THE VINEDRESSER

Jn. 15:1 – I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.

Jn. 15:4,5 – Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.

This illustration of the Vine and the Vinedresser gives us a look into the supernatural nature of our relationship with the Lord. One of the lessons is the importance of our total dependency on the Lord. Jesus said that He is the Vine and we are the branches, the Father is the Vinedresser. One of the great lessons we learn from the humanity of Christ is His utter dependency on the Father for all things. He often said He could do nothing without the Father. The Father planted the Vine and provides all the life that the vine needs. The sunlight, water, and nutrients all flow from the Father of lights. In the same way the branches are dependent on the Vine. Separated from Him we can do nothing. Everything we have flows from the Vine into the branches. If we abide in Him we will bare fruit, disconnected we will whither up and die. Here is how Andrew Murray describes this illustration.

“At the very root of all Christian life lies the thought that God is to do all, that our work is to give and leave ourselves in His hands, in the confession of utter helplessness and dependence, in the assured confidence that He gives all we need. The great lack of the Christian life is that, even where we trust Christ, we leave God out of the count. Christ came to bring us to God. Christ lived the life of a man exactly as we have to live it. Christ the Vine points to God the Husbandman. As He trusted God, let us trust God, that everything we ought to be and have, as those who belong to the Vine, will be given us from above.”

This is our place of productivity, it is also our place of joy and protection. Think about it, what is the life that flows through the branches? It is the very life of God. This life in us is the source of everything our hearts have searched for, in Him we are finally fulfilled.

WHAT DOES DESPERATE LOOK LIKE?

MERRY MONDAY BY PARRIS

“And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.” Mark 9:25

We all hate the dreaded phone call. You know, the one that the nurse calls back and you have to come in and talk to the doctor because something showed up on the X-ray? Or the door bell rang in the middle of the night and it’s the police telling of the nightmare you never dreamed of. I will never forget getting “served” January 1st one new year indicating a lawsuit. God has a way of getting our attention through such a thing called LIFE! At some point we just have to hit the wall and become desperate.

In the above passage there is a story about a demon possessed boy and even after the disciples prayed for him, he was not delivered. His father had reached the desperate stage and called out to Christ to help his unbelief. I can’t imagine watching as a parent over a child that tries over and over again to kill himself. Sometimes Christ gives Satan full advantage so the victory will become Christ’s alone. Human agency is utterly powerless and only when we’ve spent it all that His glory shines the greatest.

How does desperate look to you today? But look here, the master comes soon enough. It is almost as if Christ surveys the field of battle and begins to strategize which way He will begin the attack.

He comprehends the difficulties of the case in an instant. Our part is to yield and turn to the Lord with all of our heart. And like this poor father, cry out and say “help my unbelief!

Spurgeon says, “for my Master will soon stoop over you, and take you by the hand and lift you up, and your comfort shall begin, because the unclean spirit is cast out. “Ah! he means to destroy me,” says the soul under conviction. Nay, soul, God does not destroy those whom he convinces of sin. Men do not plough fields which they have no intention to sow. If God ploughs you with conviction he will sow you with gospel comfort, and you shall bring forth a harvest of his glory. His matchless grace can encounter no rival.”

God honors the desperate and there is no shame when we call out to him confessing our unbelief. Let him survey the battle and soon enough deliverance will come!

TO KNOW HIM

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.

Do you know Jesus? That is a common phrase heard amongst evangelical believers. The problem with this is it is easily misunderstood. What does it mean to know Jesus? Does it mean have you answered an altar call, or prayed the prayer ? Or does it mean you have answered the question right when you are asked are you going to heaven when you die? Paul talked about “knowing” Jesus in today’s verse. For Him it wasn’t a casual statement or something that happened once upon a time, it was a deep, intimate relationship with the Lord that was increasing throughout his life. It wasn’t an add on in his life, for Paul knowing Christ was his life. Paul said that to know Christ was the most valuable possession that he owned and the very pursuit of all his energy. His ministry seemed to be an overflow of his pursuit. Here is how Steven Fry describes Paul’s statement.

