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Only One risen Saviuor

Only One risen Saviuor
There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved - Jesus

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

John Days 146 to 159

John Day 146 - Our Box Addiction
25 “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. 28 You have heard Me say to you, ‘I am going away and coming back to you.’ If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’ for My Father is greater than I."
What Jesus is trying to teach here is actually simple. Our need to put things in boxes makes it difficult. Do you remember biology class. Do you remember how they tried to reach us that certain animals go in the mammal box, others go in the amphibian box, others the reptile box, others in the bird box and finally the fish box. Then you learn some creatures like the platypus don't fit in their box very well. And whales aren't a fish either. In fact I gave you five boxes to put all the animals in. Some say there are six. Then you learn there are boxes inside each box and eventually you figure out there are no boxes. We made them up as an attempt to define and classify etc... Sit down with an honest biologist, they will tell you...
This same mind set leads to sayings like "all black people can jump and white guys can't". Or the most common and growing ignorance today "all Middle Eastern people are Muslims and all Muslims are terrorists." Jesus was Middle Eastern. Even the term Middle Eastern is a box that really means nothing. If I were to pull one random person from that region none of my western preconceived ideas might fit him or her.
Now take our addiction to boxes and look at what Jesus has been saying.
Yesterday we read that He was leaving. Then He said He would send the Helper, the Spirit of God, the Comforter, to take His place. Then He said He would come Himself. Then we read about His Father and then in that same breath He said "We will come to you". (He and His Father).
Now today continuing in the same teaching/conversation He says again that the Father will send the Spirit in Jesus' name. To make it all the more colourful He adds at the end that we should be glad Jesus is going to His Father because His Father is greater than He is. Didn't Jesus just finish explaining to Philip that if Philip has seen Jesus he has seen God because They are One?
How are you doing with those boxes. Have you figured out clearly and definitively where God the Father starts and ends, where Jesus starts and ends and where the Spirit starts and ends?
No? Good. That's not the point.
The point is that through the Spirit we get the full power and presence of all three. That's the point.
When Jesus stepped down to become one of us He took on all our limitations. Time and space constrained Him. He had no power except what His Father gave Him. His apparent ability to heal and restore was only made possible by His Father. Jesus said plainly "of Myself I can do nothing." He was as helpless and reliant on God as the disciples were to perform miracles. That is why He said we are better off if He goes. He had become a crutch. People thought they had to occupy the same time and space as Him in order to have God's help. By leaving, that physical literal crutch disappeared. Now the only Help available is the Helper who is available to all people in all places at all times. This Helper is the Father and the Son all wrapped up in One. Nothing is withheld.
Forget the boxes. When speaking of trying to define the three Persons: Father, Son, and Spirit, my favourite author says "on some subjects silence is golden".
Once you leave the boxes out of the picture one clear truth emerges from what Jesus is saying. "When I leave this earth and you can't see Me or touch Me any more you will be better off. I will not leave you alone. We will all come to all of you who want us and believe in us. We will never leave you alone."
Sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking we'd be better off if we could see Him and touch Him. They could back then and most of them wanted Him dead. He didn't fit in their box. Oh how we love our boxes. Oh how they need to be thrown away.
Instead of trying to box Him up, perhaps it's time to allow the Spirit to take our boxes away...

