God who judges what is important, not us.

So, I shared a few thoughts on the Scripture mentioned above and then made the microphone available.

We had a few people talk about visiting the home of a friend and another in a nursing home. Mention was made about stepping down after serving as a missions director for years and being encouraged that the work was still going. Another mentioned seeking how God would use her as a new member of the church while her son indicated that he is seeking to know if God is calling him as a youth minister.

One person mentioned the work that had been done during our recent Labor 4 the Son Day (Labor Day Sunday), and shared the idea that this type of help is something that could be done year round (although, obviously, not in place of our regular time to gather to worship with one another).

The final person spoke of how God has given her a passion to be a foster parent and some recent events that made the pull even greater. She also said that her husband, without knowing this set of events, told her it was time after he had not been willing for the past several years.

Then, during the evening, the team who returned from Kenya shared of their experience. It was a great time of testimony and encouraged all who came, and inspired some to ask about going on the next trip.

All of these moments are surely just a reflection of what God is doing in the life of His body at Fairfax Baptist Church. It was a good day. We serve a great God.

And this type of day is one that we must do again.

Renewal Update

This past Sunday we had a guest speaker speak from Matthew 6.19-21 and the intersection of our hearts and our treasures. Thus, I am going to use this week’s blog to provide an update on the renewal we began a couple of months ago.

You may recall that our church had a series of services at the end of July that were labeled as Renewal Services. At the time, I tried to communicate that the purpose of the services was not the services themselves; rather, they were to stimulate us to be renewed. That renewal is currently happening through a series of discussions on Sunday nights.

We began by establishing our values. The discussion on these values took place over a couple of different weeks. After listing several items that are important, and then working to define specific terms, the following statement represents the draft of what will be shared with the church in the next couple of months.

Fairfax Baptist Church places Jesus, the Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, at the center of our focus. Placing such a high value on Jesus, we will focus on:

      • Following Jesus and living by faith (Matthew 4.19)
      • Loving God and our neighbor (Mark 12.28-31)
      • Making Disciples (Matthew 28.18-20)

by prayer (Luke 11.2-4) and obedience to Him (John 14.15), based upon the Word of God (2 Timothy 3.16-17).

These values represent the core of what any believer should do. We must now give them “legs” as we determine how to live (and specifically minister) according to these values.

The next major step was to evaluate our vision statement. The statement that is being considered is common, but it is simple and can be easily understood. That statement: To Know Christ and Make Him Known.

Again, a part of the appeal of this statement is in its simplicity. But it is also measurable (more so than our current statement). We can easily determine if a particular ministry opportunity to meets one of those two criteria. Does the opportunity allow us to better know Christ? Or does it allow us to make Him known?

These two items (the values and the vision) have not been officially approved by the church, but they represent a good start to defining who we will be in the future and the impact that definition will have on our ministry.

So, the process of renewal has started. Yes, we are still in the early stages, but the discussions have been energetic. To me, that represents the desire to do more. That was the goal of the renewal. But the real fruit will be seen in the days to come.

“Indigestion”

Food allergies have spiked in recent years. We hear more about allergies to nuts, milk, soy, wheat, etc. However, what we call allergies is not always about an allergic reaction. For instance, being stung by a bee might cause an allergic reaction, but that is different than not being able to eat a bee (who does that?). Likewise, from a food perspective, some people get ill from being around items such as peanuts. Others are ok unless they eat them. The issue with eating the peanut is the body not being able to process the food properly. This is my case with wheat (and a variety of other foods).

I say I am allergic to gluten (wheat), eggs, pork, etc. But I can be around them; I just cannot eat them. That is, my body does not digest them properly. For instance, with gluten, the enzyme that most people have to break down gluten is absent from my intestines. Thus, when I eat it, I get very sick. VERY sick. Knowing that I will get sick causes me to be cautious in what I eat.

But effectively, what I have is an inability to digest gluten. That is the reality of indigestion. The word means to have difficulty or the inability to digest food. For some, indigestion means an upset stomach. For others it might mean cramps, bloating, or gas. And for some the consequences can be deadly.

As we talk about the digestive system today, we must understand that indigestion is the result of adding something to the digestive system that it cannot process correctly. Whether we notice the issue in our mouths, our stomach, or our intestines, our bodies will let us know that something is wrong if we eat something that is not right. So, for those who know that certain foods are problems, what do we do? We avoid them. We get very good at reading labels. We ask for special menus at restaurants. We let other people know what our restrictions are if we are having a meal with them (and/or we bring our own food).

But you know what we don’t do? We don’t stop eating.

Today, I want to look briefly at three areas the Bible mentions which should bring indigestion to a born-again believer. But this message is not meant to beat us up for having indigestion; rather, it is to encourage us to focus on eating right, so to speak. Our passage found in 1 John 2, verses 15-17.

Last week we discussed what defiles us. It isn’t the food we eat because, as Jesus said, that passes through us. We might get sick from what we eat, but being sick and being defiled are two different things. So what does defile us? I believe the Bible clearly points to three areas in our lives that can defile us:

      • Desires of the flesh
      • Desires of the eyes
      • Pride of life.

