Sunday, September 12, 2010

Abide in Christ - Foundations





I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
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.
If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 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.
These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.

You have been friends for a long time. But something has come up and you need to leave for a long time. The time draws near and you have one last opportunity to say something. What will you say? Michael W Smith wrote a contemporary chorus some 20 plus years ago sung widely at separations - Friends are friends forever if the Lord is the Lord of them. We host funerals here at the church from Mourning Glory Funeral homes, and people share and speak from their hearts about the people they will miss in the days and years to come. Shortly before His death, Jesus had the same opportunity. It is significant what He deems important to share with His last quiet time together with His friends. We read some of that earlier, so let’s return to it



In John 15 we have this extended metaphor used describing our relationship with Jesus. While the word ABIDING is at the heart, it is a metaphor of vines, branches and fruit. God is the Divine Gardner. Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. We are pruned or even cut off if we bear no fruit. The fruit is holiness, or sanctification, or love; all of which describe the character of God. There are 2 thrusts here. The first is your personal spiritual care by abiding in Jesus, drawing the sustenance of r your spiritual life from Jesus. The second is the fruit that comes with being connected to the vine: your personal spiritual ministry, which is love. The first is your vertical connection to God, the latter your horizontal connection to the people around you, the rest of humanity. Both abiding and love are your responsibilities.

Andrew Murray wrote a 31 day devotional exploring John 15 titled “Abide in Christ”. He reminds us of the call of Jesus to follow Him, that time of salvation from ourselves, from sin, from selfishness, and that the voice of God still calls us. That “follow Me” wasn’t just for a few hours so we could have a nice conversation but then return to the sadness of life. It was a “follow Me and stay with Me, Abide in Me”. We came to Jesus in faith, in understanding it is all about Him and not about us, and we live our faith in the same way. We abide IN Christ, not just with Him. It is an intimate and complete relationship we have with the Son of God, not something lived at arm’s length. How do we do that? How do we live that out?

Today I want to focus on the context of Abiding to give us a foundation of how to Abide in Christ. If we look one chapter earlier in John we see 3 distinct parameters that frame this discussion of abiding. These three things are foundational to our faith, and we are much strengthened if we focus on them in our lives. We have to be intentional in our Christian walk. Some people walk through their spiritual life as if there is no direction, that we can almost go anywhere and do anything without having to focus at all. Is that how we learned to read? No, there was a process of steps, and so it is with our growth.

John 14:1-3 Have you ever had someone travel a long distance to see you? Maybe a child who has grown up, married, and moved out of the province is coming for Christmas. You may already know what those dates are now, so what do you do? You begin to prepare. You clean and shop for groceries. You stick a turkey in the freezer. There comes a joy of expectation about being together with old friends and family. Have you ever thought that is how God looks at you? He is waiting for you to come like a long missed family member. Jesus says here “do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” Jesus is talking about His second coming. The first time He came as a baby and left in the clouds as a resurrected man. He has a date of when we shall see Him face to face, and so He is busy cleaning and preparing our place that is in His Father’s house. This truth of the 2nd Coming should encourage us, should bring us peace knowing that whatever happens today or tomorrow, nothing can take away or stop this reservation from happening. If you have hope in anything, anchor your hope to this promise of God. He loves you and is coming soon to take us all back with Him. Keith Green joked that it took Him 6 days to create the universe, so can you imagine what heaven will be like when He has been working on it for over 2,000 years?

John 14:6 Jesus then says to Thomas, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” I saw this picture online a few months ago of an apartment building that tipped over. It was laying on its side with many of the footings still attached and sticking out of the bottom like sticks. It was a new building built on a slight slope. A heavy rain, loose soil, and construction of the underground garage combined to knock the thing over; like a lumberjack dropping a tree, it just laid down on its side. Compare that to these lighthouses. The storms come, the waves pound, but they stand firm. The difference is what these two buildings are built on, their foundations. The apartment building was anchored to loose soil; the lighthouse to the bedrock. What is your faith anchored to? Remember when Jesus asked His disciples who they thought He was in Caesarea? It was Peter who proclaimed “You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!” The foundation of your faith is this focus on Jesus. Jesus is who he said He is. Some of these people who today question the existence of God, stopped talking about Jesus a long time ago. Peter’s first sermon was the story of God enacting redemption in history through the incarnation, culminating in the life, death, and life of Jesus. Cling to this truth and it gives you the foundation to abide in Christ.

John 14:16 I read an article this past week from Christianity today. It was a youth pastor at the Saddleback Church and the question posed to him was what the biggest issue Junior High youth face today. His answer was abandonment. People today seem to have so many ways to be abandoned. It could be parental divorce or death or financial issues causing separation; but I don’t think the issue of abandonment is just felt by the young. In all stages of life we can experience a sense of being left out or lost. God knew that, and so in the incarnation He did not just give His Son as a sacrifice for our sins, but gave the Holy Spirit to each of His followers as a seal of His promise of redemption (Ephesians 1). He is our Helper, our Counsellor. It is the Spirit’s work in us that makes us more like Jesus (2 Corinthians 3). He goes to the Father on our behalf even when we don’t know how to express our needs or how much we hurt (Romans 8). Francis Chan’s second book, The Forgotten God, is an excellent study on the Holy Spirit and we would all do well to have a read.

So, here’s the thing. You want to feel close to God, start with a good foundation. The 2nd Coming, a foundation of Jesus as the Messiah, and the reality of the Holy Spirit are all necessary for this foundation. If I came up and asked, “Tell me all you know about the 2nd Coming of Jesus, and where you would find it in the Bible” how long would you need? Would you be done quicker than to takes to hard boil an egg, or would you be going on long after the time it takes to cook ribs that fall of the bone? And yes, it is not just about how much you know, but how that knowledge changes you. One theme that runs through John 14 is how we will be doing His commandments if this is all part of who we are (verses 12, 15, 21, 23). And if we are keep His word, He promises He and His Father will come and make His house in us.

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