John Day 147 - A Different Kind of Peace
25 “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. 28 You have heard Me say to you, ‘I am going away and coming back to you.’ If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’ for My Father is greater than I.
29 “And now I have told you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe. 30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me. 31 But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do. Arise, let us go from here."
Peace. It's a great feeling. Deadline met. Peace. Exams finished. Peace. Storm past. Peace. Children sleeping. Peace. Bills paid. Peace. Vacation underway. Peace. Held in the arms of the one we love. Peace. Relaxing under the stars on a quiet, warm summer night. Peace. Alone on a lake with only the sound of the oar in the water. Peace. An all clear from the doctor after the test results come back. Peace.
Peace comes in many ways but none of these are the peace Jesus is speaking of. Peace brought by circumstances can be as fleeting as a warm breeze or shooting star. As quickly as it comes a new circumstance arises to take it away. This week a family here in Alberta lost three of their daughters in a single farming accident. Last night I found out one of my good friends from high school has suddenly lost her husband in a tragic accident leaving her and her three boys alone. Peace shattered.
Jesus says He is offering a different peace than the one the world gives which is brought by circumstances and stolen away again by new ones. What is this peace? As soon as He speaks of it He again says "Let not your heart be troubled neither let it be afraid." Fear, trouble, and peace. They hardly seem to go together. However Jesus is not saying they do. He is saying His peace conquers any circumstances that would cause us to be troubled or afraid. Paul understood this peace. He called it 'the peace that passes understanding'. Shipwrecked. Still at peace. Beaten. Peaceful. Imprisoned falsely. Peace.
Yesterday millions of Canadians watched nervously. My brother in law said it was the most intense game he had ever watched. The Blue Jays had lost the first two games of a 5 game series. Then they won the next two but were losing in the 5th and deciding game. They clawed back to tie the game only to fall behind again. Hearts were troubled. There was no peace. Why? Because the outcome was uncertain and in doubt. That's what drives sports and creates the drama - the uncertainty of the outcome.
Are you seeing it?
Two things brought Jesus peace. One was the peace of knowing despite how awful His circumstances were in the present that He was following the will of His Father. He was exactly where He was supposed to be. The second and ultimate thing that brought Him peace was the knowledge that no matter how bad things got, the end of the Story was certain.
There would have been no drama in the Blue Jays game had the final score been known before the game started. The back and forth of the game would have been endured in perfect peace. The prophet Isaiah says God keeps in perfect peace the one who's mind is stubborn for Him because he/she trusts in Him.
Life can be incredibly cruel and hard and wildly unfair but let me tell you how the Story ends. Jesus wins. Love wins. The outcome is guaranteed.
Peace.
Peace that circumstances can't change.

John Day 148 - I'm Telling You Now
14:29 “And now I have told you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe. 30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me.31 But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do. Arise, let us go from here."
You may remember that back in chapter 13 Jesus announced at the supper table that one of the Twelve was going to betray Him. They were in shock. They couldn't believe one of them would do such a thing. They couldn't imagine which one of them it would be. Even after Jesus identified Judas they still couldn't believe it. However when Jesus told them what was going to happen He added "I am telling you this now so that when it happens you will know that I Am."
Here at the end of chapter 14 He has been again telling of His imminent departure as well as the soon arrival of the Spirit. At the end of this new teaching He again says "I am telling you before it comes to pass so that when it comes to pass you may believe."
Last week a religious group said the world was going to end. Wednesday, May 7th was the date. We're still here...
Telling the future in advance is called prophecy in the Bible. Many, many, often sincere Christians have had the idea over the centuries since Jesus went back to heaven that the purpose of prophecy is to determine when He will return. The Seventh-day Adventist Church was born out of the rubble of a movement back in the 1800's that thought they had figured out the exact day Jesus was going to return. They had the date correct they just tied it to the wrong event. In addition they and many, many, others have misunderstood the entire purpose of prophecy. God did not give us the book of Revelation or any other prophecies in the Bible so we could determine when Jesus will return. Jesus stated plainly we will never know when and knowing when is of no importance or significance. No one has been or will be lost because they didn't know when He was returning. People will miss out on eternity with Him simply because they did not trust or believe Him. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life."
Trust and believing can be hard. This life can be hard. Things happen that hurt a lot. Things happen that cause us to be disillusioned. We struggle to reconcile an all-powerful God that loves us with the horrors than can and do occur in this world. We need reasons to believe: tangible, undeniable reasons. This is the purpose of prophecy.
"I am telling you (the seemingly unbelievable) now so that when the (unbelievable) happens you will remember that I told you in advance and you will believe that I Am."
Jesus said "In this world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world". Contrary to what some teach and often contrary to our own thinking, Jesus never promised life here would be easy. Quite the opposite actually. What He did promise was His presence and guidance and support along the way.
In this up and down journey where the good and the awful both happen, and we are sometimes tempted to believe Heaven has forgotten us we have something to hold onto when nothing else makes sense - prophecy.
No one can explain away prophecy. No one can deny it. An intellectually honest person must confront the reality that God has repeatedly and accurately laid out events yet future with stunning accuracy. How can that be? Because He is God and knows the end from the beginning.
If the same God who read the heart of Judas in advance (and predicted the arrival of the Spirit in advance and laid out the rise and fall of empires way in advance in the book of Daniel etc...) says He will return and take us to be with Him in heaven guess what is going to happen?
"I Am telling you now so that when it comes to pass you may believe..."
Some day the United States of America, the land of the brave and the home of the free will become the exact opposite, using her power to squash freedoms even of her own people. God predicted it in His Word. In fact it is starting to happen already. I am reminding you of it now so that when it comes to pass you will remember and believe Him.
That is the purpose of prophecy.