We see these three areas listed here in 1 John 2. But we see the examples of these areas in the temptation of man in the Garden, and the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Thus, whether we are surrounded by lush beauty in near-perfect conditions, or we find ourselves in the midst of nothingness in the midst of life’s challenges, these three areas will tempt us and give us a spiritual indigestion if we give in to their appeal.

The Desires of the Flesh

For Adam and Eve, this was seeing that the tree was good for food (Genesis 3.8). Our bodies need nourishment. God made us this way. And He made food for us to enjoy. But God does give us restrictions, and Eve, then Adam, allowed their desire for a different kind of food, one that they had not yet enjoyed, to be their downfall. And, because of this desire of the flesh, they would soon realize another desire – to cover their bodies – because they knew they were naked. This covering has led to distorted desires of the flesh for mankind since the day they first ate of the fruit.

For you and me, that desire may be another person, it may be seeking some sensual pleasure, and it may even be seeking comfort when we know we are called to make a sacrifice. I believe one of the greatest idols today is comfort. I promise you, two Sundays ago, our mission team was miserable following a rain in Kenya. The humidity was so high that you could not blink without dripping buckets of sweat. My flesh did not like it – not at all. My flesh desired air conditioning and comfort, but sometimes God calls us to engage in other ways and we have to put aside our fleshly desires. That was one of those times for us. You have had them as well. The key is not to allow these desires to overrule what we know we are to do. And the example we have is found in Jesus.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way. Thus, that will include desires of the flesh and the eyes, and the pride of life. In fact, we can find all of these in one story in Matthew 4. For Jesus, He was hungry. He had not eaten in 40 days. And Satan appeared to Jesus and helped Jesus to see that His hunger could be gone by turning the stones to bread (Matthew 4.3-4). As I have mentioned before, the stones in this area are somewhat large and brown and resemble a small loaf of bread. So, Jesus, no doubt, had seen these stones for days and thought about they looked like bread. But He did not give into His fleshly desires. He did not fulfill His desires in the short-term because He knew the long-term goal.

You and I need to have the same idea in mind. Our fleshly desires will distract us from the good

in the long-term. In fact, the story we read earlier from Luke 10 indicates this truth as well. Martha was doing good work, but she was missing the greater benefit of being with Jesus. We will come back to this idea in a few more minutes. But first, let’s look at the desires of the eyes.

The Desires of the Eyes

Again, let us look at Adam and Eve, ourselves, and Jesus in this section.

In the Garden, Eve saw that the fruit was a delight to the eyes (Genesis 3.6). We do not know what type of fruit it was, but as I have said before it was not an apple (unless apples have changed) because Genesis 1.29 says that any tree with fruit that has a seed was available to eat. But something about this fruit was appealing to the eyes. Maybe it was bright. Maybe she could see the juices ready to explode in her mouth. Only she knows. But the reality was that something caught her eye and it made her desire the fruit.

Isn’t that what happens to us as well? We see a bright, shiny, new something and we say, “I have to have that!” Maybe it is food. Maybe it is a car. A new tool. Etc. The truth is that we see thousands of things every day. Some are not appealing to us, but others get our attention quickly. But, truth be told, often times the appeal fades quickly. I have used this example before, but seeing a pizza on tv is one of those tempting moments for me. Of course, advertisers know this. But I have never seen a pizza look as good in person as the ones I have seen on tv. Not even close. The desire of the eyes makes me want it, but once I get it, I am left feeling like I have been cheated. I know Eve (and Adam) felt that more than I can imagine.

But Jesus did not. Again, Jesus was tempted by a desire of the eyes as well. The devil took Jesus to the highest mountain in the area and showed Jesus all of the kingdoms and told Jesus they could be His if Jesus would simply bow down and worship Satan (Matthew 4.8-9). Please note that Jesus did not argue that the kingdoms were not Satan’s to give. But again, Jesus knew the long-game. He knew that if He remained true to God and worship and serve Him only (v 10), then one day every knee would bow at His name (Philippians 2.10-11).

The desire of the eyes is real. Eve, then Adam, fell prey to this desire. You and I fall prey to it. But Jesus did not and that can give us hope that we can overcome the desire as well.

The Pride of Life

The last of the three items mentioned by John in 1 John 2 is the pride of life. Again, we will see that it was pride that led to the Fall of Man, and it is overcoming the temptation of pride that allowed Jesus to be our Redeemer.

For Eve, the pride is found again in Genesis 3.6. She was fueled, however, by the promise of serpent in verse 5, that by eating of the fruit, she would be like God in knowing good and evil. The serpent played to her pride by suggesting that the fruit offered her something she did not possess. In essence, the lie she heard was that if she ate the fruit, she would be like God (Genesis 3.5-6).

Aren’t we the same way? Our pride often gets the better of us by making us think we are more than we are or that to stay that way, we must deny others.

It is said that the male ego is one of the most forceful, yet fragile items on earth. And, indeed, men are often filled with pride. But so are women. We all are. Let me prove it to you…if you got the least bit offended that I said you have pride, then that is proof. We show our pride by how we dress, in how we act, in where we go, etc. Most of our pride remains in our heads (thank goodness), but it seeps out far more often than we think. Perhaps we think we can do something better than someone else, or perhaps we think we are better than someone else. All of those aspects are a part of our pride and will lead us into a trap from which we cannot break free.

