Big And Strong

Ezekiel 31:3
“Indeed Assyria was a cedar in Lebanon, with fine branches that shaded the forest, and of high stature; and its top was among the thick boughs.”

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At the time of Ezekiel’s writing, Egypt was one of the most powerful nations in the world. So great was their strength, many nations allied themselves with Egypt, in an attempt to withstand Babylonian occupation. Many in Judah still believed they could defeat Babylon, if they had the help of the Egyptians. Ezekiel wrote to warn Egypt of the danger they faced. This warning is one that every Christian ought to take to heart.

It illustrates the exhortation of Paul, who wrote,

1 Corinthians 10:12 “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”

In order to warn Egypt, Ezekiel takes us back in time to remind us of the once powerful Assyrian empire, which had been defeated and destroyed. He compares Assyria to a massive tree of the forest that provided lodging for the birds of the air and shade for the beasts of the forest. This tree was greater than any other tree in the garden of God; it was the desire of all the rest. Ezekiel explains, the secret to the strength of this tree, was an underground water source that provided what was necessary for its growth. Sadly, as the chapter unfolds, the tree weakens, falls, and becomes as much a picture of failure, as it had ever been of success. Ezekiel tells that the cause of the fall was lifting up it’s heart in pride; perhaps failing to understand the hidden source of its strength.

This should serve as a vivid reminder to every Christian, of both the secret to growth and the cause of collapse. Jesus compared us to branches. When connected to the vine, we will have a source of strength resulting in a thriving Christian life, full of fruit. He also warned of the danger of being cut off from the vine. This would result in losing the ability to bear fruit, taking the effectiveness out of our life, and hamper our witness for Christ. Just as Assyria was filled with pride and no longer saw their need for the hidden source of strength, it is common for the Christian to forget that daily time with Christ, His Word, and the fellowship of His body, is what really fuels our growth. When we neglect time with the Lord, we are cutting ourselves off from the very source of strength and growth.

Sadly, Egypt and Judah alike, failed to take to heart the warning, and found themselves defeated. Nations that once shone brightly upon the landscape, became a shell of what they  were. Let’s not be among the casualties. Take time to invest daily in your walk with Christ, abide in the vine, and bear the fruit of godly living.

Pastor Jim

 

Heard It Through The Grapevine 

Ezekiel 15:2
“Son of man, how is the wood of the vine better than any other wood, the vine branch which is among the trees of the forest?”

Recently, my wife and I went shopping for wood flooring. We were actually quite surprised by the number of choices available to us. We found cherry, oak, pine, bamboo and a plethora of other woods from which to choose. Upon reflection, however, I did not notice any grapevine flooring. As I recall, when we shopped for furniture, we found the same thing to be true. Lots of wood choices, that never included grapevine. In the text, God makes reference to the fact that the wood of a vine is not even suitable for making a hook upon which to hang anything. Why then would He refer to this wood as being better than other woods of the forest? The answer is found in the words of Jesus.

John 15:1  “ I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.”

John 15:5 “ I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”

Both Israel and the individual Christian are compared to a vine. The purpose behind the illustration is to cause us to see our need to remain in an abiding relationship with Christ. To abide simply means to remain. As a Christian, it is important to do those things that will keep us in close contact with the Lord, and to avoid those things that will lead us away from Him. The things that keep us close are prayer, Bible reading, fellowship and service. When these things are neglected it is easier to drift away from the Lord, and even slide back into the lifestyle from which we were delivered, when we first came to Christ.

There may not be a more important concept in the entire Bible for the Christian to grasp, than that of abiding. We were not saved to become religious activists or moralists. We were saved to be in a living, growing, and thriving relationship with Christ. We were saved so we could walk in step with Christ, hear Him speak to us from His Word, and empower us with His Spirit.

Pastor Jim

 

The Branch

Isaiah 4:2
“In that day the Branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious; And the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and appealing for those of Israel who have escaped.”

_41153086_gallerytree.jpg“The Branch of the Lord” is a messianic title, meaning it is a description of Jesus our Savior. This phrase is used often by the prophets to speak of the work of Christ.