John Day 149 - The Vine
15:1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples."
We could seriously spend a long time on this teaching for it is deep and layered and has far reaching implications in many directions. Sadly we live in a culture here in North America where we are far removed from nature which makes these simple lessons from Jesus far more cryptic than they should be.
Jesus says "I Am the vine, the tree trunk, the main stalk." All nourishment for the branches comes from the main vine. If the branch gets disconnected from the vine, death follows. If branches are connected to a vine that is either itself sick or not providing adequate nourishment, the vines will be sick or incapable of producing fruit.
There is a saying that "you are what you eat". We literally become our food source. If our food is full of fat we become fat. If our food is diseased or lacks proper nutrition we become weak and/or sick. If our food is vibrant and full of nutrition we become vibrant and healthy.
Just as this is true for our physical bodies so it is true of our minds and characters. Proverbs says that bad company corrupts good character. I grew up in a home where no one swore or used foul language. In my late teens I joined a landscaping crew and they all swore in every sentence, sometimes multiple times per sentence. I was with them 9 hours a day. One day, and I can still remember where I was, I heard their language come out of me. It shocked me. As my favourite author once wrote: "By beholding we become changed".
The good news is that light easily trumps darkness. The only way darkness can prevail is to remove the light. The same is true with plants. A branch connected to an apple tree will always produce apples no matter what kind of trees are planted around it.
We will explore more deeply into this teaching tomorrow but for now the basic question is "Am I connected to Jesus? Am I drawing my nourishment from Him? Is He the source of my soul? Is Light pouring into me with more potency than the darkness around me?
Choose your food wisely. Choose your friends wisely, but most important, choose your Source wisely.

John Day 150 - Pruning
15:1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
Yesterday we started to scratch the surface of Jesus illustration of the vine and the branches and the fruit. I have been in churches all my life and have heard several discussions on this teaching over the years. Part of me wishes I could erase them all from my mind so I could hear it fresh from Jesus without any other voices lending commentary. Today as I read it again I noticed a contextual link I had never seen before. A contextual link is a word a phrase in one passage that ties it to another passage that is close by (in the same context).
You will remember that when Jesus went to wash Peter's feet, he initially refused. Then Jesus declared it was necessary if Peter wanted to remain with Jesus. When Peter thought about being disconnected from Jesus he asked for Jesus to wash his hands and head as well. However Jesus said that wasn't necessary because Peter was clean already, the Twelve were all clean except one of them. By saying that Jesus made it plain He was not talking about physical cleanliness. He was talking about character.
Now in the same evening He brings out this new illustration of the Vine (Himself) and the branches (us). In the middle of the illustration He says "You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you."
John taught us right from the word go that Jesus IS the Word. His very person/character/identity is the Word. Therefore the word He has spoken is the life He has lived. The eleven have embraced Him. What He did they modeled even if it was flawed and fumbling at times. By connecting their lives to His life, His character has flowed from Him into them. He is clean therefore they are clean.
There are two paths we can take in this life. We can live disconnected from the Vine. Judas chose this path in the end. Or we can live connected to the Vine. If we choose to remain connected to Him we will undergo pruning. Pruning is the process of removing any growth from the branches that is not beneficial to the branch, the vine, or the production of abundant, healthy, fruit.
Often we hear people say "God made me this way". This is of course untrue and a misunderstanding of the situation humanity is in. It was never God's design for babies to be born deformed or diseased. It was also not His design for us to have deformed characters. My temper is not beneficial to me (the branch), to Jesus (the vine) or to the production of healthy fruit. To excuse my character flaws with "You'll just have to put up with me because God made me this way" is a denial of both His original plan and His ability to heal and restore (prune).
Gardeners know how necessary pruning is for the production of lots of healthy fruit. God knows how necessary it is for us to undergo His loving but sometimes painful pruning in order to make us the vibrant productive beautiful branches we were meant to be before humanity went tragically off course.
This illustration from Jesus is deeper than we may ever fully grasp but He'll reveal what He can as we're able to comprehend it. See you tomorrow...