Please understand that being proud of what we do and being prideful are two different things. We can, and should, take pride in what we do. After all, Paul reminds us that everything we do is to be done for the Lord (Colossians 3.17, 23) and should be done for the glory of the Lord (1 Corinthians 10.31). So, taking pride in our work and doing it with excellence is good. But to merely carry ourselves with pride (and letting others know how proud we really are) is something that should be discouraged.

Again, we can see this clearly in the example of Jesus in Matthew 4. Jesus was, and is, the Son of God. He should take pride in that. But He did not count that fact worth abusing His power. When the devil told Him to prove who He really was by making a spectacle of Himself jumping from the top of the temple, Jesus refused (Matthew 4.5-7). In fact, in Philippians 2, Paul tells us that Jesus gave up His status to become like us and even further disgraced Himself to die for us.

But pride is a tricky thing. Let us briefly look at the passage from Luke 10 that was read earlier. Martha is the owner of the house. It was her responsibility to make sure the guests received the care they needed. And she was doing all she could to care for them. But her sister, Mary, simply sat at the feet of Jesus listening as He taught. Why did Jesus challenge Martha when she appealed to Him to have Mary help her? I don’t think it is because of what she was doing. I think it is because of why she was doing it. She took pride in serving. Again, there is nothing wrong with doing our best. But for Martha, Jesus knew that she needed to unclutter her life as much as she needed to unclutter her house. (That is what the phrase “anxious and troubled” means here.) She wanted to make her house look good (because of pride), but she first needed to make herself good.

This idea goes back to the idea of defilement from last week. It is not what we do that makes us good, it is who we are. Notice the final verse of the passage for today in 1 John 2. Read 1 John 2.17.

We must do the will of God, but to do it, we must first know it. All of the things we chase – the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and filling our pride, will pass, but by doing the will of God, we abide forever. And that is our key. I told you this message was not to beat us up, so let me turn the idea for good.

Follow the Spirit

Three weeks ago, Sam stood here and preached from John 15. He shared the true meaning of Jesus’ words of “abide in Me.” How do we do that? Through the Spirit. See the problem for most Christians is we are worried about what we might do wrong rather than focusing on doing right. More importantly, many Christians are more worried about pointing out what others are doing wrong rather than focusing on being right themselves and helping others to be right.

But if we are tuned into the Spirit, we will be right. We will focus on the good, not the bad. We will focus on being healthy, not just avoid being hurt. Yes, we will be hurt, and yes we will still make mistakes, but the difference between living by the Spirit and trying to avoid living in sin may sound like a fine line, but the distinction is huge.

CONCLUSION

Let me tie this back to the digestive system. Just because we may have challenges with certain foods does not mean we should stop living. I know what I can and cannot eat. We rarely eat out because of my diet and when I do, I know what I can and cannot eat at any given restaurant. Occasionally, though, I will make a mistake. It happened to me in Kenya on our last day. Someone passed around some beef jerky and I took a bite. I had been eating the same brand throughout the trip, but after I took the bite, I noticed that this jerky was peppered (not original). I asked for the bag and immediately knew I might be in trouble. I was able to spit most of it out, but not before I had already eaten some of it.

The next eight hours would determine how well the ride home would be. If I ingested enough, I would have miserable and one of the restrooms in the plane would have been claimed by me for the entire trip. But thankfully, I caught myself before I had ingested too much. And fortunately, I had some pills with me that might (the FDA has not said yes) help as well as some activated charcoal which I hoped would draw in any enzymes that otherwise might cause problems.

Fortunately, everything was fine. I did not have “indigestion” or in my case, get violently ill. Why? Because I followed what was right! I know what I am to eat, and what I should avoid. When I stick to what I know works, I am fine. In this case, I made a mistake, but because I know what is good, I was able to correct the situation quickly. If I only focused on what was bad, I would not have been able to make things right. In other words, it was not about avoiding a type of food it was about eating what I should eat.

That is what it means to follow the Holy Spirit. The desires of the flesh are real. The desires of the eyes are real. Pride is certainly real. But rather than trying to avoid giving into those desires, when we focus on following the Spirit, we will be fine. But we do not stop living. We just live by a different understanding. Again, we live by the Spirit, not in fear of what we might do.

True, we do face temptations, and we must be cautious not to give in to our temptations a little here and a little there. Why? Over time, that sin adds up and we lose a sense of what is real. To put it into the terms of indigestion, we know we shouldn’t do it, but we do it anyway and hope a pill can cover up the effects.

Like in the situation I faced, sometimes a pill is necessary. But it is one thing to need a pill in an emergency, it is another to use it because we are not willing to forgo what will cause us problems in the first place. It is the difference between taking the purple pill because our bodies must have it, and taking it because we will not avoid the foods we know will make our heart burn and the acid fly.