“From a prison cell in Rome, Paul pens this personal letter in which he comes to terms with an accomplished past and a confining present. After his past as a persecutor of God’s people and through his “superior” religious activities as a Pharisee, Paul came to the liberating conclusion that all is rubbish compared to knowing the Lord! Freed from the stagnation of yesterday’s victories and the emotional paralysis of yesterday’s mistakes, Paul knew that the only thing that ultimately counted was knowing the Lord and being obedient to His will. Not only was his past subsumed by this singular passion, his present imprisonment could not snatch from him the joy of knowing Christ. Prison chains could not keep him from pursuing God, nor dull his effectiveness in ministry. Paul’s desire to know Christ sprang from no other motive but to enjoy Him. He wanted Christ for Christ’s sake, not his own. He was a lover of God, not a user of God.”

I love that statement, He wanted Christ for Christ’s sake. So let me ask that question once again, do you know Jesus? Do you know Him as your passion, your goal in life and your friend? Answering this question is where life begins.

LIVING CHRIST

Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God—Romans 15:7

Many religions have high standards, Christianity has impossible standards. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who use you. Turn the other cheek. Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect. Without divine intervention living the Christian life is unthinkable. Only one has accomplished it, no one else even came close. Augustine had come to the same conclusion, that living the high standards of the Christian faith was beyond the realm of human possibility. Augustine’s solution? “Lord, command what you will, but give what you command”. Did you get that? The only way for us to follow the Lord fully is Christ Himself living and doing it inside of us. It’s is not us but Christ in us that lives that incredible life. That’s why Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.” A. B. Simpson spoke about this high calling with Christ living the life in us, check Simpson’s thoughts out.

“Our text (today’s verse) sets forth a sublime principle, and it will give sublimity to all of life. It is stated elsewhere in similar language, ‘Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus’. Col.3:17 This is our high calling, to represent Christ and act in His behalf and in His character and spirit under all circumstances and toward all persons. “What would Jesus do?” is a simple question which will settle every difficulty, and always settle it on the side of love. But we cannot answer this question rightly without having Jesus Himself in our hearts. We cannot act Christ. This is too grave a matter for acting. We must have Christ and simply be natural and true to the life within us. Then that life within us will act itself out. How easy it is to love everyone and see nothing but loveliness, when our hearts are filled with Christ. How every difficulty melts away and everyone we meet seems clothed with the Spirit within us when we are filled with His presence.”

This teaching is actually very practical. Christ in us is a better parent, a better student, a better teacher, a better spouse, a better employee; He lives the standard in us that His word requires. What an amazing God. I have to agree with Augustine. Lord, require anything at all of me but you must fulfill that requirement in me.

UTTERLY HELPLESS

Rom.5:6 – When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.

I wonder who really believes this verse? I wonder if you believe this verse? Utterly helpless; really? Have you thought of yourself as utterly helpless. These are the ones Christ died for, those who have no way to ever help themselves out of their dilemma. Several people come to my mind when I think of this verse. First, The demonized man in the cemetery in Gadara. Why would they chain this man up in the cemetery? Obviously he was left there to die. His life was over, he had no hope. That is until Jesus stepped off of His boat and onto the shore. “Come out of him”, Jesus cried. The foul, dark spirits came out and that man began a new life. What about Lazarus? He was pretty helpless, rotting in his tomb. Jesus stood outside of Lazarus tomb and cried, “Lazarus, come out!”. In a moment, Lazarus was hopping out of the dark cave into the glorious light of a brand new life.

If you think about it, all of us are utterly helpless. We are born in a state of sin, separated from God, with no way to save ourselves. Sin has dominated and destroyed us and we were perishing until we too heard the cry of Jesus’s voice, “Come out of darkness, step into the light”. Here is how Adam Clarke described this powerful verse.

“They were without strength; in a weak, dying state: neither able to resist sin, nor do any good: utterly devoid of power to extricate themselves from the misery of their situation.

They were ungodly; without either the worship or knowledge of the true God; they had not God in them; and, consequently, were not partakers of the Divine nature: Satan lived in, ruled, and enslaved their hearts. They were sinners, aiming at happiness, but constantly missing… And in missing the mark, they deviated from the right way; walked in the wrong way; trespassed in thus deviating; and, by breaking the commandments of God, not only missed the mark of felicity, but exposed themselves to everlasting misery.”