John Day 151 - Does God Cut People Off?
15:1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples."
Pruning. The act of cutting away anything that is either not beneficial or not productive. On Sabbath we had children's church and we talked about David and Goliath and the fact David as a young person knew what the adults had forgotten - God can do anything. However there is a part of that story that is rarely talked about. David ends up at the battle because he is bring supplies for his brothers and something for the king. Supplies for an army that for 40 days has been consuming supplies but doing nothing. Paralyzed with fear they have just sat there day after day. Consuming but not producing they needed to be pruned. An army that won't fight is hardly an army.
God prunes in two ways. The productive branches are pruned of any non beneficial growth so that they can produce even more. The unproductive branches are cut off altogether. Seems harsh, mean even. Why does God cut anyone off. Doesn't He love us? What does He want from us? What is this fruit?
I told you there are many layers and the lessons run deep. Notice the cut off branches wither. Withering is a process that takes time. When you go to the flower shop to buy flowers for your wife (hint hint) they have all been cut off from the vine yet are beautiful. The withering process is not yet even apparent but it is happening. We place them in water and even give them food to try and mimic the feeding, life giving power of the plant. This slows down the withering but does not stop it. There is no denying that being cut off is a death sentence.
Let's review again. There are two kinds of pruning, two kinds of "cutting off". One leads to abundance and vibrancy and one leads to death. God does both.
However why does He do both? It makes sense that He would do cutting that brings more life but why would He cut to kill? Well what kind of branch does He cut? The kind that is not producing anything. Think about it. Is an apple tree that does not produce apples an apple tree? Is a restaurant that doesn't produce food a restaurant? Is a school that doesn't educate really a school? A school of fish perhaps smile emoticon
Now when Jesus came He announced that He had come to seek and save the lost - literally the "cut off" ones. See being cut off is not the same as being destroyed. It does not mean death necessarily.
Remember the story of the prodigal son? He was not interested in producing. He only wanted to consume. He told his father that was all he wanted. His father sent him off (cut him off) with all the resources that were his (the sap he had already taken from the vine). The son lived on those until there was almost nothing left. He was almost dead from starvation. It was at that moment when he remembered how good it was to be attached to the vine. He had the overwhelming desire to reattach to his father. In gardening (horticulture) it's called being grafted back in. He even wanted to be grafted in a servant. Servants are productive.
Are you seeing it?
The Father only cuts off the branches who want to be cut off and He does it in the hope it will create a thirst in them to return and fulfill the beautiful purpose they were intended to have all along.
So deep. See you tomorrow!

John Day 152 - Who Cuts Us Off and Then What?
15:5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples."
It's amazing how many times a person can read the same thing and keep finding new insights. The illustration starts out simple. He is the source and when we're connected to Him we inevitably produce what He is. We simply become conduits of Him. Then Jesus says that without Him and without this connection to Him we can't produce any fruit at all. All w have to do is go for a walk in the forest to see what disconnected branches produce. That part of the illustration is pretty simple and straightforward.
Then Jesus talks about what happens with the branches (people) who do not want to remain connected to Him. Notice the disconnecting part is not done by Him. He only describes what happens to the branches who disconnect of their own choosing. He says they are cast out as a branch. Don't miss that part. Jesus is saying "When you chose to leave Me I let you go and you were in good condition. I did not empty your accounts or freeze them. I didn't hide your keys or slash your tires. You wanted to leave so I gave you your full inheritance and set you free."
The only 'punishment' for choosing to leave is leaving. God adds no other penalty. No other penalty is necessary. The instant the severing takes place the slow, subtle withering begins to take place. It is inevitable.
As a pastor I have observed marriages crash. In most cases failed marriages have one thing in common: neglect. They didn't transform from wedded bliss into "irreconcilable" differences over one event. It was a slow process of disconnecting until one day there was just no connection left. Plants require care. Without it they die.
Notice too in Jesus' illustration that it isn't branches that are gathered to be burned, it is sticks; completely withered sticks. Not a trace of any hope of new life. No grafting in is possible. They are not burned as punishment or torture. There is nothing to torture or kill. Death has long occurred.
Last month we cut some trees for fire wood. We looked for dead trees. We did not want living ones. We were not out to kill. We were out to repurpose what was already dead.
God is not even interested in that. He has one purpose and one only. That is to bring revival to those who are dying and new life to those who are dead. Notice it is not Him who gathers the withered sticks to burn them. Tomorrow we'll take a quick stroll out of John to see what the rest of the Bible has to say about God's plans for dead branches bound for the fire...