Isaiah 11:1 “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.

Jeremiah 23:5: “Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.

Jeremiah 33:15 ” In those days and at that time I will cause to grow up to David a Branch of righteousness; He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. “

Zechariah 3:8 “For behold, I am bringing forth My Servant the BRANCH.”

Jesus used this same imagery to refer to Himself and our relationship with Him, when He called Himself the Vine and us the branches. The basic idea being that there is life in Christ, and as long as we are attached to Him, we will experience His life giving power, and have a life filled with fruitfulness. As the chapter continues, Isaiah speaks of some of the fruit that stems from being in relationship with Christ.

First, he speaks of our sins being washed. Sin is what keeps us from God and from eternal life, and as such, is the primary need of man and purpose of God. Jesus came, not primarily to be our teacher, guide, or example, but to be a sacrifice sufficient to wash away all sin. We need Christ because sin keeps us from heaven.

Second,  he speaks of holiness. The fruit generated by relationship with God is a holy life. Holiness means to be set apart in life and service. A person who is holy is a person devoted to God, and seeking to live in a way that pleases Him. Some of the marks of holiness are commitment to live in light of the teachings of Scripture, commitment of personal, private, family, church, and social life to God. A willingness to offer your time, talents and treasures in the service of Christ.

Third,  Isaiah refers to blessings that flow into the life of those who are connected to the branch. We will experience the benefit of intimacy with God. His presence will be like a cloud and a fire. This, no doubt, takes us back to Israel in the wilderness, when the cloud of God’s presence guided them through the desert. We find them being led through difficult seasons, where their needs were supernaturally met by God, and His voice gave insight into heir situations.

What an amazing promise He has given us. In the midst of the spiritual, moral, and social confusion of Judah, God promises that His people can be linked to the Branch who gives life.

Pastor Jim

 

 

Ashamed? 

Psalm 119:5-6
“Oh, that my ways were directed to keep Your statutes! Then I would not be ashamed, when I look into all Your commandments”

The devil is crafty and a master of deception. Paul referred to him as an angel of light, because of his ability to disguise himself in order to fool the Christian.

When we are first introduced to him in the garden,  we watch as he tricks Eve into thinking the one thing that her loving God has forbidden, is of more value than all the fruit of the garden or the freedom she has been given. He has been deceiving people ever since, fooling us into thinking the ways of God are too restrictive and that sin will satisfy us. Once he has convinced us to walk outside the boundaries of God’s Word and get involved in that which is forbidden, his job is only half done. Instead of leaving us alone and moving on to deceive another, he turns his weapons back on us and begins an assault of shame. His fiery arrows begin to assault our minds with shame. We are defeated by the sin we have committed, and continue in defeat as we wallow in shame and guilt. We are repulsed by our failure, and instead of entering boldly into the throne of grace, where mercy and grace flow from our loving Father, we cower back with feelings of unworthiness. We question how God could love us and fear that we will never overcome the weaknesses of our flesh. There, in our miry clay, the devil holds us bound in shame and guilt; keeping us from abundant life or from impacting others for the kingdom of Heaven.

I want to assure you, that if you have received the pardon of sin that Christ offers on Calvary’s Cross, ALL your sins have been washed away. The blood of Christ is rich enough to pardon the sin that you have stumbled back into. Right this moment, receive that pardon and rise from the ashes of your failure to walk in the victory that is yours in Christ.

That being said, the Psalmist speaks here of one of the greatest ways to avoid pitfalls of the devil and ending up overcome with shame.

Oh, that my ways were directed to keep Your statutes! Then I would not be ashamed, when I look into all Your commandments.”

The key to avoiding the pitfalls of the enemy, is walking in the right direction, and staying in bounds. The key to remaining on track, is allowing the Word of God to shine continually upon your life and guide your steps. One of the ways we fail, is when we come to a crossroad and find ourselves face to face with temptation. On the one hand, we are being greatly pressed to step outside the boundaries and pursue what we know God has forbidden, while on the other hand, we desire to please Him and do what is right. Right there, in the midst of the battle, we will find great strength from the perfect Law of liberty. Like a valiant soldier, as we reach into the sheath, removing the Sword of the Spirit, we will find the enemy is vanquished with the power of the Word. Later, in times of confusion, when we are not sure what the way of the Lord is, we can find guidance that keeps us on track. Have you ever, when facing decision time or great temptation, taken a moment to search for what the Scripture has to say? Using an online concordance, you can look into the statutes of God regarding the situation you are facing. The light of the Word will shine in your life, and you will find the help you need to avoid falling again into shame.

