Jesus is Our Centerpiece

The Gospel of John describes a wonderful image of the vineyard— branches and vine. This illustrates our relationship with Jesus.  We must abide and remain in him to be fruitful.  He is the vine, and we, we are merely the branches. He is the sole source of everything.

Notice the clear implications of John 15. (Come to Me, remain in Me, stay connected to Me.)  He didn’t advise or suggest we attend a seminar, go to Bible school, or attend a prayer meeting.

He said,Come to ME.”  He, and He alone is the one we are to center on. He insists that He is to be our total focus. There is no other (Matthew 11:28.)

This is either an egotistical religious fanatic intoxicated with His power and self-importance, or He really is reality.  C.S. Lewis comments,

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.
He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

 

Jesus insists that we worship Him.  That much is clear.  I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life.  I am the only way to the Father.”  And of course, “He who believes in Me has eternal life, and he who doesn’t is condemned” (John 14:6.) We just breeze through these verses and never truly grasp the ramifications. A mere man could not say these things (at least not with straight face) and be considered sane.

He either was what He said He was, or a liar or lunatic.  And we must decide who He really is. 

As believers we need to realize Jesus’ His rightful position.  The One who sits on the throne is the center.  All things derive their life, meaning and essence from Him.  We must not forget that He is the Risen Lord.  We need to realize that He has asked us to worship Him.  Point blank.

Many of our struggles come when we try to reduce Jesus to something less than what is real. If He really is the only way to the Father, we had better pay attention.

“A rule I have had for years is: to treat the Lord Jesus Christ as a personal friend. His is not a creed, a mere doctrine, but it is He Himself we have.”

–D.L. Moody

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Praying for ‘Sophisticated’ Sheep

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 “When he saw the vast crowds of people, Jesus’ heart was deeply moved with compassion, because they seemed weary and helpless, like wandering sheep without a shepherd. He turned to his disciples and said, “The harvest is huge and ripe! But there are not enough harvesters to bring it all in. As you go, plead with the Owner of the Harvest to thrust out many more reapers to harvest his grain!

Matthew 9:36-38, TPT 

Jesus, as Lord and Savior obviously has a perspective that we don’t have.  He perceives to the very heart of people, drills right through and into the confusion and helplessness.  He is disturbed by what he sees, and is emotionally touched by the people who pass by him.  (We don’t have this perceptive, unfortunately. But hopefully we’re now learning its power.) Love sees no cost.

 Jesus responds by commanding his disciples.  “Look at them!  Pray for them!” We live in a world that is plumb full of brokenness.  No one goes unscathed.  We all have scars, everyone of us, and prayer is how we are healed.  This dynamic needs to work in us and through us.

sheep (1)But the verdict is in, we have a great soul Shepherd! There is such a great harvest, that prayer is our only hope of reaching these.  Now, there is a lot of things we rather do then pray.  We can have conferences and special meetings.  We can make videos and create TV shows on the harvest.  Most of these things are good,  they’re purposeful and probably God directed. But if we choose not to pray, then we completely ‘miss the mark.’

But the real, deep-down core is the need people have is to be shepherded by their Creator and Savior.  That is the most profound need we have.  It is the basic requirement of this moment. It can not be minimized.

Love sees no cost.

Like a shepherd, he will care for his flock,
gathering the lambs in his arms,
Hugging them as he carries them,
leading the nursing ewes to good pasture.

Isa. 40:11

This is a messianic prophecy that describes the Messiah’s work.  We believe that it continues to tell of his work among those who are disoriented and who need to escape distorted views.  Only a Shepherd could fully understand the needs of his flock.  We must share in this vision, and carry this burden.

“And Satan trembles when he sees The weakest saint upon his knees.”

– William Cowper

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The Rigidity of Evil

I have a heart--but it is broken and crushed.
I have a heart–but it is broken and crushed.

Today I realized that I was sick and very tired of myself. It’s really not disgust, or even loathing. It’s more like a weariness, an exhaustion. I’ve never felt this way. In a strange way it intrigues me. Could this definite disenchantment mean something spiritual? Does it have value, or am I just feeling self-absorbed or conceited?

There is a real rigidity to evil. As I have seen it– sin hardens all who touch it, plain and simple. My growing immobility disturbs me, as I know I’m developing a “hardness of heart.” Atherosclerosis is a condition of a sick heart where arteries become blocked. It’s also known as “hardening of the heart, or arteries.” It is a patient killer, slowly and surely making hard deposits that block the flow of blood.

