What Does it Mean to Remain?

Do you notice how many times the word remain comes up in the passage of John 15?

4“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:4-8).

What does it mean to remain? (The King James Version uses the word, “abide”). The thought here is of the picture of the life-sap of Jesus Christ flowing through your life by allowing the Word of God to be the pruning shears of the Spirit. The disciples had the person of Christ with them for three years speaking the very words of God to them. That’s why He said to them that they were already clean because of the words that He had spoken to them (John 15:3). Further, He promised them that if they continued to maintain a connection with Himself (the Head), and that His Word remained in them, they would ask “whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (verse 7).

Is it as easy as just reading the Word of God? No, the devil knew the Word of God and quoted it to Jesus in the temptation of the wilderness. The difference is allowing the Word to take root in the soil of your character:

37And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40yet you refuse to come to me to have life (John 5:37-39).

The religious Jews had meditated on the Holy Scriptures all their lives, but the Word of God had not found a home in them. We must move the furniture around and make room for His Word. Any junk in the place of our hearts has to go to the junkyard, and the throne room has to have Christ and His Word entirely at home and taking root. The Lord said something similar a little later to the religious Jews:

37I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word (John 8:37).

The life of God flows smoothly through a man or woman who is living in obedience and faith in God by making room in His heart for the Word of God. We often underestimate the power of the Word of God, but Jesus said this about His Word:

63The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life (John 6:63).

True discipleship is living fully for Christ. Being connected to Him, who is the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). When we allow His life to flow through us, the Lord produces results that defy natural explanation—powerfully effective prayers, God-honoring blessings, unbounded love, and inexplicable joy. All these things come when God’s Word finds a home in our hearts, and we are rooted and grounded in the love and power of Christ (Ephesians 3:17). The life-giving sap of this organic connection to the Lord Jesus Christ will bring a considerable amount of fruit to your life. Keith Thomas

What the World Needs Now

We have been talking about being the Body of Christ in this world over the last couple of days. This kind of organic unity with Christ and the fruit that comes from it is what will draw others into the Kingdom of God. People today are longing for a relationship with God that is genuine.

I remember a story that John Wimber, the founder and church planter of the Vineyard Movement, shared about an event that happened during a conference where he was the principal speaker. During the time that John Wimber worked for Fuller Theological Seminary, he taught extensively on church growth. At one of his conferences, a frustrated pastor and delegate at the meeting stood up and stated that he knew the things that John had been saying, but when was he going to get some advice of getting his church to grow! John patiently told him that he would have all his questions answered in a short while. The man became desperate a little later on as he hoped to learn some new method from the conference that would catapult his church into more significant growth in numbers, so he stood up again, saying, “Yes, I know all that, but when are you going to help me grow my church?” John just looked at him, and at that moment, the Spirit of God gave John a wise, intuitive answer. He asked the man a loaded question; “Okay, well how many more like you do you want?” The man fell back into his seat and exclaimed; “I don’t want any more like me! I want them to be like Jesus!”

The truth John Wimber was stating was that often the followers go as the leader goes. If we want our congregation to embody biblical truths, those truths must be seen in the leaders first! If we’re going to grow spiritually, we must follow the Maker’s instructions. Life can only come from union with the True Vine. Think of it; all life in nature is born out of intimacy. Why would it be any different in the growth of the Church, the Body of Christ, which is a living organism? To grow the church “for Jesus,” we have taken a wrong turn somewhere along the road. These failures are especially true in the Western Church today. We started out with a good and logical idea; to make church comfortable enough for non-believers. The goal is to draw the lost to hear the Gospel in such a way as to remove the roadblocks to their understanding and make church “a seeker sensitive” environment.

I think that this is an idea that is close to the heart of God since He sought to remove the religious obstacles obscuring the image of the heart of the Father from the people of His day. Jesus often challenged the Pharisees and taught people using simple stories that they could understand. Unfortunately, what has happened in many churches today is that we have focused on a performance-oriented event and put a greater emphasis on professional presentation and less emphasis on the One whom we are presenting. The Word of God is in itself powerful. In contrast, our presentation is at best, human effort. We need to connect to the divine source—Jesus. When we connect people to Christ through His Word, He has the power to transform lives. Do you believe this? We cannot afford to forget or push to one side the Lord from being the One who is the life living in His people. People want the “real deal,” the true Living Bread that alone can satisfy. Keith Thomas

Are You a Disciple?

24Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.25“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it (Matthew 16:24-25).

In the late 1800’s Ernest Shackleton, the famous British explorer, when he was about to set out on an expedition to the South Pole, put an ad in the London Times, “Men wanted for a hazardous journey to the South Pole. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.” How many people do you think responded to the ad? (Scrolling further down to the end of the next paragraph will give you the answer).

Pastors of the Western church of Jesus Christ have a tendency to want to make it easier for people. We’re afraid that the message of the pure gospel and Christ’s call to commitment will put some people off. We put coffee cup holders at the back of the seats and only brew premium coffee. We make the room warm, but not too warm in case we put people to sleep. The music has to be just right, with perfect sound reproduction. The children’s classrooms have to have enough toys, with no hint of a stain or blemish on any of them. Our Western culture has permeated our church culture. As a result, we have a marketing mentality. People in the West are used to this.

The churches in Asia are not bound by such marketing strategies; they have grown strong by a deep commitment to the cause of Christ. When we think of Shackleton’s advertisement, why would this draw anyone? When calling for a commitment, Earnest Shackleton told them that this would not be easy, and only those who were ready to give up their lives for the cause should apply. He wrote, “Safe return doubtful.” This would be a trip of great hardship with a small wage, bitter cold, and long months of darkness. What would move anyone, we would think, to desire to go with Shackleton? In speaking of it afterward he said that so overwhelming was the response to his appeal that it seemed as though all the men of Great Britain were determined to accompany him. In fact, Shackleton had over 5000 replies to his ad.[1]

Why do you think 5000 men responded to such an advertisement? I think many are looking for something to give themselves to that would live on after their deaths. Men need a challenge. Even though there was a possibility of death, the response was overwhelming and surprising. However, out of those 5000 people only 27 were chosen for the trip. Advertisements for young men to join the American Marines play on this desire for challenge, commitment, hardship, honor, and recognition. I would think that if we could have questioned the 5000 responders their main motive would have been the same as those that join the Marines, that of the challenge, glory, hardship, and the desire to be part of something that will make a difference. The most inspiring thing you can ever say to somebody is that they have made a difference through what they have done. Many are aware that the future does not look bright for anyone who has a mind to look at what is happening in the world. It will become increasingly dangerous to be a Christian as we approach the end times, yes, even here in America. There will be increasing pressure to compromise your faith and your values.

 

Without a deep commitment to the cause of Christ and an intimate love for the King of Love, we will be swept away from the centrality of Christ and obedience to His Word. We are called to not only believe but to be a disciple, a disciplined one. Let me ask you this question if it were illegal to be a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? Your answer to that question may shed light on whether you are a nominal believer or a disciple. I pray today that these words today may find an opening in your heart to desire to be a disciple rather than just a believer.

Read more on this study by scrolling down to the Becoming a DiscipleSeries and click on the second study, “A Revolution of the Committed.” Keith Thomas

[1]Quit You like Men, Carl Hopkins Elmore (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1944).

The Cost of Discipleship

If you would walk a godly life in Christ Jesus there will be a cost. Many of us in the West have known little cost to taking the path of discipleship. But if we are to be disciples of the Lord Jesus there will be times of challenge to our faith. The Lord, the Vinedresser of His vineyard will make it so:

1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful (John 15:1-2).

Your faith will be challenged. Ask God for sensitivity so that you will know and realize the challenge when it comes. The challenge will be for you to compromise and take a side path rather than the highway of holiness to God. For instance, when Sadhu Sundar Singh of India was converted to Christ from his family religion of Sikhism, he was immediately challenged to compromise and leave the path of faith in Christ. When he told his father of his having seen Jesus Christ, his father said, “don’t bring disgrace on your family by joining those dirty outcastes,” referring to the fact that the gospel had taken hold among the lower caste system in India. The local Christians were mostly of the sweeper castes that did all the dirty work in the village. How could Sundar bring such shame to his family by becoming one of them? His friends in the gang that he was a part of, threw animal dung at him and rejected him from the group. He no longer could eat meals with his family and was told to eat outside.

