Monday, 30 April 2018

The Vine and me.

John 15:4

It’s difficult to single out a phrase from Jesus without reading the context, though this was our challenge this week. Verse 4 in John’s Chapter 15 is surrounded by some great words of wisdom, words to chew on, an analogy to help us grasp a concept by which to live by.  Jesus teaches us so well that a couple of thousand years later here we are - still pulling it apart and grappling with the practical applications.

Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 

After the upper room, where the Disciples are most likely feeling a bit confused by the thought that Jesus was going to leave them; on their way down to Jerusalem, they pass by a vineyard. Jesus pauses for a moment. He likens himself to the Vine, and His Father to the gardener/vinedresser. He tells us that we are the branches and can only produce fruit if we remain in Him. 

While pondering this for a few days, the concept of Symbiosis popped into my mind. In and of itself a branch can do nothing but wither away. Only attached to the Vine can it grow, but only if the Vine is attached to the roots, and only if the roots are well planted and feed. Hence the fruit can only grow when the gardener tends to the soil. This relationship is such a beautiful one, and it all focuses on the production of fruit - fruit flowers are beautiful, the fruit gives so much life to the recipient and is important for life - yet fruit did not grow itself.... behind it is some pretty serious love and nurture. Remind you of something? (A teenager perhaps? US?)
“Remain in Me, and I will remain in you”.....
Cause and effect? Reciprocal? Conditional Imperative?
This relationship is 100% dependant upon human will.
Today - Will I? Or Won’t I?

The branch.
Within a branch is where all the action happens. The outer shell of the branch scales, ages and sheds as the inside grows, plumps. The natural end of the relationship is fruit, but in order to get there the branch has to grow. The inner fibres and tissues receive life and cleanse itself through the vine. 
Interestingly, as the branch gets bigger and older, it actually produces bigger and better fruit. 
When the gardener prunes, He also prunes off good healthy growth that may subtract away from the fruit. 
Fruit can be enjoyed and the seed falls to the ground to continue the cycle of life - perhaps likened to us imparting into another persons child, or older women training the younger woman? Food for thought..

The fruit
What is this fruit that should naturally grow out of the healthy relationship between the branch and the vine? Galatians 5:22-23 gives us some insight to this natural end that should be characteristic of every believer...... love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. 
Here is a relationship of submission - the Vine to the gardener, the branch to the Vine, the fruit to the branch. As the branch, we should drink in the life giving water that the Vine provides - the Holy Spirit, this leads to the natural end of fruit production and hence new life. 
The word ‘remain’ is used as a verb, an action word, to permanently tarry when all others leave. It again points to our decisions.... 
Today, Will I? Or Won’t I? 

Remaining attached to the Vine is to submit to the Vine dresser. To source our life and direction from the flowing waters/nourishment of the Holy Spirit.
Will I get my direction from the world or the Word? 
If you decide today to remain in Jesus, it will lead to blessing and life.
If you decide today to not remain in Jesus it will lead to curse and death. 

CHOOSE this day.....

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Run in such a way....

Staying in the race is the easy part - not getting ‘side-tracked’ or ‘side-lined’, now that is the challenge.
Paul encourages us to ‘run in such a way as to win the prize and not get disqualified’ (paraphrased of course). This is not the only time he mentions running a race to win a prize (Philippians 3:14; Hebrews 12:1). He exhorts us to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, with perseverance and with focus.
On one hand, Paul tells us he doesn’t consider himself yet to have taken hold of it (Philippians 3:13) and then on the other hand he says he has “ fought the good fight, and finished the race” (2 Tim 4:7).
So then, what do we know of this race we are to run?
Well firstly, he is referring to the path we walk called life (SING ‘It’s life Jim, but not as we know it, not as we know, not as we know it).
And secondly he says to run it “In such a way...”  1 Corinthians 9:24-27

This is what I want to focus on.....
In such a way.....
‘That I myself may not be disqualified ‘