Yes, we were all aiming for happiness but happiness escaped our grasp. We had no way to come out of misery, we were utterly helpless until… Until the day He called our name. Christ died to save sinners. His help is available when you realize you need Him desperately.

WAITING ON THE LORD

Psa. 27:14 Wait for the LORD;

be strong, and let your heart take courage;

wait for the LORD!

One of my big challenges throughout my Christian experience has been waiting on the Lord. I have a natural tendency, like many of us, to take matters into my own hands. How many times do I have to be reminded that the Lord doesn’t need my help? Taking what we perceive as the Lord’s work into our own hands can be quite deceptive. We mask our own motives behind a spiritual facade. How do I know? I have been guilty too many times. Waiting on the Lord brings us to a place of total dependency on the Lord, gives us greater clarity, and makes room for His power and glory to be displayed. As Isaiah says, “they that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. Here are some thoughts from A.B. Simpson on waiting on the Lord.

“Wait on the Lord. How often this is said in the Bible; how little understood! It is what the old monk called the “practice of the presence of God”. It is the habit of prayer. It is the continual communion that not only asks, but receives. It is this that renews our strength until we “mount up with wings as eagles, run and are not weary, walk and are not faint.” Our hearts are too limited to take in His fullness at a single breath. We must live in the atmosphere of His presence till we absorb His very life. This is the secret of spiritual depth and rest, of power and fullness, of love and prayer, of hope and holy usefulness. Wait, I say, on the Lord.

Waiting on the Lord is how my calling to New Orleans was confirmed to me so many years ago. I was zealous for foreign missions. I had built my zeal reading about missionaries like Hudson Taylor, C.T. Studd, Jim Elliot, and David Brainerd. I wanted to make my mark on the nations. As I was preparing to go, the Lord spoke to me by various means all saying the same thing, “Be still and know that I am God”. As I reluctantly waited on clarity from the Lord His direction became crystal clear, I was to return to my home in New Orleans. Yes, I was called as a missionary; a missionary to the city of New Orleans.

CURSE OF PROSPERITY

Lk.15:14-16 – But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.

I often think of the last time I had a private conversation with Dr. David Cho, founder of the great Yoido Full Gospel Christian Church in Seoul, Korea. It was in April of 1994 and Dr. Cho had seen major change in his nation and his church since he pioneered his tent church in 1958. There had been a huge spiritual awakening accompanied by a shocking economic explosion in Korea. What he told me at that breakfast meeting caught me by surprise. He said that prosperity had become a great curse on the Korean Church. What could he possibly mean? Dr. Cho built his church on 3 John 2, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers”. Prosperity had always been a major part of his message. What he had seen in the Korean church was this, their poverty had caused many to call upon the Lord. Their prosperity had masked their need for the Lord and the results was a new spiritual poverty that grew as they prospered financially. This is not new, John Trappe made these same observations in the 1600’s about the curse of prosperity in his comments on the parable of the Prodigal Son.

“And when he had spent everything, and left himself nothing at all except for air to breathe and earth on which to tread, he made his own hands his executors and his own eyes his overseers, swallowing much of his patrimony through his throat and spending the rest on harlots, who left him as bare as crows leave a dead carcass. Ruin follows riot at the heels.”

William Cowper made similar observations in the 1700’s.

“This is seen daily in our unfortunate experience, for human hearts are most empty of thankfulness and their mouths are most filled with blasphemies of God’s name when their stomachs are most filled with God’s benefits. Thus this forlorn son went away from his father just when his father was most beneficial to him and had given him his portion.”

It doesn’t have to be that way. If you are experiencing lack, look to the Lord the source of all our provision. If you are experiencing financial abundance, look to the Lord and acknowledge your total dependence on Him.

IN HIS HAND

Jn10:27,28 – “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.

How could I ever be afraid if this verse is true. Whose hand are we in? According to this verse if I belong to the Lord I am literally in His hand. I am in His hand when things are going well and I am in His hand when my world seems to be falling apart. He has my past, present, and future; after all, they are all the same to Him. Whether it is enemies, trials, or just everyday needs, I am in the hand of the Lord. Jesus was talking to disciples about the resistance of the Pharisees that would soon turn to violent encounters. Jesus was telling His disciples no one could stop the plan of God for their lives, His plans were unstoppable. His plans were sure and their success was guaranteed. Here is how Matthew Henry describes this verse.