John Day 153 - "Only YOU Know..."
15:5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples."
Yesterday I said we'd take a quick journey out of John to see what else the Bible has to say about dried and withered people being rescued and infused with new life from the Vine. Here we go:
Zechariah 3:1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him. 2 And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?”
3 Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel.
4 Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, “Take away the filthy garments from him.” And to him He said, “See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.”
5 And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.”
So they put a clean turban on his head, and they put the clothes on him. And the Angel of the Lord stood by.
6 Then the Angel of the Lord admonished Joshua, saying, 7 “Thus says the Lord of hosts:
‘If you will walk in My ways,
And if you will keep My command,
Then you shall also judge My house,
And likewise have charge of My courts;
I will give you places to walk
Among these who stand here.
8 ‘Hear, O Joshua, the high priest,
You and your companions who sit before you,
For they are a wondrous sign;
For behold, I am bringing forth My Servant the BRANCH.
9 ... Says the Lord of hosts,
‘And I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.
10 In that day,’ says the Lord of hosts,
‘Everyone will invite his neighbour
Under his vine and under his fig tree.’”
Without getting too complicated Joshua is a mess. He had become disconnected from the Vine and was withered badly. Satan was ready to claim victory over him. What does God do? He rescues him. He grafts him back in. How does God describe what Joshua now is? "A brand (dry stick) plucked (rescued) from the fire (his seemingly guaranteed fate)
Then after rebuking Satan he turns to Joshua and says "If you will walk with Me and follow My instructions..." (stay connected).
Then God announces that Jesus is coming. He is referred to as the branch but that is a lousy translation. It is literally shoot or sprout or new plant. It parallels Isaiah 53 that describes Jesus as a shoot sprouting up out of dry ground. Another allusion of Hope springing up in a hopeless situation.
Then in Ezekiel 37 God takes Ezekiel to a valley that is filled with dry bones. The Bible describes them as very dry. Withered. Disconnected from life for a long time. Apparently hopeless and good for nothing but to be burned. God asks Ezekiel if the bones can live again. With humility and wisdom Ezekiel says "only You know." Then God does the impossible. He instructs Ezekiel to preach life to the bones. Ezekiel is connected to the Vine so he follows the instructions and that valley of bones becomes a living vibrant mass of humanity.
What is the message for us in all of this? Don't judge withered sticks. Not the one in your mirror or the ones in your home, across the street, in your workplace, school, church, community, or any where else. Speak life and hope no matter their condition. Feed your own soul on life and hope. If God can rescue sticks bound for the fire and apparently fully in Satan's grasp, who are we to write anyone off. Dry bones are not hopeless bones because we serve a God who can do anything we permit Him to do, anything we believe He can do, especially the impossible. If you don't yet believe this at least be like Ezekiel and say "only You know..."

