True Vine violated

Jesus referred to himself as the true vine, yet the passages he refers to have an uncomfortable outcome.

You transplanted a vine from Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it…it took root and filled the land. [Psalm 80:8-11]

Things start well: Just as the vine is planted and fills the land so the body of Christ has spread. Then,

Why have you broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick its grapes? [Psalm 80:12]

Since the enlightenment the walls have been broken and those who oppose the Lord have violated the Church. Yet it is Jesus who is violated, his walls broken down, his fruit stolen!

Watch over this vine, the root your right hand has planted, the son you have raised up for yourself. [Psalm 80:14-15]

Our response is almost inevitably about what we should be doing to fix the situation. The focus is on us. The writer however, turns the focus on the Father. “Watch over this vine”, “Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand”, “Restore us Lord God Almighty”.

Are we able to take our eyes off ourselves and our methods? Can we put them on him in surrendered trust? Are we going to remain, or abide, in him?

Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name. [Psalm 80:18]

The writer anticipates that when God shines on us, our hearts will be restored, and we will be saved.

Realising my wickedness

The shock of my Christian life was realising that this description of the wicked fit me…

In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises. [Psalm 10:2]

Arrogance comes from believing ourselves to be so ‘right’ we can tell others how to live. We give ourselves permission to put others straight and use clever schemes to bring people into line with what we believe.

He boasts about the cravings of his heart; he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord. [Psalm 10:3]

Our empty hearts need an object for their cravings. Too impatient to wait on God to fill us, we direct our cravings towards ministry, developing a greed for what we are convinced is on God’s heart.

His ways are always prosperous; your laws are rejected by him; he sneers at all his enemies.’ [Psalm 10:5]

Convinced we are right, we justify abandoning love to cajole others into developing our ministry success.

His mouth is full of lies and threats; trouble and evil are under his tongue.  [Psalm 10:7]

This ministry is spread through half-truths masquerading as God’s word. Threats of terrible consequences silence the objections of love. Its fruit is trouble and evil, for love is driven away by wickedness. It looks and sounds so right and Biblical, but where is the life of Jesus?

Trying not to be like this becomes another form of wickedness. The Lord overcomes my wickedness as I spend time with HIm so he can fill me with his love.

What do we tell the next generation?

A single phrase changed my view of a whole passage. I had understood Psalm 78 as a history lesson of failure. Take-

The men of Ephraim, though armed with bows, turned back on the day of battle; they … refused to live by his law. They forgot …  the wonders he had shown them. (Psalm 78:9-11)

This psalm is full of such examples that seem to tell us not to be hard-hearted like the people of Israel, until I noticed,

I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old… (Psalm 78:2)

This is a parable pointing to hidden things-

We … will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. (Psalm 78:4)

The writer is not beating up Israel over their failure saying, “Never do that again!” He is encouraging the people to remember and tell of the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord to the next generation.

Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. (Psalm 78:7)

We are told to remember our history lest we repeat it. The writer teaches us to tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of God so that they can learn to trust him for themselves.  What have we seen him do? Why do we trust him? Who will we tell?

In my life, these are lessons of weakness and failure where I have seen God come through to save. Historical failure invokes fear, praiseworthy deeds inspire hope.

Fear or love

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by events and am disoriented –

… the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. [Psalm 46:2-3]

In such times I am comforted by the Lord as I look back at times of rescue and reflect on his care. There is a joy at odds with the circumstances.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. [Psalm 46:4]

Things don’t necessarily end as I want, but I have confidence that I will look back knowing my Father has brought good and that it has been a blessing.

God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. [Psalm 46:5]

So, in dark times I look forward to break of day, that moment when Jesus Christ appears with his grace. This brings me back to v1 –

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though …

Anticipating Jesus’ grace there is a choice not to fear. Fear wells up as I presume events will follow a natural course. Jesus is bigger than events!

Instead I choose to hold onto Jesus’ peace that floods in when I recognise and surrender to his sovereign control.

Allowing fear, I strike out in selfishness and hurt people. Choosing God’s grace and peace, love flows into me and out to others.

Sharing in Heavenly Glory

We discover Glory through seeing Jesus’ return to heaven.

How the king rejoices in your strength, O Lord! … For you have … withheld nothing he requested. (Psalm 21:1-2NLT)

Following his crucifixion, Jesus returns with joy at God’s victory.  All has been done, not by superman Jesus but, in divine partnership with God.

You have endowed him with eternal blessings and given him the joy of your presence. For the king trusts in the Lord. (Psalm 21:6-7NLT)

This glorious life of faith, hope and love is beyond anyone but for his eternal blessings of grace given to those who trust him.

You welcomed him back … You placed a crown of finest gold on his head. (Psalm 21:3NLT)

Like Jesus, we receive the victor’s crown after faithfully running the race set before us. Faith meets our weakness!

He asked you to preserve his life, and you granted his request. The days of his life stretch on forever. (Psalm 21:4NLT)

Hope looks above the crisis to a sovereign Lord- the adventure of an eternal exploration of the infinite God.

