Death & Hope

To be a Christian is to trust Christ. It doesn’t mean for one moment that we are shielded from the pain and chaos of life under the sun, but it does mean that in it all we have a friend and a saviour to walk with.

Hope in the English language has come to be something of a ‘flimsy’ word. We talk of ‘hoping for the best’ or we say simply that ‘I hope so,’ meaning ‘I’m really not sure, but I’d like it to happen.’ This is different from how the word is used in the Bible. Biblically hope means ‘certain expectation’ rather like how, during advent, we hope for Christmas. We know it’s coming, we wait for it with anticipation and we prepare for it all the while expecting it to occur.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13 Paul writes to the church and says that we ‘do not grieve as others do, who have no hope.’ Christians grieve, but not as others do. We grieve but our grief is not disconnected from our hope. We are to enter into our grief, not ignore or it pretend it away but we do so knowing that a loved one who has died in Christ is not lost. The person may be ‘lost to us’ but they are not lost to God, he knows exactly where they are.

Paul describes death as ‘being with Christ’ and says that this is ‘better by far.’ When the thief on the cross put his hope in Jesus, the Lord said to him ‘today you will be with me in paradise’. Today, in that very instance, immediately without a delay.

Our culture doesn’t talk much about death, it pushes it to the margins and it likes to carry on with life pretending that death won’t occur. It does occur however and it will occur to each of us, that much is certain. As a result of the way our culture treats death, we can’t expect to be helped much by our upbringing when it comes to thinking about death.

In the Bible death is a departure, it is a defeated enemy that has been and is being placed under Jesus’ feet. Death for the Christian is described as being ‘gain‘ and is talked of as being a servant that takes us into the presence of our saviour. People in Christ who die don’t ‘pass away’ as though they slip into some shadowland. Biblically speaking a Christian who dies has ‘fallen asleep‘ and is awaiting the final resurrection and restoration of all things.

In the Old Testament when King David experiences disaster it says of him that he ‘strengthened himself in the Lord.’ When loved ones die and when we experience disaster we must do likewise. We are so used to listening to ourselves and listening to our circumstances that we could all do with a healthy dosage of speaking to ourselves and our circumstances from time to time. To strengthen yourself in the Lord looks like declaring aloud the truth of God’s word and the theological reality of death for the Christian.

Try reading the following aloud as a way of strengthening yourself:

Father I renounce the lie that this life is the end and that my friend is lost. Instead I declare the truth that they are with you and delighting in your presence. I renounce the lie of doubt that wants me to spiral into despair, instead I declare the truth that you defeated the power of the grave when you rose again on Easter Sunday. I choose to stand on these truths that you are a Father who loves us, a general with a clear plan in his mind, a King with absolute authority and a shepherd who leads us through disaster. Thank you that you identify with us in our grief and pain. You’re the only God ‘out there’ to whom we cannot say ‘you don’t know what it’s like,’ since you do know. You visited the funeral of a friend and you entered the grave yourself, triumphing over it for us. Thank you Lord. Please help me to trust you at this difficult time. 

In Jesus’ name.

Amen

FIGHT: tigers & puppies

Scripture

Read Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Observation


Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to not think about something, especially something you’re worried about? I well remember a few years ago when I was speaking at church on the subject of anxiety. The Bible passage said ‘do not be anxious about anything…’ and my message, it followed, was on ‘freedom from anxiety’. Well, I was a mess. I was so nervous about it that I couldn’t prepare for the sermon. Anxious thoughts about ‘how not to be anxious’ flew round and round my head. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t pray, couldn’t escape thinking about it. The irony wasn’t lost on me ‘physician heal thy self’ was all I could hear spinning back and forth around my brain, it was horrible.

Where worry is concerned our thought life can behave badly can’t it? We don’t try to obsess about missing that flight or not completing that essay in time, it just happens. And of course worry is a very reasonable virus, it uses all the right logic and explanations. Anxiety convinces us that it’s not only permitted to consume our thought life, but that it’s entirely appropriate and commendable that it does so!

Paul’s answer to anxiety, as he explains it in the above Bible reading, isn’t to use reason and persuasive argument. He doesn’t try to out argue anxiety, he knows that’s a lost battle. Reasoning against anxiety isn’t a fair fight since we’re emotionally compromised from the start. Anxiety, you see, has a head start on us and anxiety has access to the arsenal of our emotional life making it a very powerful foe indeed. If it was only a question of explaining politely to worry why it is that we’re not going to go where it wants us to go then I’m sure many a worry would be stopped dead in its tracks. But it doesn’t work like that does it?