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

The reality is that sometimes we all need a pill to help us with our digestive issues. Perhaps it is an antacid or something similar, or a pill to help us digest a certain enzyme. But even if our digestive system works well, it isn’t a purple, pink, or blue pill we need, it is the red blood of Jesus that truly makes us well. It is knowing Him and abiding in Him that allows us to follow the Spirit and avoid the temptations and desires that will otherwise cause us problems we would rather avoid.

PRINCIPLE:  The temptations we face are real, but so is the solution – following the Holy Spirit.

QUESTION:  What desires of your heart prevent you from following Jesus as He would have you follow Him?

OPPORTUNITY:  Stop focusing on what not to do and focus on the goodness of God instead.

NEXT STEP(S)LIVE: As you take your vitamins or medicine this week, consider adding an “extra pill” as a reminder to allow the Spirit to be your guide each day.

“Defilement: More Than Germs”

I do not mean to be gross here, but one of the most fascinating aspects of the human mind to me is that we can look at something in our hands or on our plates and think it looks so good, enjoy its smell and its taste, and then, we can be absolutely repulsed by the output of that same food some 24-72 hours later. What changes the food from being so pleasing to be repulsive? The digestive system. And that system is our focus for the next couple of weeks.

One of the most intriguing statistics about the body is that the digestive system is approximately 30 feet long. The system begins with the mouth, then the esophagus, the stomach, the small and large intestines and concludes with the rectum and anus. It is the small intestine that makes up the bulk of the distance. The small intestine itself is approximately 20 feet long!

The digestive system begins by breaking down the food into manageable portions (in the mouth). The acid in the stomach breaks the food down further before it passes into the small intestine. The small intestine has villi which do most of the work in removing the nutrients from the food. These villi are assisted by fluids which come from the liver, gall bladder, and pancreas which are also a part of the digestive system. The large intestine (or colon) then removes any remaining liquid and salt before whatever remains is passed out of the body. (1)

Again, what amazes me is that our minds can so enjoy the food before us, but that joy quickly becomes disgusting and contains what is, in part, considered as germs.

Jesus alluded to this very process in one of His teachings. Jesus was asked why His disciples did not wash their hands before they ate. His answer was that it is not what we eat that defiles us. However, His answer does reveal that our defilement is inside us, and it had to get their somehow. Today, we will review this teaching from Matthew 15.

The passage today talks about being defiled. One definition is dirty or unclean. But a deeper definition, and the one with which the Pharisees were most concerned, relates to being impure for ceremonial purposes (or to be desecrated). We might more simply define the word for our purposes as being contaminated. In Matthew 15, Jesus says it is not what we eat that contaminates us, and thus washing our hands is not really what keep us from being clean.

We Can Wash to be Clean, But That Does Not Make Us So (Matthew 15.1-10)

To gain this perspective, we must go back to the preceding verses for a moment and realize who the audience is. Jesus is speaking to the people who have gathered around Him (v. 10) after the religious leaders of the day have challenged Him regarding tradition. Their question relates to a tradition of washing hands before they eat. But the bigger issue is that they have developed certain customs and made them prominent in the law (as if they were part of the Law of Moses). In their eyes, these customs are meant to allow them to keep God’s law more easily, but their focus in this question was (most likely) to make Jesus look bad in front of the people. (Interestingly, this passage falls right before the one we reviewed a few weeks ago where we see how the people viewed Jesus – as a great prophet – in Matthew 16.13-14).

So, Jesus responds to their question, but wants to make sure the people understand His teaching, thus stating – “Hear and understand” (v. 10). The religious leaders knew that God had given laws about what the people were not to eat because of certain foods being unclean (see Leviticus 11). By clean, the idea is to be ritually clean before God. This idea was not directly tied to being physically clean, although plenty of laws described that part of the process in being ritually clean as well.

Related to food, however, washing and cooking food would not make it clean. Nor does washing hands make a person clean. Sure, a part of what the Pharisees and scribes wanted may have been to prevent germs from entering their bodies, but they had come to equate their ritualistic hand washing as an important part of their being holy (and more specifically, holier than those who didn’t).

Having just returned from Kenya, let me say how much I appreciate clean water and the ability to wash my hands and know they are clean before eating. It is not that hands are not washed, but it is the degree to which they are washed. For instance, before each meal, they rinse hands by pouring water (very similar to what the religious leaders would do), but they do not use soap.

But having clean hands does not make me holier than those who have dirty hands. And that was what Jesus needed to make sure the people understood in this passage.

We Can Do What Seems Good, But That Does Not Make It So (Matthew 15.11)

Notice the words of Jesus as He starts this teaching. He gets straight to the point then expands on it. “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth that defiles a person” (v. 11).

This statement proves that the concerns of Jesus and the concerns of the Pharisees are very different. In effect, both the Pharisees and Jesus are concerned about what contaminates the body. But the Pharisees are worried about food and germs while Jesus is worried about what truly impacts our hearts and minds (as we will see momentarily).

Jesus realizes that the real contaminants are not germs that accumulate on our hands; rather, it is the desires that impact our heart.

The Pharisees were doing what they thought was good, but the reality is that their teaching was harmful and deserved correction.

Likewise, we can eat what we think is good, but that does not make it so.