Let’s be sure, today, to allow our steps to be directed by His statutes.

Pastor Jim

 

Falling 

Psalm 91:7
A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you.”

The Psalmist is speaking of the benefits derived from living in an intimate, abiding relationship with God. Jesus also spoke on the same subject when He refered to Himself as the vine and us as the branches. He made it clear, the only way to bear fruit in our life was by remaining in a close and personal relationship with Him. This verse expresses one of the most important benefits of abiding.

“A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you.”

Sadly, we have all seen Christians fall by the wayside. People who, at one time, were walking with the Lord, but have fallen back into the life from which they were delivered. We see this happen to new believers and old, we even see it happen to those who at one time or another, were serving the Lord. One of the saddest experiences for me, is to look around a room filled with people, and know those who are missing, because they have fallen. How was it that sin was able to get its grip on them, tear them away from Christ, and leave them wounded on the sidelines? The answer is quite simple; they stopped abiding. The same thing will happen to you and me if we cease to abide in the secret place of the Most High.

The word ‘abide’ means ‘to stay or to live’. The person who is abiding in Christ, is the person who is daily remaining connected to the Lord. There are some simple, practical ways we can do that. First, we must make time to spend with the Lord, in His Word and prayer. All those who succeed in following and serving Christ, have learned to develop a daily time with the Lord, in His Word. Second, it is not about the number of verses you read or memorize (although both of those are important), it is about putting into practice the things you read. Abiding is directly related to obedience to the Word. Third, we were never meant to live out the Christian life alone. If we want to make it to the end of our race, we need to get involved in Christian fellowship; more than sitting next to someone once a week in church. The strongest bonds you can form with others, are the bonds developed while serving Jesus together.

The Christian life is a battlefield where we see our comrades falling around us on a regular basis. We need to recognize the battle is intense and the secret to success is abiding in the secret place of the Most High. Will you take time to sit at His feet today?

Pastor Jim

 

Separation 

Joshua 22:26-27

“Therefore we said, ‘Let us now prepare to build ourselves an altar, not for burnt offering nor for sacrifice, but that it may be a witness between you and us and our generations after us, that we may perform the service of the Lord before Him with our burnt offerings, with our sacrifices, and with our peace offerings; that your descendants may not say to our descendants in time to come, “You have no part in the Lord.” ’”

 

The tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh chose to separate from the rest of Israel and live east of the Jordan River. Although the Jordan is not a large river, and crossing it during the dry season would not be a difficult endeavor, this division would prove to be very costly.  It is clear from the event recorded in Joshua 22, the effects of this separation were felt immediately.  Once they returned to their land, they attempted to create a connection with the rest of Israel by erecting an altar that resembled the one in Shiloh. In their minds, this would keep them connected to Israel, even when the Jordan separated them. Their actions were considered to be idolatrous by the other tribes, who pleaded with them, that rather than building an altar, why not cross the Jordan and join the nation. A religious symbol is not the solution for a wandering heart. 

 

Idolatry is strictly forbidden by the Lord, because erecting an image gives us a false sense of the presence of God. When we begin to drift from Jesus, we do not need to get a larger bible or wear a religious symbol around our necks. What we need is to get back to spending time with the Lord in the pages of His word, and putting what we read into practice. Jesus explained that the secret to success for the Christian is to abide in Christ. He said, just as a branch derives its life from being connected to the tree, so the Christian will have a constant source of life, when he remains connected to Him (John 15:5). 

 

It is important we do not let anything, no matter how small it may seem, create separation between us and the Lord. A little bit of compromise can have a large impact on our relationship with God. 

 

Pastor Jim 

  

 

 

 

Legalism

Acts 11:3 
“You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!”