‘Goodness did you hear yourself just then?’ Anxiety says ‘you made a complete fool of yourself. Is it any wonder why NO ONE wants to be your friend?! I’m amazed you have any friends at all, or do you? I can’t see those supposed friends of yours hanging around too long after they find out exactly what you’re like. Can you see that happening?’ 


After that comes the hot flushes and clammy palms, followed by the loss of all colour from our face, an ice cold forehead and then that all too familiar knot in the stomach – the permanent resident in the body of serial worrier. Sound familiar?

So what’s the answer to anxiety? Sadly for us there isn’t a pill to fix it. It isn’t a case of praying a particular prayer (perhaps five times a day), or singing a particular song. Anxiety is tiger that needs taming rather than a puppy that needs training. Puppies aren’t too ferocious, they can be quite cute and (after much effort) they can be house trained. We’re bigger and stronger and more powerful than puppies and so in the end, they will obey us. Not so with a tiger. Tiger’s are ferocious and strong and move at a lightning quick pace. They will run rings around us and destroy us if we’re not careful. Taming a tiger isn’t just a matter of persistence, it requires courage, strength and nerves of steel (I speak from experience of course).

Getting our thought life in order involves more energy and effort than puppy training (and even that can be pretty full on). Getting our thought life in order requires determination and courage, and supernatural power.

Just prior to the above Bible passage Paul explains that he’s ‘learned the secret of being content whatever his circumstances’ something I’m sure many of us would like to know.

In our Bible reading three big clues are offered, three things that will aid us in our fight against anxiety: Rejoicing, asking and thanking.

Celebrating what God has done in the past and asking (petitioning) God to help us in the present. Mixed with a helpful amount of thankfulness, creates quite a powerful concoction. It enables us to stand our ground against anxiety and positions us to receive peace from God in the midst of worry.

Celebrate, ask, thank.

It isn’t easy (tigers don’t give up without a fight), but it is possible. With the help of the Holy Spirit we can be free from life crippling worry.


Weekly Challenge

Read Philippians 4:8-9:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practise these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

The first step toward enjoying your status as a forgiven, loved, adopted and empowered child of God is to start taking seriously what you think about. Do your thoughts past the Philippians 4 test? 

  • True
  • Honourable 
  • Just
  • Pure
  • Lovely
  • Commendable
  • Excellent
  • Worshipful 
Take some time this week to write down as many things as you can that meet the above criteria. List areas of your life, perhaps things you’re consistently worried about, and write things that might pass the Philippians 4 test. Do it over a few days and see what the Holy Spirit brings to mind each time:
For example:

Myself: What’s true is that I’m a Christian, I’m loved by God, I’ve been adopted into his family…


Difficult circumstances: What’s true is that my Father promises to be with me throughout every difficulty I face. What’s worshipful is that he’s always got me through things in the past, he’s worthy of my worship


Others: What’s commendable is that I’m grateful for my wife, for how she loves me and cares for me. I’m thankful I’ve got friends who, despite knowing the worst bits about me, have stuck by me and pray for me…

I might also list: my future, my job, my kids, my self image, my past, my money… Adding to this list daily will force your mind to think about and dwell on true and good things as opposed to the destructive and anxiety laden things we often think about.

Have fun!

FIGHT: a sword for the fight

Scripture : Today’s full reading can be found here

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might… 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. 

Observation:


Paul concludes his letter to the Ephesians with an instruction to put on spiritual armour. After all he’s communicated to the church about the Christian life, about their position in Christ, about their need to be filled with the Spirit and about how they are to prize unity he concludes by saying, essentially ‘…and don’t forget, it’s a fight!’ 


In this fight we’re given metaphorical armour to help us: Faith is like a shield, righteousness becomes like a breastplate, salvation a helmet. It has often be pointed out that all of the equipment we’re given to help us in this struggle is defensive and protective; all of it that is apart from one item, the sword of the Spirit. The sword of the Spirit, we’re told, is the word of God. The one thing that can help us gain ground and not simply stand it, is scripture; the Bible, the good Book, God’s word.  