We Can Desire to be Good, But It Is God That Makes It So (Matthew 15.13-14)

In these next set of verses, we see Jesus expanding on His point, in part because the disciples are more worried about the reaction of the Pharisees than they are to the truth of God. But Jesus is not at all concerned about their reaction.

The Pharisees wanted to be good (and command others to be good as well), but their wishes did not make them good. Notice also, they commanded others to be good by sharing of their traditions. I will not say that their traditions were wrong as traditions, but any tradition is wrong if it violates God’s Word. Furthermore, it is one thing to show someone a sin and help them to overcome it, it is quite another to simply condemn someone for their sins (which is what it appears the Pharisees often did).

We are similar. We have our pet sins and our pet sins we despise. And we think if we help God to correct others, then we are not only doing good, but we are being good. Now, we should help others overcome their sins. But notice Jesus’ words here. Verses 13 and 14 talk about plants that seems to be a part of the garden, but are really not.

What does Jesus mean? Well, specifically here, He is talking about the religious leaders of His day. But our day has them as well. They preach their own agenda, by asking from others what is not theirs to ask or demanding from others what they themselves do not do. Now, please understand, everything I preach or teach – and I mean everything – is a direct challenge back to me. Do I stand here and say things we should be doing that I myself am not doing or do not do well enough? Yes. But I am not saying that “you” should do them better, I am saying that “we” should do them better – and not because of some desire I have, but because of the sacrifice Jesus made and what that should demand of us!

If I am wrong, then my punishment will be more harsh (see James 3.1). If I am right, then we need to do more. Jesus knew the burdens that the Pharisees were putting on the people were wrong and restrictive. Thus, He also knew that they were not from the Father and that the Father would thus take them away in due time (“be rooted up”).

Besides religious leaders, however, we must also include religious sounding phrases. For instance, consider the phrase, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” The phrase is first recorded in history by John Wesley, but the sentiment has existed for millennia. Wesley was a great preacher and inspired many during the 18th Century, but his words are not on par with Jesus. Jesus knew that godliness requires holiness.

Wesley’s words were good, but fall short of the word of Jesus. Likewise, the Pharisees meant well, but their words and actions fell far short of Jesus.

We Can Pretend That We Are Good, But The Heart Will Reveal It So (Matthew 15.15-20)

After Peter asked for an explanation, Jesus provides one. Very simply, Jesus says that the digestive system is designed to process what passes into the mouth, but what enters the heart will pass back out of the mouth and reveal who we really are. (Read Matthew 15.17-19.)

We discussed this teaching from Mark 7 a couple of years ago when I preached through the life of Jesus from that book over the course of a year. But several years ago, we also looked at this passage in Matthew 15. You might remember the little exercise we are going to do right now related to verse 17. First let me read that verse again. (Read Matthew 15.18.)

Here is the exercise. Repeat this phrase aloud a couple of times: “Out of the mouth comes the overflow of the heart.”

Now, what comes from the heart goes far beyond what we say. The list in verse 19 is testimony to that. But the truth is that what enters our heart does create desires within us that do not easily pass away.

What we eat passes through our digestive system within 24-72 hours. But images we see cannot be forgotten. Our sins and mistakes replay in our minds constantly. What passes through our body might have been enjoyed at the time of eating, but it is soon gone. Our thoughts and actions remain with us for a lifetime. What we eat may make us sick, but it cannot defile us. Jesus makes is clear that it is our heart (and our evil desires) that reveal whether or not we are defiled.

CONCLUSION

Let me tie this back to the digestive system.

Washing to be clean does not make us clean. We can only wash the outside, but it is the inside that truly matters.

Desiring to be good does not make us good. We may pretend to be good. We may fool others and even ourselves into thinking we are good. But only God can truly make us good. The truth is that we are defiled. Paul reminds us in Romans 3 that all have sinned. We are all corrupt on the inside which is why Jesus had to come and die. But He did more than die. He rose to life. And that is why we must learn to live our lives according to His Word. No one else could make a way. And thus,

Our JOURNEY letter for today is:  OOBSERVE.

I struggled with using Observe this week. The reason I hesitate is because in a passage like Matthew 15, we can still dupe ourselves into thinking that doing the right thing (and telling others to do the same) will make us worthy before God. That was the problem with the Pharisees. But even if we cannot earn God’s approval by what we do, we are to not only teach others what Jesus taught…we are also to teach them to observe what is to be done. Thus, a part of keeping our hearts clean is to not only focus on knowing Jesus, but doing what He commanded (Matthew 28.19-20). I suspect if we find ourselves doing that as earnestly as we ought to be, we will find less time to “feed” our hearts with ideas that may corrupt us.

PRINCIPLE:  What comes out of our mouths is far more important than what goes into them.

QUESTION:  What desires of your heart prevent you from following Jesus as He would have you follow Him?

OPPORTUNITY:  Find someone with whom you can share more than a cup of coffee and a snack (digested as food) and speak to them about the matters of the heart.

NEXT STEP(S)LOVE: You may have a desire to take this principle seriously, to answer the question honestly, and to take advantage of the opportunity completely. But you must be willing to love and be loved deeply for all of that to happen. Are you willing to take that next step and be vulnerable with someone and let them be vulnerable with you?