The Bible speaks about having a hard heart. It also uses the metaphor of fallow ground that must be plowed up. Jesus used the same image in His “Parable of the Sower” in Matthew 13.

“A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain.”

There are only four real options.

  • The first is seed that never arrives.
  • The second lands on hard stones.
  • The third possibility is landing on thorns and thistles.
  • Only the fourth flourishes.

    Heart of Stone Heart of Flesh
    The Battle of the Heart

The question I have is this, can the hard soil become soft, and can the good soil become overgrown with thistles? Is this a static, set experience? Or could it be far more fluid? I seem to move from one soil condition to another.

I have found that my own  heart drifts. Manic Depression is a mental illness where emotions fluctuate constantly. They gallivant around, floating here and than there. I maybe depressed and suicidal in the morning, and then I can be euphoric in the evening. It’s having the identity of a “wandering star.”

I want my heart to soften. I want to sit with Jesus and hear His words. I need Him to share what He is thinking about. Any sin I entertain has a hardening effect in my spiritual heart. This really scares me. *

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ybic, Bryan

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How Things Happen

burst=fireworks

31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

Matthew 13:31-33, ESV

These are perhaps the three most potent verses in the entire Bible. And whenever you find “potency” you will find a strong possibility of exponential growth. It may be a steady synergy, or an explosive fission. Either way, it’s going to grow!

Both the seed and the yeast have so much in common. They are two sides of the same proverbial coin. And they represent explosive growth. If they are unleashed, watch out! They are both “pep and power” and now set loose they will take off.

The seed is put in the ground and the yeast in the flour. And the farmer and the baker both do their initial work of planting or kneading, and then they just stand back, their work is pretty much done. They now just let “nature” take its course.

These parables Jesus taught here are small— but hardly less significant because of their brevity. These two can bury you with all they imply and mean. When we think clearly about yeast in your cupboard and that single seed in its package, we should see the “life” that resides in them, and the potential that waits.

I think much about the Church. At times, I admit I get frustrated with it. I get judgmental, and fearful that it won’t survive into the next century.  I truly understand that I can be critical. At times my friends must deal with my “ugliness,” but still they put up with me. (They are true friends.)

The kingdom is growing, and advancing. I love the wonderful promise in Isaiah 9:6, (usually read at Christmas time only. A mistake.) But Isaiah 9:7 is also pretty amazing too,

“His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen!”

Let it grow, let it grow! 

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ybic, Bryan

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Martyrs in America? Maybe

They died bravely in the first century. Will we in the 21st?

Being heard is not the same as having influence. Believers must reconsider the issues of being salt and light in a pagan culture.  We have tried a myriad of approaches in our evangelism, and we are not succeeding.  We have been maneuvered to the margins of society, and I fear that is where we will stay.

Several years ago, a believer directed a high budget movie, The Passion of The Christ, which shattered box-office records and sparked interest in religious films when it came out in 2004.  It was compelling and disturbing.  We saw Jesus beaten and whipped, but the splattering of blood did not translate well into spiritual change.  If perhaps anything, it inured people to a higher purpose– salvation.

We must use everything that is available to us as people to broadcast the gospel.  Art, both fine and popular, music and theater, movies and sports.  We need to squeeze out every venue, in every media to share the good news. Creativity is not a gift of the Holy Spirit, but it’s close.

But this is not enough.  We are engaged in a heated, spiritual struggle for truth and hope.  I believe that our methodology will consistently fall short of our ideals.  In the time of ancient Rome the only time Christians were in the limelight were as martyrs.  And the lions of the Coliseum made quick work of their witness.  But man, they succeeded in reaching thousands, and the pagan empire was brought to Christ, en mass!

Perhaps martyrdom will be our path to reach America with the Gospel.  The New Testament word for “witness” is martyr.  It very well may be that our blood will be the seed for a new generation of believers.  Church history would support this view.  It should come as no surprise.

martyrdomI remember witnessing once in UC Berkeley campus.  It is a very challenging place in a stronghold of intellectualism.  The people I encountered were bright and engaging.  But as I got ready to leave, I met a university professor.  He looked at me in his tweed jacket and sweater vest and said something I will never forget.  “Too bad we can’t feed you to the lions”.  It was a flat-calm statement; stark and frightening, because I knew he meant it.