I was reminded of this recently when praying through something I was struggling with. I have become quite good at trying to reason with my anxiety. I’ll analyse facts in cold blood, I’ll discuss what I’m worrying about with others, and I’ll attempt to pick apart negative thought patterns and reduce them in size. All the while failing at actually picking them apart and reducing them in size. While praying (or worrying aloud as it often becomes) it struck me how little I was using the truth of scripture to help me in my struggle. I was essentially trying to break apart a mountain using only plastic hammer and chisel. It wasn’t working and neither could I expect it to. Reason doesn’t have anything like the power that scripture does. 


Jesus when tested and tempted by the Devil in the wilderness (here) didn’t try to win the argument or reason the Enemy into a corner. Instead he leaned on and trusted in the power of scripture to help him. Read it for yourself and you’ll notice the repeating statement of Jesus ‘it is written.’ The devil tempted him with self sufficiency and independence from God and he replied with ‘it is written…’. The enemy offered him success over his enemies, fame and glory and he replied ‘it is written…’.


If Jesus leant on scripture this way, then I need to as well – and so do you. You cannot flourish as a believer without it, you cannot withstand the onslaught of the enemy or even the onslaught of your own sinful desires without it. We need to lean on and trust in the same truth that Jesus trusted in. And the promise comes that as we draw near to God ‘he will draw near to us’ and as we resist the devil ‘he will flee from us.’


Weekly Challenge


Since scripture is so essential it makes sense that we give ourselves to learning it and being shaped by it. Becoming familiar with truth doesn’t happen accidentally. Spend this week reciting daily the following statements that relate to our identity in Christ:

In Christ I am God’s child (John 1:12)
In Christ I belong to God (1 Corinthians 6:20)
In Christ I have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self control (2 Timothy 1:7)
In Christ I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me (1 John 5:18)
In Christ I am holy and blameless (Ephesians 1:4)
In Christ I am forgiven (Ephesians 1:8)
In Christ I am a saint (Col. 1:1)

FIGHT: the first battlefield

Every week for the next 7 weeks as part of the Essence teaching series we’ll be posting videos & blogs to help us get to grips with our new identity in Christ. Be sure to visit our Facebook pages regularly for resources designed to help you grow.
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Let’s start by considering an important principle.

Take a few minutes to read over the Bible verses listed below. Consider as you read them what they might have in common:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1-2


Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practise these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9 


For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,

2 Corinthians 10:4-5


Did you find a common thread woven through? I’m sure there are plenty of things they have in common but the reason I picked them is because of their mention of the mind and our thought life:

  • Be transformed by renewing your mind (Romans 12:2)
  • Whatever is honourable, whatever is… think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)
  • Take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)
The principle is this:

What we think about matters. What we allow ourselves to dwell on, matters. What we play on repeat in our heads over and over, matters. It all matters.

In my experience, what goes on in the grey matter between my ears has a huge impact on my joy, faith, peace, and contentment. My thought life greatly affects the quality of life I’m enjoying. 
As a new Christian I kept a journal in which I documented my thoughts about faith. I remember on one occasion after seeing something quite miraculous take place, writing in my journal: ‘never forget! God is real, God is Good. Never forget! I’m going to live for God, wholeheartedly, 100%!!’

That ought to have settled it then; wholehearted, determined Christianity from then on. Except that it wasn’t, and it didn’t. 
A few weeks later I’d done exactly what I’d told myself not to do, I’d forgotten. I’d concluded that God wasn’t real, that if he was real then he didn’t love me and wasn’t helping me. As such I wanted to quit as a follower of Christ. 
That process has been (and still is to some extent) a common one for me. It’s a process of remembering and forgetting, remembering and forgetting, remembering and… you get the idea. What I find reassuring however is that I’m not the only one who battles like this. For the past 10 years I’ve had a front row seat on many people’s different experiences and Christian lives. I’ve watched again and again as others have gone through the same cycle I’ve just described. 
The apostle Paul (who wrote the Bible verses above) seemed to be aware of this problem as well. He understood that being a Christian requires a diligent and careful approach to our thought life. That’s why he wrote so often about it.

Here’s some questions to consider:

How much are you aware of the positive or negative impact of your thoughts? 

Do you ever find yourself walking to the shops but daydreaming about disaster?