John Day 154 - What's Love Got To Do With It?
15:9 “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.
11 “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. 12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends."
Jesus begins to unpackage His metaphor of the vine and the branches. He reveals what life sustaining power courses through the vine and into the branches. The nutrient is love. If we remain in His love we will produce much fruit. He says we remain in His love by keeping commandments. Immediately for religious people that can mean a multitude of things depending on the specific brand of religion. Sounds complicated right? Jesus seemed to anticipate the confusion and went right to the point: love.
"This is My commandment: That you love one another as I have loved you".
First this means that we must first experience His love. How can we love others as He has loved us unless we have first been loved by Him?
Sadly we too often pass on what religion has peddled as His love. These things include behaviour modification, list keeping, judging, policing, demanding, expecting, prejudice, guilt tripping, shaming, even shunning... and there is more too as you well know. Take those things which are far too common among religious people and then try and harmonize them with Jesus.
Without getting too personal we only have to observe the state of religion in Jesus' time to see the ugly truth: Church mandated racial profiling. Church defined class system. Church upheld gender discrimination. Church expulsion for anyone who disagreed as we saw in John 9 with the blind man. I could go on but the negativity is dragging me down...
Into this toxic mess stepped Jesus. He made disciples out of commoners, the uneducated, a tax collector, a political zealot, and an assorted collection of misfits. He welcomed women into His entourage even though the culture of gender oppression prevented them from overt leadership. He crossed visible and invisible borders to love the "unlovable" and help those any "proper" person would purposely pass by.
Last night I sat through the retelling of the personal experiences of Eva Olsson who was a Jew at the wrong time and in the wrong place. Only her and her sister survived the Holocaust only to be divided after by a religious chasm love refused to cross. After the war Eva married a Swedish Christian and her sister disowned her still to this day.
Who would Jesus disown?
The metaphor makes it clear that the branch decides to remain or disconnect and that others desire to cast those disconnected branches in the fire. Jesus is a gatherer. He grafts. He connects. He goes in search of. He loves not because He must but because He IS love. Love is not something He does when circumstances demand it. Love is what He is. When you cut Him, He bleeds love. When you xray Him you discover He is full of love. DNA samples all come back with the same result. Love, love, love.
We're not talking cheap, fuzzy, wishy-washy love. We're talking ‘take a bullet for your worst enemy’ kind of love.
As we peer into John 15 and try and grasp the situation and live in that moment, we're not just talking about a love the eleven didn't fully replicate. We're talking about a shocking, radical love they couldn't fully grasp. Looking into His character was like coming from a dark basement at midnight and stepping into the noon day sun in a world blanketed with fresh white snow. It was blinding and confusing and almost impossible to grasp. He was a once a king and a servant. He was a Jewish Messiah and a healer of Canaanites, demoniacs, and a friend of prostitutes and lepers. He lived with no possessions and shunned fame yet had the power to tell the weather what to do and raise dead people to life. He was an enigma. He confused them day after day but they stayed. He presented a constant contradiction between the religion of their upbringing and His unorthodox ways yet they stayed. He cost them their business's and everything that was stable and normal and familiar but they stayed. Why? Because His love drew them like an irresistible magnet. Deep inside them they knew His ways were better and they longed to be with Him and like Him.
"Remain in Me and love as I have loved you..."
It sounds so simple. Why is it so seemingly elusive? "You will search for Me and find Me when you search with all of your heart."
Sooner or later to grasp something new we must let go of what we currently hold...

John Day 155 - Joy
15:11 “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. 12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.
There are many different varieties of maple trees. The best kind of course is the sugar maple. I grew up on a farm and we had 500 maple trees that we tapped every spring, using the sap to make maple syrup. All deciduous trees go dormant in the winter and then come to life again in the spring as the energizing sap flows from the roots up through the trunk and out to the branches. Any branch that is connected to this life giving sap will produce. It's inevitable. Jesus says He is our source. He is the one who makes us come alive and produce. Yesterday we learned that one of the things that flows from Him into us if we remain connected is His love. Today we're discovering that isn't the only "sap" we get. With His love comes His joy.
It's fascinating to me that one of the main reasons people disconnect from Jesus is the pursuit of freedom and happiness. The younger son in Luke 15 wanted to take what was his and leave his father to pursue freedom and happiness. The very fact he wanted to leave with the substance of his father is telling. The father grants his request because one thing God will never take from us is our freedom.
How long he was gone we don't know. Some figure out quicker than others that the neon lights that promise happiness away from the Source of true joy are empty lies and false advertising.
However my burden this morning as I read about the Joy Jesus wants for us is not for those who seek joy elsewhere. Seekers are always moving until they find that for which they seek and Jesus is the only source of true lasting joy.
What concerns me most having grown up in a church more worried about the rules of religion than the Person of Jesus are those who believe they are connected but have no joy.
The truth, the TRUTH is that being connected to Jesus makes Joy and Love inevitable. It is a joy so deep that it makes innocent men sing while shackled to prison walls. It is a Joy that sees beyond any attempt to kill our Joy. True Joy is a by product of true Love. A person who knows that they are loved cannot have their joy taken away.
Too often religion makes God's love conditional on our performance. The underlying and soul crushing, joy stealing message is that He only loves you when you are doing right. Since we're never truly doing right we're always doubtful of His love which steals our Joy and we live in perpetual insecurity and fear. We end up being the son who stayed on the farm but saw his father as a slave driver and his brother as competition. No love. No joy. No connection.
If you do not know you are loved always and if you don't have a deep abiding joy that no immediate circumstance can alter, the reality is you are not connected. How do you get connected? Discover Jesus the Person. Be willing to release everything you think you know about Him and just discover Him as He is revealed in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Sometimes the greatest barrier between us and Him is what we think we know about Him...