How do we get disqualified from a race? 
Break the rules 
Injury
Decision
‘In such a way’ - clearly meaning with knowledge of the rules then obedience, with integrity (doing the right thing even when no-one is looking) and application (put into practice, intentionally, that which you have been instructed to do).
So would it be fair to minimise it to these three words?
KNOW the Bible
OBEY the Word
APPLY the instructions 
KNOW OBEY APPLY - pick a book in the New Testament and simply read it. Read the whole letter as it was meant to be read. Try reading it out loud. Ask the Lord Himself to highlight something to ponder on. Then do it. 
1 Pe 3:15 tells us to always be ready with an answer for what we believe. You simply CANNOT do this IF you do not KNOW the Word. As a believer in Christ, it is imperative that you know the Word. 
1 Samuel 15:22 tells us that God would prefer us to Obey then sacrifice- Obey what? HIM! How do we know what He wants from us? We MUST read HIS Word.

To not be disqualified? This word in Greek is ‘Adokimos’ which when translated to the English means ‘a test of Apostleship’. It does not mean loss of salvation which many imply.
((Further reading where Paul backs this up :- Ro 8:13; Col 1:22-23; Heb 3:6; Heb 3:14; 1Pe 1:5))
The call on an Apostles life is ultimately found in these two Scriptures- 
1 Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbour as yourself.
2 GO into all the Earth, preach and teach the Good news and make disciples.
We can be disqualified from the race for not obeying the rules, or for getting injured ( so as to not look after ourselves) or by Deciding we simply can’t or don’t want to do it. 

We are never out of the race. We may get side-tracked (distractions). We may be side-lined. But our team, the body of Christ, continues to run corporately. 
The sun will still rise again tomorrow, until it doesn’t. Until we draw our last breath we will be running. 
Paul’s exhortation?
Intentional learning. Intentional living. Intentional loving.. 
Run in such a way.....
In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 we see that Paul becomes all things to all men in order to save some. THIS is intentional love. To Disciple someone is to walk along side of them and teach them disciplines. It is important that our race does not become a tripping hazard.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Discipleship and Mentoring

A small thought at the end of my day.


Lately I have been thinking about the importance of Discipleship and making Disciples, and I wonder - “ where have all the good men gone”?!!. 
I know of a young male who has met Jesus and is desperate for a mentor - someone to walk along side him and teach him the way of the Master. 
I started to think about all the men I know and could honestly say only a few of them would know how to Disciple, but are too busy to take this young guy on.
This lead me to questioning what Discipleship looks like in the 21st century. 
What are the foundations. Can anyone do it? 
If we are to “Go into all the Earth, Preach and teach and make Disciples’ what does that mean? Women seem to know how to talk; but disciple? And when men get together do they dabble in the Word - so to speak?
Simply put - 
Preach - tell them how it is
Teach - make them understand
Disciple - walk with them through life to help them discipline themselves to be more Christlike

Is this happening today in modern Churches? I would have to say no, it isn’t. Pastors have grasped Alter calls, but not the ‘discipling’ Process.
Most Churches are about the show, the numbers, the Pastors talk, the programs, the money. They are simply too busy to do the things that count. 
Imagine for a second that the Pastor stood at the pulpit and asked people to stand up who:
Shared the Gospel of Jesus this week with an unbeliever and what was their name?
or if they deliberately spent time with someone younger or older mentoring them. 
An Alter call is NOT obedience to the call. Where is the follow up? It is the follow up that is Discipleship. Feeding the sheep is relational.
What a difference to the Church of believers it would be if the line of mentoring was a priority, maybe even accountability to ‘making disciples’.
Let the older women teach the younger women..... (Titus 2:4-6).
The concept is invaluable. But alas - there are very few men who think it applies to them. 
Discipleship is not just about getting together and being social, it is deliberate about learning ‘the way’ and walking in it with accountability. If there was a ‘Sinners Anonymous ‘ then we would all have a sponsor to call on to keep us on the right track. 
If I had not had so many women and mentors in my life then I don’t know where my Faith would be, it is the inspiration and challenges I have received from them to keep going, that has kept me growing. 
I fear for my children, for this next generation of believers.....
Does any follower care enough to ‘train up’; to Disciple? 