Are you aware of where your mind wanders to most often?

At the end of the day, if I were to present you with a highlights tape of your thoughts what would the repeating themes be? 

We must start to take seriously the responsibility to discern the truth from the lies in our minds. There is a call to arms in the whole area of our thinking and we can’t afford to go AWOL – too much is at stake.
Weekly Challenge

To help, here’s a little challenge to complete…

By Friday have memorised the statement of truth below taken from the Freed For Purpose course. Find a friend who’s doing the same and at the end of the week, test each other:

I recognise that there is only one true and living God, who exists as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is worthy of all honour, praise and glory as the one who made all things and holds all things together. (see Exodus 20:2,3; Colossians 1:16,17)

FIGHT: for joy

Scripture

In your presence is fullness of joy and at your right hand are pleasures evermore. — Psalm 16:11

Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. — Psalm 37:4

Though you do not see him you love him and you believe in him and you are filled with inexpressible joy. — 1 Peter 1:8 

Observation

The Christian life involves a fight. We’ve been looking at that concept together now for several weeks. We are told to stand against the devil and his demons and to not be unaware of the Enemy’s schemes against us. We can’t pretend like we’re living during peacetime, we’re not.

As a Christian I believe God wants me to be happy and, since he wants for me to be happy, I have a responsibility to fight for my joy and contentment. Consider the scriptures we’ve just read. God is happy, overflowing with and possessing joy evermore, pleasures in abundance. We as Christians share in his joy. Peter describes the experience of Christians everywhere when he says ‘although you haven’t seen him face to face, in the flesh, you love him and… are filled with inexpressible joy.’

Let’s consider a few facts about God and joy:

  1. FACT: God is happy. ‘Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,’ Psalm 135:6
  2. FACT: Jesus is happy, ‘God has anointed you with the all of gladness above your companions.’ Hebrews 1:9
  3. FACT: We are made to know God. ‘All can know you from the least, to the greatest.’ Hebrews 8:11
  4. FACT: Knowing God makes us happy ‘…filled with inexpressible joy.’ (see above)
  5. FACT: Sin offers the pleasure and happiness we were made to find in God. Deuteronomy 28 for example.
With that in place the question becomes ‘how do I seek my happiness in God, who is the eternal and ongoing source of joy, rather than in the fleeting and shallow pleasures of sin?’ Now, that’s a good question.
We’ve shared before as elders about ways that we seek joy in God. Andrew calls it ‘joy fuel’ (or #joyfuel if you prefer).
Some of the things Andrew’s got on his list of ‘how to fight for joy in God’ are:
  1. Put Jesus before church/ministry. Make bread & wine a regular activity in your life.
  2. Use electronic media wisely. Avoid the sites and places that rob you of joy and instead find blogs and video clips that lift your spirits rather than drain them.
  3. Get the relationship between body and soul the right way round. As the body behaves, the soul often feels. We dance our way into delight rather than waiting to delight in God before we dance. God deserves our noise, our kneeling, our clapping and our cheering. We give it to him, and our soul is reminded and responds with joy.
  4. Read the scriptures. Don’t be intimidated by the size of the Bible as a book. ‘Bite off’ small chunks if it helps and spend time reflecting on them until the light of revelation floods you with joy. 
  5. Fast sometimes. To fast means ‘to fasten ourself to God’ and clinging fast to him gives us more of him; and he is happy.  
  6. Speak positively. Words have the power to create or to destroy. As the mouth speaks, the heart believes.
  7. Get baptised in the Spirit again and again. Wait on God’s Spirit, until he fills you. Being baptised means to be ‘plunged into’. When you were baptised in water, you knew about it. When you’re baptised in the Spirit, you know about it. 
Which one’s can you identify with, pick up and apply to your life as they are? Go for it. Fight for joy. Don’t settle for drinking from puddles when God has promised rivers of living water to flow out from your inmost being. 
Weekly Challenge

