Vines, Branches, the Church, and You

This year hasn’t really been all we had hoped so far, has it? We’ve just ticked over to the second half of the year and most of the world is living in limbo; some things are open, some things are closed, and some things are somewhere in between. No doubt your life is a mix of these states. 

If you are a believer in the risen Jesus and God’s Word to us that we carry in our Bibles, you are by extension a believer in a Sovereign and all-powerful God where nothing happens within His creation that He has not decreed or allowed to proceed. He either said it or sanctioned it. He either actioned or allowed it. Now, just because you believe in a God like this, doesn’t mean you always understand why He is proclaiming or giving permission (Romans 11.34).

So this is all happening, that we cannot deny. We know that God has a plan and a purpose behind it all whether we see it or not, and we know that for those who love Him, all things, both good and bad, work together for ultimate good (Romans 8.28). So, let me make a suggestion, just think;

Could part of this season be a shaking, stirring, and sifting of God’s people?

Jesus said in John 15 that “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (v.2). Sadly, we’ve seen people fall away from engaging with church this last four months. Maybe that was you, maybe that is you, maybe not. Aside from numbers, statistics, and metrics, we’ve seen people be lethargic to connect, commune, and communicate with one another. Yes, there is a committed core of people who have risen to the challenge, but, for many, John 15.2 seems to be happening in real time. 

The sad reality of this is then expanded on in v.6 wherein Jesus says “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” Maybe you know some of those who have seriously disengaged this last four months, some of those who when the tree has been shaken have fallen away. Maybe that was you for a period. The second half of v.6 stands as strong motivation to hold on to the tree when it’s being shaken. 

Sadly though, we’ve seen those with a Friday-only-faith drift away, wither away, and slowly back away from the encouraging, edifying, and equipping covering that being part of a church of God’s people provides. This hurts. As those who know the Word, this hurts because you know, in essence, what they are choosing by removing themselves. Yes, this last four months has been altogether odd and strange. Yes, this has certainly not been ‘normal’. However, there are enough people who have risen to the challenge and clung to the tree to show that it is possible, and that whether we are experiencing lows or highs, plenty or hunger, that as individuals and as a community we can survive and thrive in all circumstances through the root and vine that strengthens us (Philippians 4.11-13).

What do we do with all this then? Well, as Paul writes to the Romans about the Gentiles being grafted into the family of God’s people (11.11-31), so we ought to try and emulate this in our earthly station. No doubt you know some who have slowly slipped away from the fellowship of one-another this last few months. We hold to the unshakeable hope that if they do not continue in their unbelief, [they] will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again (v.23). 

In this season of uncertainty, of change, and of shaking, stirring, and sifting, our task as believers is threefold;

  1. Let us see this season as one of pruning and let us be ready for the season of new growth that necessarily follows (John 15.2). Perspective is paramount. Endurance is essential. Don’t be left behind.
  2. Hold fast to the vine from which life comes. Apart from this vine, we can do nothing (John 15.5). The tree is being shaken. Hold on. We will never Philippians 4.11-13 if we are alone. 
  3. Reach out to those who, in all appearances, have fallen away from the branch or removed themselves from the root (John 15.2, cf. Hebrews 10.23-25).

Friends, our Sovereign, all-powerful, wise, and loving God is moving in the world and in His church right now.

The question for you is, are you moving with Him?

Pray BIG Prayers – Salvation

Maybe you don’t think you need to pray about this. Perhaps you already did pray about this when you were a child and have operated on the ‘I prayed a prayer when I was 8 so I know I am saved’ kinda thing. 

Since then, maybe you’ve just lived your life in your own way, pursued your own goals, chased your own dreams. Perhaps you haven’t really thought about ‘being saved’ since you prayed that prayer as a child. 

Just think – if that was someone else, would you hold them to something they said as a small child 30/40/50 years later? 

Just think – why do people renew their wedding vows?

Just think – why do you tell your kids you love them a thousand times a day?

Just think – is repenting of your horrible sinful hell-bound life of a handful of years really enough, if since then you’ve been doing your own thing?

No, I didn’t think so.

See, often, we think the prayer of salvation is a one-and-done thing: we pray it and move on knowing we have ‘ticked that box’ and don’t need to think about it anymore. But what does the Word say?

Since praying that prayer, sincerely, since repenting of a life lived for self and crying out to the Lord to be saved yes, your past present and future sins have been forgiven. But, have you prayed about your salvation since then?

In Ephesians 2 there is a great passage that talks about how we are saved by grace, through faith (vv.8-9). This means that there is nothing you can do to earn your salvation, the forgiveness of your sins, the removal of the consequences of your sins, eternal life. But, if we read a few more verses on, we see that we are to remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated…having no hope and without God…(v.12). When was ‘at that time’? That time was before you prayed for salvation, asked Jesus to cancel the record of debt your sin had accumulated, asked to be brought from darkness to light and to be born again. The Word tells us to remember that time, remember yourself pre-salvation. 