Start your next conversation with “How is your walk with the Lord going? What have you read lately?” Then discuss it. 

Obedience. Tick. 

Monday, 16 April 2018

Run with perseverence...


HEBREWS 12:1-4


I had a task of rewriting this scripture in my own words; simple as it should have been, I found myself encroaching upon a novel of grand proportions! You know this one - it's the one about running the race with perseverance and fixing your eyes upon Jesus (if you don't, look it up).

I had to step back, take a breath and try again.
For days now I have found myself pondering on the words and phrases Paul used and trying to imagine the personage behind them.

This is what I ended up with: (read this aloud, not in your head, a bit slower than normal. Pause sometimes.)
................................
Amidst the ‘how’s’ and ‘who’s’, Paul gives us one instruction here – Run with perseverance the race….
Imagine for a moment you are standing in position at the starting line, you look around. The grandstand is full, the other competitors are at the ready. The race is carefully marked out. You know there is a finish line.
There you stand, ready to go.
You slow your breathing, adjust your position and wait for the gun. Intense feelings.
BANG!!!
There it is. And you’re off.

You take your first step. You stumble and fall.
Lifting your eyes, you only see the backs of the other competitors.
Confusion sets in.
Your vision is blurred.
Looking down at your feet you wonder what just happened.
Then you hear it.

The Authors voice.
            “Look at me”.
            “Consider what I endured'.  The blood.
            “Look to the crowd”.
            “Now run”.

Lifting your head you feel like all eyes are on you.
Surrounding you are the great men and women of faith who have gone before; some ran the race but didn’t receive the prize and some ran the race and received an automatic pass. You see it is different for everyone, I now realise this.
Some lost body limbs and others their lives from bystanders who used rocks and swords. The firstborn, Abel, only took a few steps before his race was abruptly cut short by another competitor!
And yet, here they are. Cheering you on. Reminding you of ‘how’ and ‘why’.
Get up! Keep running! Faith will sustain you.


You pick yourself up.
This time you are determined to run again, but this time your eyes will be on the Author & Perfector.
Resolute.
This time you will listen to the witnesses.
As you run you notice others stumbling and fall.
Now it is your voice that echoes amongst the Great Cloud of witnesses.
“Get up! Keep running! Faith will sustain you”.

You may not finish the race. You may limp part of the way. You may 'feel' abandoned.
But you are not alone, never have you been and never will you be.
................................................................
Unpacking (Study notes - if you are limited for time you don't need to read these)
Therefore:
Therefore what?
It means to read the Chapter before... that's the why...
Abel - The firstborn of all mankind, By faith offered to God his best and was murdered for it.
Enoch - By Faith took 10 steps in the race and was taken straight to the finish line. 
Noah - By faith built a boat with no water for miles. He was considered righteous.
Abraham - By faith obeyed and was considered righteous.
Sarah - By faith believed God and was blessed.
Isaac - By faith blessed his children and was considered righteous.
Jacob - By faith blessed Josephs Son.
Moses' Parents - By faith hid him and trusted God.
Moses - By faith gave up his Earthly inheritance to be faithful to His heavenly Father.
The Israelites - By faith walked on the Ocean bed with walls of scarry water all around them and enemies behind them, not knowing what lay ahead. They overcame and were blessed.
Rehab - By faith protected God's people putting her own life at risk and was blessed, protected.

Then there are those that should get a mention: Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, The Prophets - By Faith: 
  • Conquered Kingdoms
  • Administered Justice
  • Gained what was promised
  • Shut the mouths of lions
  • Quenched fiery flames
  •  Escaped the sword
  • Weakness turned to strength
  • Were powerful in battle
  • Rerouted foreign armies
  • Women received back their dead
  • People were raised to life
  • Some were tortured; jeered at; flogged; chained; imprisoned; stoned to death; sawn in two; had no clothes, food and were destitute; mistreated, persecuted, wandered in the desert; lived in caves and lived in holes in the ground.
Heb 11vs 40 And yet they didn't receive what was promised because God had other better plans.

