In John 15 Jesus uses the illustration of the vine and the branches showing that a branch can only bear fruit as long as it is attached to the vine. And then He says, “apart from me you can do nothing.”(vs.5) The question is, do we believe that? We like to think that we are capable people. We have talents and abilities. We have reasoning power to work out problem. Jesus is making a pretty flat statement here. “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Certainly we continue to live, and move, and accomplish various tasks. We are not always doing some good work for another person. We are not always doing something in the name of Jesus. No, but when we are committed to the Lord Jesus Christ He is continually working within to shape us into His image. So, what we do, whether in a sacred or a secular task, is done in the nature of Christ. Whether it is feeding the hungry or watching a baseball game it is done to the glory of God. We truly do nothing apart from Jesus.
The world is not perfect. How’s that for a news flash restating the obvious. There is nothing in a world filled with imperfect people that can be called perfect. But it was into this imperfect world that our Lord came. It is He that, on a fearful and foreboding Thursday evening, knelt before a half believing, half doubting group of followers, and washed their dirty, smelly feet. Jesus knew the crud that exists in this world, and that which was still in the men before Him. He knew the crud (otherwise called sin) that each of them would face in the coming years all ending with martyrdom. And yet He said to them, “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”(John 13:13-15) The world is imperfect. The people in the world are imperfect, but we are called to meet those people, and that world with the grace and sacrificial love our Lord has shown us. We cannot change the situations of life in which we find ourselves, but perhaps the love of Christ through us can, just as it did eleven of the twelve men in that Jerusalem dining room 20 centuries ago.
Many Christians will plan retreats for spiritual enrichment. Our local pastors meet for a morning each month to talk, look at Scripture and have communion. The pastors of our national body have an annual Pastor’s Conference for fellowship, study, worship, and fun. It is good to get away, have some time to be quiet, and focus on the Lord. These times are great, but we don’t always have to get away to be refreshed in our Lord. The Lord invites us to come to Him often, even numerous times during the day. A time for prayer in the morning begins the day with quietness and trust. Prayer at meal time reminds us of the goodness of our God. In times of hurry or stress, a few minutes, or even seconds of quiet prayer and turning the heart to the Lord, can calm and renew the spirit. Concluding the day with prayer leaves the cares of the day in God’s hand, and brings rest. It is nice to get away, but the Lord is never far off, and we don’t have to go anywhere to meet Him. Our Lord invites us to go apart with Him many time each day.
I do a lot of complaining! It’s easy for a Christian to complain about the times we live in, even as I did in yesterday’s GM. What is not so easy is to do something about it. I’m afraid I’m pessimistic enough about the state of the world to believe that there is not going to be a major change apart from the coming of our Lord Jesus. But that most definitely does not mean that I sit back wringing my hand, and crying “Oh poor me.” The Apostle Peter was one who knew his share of opposition from the world, but he gives us clear counsel. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened. But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”(I Peter 3:15) We are people with the greatest hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. We have the greatest message of new life in Him. We live that new life in the midst of our own trials, and we look for the opportunities to “answer everyone who asks”. The world is full of problems, and far from the will of our Lord, but instead of complaining, it is more important to “give the reason for the hope we have”. I’ll try harder!
Jeremiah was sent to the people of Judah just before and during the time they were being taken captive by the Babylonians. God had continually tried to call His people to turn and come back to Him in faithfulness. “I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer.”(7:13) Finally, Jerusalem was destroyed, and the people removed from their homeland for 70 years. Thirty-three times in the Book of Jeremiah it says that God called the people, but they would not listen. I often feel that we are in that same world. There are so many competing voices today, and the Lord’s truth from His Scripture gets pushed aside. God loves His creation and the people He has made. In His Son, Jesus Christ, He has done all that is necessary to give us life. The voice of our Lord is not just one competing voice in the cacophony or others. It is The Voice that leads to life. We really need to listen.
What is an accomplishment? That can be an interesting question since we are an accomplishment oriented people. That is to say, at the end of a day we want to feel like we have had one or more things usefully completed. We often tie our self worth to this attitude. If something we feel meaningful has not been accomplished then we can feel a lack of value. But back to the question, what is an accomplishment? I know that if I have completed my sermon by the end of the day, or perhaps several needed chores around the house, I feel good about the day. Other day, nothing seems to get completed as I would have liked, but maybe it is those days we realize the truth of what Thomas Edison said about his light bulb experiments, “We’ve learned a thousand things that don’t work.” Other days, are days we just need a rest from accomplishing stuff. We need to slow down, think, pray, and let the Lord work in us. “Those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength.”(see Isaiah 40:28-31) Accomplishment is not always completing our so called useful tasks. At times it is stepping aside and allowing God to decide what is useful for this day.
Statistics still show that a very high percentage of people believe in God even in today’s secular world. It strikes me, then, that a question must be asked. So what? What real difference does that make? Do they do anything different because of it? Are their lives any different beyond some vague hope that …. well, all things happen for a reason, and will finally turn out for good? There is one verse in Psalm 100 that says, “Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.”(vs.3) God made us. We are His creation. Does that mean that the Creator has some right over the creation? And if so, are we accountable to Him? And if we have some accountability to God, should we not be seeking to learn more about who He is, and what He desires for us? I’m afraid, just to claim a belief in God is very shallow indeed. If we dare to look into our God and what He has done for mankind, then we are confronted by something even deeper, God’s claim upon us. “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.”(I Corinthians 6:19-20) Now I wonder what that means?