This week, your challenge is to come up with you own list of what you could do and where you could go to get happy in God. Is it a regular meeting with a close friend? If so, schedule it in. Is it a private Bible study? If so, schedule it in. 
We do not get to know God accidentally, we do not get happy in God without meaning to. 
Find out what makes you happy in God and make a habit out of it. 
Try starting with a list of 5 things, five pieces of #joyfuel if you will. Then, if you’re really serious about joy, think of some activities that correspond to particular ‘rhythms’ or ‘seasons’ in your life. Try thinking of 2 weekly, 2 monthly and 2 annual activities you could do. For me, that would look like:
Weekly:
1. At least 3 mornings of Bible journalling and prayer
2. Praying with Amy at least 3 times a week
Monthly:
1. Spend time with a good friend who makes me laugh and encourages me
2. Go on a prayer walk in the countryside
Annual:
1. Fast from food for a day or two (usually during the Hunger rhythms at Kings)
2. Have a holiday where a switch off all phones and computers
What would it look like for you? 
Have fun. Seriously, have fun!

God The Father: Bruises the Son

Scripture


Today’s full reading is John 18:1-14

Jesus commanded Peter, ‘put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?’
John 18:11

Observation

Jesus is clear. What’s happening to him is from the Father.

He rebukes Peter on that basis: ‘this has come to me from the Father.’ Jesus trusts his Father and desires to do what the Father sent him to do. His rebuke of Peter is a question that sounds a little like ‘do you know better than my Father?!’

Jesus is incredulous. The Father is in charge of all things and is over all things. The Father has given his Son this ‘cup’ and now the Son must drink it.

The cup he mentions is the same cup he was agonising over in the Garden of Gethsemane. The cup is the wrath of the Father, the cross and the abandonment Jesus will experience by his Father. Having already asked for ‘another way’ Jesus is now convinced that this is the only way. It is certainly the way his Father wants him to travel. Having prayed that prayer and arrived at his conclusion, Jesus is ready.

Peter on the other hand hasn’t been on this emotional journey and arrived at the same conclusion. Peter is only concerned with protecting Jesus and getting him enthroned in place of the Romans.

Let’s consider the Father mentioned here.

We begin by reminding ourselves that everything else we’ve seen about him until this point is still true. At this moment it’s extremely important for us to keep that in our minds.

With that in place it’s clear that this moment, this cup, is not something the Father has issued to his Son easily. This is difficult and costly for both of them, and true as that is – Jesus still drank it, the Father still gave it.

Here we see a God who willingly and without coercion gives up his Son to death. See the Father who allows his Son to drink poison in order that we all may be reconciled to him. This is the final nail in the coffin of the austere, strict and malicious Father God of our nightmares.

This act by the Father was on that broke his heart. This act of braking his Son, broke him. A Father like the one Jesus has been describing to us throughout this series certainly couldn’t have been left unaffected by these events.

Prayer


Father Thank you. Thank you for the glorious truth contained here. Thank you for your commitment to me and to us. You’re a good good father and I am thrilled to belong to you. I gladly bow my knee to you today, gladly trust you knowing that you would not ask me to do anything you’ve not been through yourself. You’re a Father who identifies with us in our pain. Thank you.

God The Father: Eternal Life

Scripture


Today’s Bible verse is:

‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that your Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to all those you have given to him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.’
John 17:1

Observation

‘This is eternal life’ Jesus says, and surely whatever follows next must get our full attention.

This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.

Eternal life, that is never ending, full blooded, never giving up, never running out, enhanced life in HD, that sort of life comes from and is found in knowing the Father and the Son. Not just knowing about them, not occasionally firing off a prayer to them when we’re in need but knowing them. God is a person after all.

This sort of knowledge is less like knowing a recipe or knowing a map and more like knowing my wife. I know her but I’m also always getting to know her. My knowing of her deepens as our intimacy increases. Although I would say that I know her quite well now, I also know that I will never reach the point of saying ‘I know enough about her now – she is fully known.

How much more is that true about God the Father? God is infinitely more exciting and mysterious, perplexing and familiar majestic and nearby.

Application

Jesus says that this is eternal life. Eternal life is not something that happens when I die, it is something that ‘happens’ (or begins) the moment I begin a relationship with the Father. ‘When I met her I felt as though my life had finally begun’ is a sentiment often expressed by someone in love, it’s just that that sentiment finds its fullest expression and fulfilment in knowing the Father.

When we enter into a relationship with him it is as though Shakespeare’s words become true of our lives: all that’s past is preface.

Everything that went before is merely the beginning and introduction of what can happen now.

