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I Am the True Vine

As we get to the final one of the “seven I Am statements” from the Gospel of John, we come to another very familiar idea, that of Jesus being the Vine and His disciples or followers the branches.

John 15:1 says Jesus Christ is the TRUE VINE. When Jesus calls Himself the True Vine, He is emphasizing the fact that His nature corresponds in every respect to the nature of a vine. He is the genuine thing! And as the vine imparts sap and productivity to its branches, so Jesus infuses His own strength and life into those who are His “branches.”

Bearing fruit is our calling as followers of Jesus Christ, proof that we truly are His disciples. And it is a very natural process. There is no effort or strain involved. Our main responsibility in living fruitful lives is to stay attached to the Vine, Jesus Christ, so that His life can flow in and through us. Or as Jesus said,

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John‬ ‭15:4-5‬ ‭ESV‬‬

‭‭Without Jesus, the True Vine, we can do nothing of value to God. But with Him, our lives become increasingly fruitful. Our part in fruit bearing is (1) to stay attached to the Vine, and (2) to cooperate with the process of being pruned for greater fruitfulness.

Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” John 15:2b ESV

And this whole process brings glory to our heavenly Father.

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” John‬ 15:8

Father, the desire of my heart is to bring You glory. Apart from Jesus, I can do nothing worthwhile. There is no way in my flesh I can live up to Your perfect standard. But because I am a branch and attached to the True Vine, Your Son Jesus Christ, it’s not up to me. All I have to do is stay attached to the Vine and allow His life to flow through me to produce fruit. And this fruit brings You glory. Thank You for this part of Your wonderful plan.

 

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I Am the Resurrection and the Life

 

During the Christmas season, our focus is usually on the manger not the cross, but it’s important that we not lose sight of why Jesus came. Today’s name of Jesus reminds us of the fact that He died in our place to pay the penalty for our sins. But He is no longer on the cross – or even in the tomb. He is alive!

Let’s take a look at the setting where Jesus spoke these words about Himself. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, we learn of the special relationship Jesus had with Mary and Martha. Jesus loved Mary and Martha and had stayed in their home in the village of Bethany. The passage in John 11 that includes this name of Jesus tells us Lazarus was also a friend of Jesus and His disciples.

So the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick.’…  ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep’”  John‬ ‭11:3, 11‬ ‭NIV‬‬

But in spite of receiving word from Mary and Martha about Lazarus’ illness, Jesus did not immediately go to him. Since Jesus always did what He knew to be the will of the Father, this was apparently by God’s leading. Jesus’ words to the disciples in John 11:14-15 explain at least one purpose behind the delay.

So then he told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.‘”

‭Verse 17 tells us what happened during the purposeful delay.

“On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.”

When Martha hears Jesus has arrived, she greets Him with some solemn words (verses 21-22).

“’Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.’”

This is the setting in which these well known words were spoken.

Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?‘”John‬ ‭11:23-26‬ ‭NIV‬‬

When Jesus spoke to Martha that day, He was telling her that a miracle was about to take place. Her beloved brother would be raised from the dead. But the meaning of these words goes beyond that. In essence, Jesus was saying, “The whole power to restore, impart and maintain life resides in Me.”

Today, I am grateful that Jesus died for my sins. But I’m also grateful that He is my Resurrected Lord. If you don’t know Him as your sin-bearer and Living Lord, don’t let Christmas pass without coming to Him for salvation. Confess you are a sinner, believe in His finished work on the cross, receive His forgiveness, and surrender your life to Him as Lord. Your eternity depends on this decision, and Christmas is the perfect time to make it.

Jesus: The Good Shepherd

Sheep are definitely not the smartest animals God created! When one sheep decides to go somewhere, the rest of the flock will likely follow. In the hilly terrain of Palestine, this was a source of great danger to sheep. For example, if one sheep jumped off a cliff, and there was no shepherd there to protect them, the whole flock could be lost. Therefore having an alert and vigilant shepherd to watch over them was essential.

In Mark 6:34, it is said of Jesus, “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.” Jesus saw those in the great crowd as helpless sheep, unable to defend themselves or make wise choices on their own, like sheep without a shepherd. And He had compassion on them and became the Good Shepherd they were needing.

By examining some of the responsibilities of a shepherd, we can gain more understanding of the meaning of this name of Jesus.