“They cannot be kept from their everlasting happiness; it is in reserve, but he that gives it to them will preserve them to it. (a.) His own power is engaged for them: Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. A mighty contest is here supposed about these sheep. The Shepherd is so careful of their welfare that he has them not only within his fold, and under his eye, but in his hand, interested in his special love and taken under his special protection (all his saints are in thy hand, Deut. xxxiii. 3); yet their enemies are so daring that they attempt to pluck them out of his hand—his whose own they are, whose care they are; but they cannot, they shall not, do it. Note, Those are safe who are in the hands of the Lord Jesus. The saints are preserved in Christ Jesus: and their salvation is not in their own keeping, but in the keeping of a Mediator.”

Who can separate us from the love of God. Paul said “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”

Our future is secured, our eternity is purchased, and we are safely tucked away in the hand of the Lord

MANNA

John 6:35 ¶ Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

We were made to live off of God. This is the lesson of communion, God is the very food for our souls. What is really troubling is what we try to fill the hunger of our souls with. It often proves to be nothing that really satisfies. Recently there have been many reports of the suicidal epidemic related to opioid use. There are people from every social group, ethnic group, and age group that are falling prey to drug abuse and actually thousands who have died as a result of overdosing. What would cause someone to resort to such drastic measures? Actually the answer is spiritual; we were made to live off of God. When we look to other things as the source of life and pleasure the results become catastrophic. Man has a basic need for God in his soul, that is the way we were made. Our capacity for happiness is God sized and nothing else can fill that God sized hole. Here is how Jonathan Edwards describes our need for spiritual food.

“This excellency of Jesus Christ is the suitable food of the rational soul. The soul that comes to Christ, feeds upon this, and lives upon it; it is that bread which came down from heaven, of which he that eats shall not die; it is angels’ food, it is that wine and milk that is given without money, and without price. This is that fatness in which the believing soul delights itself; here the longing soul may be satisfied, and the hungry soul may be filled with goodness. The delight and contentment that is to be found here, passeth understanding, and is unspeakable and full of glory. It is impossible for those who have tasted of this fountain, and know the sweetness of it, ever to forsake it. The soul has found the river of water of life, and it desires no other drink; it has found the tree of life, and it desires no other fruit.”

It’s funny that no matter how much man advances his basic need is still the same. We need the Lord. He is our food and our drink. In Him alone we find life and in Him alone will we find peace for our souls.

STRUGGLING WITH THE GOD

Col.1:29 – For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.

Paul was all about the anointing. He knew better than anyone the calling on his life could not begin to be accomplished by human effort alone. Paul knew that in order to really touch the world it could only be done by the power of the Holy Spirit. His words were totally saturated with the power of God. How did that happen? Why were Paul’s words different than others? It comes down to the word ‘striving’ in today’s verse. Now this is not talking about striving in the flesh or trying really hard to accomplish something. This is something other than that, something totally different. Paul was describing his agonizing with the Holy Spirit. The picture being painted is like Jacob wrestling with the Angel of the Lord. Paul was engaged in the agony of struggling with God the Holy Ghost. Here is a description of Paul’s struggle from the Life in the Spirit Commentary.

“Paul’s commitment to ministry entailed labor, struggle, and suffering….The noun dynamis is a: “I labor,” says Paul, “struggling according to his energy [or ‘power’] that is at work in me in power [or ‘powerfully’]. Undoubtedly it was this “energy” of Christ powerfully at work in him that gave Paul the strength to carry on in the face of many hardships. In giving testimony to his dependence on this divine enabling, he was merely putting into practice what he had earlier prayed for on behalf of the Colossians. In 1:11 he prayed that they would be “strengthened with all power according to his glorious might” in order to display “great endurance and patience.” It was a dynamis that Paul many times had had to depend on (he refers to it again in Eph. 3:7). And as it was available to him, so it was available to the Colossians and to all other believers and Christian workers who would follow.”

To the natural man this struggle doesn’t make sense. Only the renewed mind can grasp this struggle. Paul knew he needed divine power to accomplish anything. He had discovered the secret to the Christian life, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens (empowers) me”. So no matter what you are facing, look to the struggle for divine power. The striving with God will produce supernatural power in your life.