John Day 156 - Slave, Servant, or Friend
15:12 "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. 17 These things I command you, that you love one another."
Again Jesus repeats what His commandment is and again adds the qualifier. To just tell them to love based on what the world calls love would be pretty weak and nearly meaningless. However He doesn't just say "love each other". He says "love each other the same way I have loved you."
Love each other in such a way that you care more about the well being of the other than you care about your own. Love each other so much that you speak the truth when it would be much easier to say nothing. Love when they are unloveable. Love when they disappoint you and stab you in the back. Love because only love awakens love. Love until it costs you everything.
"Greater love has no man than this, that he lays down his life for his friends."
The truth is that these men have not yet experienced the full force of the love Jesus is talking about. We'll get there soon enough. I want to end today with this almost cryptic thing Jesus says. "I no longer call you servants... but friends."
There are three levels of relationship in the Bible that are talked about repeatedly. The first level is a slave/master relationship. In this relationship one is owned by the other and must do whatever the master says. It is a relationship of bondage. How bad/difficult this relationship is depends on the character of the master. No one desires to be a slave. Everyone in slavery seeks freedom. We were designed for freedom. Ironically though, many, like the older son in Luke 15 see God as a slave master and themselves as in bondage. This prevents any kind of truly meaningful relationship.
The next level is servant and master. This relationship is much like that of a slave with the huge difference of being by choice. If I get a job it's an act of free will. By doing so I place myself under the boss as his servant to do his bidding. I may not want to do everything that is asked of me but am obligated to do it by the very nature of the relationship. The other great difference is that I expect and he has the obligation to compensate for my servitude.
The disciples saw themselves as the servants of Jesus. They chose to follow Him of their own free will and they expected compensation. One day they asked Him point blank what they were going to receive as a reward for their devoted service.
The relationship between a servant and master is better than a slave and master even though the function is nearly identical. The reason is because of freedom of choice. However this relationship too has unhealthy limitations. The master is seen as someone to exploit. He has something the servant wants and they only chose to be in the relationship to get it.
Now Jesus says something strange in this passage. He says "You didn't choose Me. I chose you."
Often a master hires a servant to fill a need he has. What does Jesus need from these men? What can they do for Him that He can't do Himself?
Exactly - nothing. The truth is that these men didn't originally choose Jesus. They chose to pursue what they thought they could get from Him. Jesus on the other hand chose them. Now as He nears the end of His mission and the end of the relationship as it has been, He reveals what’s been truth for Him all along. "I didn't hire you as servants. I don't want you as My servants. I don't want to be your Master. I want us to be friends."
Friends. The highest level of relationship in the Bible. It is a relationship of equality. It is a relationship of self-sacrifice rather than mutual exploitation. The truth is we have all had and may still have 'friends' who really are exploiters. They have no interest in the relationship other than what they can get out of you. Jesus was the opposite with His Twelve that have now become eleven. For Him it was all about what He could pour into them. He loved them. He chose them. He was building them. His fulfillment, His reward was in their success. "Love as I have loved you..."
Sadly these men were raised with a view of God that was somewhere in between slave and servant with Him as the demanding Master and if you got it right you might get a reward.
The truth is His love for us began before we ever gave Him a positive or negative thought.
"I no longer call you servants, I call you friends".
How do you see Him? What status or category is your relationship with Him? I know too many escaped slaves and it breaks my heart...

John Day 157 - Who is "The World"?
15:18 “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you."
A truth came home to me with nearly wrecking ball force yesterday. Mentally I am still reeling. I can't stop thinking about it. In church I shared this quote: Being in a church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.
Then I was at my sister's house later and someone sent me a news story. I literally verified the story across three different credible sources before I would accept that it wasn't some sick joke.
In upstate New York at a church ironically called 'Word of Life' a pastor and the parents and others beat their 19 year old son to death and also beat but did not kill their 17 year old son. They beat them all night long until dawn at the church. The weapon was a double folded belt. The emergency department at the hospital said it looked like he had been shot. Their "crime"? They didn't want to go to church any more...
In Luke chapter 4 it says the church people came to Jesus bringing their sick and that he cast demons out of many of them. Demons in church people. If ever there was a clear cut case of demon possessed church people it was this week in upstate NY.
Why do I bring this up? Because Jesus makes reference to "the world" hating Him and by association hating His followers. I want to make it clear that Jesus' greatest haters were devout religious people. People claiming God following status while in their hearts and minds lived demons. When Jesus refers to "the world" He is not making a blanket statement about non church people. It is not a box into which He is lumping all those who aren't on a religious membership list. Rather He is referring to all those who have fallen for the lies and the value system of the prince of this world, the prince of darkness. You won't recognize them by their affiliations necessarily. You can't identify them in any surface way. Rather you'll know them by how they relate to others, especially those who disagree with them.
Jesus has repeatedly told His remaining eleven that the world will know they are His by how they love, not by the titles they carry or their religious affiliations. Love is what set Jesus apart. Love that reached out to lepers. Love that prayed for His enemies. Love that told the truth even when it was really hard to do so. Love that valued and protected the vulnerable in society. Love that saw no race or colour or religion.
You can attend church as often as you like and even call your church the Word of Life but they will know that we are Christians by our love. Love so powerful that it actually awakens hate in those who have sold out to darkness.
Love values freedom above everything. Love never forces. Two sons asked for freedom. It cost one his life and sent the other to the hospital.
"They will hate you if you love what I love because they hated Me from the start."