  • A good shepherd develops a close, intimate relationship with his sheep so that they know his voice and trust him. “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” (John‬ ‭10:3‬b ESV)
  • A good shepherd works tirelessly to provide protection and security for the sheep. “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” (2 Thessalonians‬ ‭3:3‬ ‭NIV‬)
  • A good shepherd provides for the needs of his sheep, leading them to green pastures and fresh water. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians‬ ‭4:19‬ ‭ESV‬‬)
  • A good shepherd searches for his sheep when they stray. “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” (Matthew‬ ‭18:12-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬)
  • A good shepherd cares for and loves his sheep, sacrificing his life for them if necessary. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (‭‭John‬ ‭10:11‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Jesus, this morning my heart is filled with gratitude that You truly are my Good Shepherd. Thank You for the privilege of knowing You intimately so I recognize Your voice when You speak. Thank You for providing so generously for our needs and for coming after us when we stray. And especially thank You for laying down Your life for me on the Cross. Thank You for being my Good Shepherd.

Jesus: the Door of the Sheep

Of the seven names of Jesus given in the gospel of John, His name the Door of the Sheep is probably the hardest one for us to understand in our modern Western culture. So to understand what Jesus meant by this we need to examine what life was like for sheep and shepherds in Jesus’ day.

In Palestine, the areas where the sheep would graze were infested with wild beasts. Because of this, each village had a large sheepfold which was protected by a wall often ten or more feet tall. As night fell, the shepherds of the village would lead their sheep through the opening into the sheepfold for their safety. In this place of shelter, the sheep could rest in safety during the night, guarded by one watchman or porter. Most of these sheepfolds did not have a door or gate, so the porter would lie down in the opening so that robbers and wild animals had to go through him to get to the sheep. Then in the morning, when the shepherds returned, each one would call the sheep that belonged to their flock, the sheep would respond to the familiar voice, and the shepherd would lead his flock out to pasture.

As the Door of the Sheep, Jesus is the only door into the kingdom of God, the “sheepfold” of God’s people. John 10:9 promises us, “If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”

The Greek word “nome” translated pasture here means “the needful supplies for the true life” (from The Blue Letter Bible, Outline of Bible Usage). Jesus will lead us to the green pastures of Psalm 23:2, where all of our needs are met.

Jesus is also the One who protects us against spiritual predators. Nothing is able to touch our lives as His people without His permission. And what He permits, He promises to use for our good (Romans 8:28) and His glory?

And these truths are reason to give Him thanks!

I Am the Light of the World

Lights are one of my favorite Christmas decorations, from the lights on the Christmas tree to the lighted star on the top of the tree to the festive candles sitting around our living room. One tradition our family has as part of our Christmas Eve celebration is to attend the Candlelight service at our church, then come home, light the tree and candles, and sit around and eat snacks and open gifts while we listen to Christmas carols. A very appropriate way to remember the birthday of the Light of the world!

When Jesus said He is the Light of the world, He was identifying Himself as the fulfillment of the promise in Isaiah 9:2,  “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” As with the last two “I am” statements, Jesus was claiming to be the promised Messiah of the Old Testament Scriptures.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭2:9‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Thank You, Jesus for calling me out of darkness and into Your marvelous light when I was a young adult. Until then, I knew about You but I didn’t know You personally. Now my desire is to proclaim Your excellencies to all who will listen.

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I Am The Way, The Truth, and The Life

Famous last words! Important last words! Jesus was gathered with His disciples during what He knew would be their last gathering before He fulfilled the purpose of His Father and faced the Cross. These very familiar words are part of what is known as the Farewell Discourse, when Jesus gathered in the Upper Room to celebrate His last Passover with His disciples and prepare them for what He knew was ahead of them. Jesus was facing the Cross, and He needed to prepare these men who had walked with Him for over three years for the dark days that lay ahead.

Let’s break down what He said.

  • I AM – This is one of the seven I AM statements of Jesus, probably the best known of the seven. In the Greek language, “I AM” is a very intense way of referring to oneself. In Exodus 3:14, God used the same intensive form (in Hebrew), “God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ” When the Jews heard these words, they understood Jesus was claiming to be God.
  • THE – By the use of the definite article “the,” Jesus was saying HE AND NO OTHER.
  • THE WAY – The ONLY WAY! Not one way of many. The only path leading to the Father and His eternal heavenly kingdom.
  • THE TRUTH – Again, the ONLY SOURCE OF TRUTH. ETERNAL, UNCHANGING AND LIFE-CHANGING TRUTH.
  • THE LIFE – The true SOURCE OF LIFE. Both A MEANINGFUL LIFE ON EARTH AND ETERNAL LIFE.

In a pluralistic society like ancient Rome, and in our own society today, these were not easily accepted words. Other religions are not the way. Good works are not the way. Jesus was saying He and He alone is the way, the truth, and the life.