After all kinds of pressure on him to abandon his faith, his uncle took him down into a deep cellar, and opened an iron box filled with money and precious jewels. His uncle promised that it would all be Sundar’s, if only he would abandon his faith in Christ and return to the religion of his family. Sundar refused to abandon Christ. He knew he had to do something that would release him from these daily trials and attacks to turn him from the faith. One day, he went out and cut off all his hair. To a Sikh in the Punjab region of India, long hair was the chief of the Five Signs, his glory, the Kev which he wore tied in a knob at the top of his head.

The shock and horror of his family at this act knew no bounds. His father ordered him out of the family. He had to sleep the night under a tree. He knew he had to leave, but before he left, his sister-in-law, unsmiling, put some food out under the verandah, the place where outcastes were allowed to eat, and indicated that it was for him. After eating the food, he left to see a local Presbyterian pastor. When he got there he began to have violent spasms of pain. He had been poisoned by his family! Later he found out that his only Christian friend, one that had also been converted from Sikhism, had also been poisoned and had died. The doctor came quickly but said that the amount of poison he had could not be stopped. He left him to die. The doctor could do nothing. Sundar turned to the Scriptures and read aloud the passage:

17And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well” (Mark 16:17-18).

 The next morning, to the doctor’s amazement, Sundar was completely well. The Lord had healed him. The doctor, for the first time, read the New Testament and a complete turnaround came to him from that point. For Sundar, this time was full of joy at the working of the Lord in his life. The peace of Christ was with him and he was free of religion full of ritual to a true relationship with God. How about you, dear reader, is your relationship with God something real? Get the real thing—faith in Christ. Keith Thomas

Good News for All Nations

We are continuing our meditation on the days after the resurrection of Christ (Scroll down for yesterday’s thoughts). Jesus appeared in the room where the disciples had gathered. He had an important message for them:

 44He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:44-49).

Christ then opened their minds to the Scriptures (v. 45), reminding them that faith in God must be based on the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Jesus reminded them of the things that He had taught them while He was with them—things that were prophesied in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms that had to be fulfilled by Christ. Just as He did with the Emmaus disciples, He did the same with those in the room, taking them through Old Testament passages and explaining the plan of God to redeem not just Jewish people but Gentiles, too. The Plan of God for salvation was unfolding before their eyes, and they saw the reason for Jesus’ suffering and voluntary sacrifice.

In His conversation with them, Luke now gives us the expectation of the Lord that is before every one that bears His Name:

46This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things (Luke 24:46-48).

The task that is before all the Church is to preach repentance and forgiveness of sin to all nations beginning at Jerusalem, their home (Verse 47). The Lord’s expectation is not for us to make conversions, but disciples. Matthew’s Gospel makes His word clearer as to His command:

18Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20 Emphasis mine).

We are to teach all nations to obey everything that the Lord taught the disciples in the three years He walked with them. Luke gives us Christ’s strategy in the Book of Acts. We are to teach and make disciples from ever-widening concentric circles from one’s home town.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The strategy is to begin to share the Good News in your own home town. You need to be willing to start where you are! Often, this is the most difficult place to start. Even Christ himself was not accepted in His home town. If opportunities come to sow seed in fields more distant, then that precious seed of the Word of God must be sown.

Jesus gave them specific instructions about waiting. They were to learn dependency and faith from the very beginning of their mission. They were told to wait until they received the promise of the Father: “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). The promise of the Father is the Holy Spirit Who would come and rest on them and be in them on the Day of Pentecost, fifty days after Passover. The Resurrection of Christ came three days after Passover. I estimate that means that they had to wait another forty-seven days before they could go and preach the kingdom of God. Let’s talk about why they had to wait in our meditation tomorrow.

Taken from the series on the Gospel of Luke, found in the middle column near to the top. Click on study 66 at this linkJesus Appears to the Disciples (Luke 24:36-53). Keith Thomas.