(1) https://www.asge.org/home/about-asge/newsroom/media-backgrounders-detail/human-digestive-system

Second Annual “Labor for the Son” Day

This past Sunday, we had our Second Annual “Labor for the Son” Day. The idea behind this day is to truly “be” the church. The word “church” never really meant a place to go until the German word “kirche” was used to define the church. All of a sudden, the mindset changed from “being the church” to “going to church.” We may go to church once or twice (or more) times per week, but we should “be” the church everyday. This past Sunday was (and is) a reminder to us of that fact and an opportunity for us to let our light shine before men.

Rick Sons led us in a devotional and a time of prayer before we were mobilized to go out into our community. He challenged us to drive around and see what the needs of our town are. He also challenged each of one of us to walk around each of our own streets and pray intentionally for our neighbors.

There were projects accomplished and prayer walks accomplished. Only God and those who were served know who specifically was a light in their world that day. Let us pray that we will remember to “be” the church everyday and to do so with a humble, servant heart.

“Remaining in Christ” by Sam Hood

Before we begin to dissect our passage, we need to take a glimpse of what has happened before chapter 15. Beginning in chapter 12 we see Jesus heading towards Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover. As was custom of the Jews, every year they held a celebration of remembrance for what God had done in leading them out of Egypt and out of slavery. Jesus then enters into Jerusalem riding on a young donkey as people shouted, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” And yet Jesus, in verse 32, indicates that he will be lifted up to die. Many may be believing at this time that Jesus is the Messiah, that he would restore Israel to what it was intended to be. But Jesus only proclaims his death. Many would now turn away from Jesus.

Before the Passover Festival, Jesus demonstrated his love for his disciples by washing their feet. He did this to reveal to his disciples how they should love one another. Their love should be characterized by the same love Jesus showed them. After this, Jesus reveals that someone would betray him. John makes it clear that it is Judas Iscariot who would betray Jesus. Judas then leaves. Jesus continues to teach the remaining eleven disciples. It is here in the middle of Jesus’ teaching that we find our passage.

Read John 15:1-17

Disciples of Jesus remain in him because

      1. Jesus is the source of life. (v.1-10)

Right at the beginning of our passage we see Jesus declare that he is the true vine. This is not a metaphor that is to be taken lightly either. In the Old Testament Israel is often equated to a vine. It is familiar language to Jesus’ disciples and even for the Jewish readers who would later read John’s gospel. Israel was God’s nation. It is where God’s rule extended and where he blessed his people as they responded in obedience and joy to him. And in our passage, Jesus is pointing us to Isaiah 5:1-7 where God is seen as a vinedresser, otherwise known as a gardener. In Isaiah we see God prepare the soil where the vine, Israel, would be planted. He then plants the vine and takes care of it so that it may yield good grapes. But in the end, it yielded worthless grapes. Unlike this vine, Jesus reveals himself as the true vine. In a real sense, he is saying that he is the true Israel. He is the obedient child of God, unlike the nation Israel. He trusts in the Father’s Words, unlike the nation Israel. He produces fruit that glorifies God, unlike the nation Israel.

The very next thing Jesus says is shocking. And I’m afraid that those of us who have grown up in the church or have basic biblical knowledge miss the point of verse 2. Jesus declares, “Every branch in me that does not produce fruit he removes.” After claiming to be the true vine, Jesus states that every branch is in him. Imagine as the disciples hear this what they might be thinking. “I’ve heard about the vine. Why is Jesus saying he is the true vine? Wouldn’t that make him the true Israel? Hasn’t he been claiming to be the Messiah? If he is the true Israel, what is the true mission of the Messiah? I thought the Messiah was going to restore Israel? How can the Messiah be Israel?” These thoughts might have overtaken the disciples’ minds. I’m not sure, but I am sure that Jesus makes a bold claim to his disciples. If Jesus is the one that the branches are found in, then those who don’t believe in Jesus will be removed from him – they would be removed from Israel. Rejecting Jesus is the same as not producing fruit.

On the contrary, the Father prunes those who believe in Jesus. The word “prunes” is not one we use in our everyday vocabulary. It’s helpful here to clarify: The Bible is speaking of cleansing. It’s the removal of the filth or impurity so that growth may occur. The image then here is clear. The Father prunes the branches that are in Jesus so that they may continue to grow and produce fruit in Christ. The Father cleanses those on his vine.

It is here I want to remind you our context again. After Judas left, Jesus begins to teach the remaining eleven disciples. This is important if we are to understand verse 3. When Jesus says, “You are already clean,” he is directly speaking to these disciples. They have believed in Jesus and the Father has been pruning them. “The Word spoken” to them was the method the Father used to reveal to them the Son of God, Jesus. After many years of following Jesus, the Father has revealed to the disciples who Jesus truly is. They had this confirmed by the teachings of Jesus. But not all have believed in this word. Judas is shown as the one the Father has removed. He didn’t believe in the words of Jesus. He rejected these words, and he was removed.