Your victory brings him great honor, and you have clothed him with splendor and majesty. (Psalm 21:5NLT)

God clothes us with the fruit of the Spirit; a love which exudes splendour and honour.

Glory in service

The last of three avenues that Jesus says lead to glory-

Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me. [John 12:26]

When the Lord of the universe honours us, there is glory, like in the parable of the talents where the kings says,

“Well done good and faithful servant.” [Matthew 25:21]

Many love praise and personal achievement. The Father honours those who set aside personal ambition and follow Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve, into the service he has for them.

Whom do we really serve? Jesus, at times tests our motives by leading us away from the service we have invested in. Do we love the ministry or Jesus who gave it? From whom are we looking for honour? It takes faith to follow Jesus away from apparently good things.

Jesus uses service to test faith. Do we really believe that he will resource the work he has set before us? If the task ahead is beyond us then knowing our limitations, we wrestle with the challenge. It takes faith to follow.

Sometimes we are perplexed. Are we able to rest assured that he has said,

“Where I am, my servant also will be.”

If our heart is set on serving Jesus, we can trust him that he has us in the right place.

So, Jesus encourages us to follow him into faith filled service and promises that the Father’s honour will follow.

Glory in eternal life

The second of three avenues that Jesus says bring glory is the road to eternal life.

Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:25)

This eternal life is our hope; the hope of a life of intimacy with the God who loves us. Jesus expressed eternal life in these terms-

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

Our anticipation of this intimate relationship with our Lord in heaven inspires us to remain faithful to the end. We don’t want to meet him in the end with the shame of betrayal. So Paul wrote of

endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:3)

This faithfulness to our Lord leads to choices that force a choice between our Lord and those we love, even ourselves. In choosing Jesus, we can look like we hate others, even our own lives. Since God is love, when we look back we see those choices expressing his love and demonstrating our knowledge of him.

This hope is ready to wait for eternal life in glory and it is developed through patient endurance. It is also fulfilled in facing crises. Knowing Jesus’ goodness, we set our hope on the grace he will bring at just the right time, often completely turning the situation around.

So let us, by grace, endure to eternal life!

Glory in fruitfulness

Fruitfulness is the first of three avenues Jesus says bring glory. He explains how-

Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. [John 12:24]

What does fruitfulness look like?  The fruitfulness Paul lifts up is the fruit of the Spirit; a love characterised by joy, peace, patience, kindness, … (Galatians 5:22-23 and 1 Corinthians 13:4-7) This is no surprise. Paul writes, “And now these three remain- faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Love is a gift that we receive free of charge through God’s grace. It is a gift we pass on to others when we bring a hopeful joy, when we are patient and kind with those expecting the worst. It is a vibrant, generous life just like Jesus’.

Why does love require us to ‘fall to the ground and die’? Our culture demands that we love ourselves first, and then from a secure base, love others. Dying is not loving ourselves!

Fruitfulness is God’s love expressed through us. If I first love myself, then my love originates in me. Until my ego dies I get in the way of God’s love through self-protection, selfish ambition or vain conceit. Ego love builds barriers leaving me alone.

God’s love is risky. In taking the risk to love we learn to depend on his love, protection and resources and so our lives bring him glory.

Living for God’s glory

Jesus explains for us the way he sees glory; the glory of heaven –

Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. [John 12:23]

I notice that this glory differs from the glory he has just received as he entered Jerusalem. He points to three areas that he recognises as true glory.

Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. [John 12:24]

The first area is fruitfulness, a fruitfulness that is gained through giving of ourselves in love at a personal cost.

Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. [John 12:24]

The second area is eternal life which Jesus defines as knowing himself and the Father in John 17:3. There is glory in the depth of our relationship with Jesus.

Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me. [John 12:26]

The third area is receiving the Father’s honour, an honour reserved for those who serve him.

The glory of the world is dependent on the recognition of other people and so requires us to show off. Jesus’ glory is based on choices and the evaluation of our Lord, who sees everything.

Whose glory then are you living for?

Why Christmas?

Why do we celebrate Christmas? Is it merely a pointer to Easter or does it have value? At Easter Jesus died on the cross and through his sacrifice reconciled us to God. Clearly this is vital, yet so is Jesus’ life on earth.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

The Word became flesh – Jesus became a man. Through him we see what we are saved to become. In Jesus, we see the life of God. Jesus models for us the love of God, not in some idealised world, but in the harsh reality of growing up as the despised, apparently illegitimate, son of a carpenter living in the social backwater of an occupied land. We are presented with a disadvantaged person on the margins living life to the full.

Christmas exposes our excuses for inappropriate behaviour. Jesus was disadvantaged and lived a holy life. What is more, He came in weakness while we idolise strength. He came with humility and gentleness to a self-righteous society. In the example of Jesus we see how brokenness is overcome through the power of God. We encounter his power through the cross of Christ, yet without Jesus’ example we have little idea of how God wishes to use his power in our lives, the power to model that same life to a hostile world around us!