In this enlightened campus, there was a coldness and a bitterness that I never encountered in the “drug and sex” neighborhoods of San Francisco.  In contrast, this incident in Berkeley was a brazen and committed calculation against the Gospel. Perhaps persecution by core intellectuals will fuel this martyrdom to come.

We are in God’s hands.  Obedience is a die-cast, deliberate decision we must make ahead of time.  We can’t just hope to make it work, unless we change.  “Die before you die, and your dying won’t be death”, the old preacher wrote.  This could very well be our cue. Get ready. And “watch and pray.” And die now.

 

 

 

 

 

Post art from The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer, by Jean-Leon Gerome (1824-1904)

The Urgency of This Moment

 
“Johnny Quick”

 “We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work.”

John 9:4, NLT

To be quick means that we move very fast; being slow often implies a reluctance or a mental delay.  To hesitate while doing God’s will for us suggests a degree of ignorance or stubbornness.  Our quickness is to be seen while doing “the tasks assigned to us.”

Urgency should be woven into our hearts.  We need to have wings on our feet, a fleetness and an alacrity.  A “double-eagerness” as we carry out His work.  It should be of no surprise that God sets before us an itinerary of work He wants us to do.

So many brothers and sisters sleepwalk through their salvation. They snooze when Jesus desires they “watch and pray” with Him.

Jesus was on a  timetable. He communicated a need of doing.  He is in tune with the work of God, and is involved in the urgency of his present moment.  Jesus knows this, and he clearly communicates the need to do.  We are not called to be manic for Jesus; we are expected to be alert and aware.

This is a cry for urgency to his disciples.

“The night is coming.”  It is getting late.  In response Jesus issues an order.  Work at what the Father has assigned you.  It is almost dark now.  There is a “principle of spiritual velocity” calling us to an alertness and an awareness of needful things to do before “the time is up.”

In Acts 9 the disciples show a holy zeal in their day’s work.  We can’t stop speaking what we have seen and heard.”  The Old Testament prophets carried this urgency–Jeremiah and Amos both declared to us this avidity placed on the believer.  Jesus desires that we factor in this concentrated awareness of the approaching night.

I recently read of an evangelist in the last century.  He had a watch made, and on the dial he had a picture of a setting sun.  And over it, the words, “the night comes.”  Everytime he would look at his watch he would be reminded of the shortness of life and the need of the performance of his duty.  That lesson should be transmitted to each zealous believer.

The key word I guess, in all of this, is zeal.  And often the older we get the more this word becomes diminished, and distant.  (I believe our Father understands this about us.) No matter what we do, He focuses His love on us.  There will never be a condemnation on us.  But we can still waste away our lives in a tragic way, which we will later regret. 

But we have to ask ourselves this, will I just be an admirer, or can I become a zealous disciple of Christ?

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Love Means You’re Really Real

love-begets-love 

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 

1 John 3:18

 Often people will look at someone, and try to figure them out– they listen to their words or vocabulary.  They examine the things we say, and also the way we say it. But according to John, this a flawed way of discerning legitimacy.

Love, in his eyes, is most assuredly “doing.”  Speaking falls really short.  Our words, although important, are an insufficient way of proving authenticity.  When you listen closely, even the best fall short.  Love is not expressed by being profound or eloquent in our speech. We can shout out the truth and never show love at all.  That is disturbing, but when will we figure out that love is a verb?

“Actions and in truth.”  This standard propels us to another level.  To act and reveal, puts us on a sound and sure level of discipleship.  It means that we will not just say things that sound really good and wise.  But we would “do love” and not just be talking about it.

I can quite easily mimic the dialect of love.  I verbalize so much that is just plain goofy and nonsense.  My eloquent words simply fog and darken.  They are not real.  (If it were real, I would “do.”)

John is calling believers to a much more real kind of love. 

If we do adjust ourselves to this, it alters and shapes us into authentic believers.  Admittably, this can be frightening, and something that will disturb us deeply.  Even as mature believers, we will avoid it and try to “imitate” something else.  It’s not only easier, but less dangerous.

And to love is to be profoundly dangerous.

We are expressly called to do, and not to say.  No questions about our words, and speech–they are significant.  But our deeds, putting love into acts and deeds is vital, critically so.  Being a doer, and not just a speaker, is the descriptive essence of the real believer.

We must do, and then we can say.

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