Father, today I’m grateful that Your Word so clearly teaches there is only one way to a relationship with You, and it is through faith in Your Son Jesus Christ and the work He accomplished on the Cross. Thank You for showing me this truth many years ago and bringing me into Your Kingdom. Thank You also for the truth in Your Word, both in written form and in the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. And thank You for the confidence that when this life is over I will go to be in Your presence forever.

 

Living Outside My Comfort Zone

The Five Minute Friday writing community, led by Kate Motaung and in which I routinely post, is writing on the prompt COMFORT this week. This is technically not a Five Minute Friday post – the two guidelines for Five Minute Friday posts are free writing for five minutes and no editing, and what I need to share today cannot be written in five minutes and is too personal and important to post without editing. But seeing Kate’s prompt for the week showed me the direction for this article which I’ve been sensing God directing me to write this week.

 

If I were in charge of my life, I would never step outside of my comfort zone, that place where I feel confident and comfortable and function with ease and familiarity. But many years ago, I turned the control of my life over to another, to Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior. One big thing I’ve learned in the thirty-five plus years since then is that God is much more concerned with my character than my comfort.

From the automobile accident that took the life of our firstborn daughter Teresa and left me with crippling injuries, to the birth of our son with severe brain damage and profound mental retardation, to my later development of a long list of chronic  illnesses as a result of the injuries I received during the accident, comfort has not been a word I would choose to describe my life. Yes, in each situation, there has been a measure of comfort from God in the midst of heartache, but my Christian life has not been lived in my comfort zone.

In recent months, my husband and I have been walking through another dark valley, another season of life where in ourselves we can see no way out. It all started on a Saturday in May when we decided to take some much needed family time and have a meal out. My husband, daughter and I enjoyed our pizza and were on our way home when our car broke down on one of the busiest roads in southeast Houston. God protected us from injury and provided a way home, while our car was towed to a shop. Later, we learned that repairing our car – our only vehicle – would cost more than it was worth. We began praying, asking God to make a way for us to buy an affordable but dependable used car.

Fast forward a few weeks, and a series of letters, phone calls, and one visit to the court house opened our eyes to another major problem. We learned that the house and property we had inherited from my mother-in-law, which we thought the probate attorney who handled Mom’s estate had taken care of for us, was still in the name of the estate, and another plot of land on which she owed back taxes and which we had been advised by our attorney to just turn over to the county had been transferred to our name, apparently brecause of an error made by some level of local government. In addition, we learned that the senior homestead exemption we filed in January on our home had been lost by the county tax assessors’ office. Because of all this, we suddenly owed thousands of dollars in past due property taxes and penalties, on property that wasn’t even officially in our names.

It’s now the middle of July, and so far neither the need for a dependable car nor the property paperwork and tax issue has been resolved. We are still in a time of waiting to see what God is going to do.

Yet while our prayers have not yet been answered, this doesn’t mean that God hasn’t been at work behind the scenes. I can’t speak about how God is working in my husband’s life through these circumstances – that’s his story to tell. But God is doing a major work in my life during this season, first in teaching me about the power of prayer, and also in helping me to walk in faith in the midst of uncertainty.

Nothing prompts us to prayer better than a crisis! When circumstances feel over-whelming and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to change them, you learn how dependent upon God you really are. What began in my heart as a simple cry to God for help has become a major classroom on the discipline of effective, strategoc prayer. I’ve come to understand as never before the need to hear from God before I pray, and to be honest with Him in sharing the burdens of my heart. I’ve learned the effectiveness of praying God’s Word back to Him. And I’ve learned to keep praying and not give up until the answer comes.

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The last two months have also been a time of taking hold of the fact that I am loved and accepted by God, even when I’m struggling. It has been a season of having my trust in God stretched to the breaking point, but also of my trust becoming stronger as I spend time in His presence and Word daily. Daily prayer journaling has become a way of life, as it my weakness I recognize my need for God’s strength to make it through another day. My relationship with God is now stronger than it’s ever been in the past, and my morning quiet times have become the biggest blessing of my days.

We still don’t know what God is going to do in either of these situations. We have done everything we know to do, so now both problems are in His hands, awaiting His answer in His timing. I want to close with a verse God gave me about a week ago, from 2 Chronicles 20, the last portion of verse 12. It says, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You.” That’s where we now are, as we wait on God to work on our behalf.

Where are you today? Is God asking you to live outside of your comfort zone and trust Him? If so, let my story encourage you to seek Him with your whole heart and hold nothing back. Even before your prayers are answered, you too may be amazed at the work He is doing in your life.