Immediately, Jesus tells the disciples to remain in him. They aren’t given an explanation on how to do this. They might not even know where Jesus is going with all of this. What’s quite weird is that Jesus tells them the result of remaining in him before they are even told how to remain in him! It’s hinted on in the text that remaining in Jesus is to consciously choose to dwell in Jesus, to make a residence in him. Dwelling with him is the only way to produce fruit.

Finally, Jesus silences the questions in the minds of the disciples. He gives it to them straight. He is the vine and they are the branches. Up to this point they could only imply what he was meaning. But now they know. Jesus has been declaring that he is their source of life. Life that produces fruit in them. Not just a little amount of fruit; but, much fruit! There is nothing the disciples can produce by themselves, but only in Jesus do they have life. Only in Jesus do they reflect what Israel truly is. Only in Jesus are they God’s people.

Now, Jesus proclaims a message, much like the prophets of Israel once gave. He gives a message of judgment. Those who don’t remain in the true vine are cut off and they die. Later, the same branches are burned. Indeed, their works to appease the Father are worthless grapes. They aren’t acceptable. Sin had so overtaken Israel that it could not be the vine that produced life. Every branch that does not believe in Jesus as Messiah will wither, die, and be burned. This is a reality for the disciples. For a long time, they’ve been awaiting the Messiah, but here they know that those rejecting Jesus, like Judas, ultimately will perish.

Having reminded them of judgment, Jesus still encourages his disciples to remain in him. They know to remain in him is to produce fruit. They know that to depart from him is to perish. Additionally, this encouragement to remain in him gives them hope. If they remain in him and his words remain in them, they can ask the Father whatever they want in Jesus’ name and it will be done for them. Jesus does not tell them they can become rich or healthy just because they prayed in his name. This isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. No, there are some conditions attached. They must remain in Jesus, the source of life, and have his word dwell in them. These are fruit producing prayers. God is not a wishing well; he is the fruit producer. These are God-centered prayers.

Next, we see that when the disciples remain in Jesus, they remain in his love. Jesus has loved his disciples since the beginning, and as John 13:1 makes clear, he loved them till the end. Jesus loves the disciples the same way the Father has loved him. Here Jesus explains what it means to remain in him. It is a mutual loving of one another. Just as Jesus has loved his disciples so they are to love him. To display they are in his love they obey what he commands them. Jesus has shown them this by remaining in the Father’s love and by keeping the Father’s commands. In the same way, the disciples are to do the same with Jesus.

I know that I have been lengthy in explaining the section. Truly, it is because I’m afraid that we will miss the point of this section if I didn’t take the time to walk through it. When we hear the phrase, “Remain in me,” we tend to look at this passage with an imperative-driven mindset (that’s a mindset of works). We begin to read this text looking for clues on how to live our life or what we can do better to remain in Christ. My friends, this is not the point of this section. Jesus wants us to see he is the source of life!

How much fruit does a branch produce when it’s on a dead vine? None. This why Jesus looked to the disciples and said he was, “The true vine.” No other vine gives life. The way he pleads for them to remain in him as their source of life, is the same way I want to plead with you. Find your life in Jesus. He possesses the ability to give you life. Not, just life here on earth, but eternal life. I know of no other who can give you eternal life. He is the divine vine that gives life to those who believe in him.

Additionally, I want to point out that this isn’t about how well you can perform good deeds either. I often hear people say that doing good things for one another is “life-giving”. Performing good deeds doesn’t provide life. Don’t misunderstand me, doing something good for someone often brings happiness, but evil fills this earth. It takes no rest. How exhausting it must be to attempt to conquer evil in this world when it still persists in your heart. Yet, the Father prunes those who remain in Christ. He cleanses them of this evil in their heart, for it is Jesus who has given them life. And Jesus has conquered the evil in this world and one day will cleanse it from the earth.

Stop trying to do better. Instead, remain and rest in Christ. He has promised that the Father will answer the prayers of those who remain in him. From these prayers fruitfulness will grow and the Father will prune you.

I want to be honest for a moment and confess how I have struggled with remaining in Christ. There are many people in my life I’ve pushed aside because I didn’t find them worthy of my time. I never shared with them the gospel because I felt as if they wouldn’t respond. I never loved them because loving them would feel more like a chore than a pleasure. We all do this. You might have even thought of people in your life whom you’ve pushed away because they were hard to love, or you thought they were unworthy of your time and affection.

But here in verse 10, Jesus is telling us to keep his commands. Has he not commanded us to love our neighbors and to proclaim the gospel? When we follow these commands of Jesus it is shocking how much we express Jesus’ love. It is shocking how much we find life in proclaiming the glory of God. Just as Jesus has proclaimed, HE IS THE SOURCE OF LIFE! Living in obedience to Jesus gives us life! Repenting of sin isn’t just a suggestion, it’s a command. Let us kill our sin together as the church of Christ and start living out the commands of Jesus.

Friends, I would be mistaken to not mention that God has kept his promise of pruning those in Christ. The Holy Spirit within us is constantly transforming us into obedient children of God. We are inheriting the love and obedience of Jesus. The Spirit within in us keeps us connected to the vine Jesus. So when you feel as if you can’t obey remember that Christ has been obedient on your behalf and he has sent us the Spirit to transform us so that we may obedient and remain in Christ.

