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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Singing Like a Canary

Scripture is completely saturated with singing.  There a whole a lot of people who think the Bible is full of sin, wrath and judgement.  But that is not a fair assessment.  It’s misguided, and side tracks many.

And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang:

“Blessing and honor and glory and power
    belong to the one sitting on the throne
    and to the Lamb forever and ever.”

 Revelation 5:13, NLT

The culmination of the total history of mankind, ends up in this song.  All of the history books, and college lectures and symposiums are merely setting up for this massive choir.  It is what we are all about.

In the Old Testament, it seems everyone sings.  One finds melody everywhere.   Moses sings, the Children of Israel sing.  Miriam sings, Deborah sings. David sings, the Levites in the temple sings.  Most of the Psalms sing. Mary sings, the angels sing. And when the curtain falls on history, everyone sings.  (God’s people are quite melodic it seems.)

“Next to theology I give to music the highest place and honor. And we see how David and all the saints have wrought their godly thoughts into verse, rhyme, and song.”

Martin Luther

But where does this take you and I?  A common denominator is when one comes to a revelation of God.  With a deeper understanding there is a wider capacity to sing.  Another commonality is responding to a miraculous deliverance, from sin or enemies.  These are just a couple of the reasons we should “join the choir.”

“Then I will hold my head high
    above my enemies who surround me.
 At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,
    singing and praising the Lord with music.”

Psalm 27:6

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.”

Col. 3:16, NLT

So sing. Sing alone or in a group. It’s the will of God, that pleases Him immensely.

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Worshiping With a Knife

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In the doctrine of biblical hermeneutics there exists the ‘Law of First Mention.” Essentially it means that the first time a word or a teaching is mentioned should determine the way it needs to be understood throughout scripture. It is a guiding principle and a good one at that. The Book of Genesis, being the first book, is a repository for many of these ‘first mentions.’

In Genesis 22, we have the story of Abraham and Isaac on Mt. Moriah. Abraham has tied up his son on an altar to offer him as a sacrifice in obedience to God’s direction (v. 2). This is faith being tested to the extreme.

“Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.”

Genesis 22:4-5

This is the first mention of the word “worship” in the Bible. It sets the tone for all the scriptures on this subject. I guess what is interesting is there was no musical instruments involved. Just these things:

  • stones,
  • wood,
  • rope,
  • fire,
  • a knife,
  • and Isaac, the ‘would be’ lamb.

When the Hebrew word for ‘worship’ has been used for the first time; it is interlaced with the idea of an incredible sacrifice. Abraham is the first ‘worship leader’ and he has no guitar. No piano, or drums either. No musical instruments whatsoever. No overhead lyrics to speak of. Just a handmade altar, and a knife.

In the end, as Abraham raises his knife, he is stopped. His faith has withstood the test, and he has truly ‘worshipped.’

But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” So he said, “Here I am.” And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”

Gen. 22:11-12

There really can’t be worship without a sacrifice.

Recovering this truth concerning worship would be beneficial. It seems we delegate ‘worship’ to a select few who are talented and gifted. We probably don’t do this deliberately, but sometimes we feel it makes a better ‘presentation.’ To do this would be a tragic mistake.

The first worshipper didn’t use a guitar, but a knife. This difference keeps the idea of sacrifice in its definition. There can be no worship without sacrifice.

“The Scriptures include or allude to just about every approach to worship there is: organized, spontaneous, public, private, simple, complex, ornate or plain. Yet there is no comment anywhere about any one way being preferred over another. Rather, it is the spiritual condition of the worshiper that determines whether or not God is at work.”  

Harold Best

Ultimately we must realize our sacrifice is the Lamb of God. It’s his blood on God’s altar. As believers, our faith firmly rests in this fact. We of all people have reason to worship.

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Dying is Part of Living

Photo by Diane Loft
Photo by Diane Loft

“We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.”

Romans 6:6, NLT

“There are two things which the Church needs: more death and more life— more death in order to live; more life in order to die.”

C.A. Fox

The need of this moment is critical. Many believers have never came to this point of ‘knowing.’ Maturity comes when one realizes that crucifixion has dealt with the old man. We died when He died, we were there when He died, we were part of that event. Romans 6 is all about a believers ‘co-crucifixion’ with Jesus Christ. Calvary was far more than a religious event— it was where our sin was terminated. It was more than just a penalty carried— it was where our old nature put to death.

“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Galatians 2:20

Sin has no power to sway a dead man. A man who is dead doesn’t respond to a girl in a leopard skin bikini. (It doesn’t matter if she is insanely gorgeous.) He no longer can be tempted to sin. Why?  Because he is dead. This is not an issue of semantics, it is not poetic interpretation of a metaphor. It rings true in heaven.

Sin should no longer remain in power of a believer’s life. We believe that our sins have been dealt with on the cross, that Jesus took our sins from us, bearing them as a ‘sacrificial lamb.’ But the same is true to say, “My sinful nature was also crucified with him.”

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.”

John 12:24

The principle is from farming. A kernel of wheat will bring an abundance. But it must be buried first. The dead seed miraculously sprouts. At the moment of death it suddenly receives a new life. The dead seed grows into a bountiful harvest. This is the New Testament principle of dying to self. A few things:

  • we are not sinless— we must deal daily with the sinful part of us,
  • this must be taken by faith, much like anything else from God,
  • discipline aids our quest for holiness, 1 Tim. 4:8
  • fulfills the sacrament of water baptism, it’s a daily reckoning, Rom. 6:4,
  • temptations can be really strong, but He enables us,
  • this is a God honoring way to live.

Crucifixion should always be taken by faith in God’s Word and it will lead to resurrection. Crucifixion weakness is necessary for resurrection power. Jesus shares his life with us— his power is given to his people. He shares all that he is so we might become like him.

“Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. 13 Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God.”

Romans 6:12-13

I’m convinced that as people with issues: physical and mental, we are given a gracious teacher in the person of the Holy Spirit. He will never condemn our feeble efforts to be holy. Be encouraged: God makes the weakest of us strong.

 

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Fire or Blackberries?

“Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes, The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

In some odd way, our lives seem to be always getting interrupted by God. And it can happen a lot. We need to see the invisible. When we can, it can be quite amazing. Our night sky here in Alaska is wonderful. (And I’m a “sky guy”, it means I’m always looking up.) But the most phenomenal night skies were in Mexico, while camping on the beach. As I laid there I looked and the Milky Way was on full display. It really was as good as it could be. It seemed there was 10x more stars than ever before.

Once as I gazed up, a weird sort of fear gripped me, it was almost a panic. I started to tremble and shake. I got up and ran to our tent. I just couldn’t handle the incredible universe with no buffer. I was completely undone, and reduced a quivering speck of dust. I tried to tell my wife Lynn what had just happened to me, but I couldn’t. I was too scrambled. I couldn’t speak.

Reflecting on this, I realize now what I had experienced was “awe.” It was something much more common a few generations ago. There is a kind of existential crisis which we side-step in these more modern times. We rarely contemplate the night sky. We seldom, if ever, have seen fire in a bush.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

It seems we have traded our awareness of an Almighty God, and in turn we get to pick all blackberries we can haul. We reason it out, and we feel that we have made a better bargain. But when we extricate this from our souls, don’t be surprised if we suddenly find that we have become spiritual paupers.

Maybe we should learn to see through things; each of us have the opportunity now to see the spiritual world that swirls around us. Why wait for heaven? Ask our Father to reveal His glory now in this present moment. Learn to see that which can’t be seen, but by faith.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the skies announce what his hands have made.”

Psalms 19:1, NCV

His “Irresponsible” Love

“Nothing in the church makes people in the church more angry than grace. It’s ironic: we stumble into a party we weren’t invited to and find the uninvited standing at the door making sure no other uninviteds get in.

Then a strange phenomenon occurs: as soon as we are included in the party because of Jesus’ irresponsible love, we decide to make grace “more responsible” by becoming self-appointed Kingdom Monitors, guarding the kingdom of God, keeping the riffraff out (which, as I understand it, are who the kingdom of God is supposed to include.)” 

— Michael Yaconelli

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Often there can be a frustrated hostility simmering just below the veneer of a religious person.  It can be seen in sudden outbursts of irritation that seems to come from nowhere.  It is often encountered when they feel the ‘spigot of grace’ has been open too long, too much water is being used, and the people are getting a little wild in showing their enthusiasm.  “They’re acting like ungodly pagans.”

Regulating the watering hole becomes a compulsion, and a necessary work of the “Church.” Jesus’ love is for all is a confirmed fact, but we must have some standards of decorum and appropriate levels of conduct and respect.  “We the keepers-of-the- spigot are called to take some responsibility in this,” we end up saying.

Celebratory shouts of joy are simply not acceptable.  Dancing in the mud is way ‘out-of-line.’  But there is an outrageous element to grace.  It is preposterous and disturbing.  It is untamed and wild, and not at all logical.  “We definitely prefer the thinking side of our faith,” we say.

Judas rebuked Jesus as he was getting a foot massage from the ungodly woman.  She had no business to be there in the first place.  And secondly, she has just poured this incredible fortune on the feet of Jesus!  Judas said, “way out-of-line!”  But there is a irrepressible love that always pushes its way forward.

For those of us who have first experienced God’s love and grace we must keep an alert out for our hard hearts.  First, He is in charge of how the water is utilized.  Second, [and we MUST believe this] when a man or woman connect with the water, there can be spontaneous displays of joy!

The dance of grace

We must change our thinking, e.g. repent, and insist that we ‘cease and desist’.  Our attitude is not acceptable or true to the Spirit of Christ.  We are the ones way “out-of-line” and we have not been good witnesses about his grace and love.  We had better turn from this sin, and ask Jesus to free us again.

“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  John 8:32

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Putting It Simply

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“But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:41-42, ESV

I tend to over-think things a lot. Everything gets so darn complicated. Often there is ‘a paralysis of analysis’ that gels into something stagnant and murky. I am definitely not the decisive person I admire from a distance. My illness is such that I can easily become “immobilized” in making simple decisions.

But I am aware of my desperate need of Christ Himself. My many issues demand a ‘heavy duty’ Savior, one who is capable of handling them. I guess I have tried many ‘gods’ and I haven’t found any of them who can take the load like Jesus can.

All that He has done in the Gospels, and all that He does presently declares to me his trustworthiness and power. My admiration for Christ as my Savior and Deliverer is written on the pages of the Bible. His present day ministry to me (and many others) is consistent with what I read about him in the Word.

And it is amazingly simple, when you think it through. He lived, died, and rose again for those ‘rebels’ who deserve death. The simplicity is profound. I do not have to be a Nobel Prize winner to understand. Without cheapening ‘redemption’ He has reduced things to a straightforward idea. He dies in my place, and now gives me his life to live.

I want to listen to Him. I want to come so close that I can hear the very inflection of his voice when he does speak to me. You see, we are built as communicators, and that is the part that ‘small gods’ can’t provide. They’re merely ‘dead idols.’

I so want to please him, even if he corrects me.

I want to learn at his feet, just as Mary did at her home in Bethany. Often I feel like I will probably be ‘the least of all the disciples’, but I’m okay with that. After all, it’s all about Him.

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“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

Revelation 3:20

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