There are many churches I would love to visit and observe the work God is doing. The church in Jerusalem was one of those churches. In the early chapters of Acts, we read about this church that began as a work of the Spirit, was birthed in revival, emphasized outreach, focused on discipleship, and even sent out saints to impact the world. We read that they gathered at Solomon’s Porch (an area adjacent to the Temple), to worship, pray, and preach. No building in the city was large enough to house the multitudes who were coming to Christ, so the believers met together in homes throughout the city for prayer, study, fellowship and communion. What a thrilling time it must have been to be a part of that work of God. Sadly, by the end of the book of Acts, the church in Jerusalem had changed. No longer was it the hub for ministry that it once was. Instead, it had become a place filled with internal conflict brought about by legalism. The seed of that is found here.

Imagine the scene. Peter arrives back from his trip. He has had a vision in which God spoke to him. That is exciting!  They should be intrigued and celebrate how amazing God is; that He would interrupt Peter’s sleep and speak to Him. Beyond that, Peter had just led a whole family to Christ. The kingdom of God just got bigger! In addition, this family was not Jewish, they were Gentiles. Their acceptance of Christ was now opening up the entire world to the Gospel message. The church should have been ecstatic; celebrating the fact that the whole world was now their mission field. Instead, what these guys took away from Peter’s story was, “you ate with Gentiles!” That blows my mind! How sad, that this once vibrant church could become so legalistic.

Legalism could be defined as putting restrictions upon us that the Bible does not place on us. Now, it is clear, there are certain restrictions that the Bible does place on us. Those restrictions are the driving force behind many who refuse to come to Christ. John wrote that “. . . light came into the world but men loved darkness more than light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). We must understand, the restrictions Scripture places on us are for our best. God is, in fact, trying to keep us from something, and that something is unnecessary suffering.

That being said, the legalist is the one who puts restrictions on us beyond what the Bible teaches. They focus on what we wear, what we eat, the day we worship, the style of music, and the list goes on and on. Once legalism enters a person’s life, or a church body, people no longer measure their Christian life by growth in Christ, but instead, by adherence to the rules. Instead of clinging to Christ and seeking for others to know Him, we become focused on making sure the women are wearing the right clothes and the men eating the correct foods.

It is abiding in Jesus, not adhering to a set of rules, that will transform our lives and attract the world to the Gospel. If we want to see Christ continue to work in us, we must continue to abide in Christ.

Pastor Jim


Fruit-Filled Life

John 15:8
“By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”


God desires that we live fruit-filled lives. When we do, He is glorified and we are blessed. A fruit-filled life is marked by the characteristics of Christ. In Galatians 5, Paul listed many of the “fruits” that God desires us to bear. These are inward qualities that are a result of being transformed by Jesus.

 

Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,   self -control. Against such there is no law.”

When our lives are filled with these qualities, God is glorified, others are drawn to Him, and we are blessed. Think about it. Don’t you want to be filled with love, joy and peace? Isn’t life better when you are patient and kind? Jeremiah contrasted two lives. He spoke of the one who departs from the Lord, being like a shrub in the desert; while the one who trusts in the Lord is like a tree by the waters bringing forth fruit (Jeremiah 17:5-8). I don’t speak “tree”, but if I did, I think I would hear the trees longing to be by the water’s edge where life is better, and fruit is abundant.

The key to living a fruit-filled life is abiding in Christ. The word ‘abide’ speaks more of a condition, than an action. We abide in Christ when we believe Him and receive Him. At that moment, a miracle happens. Our sins are forgiven, we come alive to God, and we are placed in Christ; where the life of Christ begins to flow into our lives. Jesus contrasts the branches that are in Him, with the branches that do not abide. He tells us the branches that are not abiding, or not connected, are cast out, withered and burned; while the branches that are in Him, are lifted up and pruned, in order to bear more and more fruit (John 15:4-6).

As a disciple of Jesus Christ, you are attached to the life-giving vine. The more time you spend with Him, the more His life will be produced in you. Take some time today allowing the vinedresser to lift you up, that you may become more fruitful.

Pastor Jim