So, how does all of this lead to a BIG prayer? Well, remembering this ought to drive you to prayer in gratitude and for the endurance to keep going. If you have never prayed for any of this, then do! But, if you have prayed for this, received this by grace, through faith, then keep on praying for this. 

Today, there is a BIG prayer for you, whether this is the first time or the fifty-first time. It’s most probably the best place to conclude our look at BIG prayers.

First, if you have never prayed about this, try this BIG prayer.

Lord, I humbly come to you and admit that I am a sinner, that I have missed the mark in how you made me to live. I ask for forgiveness, and I thank you that you have made this available to me by the great and all-encompassing sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. I believe He died, and I believe He rose. Today I submit and commit to Jesus as the Lord of my life. Take me from darkness to light, from death to life, from old creation to new. 

If you are renewing your vows, so to speak, then try this BIG prayer.

Lord, I thank you that you have taken me from death to life, from darkness to light. I know that my eternal destination is to be in your presence for all eternity. I thank you and worship you for the life-giving forgiveness you have shown me, and continue to show me. I remember my life before, and I pray today that you fill me afresh with your Holy Spirit so that I keep on walking away from my old self, and towards you in the person of Jesus and in the manner He lived. 

Pray BIG Prayers – Location

In James 4.13-17 we see a strong word of counsel on our location and occupation as believers. Let’s read it and pray a BIG prayer after it.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

James 4.13-17

Most of us have grown up in a country or culture that highlights the fact that you need a life plan. Maybe when you were in high school this was really emphasised; what will you be, who will you be, where will you be, and how will you be? As a result, we’ve been conditioned to think that we are responsible for planning and guiding and bringing to fruition our own future and plans. 

But, as a believer, as someone who has declared that you are not living for yourself anymore, as someone who has declared that you are living for the glory of God (BIG prayer #1), is this right?

Can you live for God’s glory yet still retain exclusive planning rights on your own life?

James says not. Rather than planning your own future, we ought to think  “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that“. James is pretty clear that this is arrogant and sinful. If you are bold enough to pray today’s BIG prayer, be prepared to obey and submit to the guidance you receive. Think carefully before praying this one. You know you should, you know you want to, but as Jesus teaches in Luke 14.28-33, think deeply and count the cost because if you pray this, you could be on the move!

Lord, I know that anything I can plan for my life will be so insignificantly small and dull compared to the abundant life you want me to live. For my arrogant and sinful self-centredness in planning my own life I ask forgiveness.

I pray today that you would begin to show me what you want me to be, who you want me to be, where you want me to be, and how you want me to be.

I want to follow the example of Jesus and say “Your will be done, not mine”. 

Living a Life of Restoration

James concludes his letter with the exhortation in 5.19-20 as, simply, a nutshell summary of the entire teaching – to confront those who have wandered from a living faith.

James is trying to move us beyond the intellectual agreement which many call faith, to move us beyond the mind-only understanding that many call Christianity, to a real, active, living, loving, giving, serving faith. 

Rather than read 5.19-20 and think; let’s go and bring a load of people back. Let’s go restore people, redeem people and be the hero. Rather than try and be the hero, we ought to read 5.19-20 and see that WE are the restored, not the restorer, we are in daily need of restoration. We ought to go and tell people about the great Restorer, the great Redeemer.

The book of James ends pretty abruptly and pretty suddenly, there is no blessing, no prayer, no long and luscious goodbyes…it’s almost like look “I’ve told you what you need to know, so, off you go and do it“.

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

James 5.19-20

In this text, we are the sinner brought back from wandering, our souls have been saved from death, a multitude of our own sins has been covered.

Let us live in this truth, live a life of living faith, and tell others about the Great Restorer!

Titus 1.2 – The Chance

Lots of people build their lives on lots of things, don’t they. Career success, providing things for their children, financial acquisitions, property purchases, the pursuit of pleasure…None of these things, inherently, are bad. In fact, there is a degree to which all of them are good. But, are they firm enough to build a whole life on? Are we really in control of any of them? Today, Paul writes to Titus and sets forth what he is basing his hope, his ministry, and his life on.

…in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began…

Titus 1.2

Did you see what Paul is hoping for, anticipating, and expecting? Did you see on what Paul is building and basing his life?

…in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began…

Paul is writing to Titus to instruct and to encourage and in the hope of eternal life. So, what he is going to teach and share as his letter continues has further-reaching consequences than the here and now. How can Paul be so sure that this is the case?

…in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began

What Paul is standing on for present empowerment and future fulfilment is something that was promised before the ages began, something that was spoken forth by Someone who never lies.

This same promise, this same hope of eternal life is available to you today and every day. As I recently read, this is not based on wishful thinking, broad brushstrokes like ‘Good people go to heaven‘, or ‘If you’re sincere, that is enough‘, this hope of eternal life is based on thousands of years of demonstrable history, hundreds of recorded evidences and examples of its truth, a tangible benefit to society that many often forget (see ‘Dominion’ by Tom Holland), and the changed lives of millions.

God, who never lies, has laid out before you the chance to choose the hope of eternal life. God, who never lies, has given you the chance to radically change your life and have it extend into eternity. 

Have you taken that chance?