John Day 158 - False Expectations
15:20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. 21 But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 He who hates Me hates My Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. 25 But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’"
As both a human being and a pastor who works closely with others often at difficult points in their lives I have come to realize that much of our angst in life is often a result of unmet expectations. Young couples get disillusioned because they thought their honeymoon would last forever and then real life got in the way. Young parents get disillusioned because parenting is harder and more complex than they expected. Seniors get disillusioned because as one of them told me "There is nothing golden about the golden years." Truth be told at some points along life's journey we all get taken aback because something didn't turn out the way we imagined that it would.
Jesus loved His eleven and He loves us too. He was preparing them for reality and by extension preparing us too. Following Him is no cake walk. It's not a series of miraculous events and adoring crowds. With the good comes the dark side. Hatred, opposition, attacks, etc... and the worst and hardest part is that it actually comes too often from those who should be walking with you.
Never lose sight of the fact that Jesus' greatest opposition (by far) was from those who were supposed to be on His side. Priests who served in His temple were seeking to discredit Him. Synagogue rulers were trying to kill Him. Those trained and tasked to uphold the laws of God called Him a law breaker. Even His own mother and brothers and sisters were questioning His views and actions.
Why? Jesus states it plainly. "They hate Me because they don't know Him who sent Me."
Never assume that overtly religious people know God.
I came across a verse in Jeremiah that is forever etched in my memory. Just one simple yet revealing statement:
Jeremiah 2:8 "Those who handle My law do not know Me".
There is nothing more dark and dangerous than people who have religious passion without an intimate knowledge of the character of God. Jesus suffered terribly at the hands of people like that and if we follow Him expect to be hurt by people who should be the last ones to hurt you. Jesus wants you to know this reality so that your expectations can be adjusted accordingly.
Someday we're going Home but in the meantime we live in hostile territory.

John Day 159 - Witnesses
15:26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning."
Testify, bear witness: these are terms that have a different meaning in our culture. They evoke images of court rooms and a person being questioned by a lawyer about what they saw or what they know about the case at hand. In short it's all about words spoken and information provided.
When Jesus speaks here about testifying and bearing witness it has nothing to do with a court room and almost nothing to do with words or information. One of my favourite chapters in the entire Bible is Hebrews 11. It is often called the faith chapter or even the Hall of Faith. It begins with Abel's faithfulness and traces down through the famous men and women of history who believed God and lived lives that demonstrated that belief. The Bible refers to them as witnesses. Not once does their witness have anything to do with words spoken. Their lives were their witness. Abel demonstrated his belief in God by doing as God asked him to do. Enoch the same. Noah didn't demonstrate his belief that the world was going to flood by making impassioned speeches or taking flyers door to door or going on the radio. He demonstrated his faith in God by building a boat.
Jesus promised here before His death that after He was gone the Spirit of Truth would come and He would testify of the Father and as a result of His presence the disciples would become witnesses. See the Spirit of God is the Person of God living in His believers. The lives themselves become the witnesses. They become an undeniable case study in the character and reality of God. People can't ignore such evidence. They may turn from it, reject it, even deny and discredit it but they can't ignore it.
When we get into the book of Acts we'll see how powerfully true this promise made by Jesus came to be a reality. We will see that the witness of the followers of Jesus could not be ignored. We will also see that we're lacking that kind of witness today. It speaks to branches that are disconnected and withering. I need look no further than a mirror to see how much we lack that vital connection. I am not discouraged though. I know He is working to bring Life back into these bones.
"I believe Lord, help my unbelief."



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