"Let us"  
A corporate race - one body many members. Individual but side by side.
"Run"  
  • Keep doing the task at hand.
  • One foot in front of the other
  • Stay focused
  • Control the elements - steady your breathing, ease the cramps and stretch, take control of the mindset of defeat, don't look around and be jealous - concentrate, develop or break a rhythm.
"Persevere" 
Put up with it. Keep going. Control your mindset.
"Marked out"
God strategically planned the course you are on, with all the valleys and mountains, the rocks on the road and bends in the path. The people you encounter and the place where your foot lands.... Definitive lines were carefully marked out by the Author. and He will keep you perfectly (IF...). 
HOW?
  1. Observe those who witnessed to you 
  2. Throw off the things that get in the way, the entrapments
  3. Keep your eyes on Jesus
  4. Know with certainty that the race was purposefully marked out for you by the Author.
  5. Don't forget Jesus or you WILL grow weary and lose heart AND hope. Don't forget there is a finish line.
From Today's study I was further challenged to remember that:
  •  'I' can be an obstacle in my own race. 
  • Jesus also ran the race and knows the challenges oh so well. 
  • Be Spiritually fit and the Holy Spirit will carry you in times of great need. 
  • And finally when faced with a grey line, ask yourself "Does it help me run?". 

Now get out there, work out who you are in this race called life and run as best you can.
Get up! Keep running! Faith will sustain you.




Monday, 19 March 2018

The Parable of the Ten Virgins


Matthew 25:1-13

In my perspective


When the Disciples went to Jesus privately and asked why He spoke in parables (Mk 4:9-11), He basically says that only those who care to ask questions and hear the answers can understand. So with that in mind –
Let him who has ears, Hear.
Section 1:
On the surface this parable looks like a story about the wise and foolish and their consequences. All were given the same things: an invite to the wedding, a lamp, some oil and a notification of the Bridegrooms entrance. Even the location was given to them (vs 1). The 5 wise prepared by taking an extra jar of oil, but the foolish thought they would be okay. When the Bridegrooms arrival was announced, panic took over the foolish and they left the place to get what they needed, however when they were gone they missed the arrival and the doors were shut to them. The Bridegroom sent them away claiming not to know them.
The encouragement or warning in this parable is to stay alert! Prepare, be caught doing what you were instructed to do, be ready because you do not know when He will come.  So be like the wise and keep on top of what you were asked to do.

Section 2:
In my understanding, there is so much more to this parable. Lessons we can learn, meat we can chew on and a message that offers us encouragement.
Components
‘At that time’ (vs 1) – During the Great Tribulation. Here we have Jesus (Bridegroom) who gave everyone an invite to a wedding (The Kingdom of Heaven) which He has warned us is coming and ‘at that time’….  
The Church (the virgins) is made up of two components, The Jews (The Foolish) and the Gentiles (The wise). Both were given salvation (The Lamp), The Jew by the birth rite in the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic or Sinaitic Covenant (Ge 15:18-21 and Exodus 19-24); and the Gentiles by their birth rite of salvation by being born again (Jn 3:3,7). Both Jew and Gentile were given access to exactly what they needed for salvation (the lamp and the oil).
Both were taken to the location (25:1) of where the Bridegroom would meet them so they both had equal opportunity. Unfortunately only the Gentile (The wise virgin) prepared by taking oil with extra jars, or rather, by having a relationship with Jesus by being full of the Holy Spirit, and praying and reading the Word. He had ears and heard the call and took note of the warning and instructions and prepared himself.

The Call
They both heard the ‘Call’ – perhaps the trumpets sound? Upon hearing this call, the Jews realise they have been wrong and seek help from the Christians who give them instructions.