This brings us to our second point; the disciples of Jesus remain in him because

      1. Jesus demonstrated his love for his disciples. (v. 11-17)

Here in verse 11 Jesus transitions his thoughts. He tells the disciples why he has told them that he is the true vine, that his joy may be in them. This is a benefit of remaining in Jesus, that his joy would be in his disciples. As a tangent, I want to ask you to go home and read the book of John. Look and see that as Jesus obeys his Father he gains joy. This is the same joy that Jesus wants his disciples to have. This joy actually becomes complete for the disciples when they remain in the love of Jesus. As we’ve seen part of remaining in the love of Jesus is obeying the commands of Jesus. If the disciples remain in the mutual love between them and Jesus, then they will naturally obey. Here we find the key to verse 11. Obedience out of love and joy is not the same as obedience out of obligation.

I believe we have all experienced some form of obedience out of obligation. If you have a job you do this every day. You go to work and you know the tasks set before you. Your obedience to these tasks is influenced by your desire to retain your job so that you can support yourself and your family. However, obedience out of love is different. When my wife asks me to do something I don’t obey because I’m obligated. Frankly, I could tell her no and not do it. It’s not the smartest thing to do, but I could still do it. But when my wife asks me to do something I do it because I love her. As a result, both my wife and I find joy in each other. Likewise, when we love Jesus and remain in his love we joyfully submit to him.

And what does Jesus command the disciples to do? To love one another as Jesus has loved them. The same mutual love that exists between Jesus and the disciples is now commanded for the disciples. They are to love one another mutually. In verse 8, Jesus said that the fruit produced from asking the Father would, “prove [them] to be [his] disciples.” We also see this in John 13:34. This may seem as if Jesus is being repetitive, but Jesus is about to show his disciples how this love is demonstrated even further.

“No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends.” If you remember the context, we know that Jesus is about to be betrayed and sent to die. The disciples don’t know it yet, but Jesus would soon lay his life down for them. What a bold idea, that love could be expressed in the sacrifice of a friend. Jesus would hang on a tree, slowly suffocating so that the love of God would be displayed. He would die so that they would be his friends and longer the enemies of God.

Still, Jesus continues and tells the disciples that his friends do as he commands. Notice what he doesn’t say though. He doesn’t say, “If you do as I command you are my friends.” No, the love displayed to the disciples by Jesus has already led them to obey him. They are his friends and they do obey Jesus. This is further revealed in verse 15. Jesus says they are friends because he has made known to them everything he has heard from his Father. They believed that Jesus is the Son of God and have obeyed him. Because of their prior obedience to Jesus they are friends of his now.

Furthermore, Jesus reminds the eleven disciples that he chose them. Jesus selected these men to love on and to accompany him in his ministry. When Jesus chose these men, he chose them to carry on his work after his departure from earth. In this way, Jesus has appointed them to go and produce fruit. Because Jesus is the true vine this fruit will remain. Again, we see that the disciples are told that if they remain in Jesus the Father will grant them whatever they ask. And again, God is not a wishing well, he is a fruit producer. The Father grants that which glorifies him.

Let’s take a moment to reflect here on what Jesus has chosen as his primary instrument to proclaim the gospel. It began with the disciples and became the Church. Jesus has chosen the Church to produce fruit by proclaiming the glory of God. I implore to take seriously the task set before you as a member of the church of Christ. Pray that the Lord would produce much fruit within you that leads to others producing much fruit that leads to others producing much fruit, and so on and so on.

Now we see for a second time Jesus’ command to love one another. This love will be a brotherly love and a sacrificial love. It’s a command to love like Jesus has loved his disciples.

The God who created the heavens and the earth, the plants of the field and the birds of the sky, the land and the sea, who created humans in his image, this same God came down to earth and gave up his life so that we would find life. Sin entered the world and ruined God’s good creation. But God decided to send his Son, Jesus, to become sin for us so that we may be freed from the tyranny of sin. Jesus was crucified and he died. He was in the grave for three days, but death could not hold him! He resurrected and sent his disciples out into the world to deliver the good news of Jesus.

This is where we find ourselves today, needing to respond to the good news of Jesus. For those who are here today and don’t believe in Jesus, I want you to know that just as the disciples were Jesus’ friends, so you can be too. What he commands of you is to believe in him, to trust that his death is sufficient to pardon your sins. He would have you repent of your sin and find life in him. All this so that you may have joy in him. I plead with you to consider Christ, for he has shed his blood that you may be healed.

Christians, today we have seen how we are to love. We are to love boldly and fiercely like Jesus has. How do you reflect God’s love to your brothers and sisters? If you’re convicted that you don’t love them like you should, go to the Father and ask for Jesus’ love to be produced in you. Maybe you don’t find joy in obedience, go to the Father, he shall surely give you that joy. We as Christians are still sinful, but we have been promised that fruit shall remain in us. Plead to the Father for his grace, mercy, and love to consume us, so that it may consume others. We are one body and the world will know us by our love. So, may we love one another as Christ has loved us.

Conclusion

To conclude, disciples of Jesus remain in him because he is the source of life and he has demonstrated his love for his disciples.