The wick
They trimmed their wicks – a wick in a lantern needs to be trimmed in order to continue to burn the brightest and continue to draw the oil up properly. If the wick is burned and dirty it doesn’t draw the oil as well and as a result will not burn right.
So the analogy of trimming their wicks, correlates to maintenance of our salvation – prayer, forgiveness of sins, obedience, reading the Word, love – this all allows us to be full of the Holy Spirit, where our cup can overflow. 

The arrival
While they were busy trying to make up for their foolishness, and earn their salvation, Jesus comes and takes those that are ready, home. He shuts the door, essentially he separates the sheep from the goats, the foolish virgins are cast out with the wicked regardless of their birth rite – they heard the call but missed the coming – they simply did not do what they were told to do – hence all the confidence they had in their position meant nothing in the end because they did not have a relationship with Jesus (John 14:6 – I am the way, the truth and the light – no one sees the Father but by Me).

Notes
·      The lamp, which symbolises salvation, also symbolises the Bridegroom, as Jesus is the bridegroom and the Light of the world (Lamp)(Jn 8:12).
·      Trimming the wick could be akin to pruning branches (John 15:2) or to defining the Wood, Hay and Stubble (1 Cor 3:12).
·      25:9: There comes a point where division starts. And it is important to know when your responsibility for another person comes to an end – where your help simply cannot make up for another persons foolish decision. This could also be an example of when to say no to other peoples requests, where all we have to offer is a word of advice or direction. We simply have to walk out our own path and be faithful with what we have been given – not with what other people have been given (eg: taking on the role of the Pastor? Filling the shoes of someone’s incompetent parent? Sacrificing our own family for the needs of another family). Knowing when to say no.
·      Thinking ahead by taking the extra jar of oil is akin to being ‘Watchful’.

Section 3
This goes beyond the scope of this study, but bear with me.
I started asking the ‘What, Where, Why and When’ questions which took me to the previous chapter. I found this VERY interesting as a precursor to the parable of the ten virgins. See if you notice the pattern? (I will highlight it at the end of this summary)
1.     Where? – The Mount of Olives (24:3) Being 800m above Jerusalem, on the Eastern side, one of three mountains in the Jordean Ranges dividing the desert and Jerusalem.
2.     Who? – The Disciples came to Jesus privately to ask questions (24:3)
3.     The Questions? – When will it happen and What will be the signs?
·      Vs 15-31: When? – The Great Tribulation Jesus explains what is to come
·      Vs 32-35: Jesus encourages them to UNDERSTAND His Word because it will stand til the end of time.
·      Vs 36: (and vs 44) He highlights that no one will know the hour or the day, it will be sudden and unannounced.
·      Vs 40-41: He highlights that there will be division within friendship and family, one will be taken and one will remain.
·      Vs 42: He tells them to keep watch (as a side note, Jesus tells the Disciples to ‘keep watch’ regularly. The word comes from the Greek word ‘Agrupneo’ and means ‘To Be Sleepless – to keep awake’ (Mt 25:5; Ro 13:11; 1 Thess 5:6-8) It refers to the Spiritual, not the physical.
·      Vs 45: makes a definition of the wise and faithful servant.
·      Vs 48: Talks about what happens when the wise servant becomes foolish by doubting his masters word that he will return, and as a result he makes the wrong decisions.
·      Vs 51: The foolish will be cast out with the unsaved…. Essentially losing his standing or relationship with his master and made an equal with the unchosen.
Did you notice that in the leading up to the parable of the Ten Virgins, Jesus explains every element! What the Kingdom of Heaven will be like in the Great Tribulation and what to watch out for.
He encourages His disciples to understand His Words, as it will always be with them and He explains how no one will know when it is going to happen, but that there will be clear division amongst those that profess to ‘know’ Jesus and who think they are ‘attending’ the wedding feast ( Matthew 7:21-24 
[21] “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. [22] Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?' [23] Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' [24] “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock). He emphasizes that only those who are ready will be at the banqueting table and that it is really important to keep watch – stay alert and read the signs, listen for the call. It is ok to sleep if you are prepared.

So basically, before He tells them the parable, He explains it all to them and then sums it up with the parable. Jesus says things in so many different ways that we are without excuse.