So how do we come to know the Father? First of all we admit. We admit that we’ve been living a life of worshiping other gods. By that I mean we admit that we’ve been searching for meaning and fulfilment in everything and anything other than God, the Father who made us and loves us. Second of all we turn away from that life. We’re sorry for our idolatry. Thirdly we ask him to forgive us. We believe that Jesus’ death on the cross was the payment and punishment that our idolatry deserved. We reach out to Jesus and take hold of him, trusting his sacrifice for our acquittal. Fourthly we begin. We begin a life of knowing him, we ask him to teach us, lead us, and fill us with his Spirit.

Admit. Turn. Ask. Begin. Simples.

Prayer


Thank you Father for the eternal life that is mine in Christ. Thank you that by repenting of my old way of life I entered into a new life of knowing you. Thank you that that life is eternal. Please help me to know you all the more. Amen.

God The Father: The Father Who Loves Me

Scripture:


Today’s Bible reading is John 16:25-33

The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf, for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father. 

Observation

I don’t know if you’ve had this experience before, there’s every chance that I’m just a little odd, but as I sit here writing this my heart is beating fast at the truth contained in these words. I feel as though an answer to a question I’ve wondered about for some time has at last arrived.

It’s a question Amy and I were discussing together recently: ‘since the Father loves the Son so much (and it’s clear from John’s gospel that he loves him a lot), does he actually love me or is it only the bits of his Son he sees in me that he likes?’ Does he love me for me or does he just tolerate me because the Son softens his heart towards me?

Does God know me and love me for me?

It’s a valid question.

There are several ways of answering that question but in my opinion none of them are quite as definitive as this one from the mouth of Jesus.

When we come to God and ask him for things ‘in the name of Jesus’ that means we’re asking on the basis of who Jesus is; it’s on his reputation and authority that we stake our claims and requests.

What we’re not doing (as Jesus points out here) is asking the Son to ask the Father as though he’s in the next room. We don’t hand our requests to the Son and then wait nervously in the corridor for the Father’s answer. Jesus says that explicitly: ‘I won’t ask him on your behalf‘ but rather, he says ‘the Father loves you.

It may be temping to skip onto the next phrase from Jesus mouth ‘because you love me‘ and have it sour the statement ‘the Father loves you’ but before we do, allow this to sink in – the Father loves you. Jesus says so, explicitly.

You. The personal pronoun, you. The you mentioned here are the disciples he’s speaking to, so do we have permission from the text to apply that ‘you’ to well, me? Let’s hold that question for now.


We can come to the Father (in Jesus’ name) and ask knowing that he loves us, individually.

God the Father lavishes us with his love and kindness and generosity; based on what? Based on the fact that we share a common love: ‘because you love me’ he says.

Understood like this the phrase that could sound like a reluctant condition to the Father’s love ie ‘only because you love me’, starts to taste a little less bitter and a lot more sweet. It isn’t ‘I love you BUT – only because you love him!’ but rather ‘I love you because you have turned away from loving the things that stop me from knowing you and have come to love the object of my affection as well.’ It is this phrase (the ‘because you love’ the Son phrase) that gives me permission to claim the first part of Jesus’ statement for myself: The Father loves you. This makes it true not only of Jesus’ original hearers but of me as well since I also love the Son as they did (and this answers the question above that we put on hold).

Application

The Father loves me. The Father loves you. We don’t pass our prayers onto the Son who reads them to his Father. We can come in, we can have an audience with him. Why? On what basis can we be so bold? Because he loves us. He loves us. The good and pleasant things we receive in this world do not come to us neutrally. They come from a Father who is good and who does good and who loves us. You are loved.

This also means that the bad and unpleasant stuff in life doesn’t come to us as punishment or as evidence of God’s disdain toward us. These things come but they do not change the truth of Jesus’ words one bit. He loves you.

Prayer


Thank you that you love me Father. Thank you that you are always inclined to bless me, to shower me with goodness, to lavish me with your kindnesses. Thank you Father that I can stand before you, or sit or kneel (or sleep!) and know that you love ME. Me. Little old, smelly old, flawed ME. Yippee. 

God The Father: Looking For Fruit

Scripture


Today’s full Bible reading comes from John 15:1-17.

By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
John 15:8

If we’ve learnt anything from this devotional study it’s that the Father is always wanting to glorify the Son and the Son is always wanting to glorify the Father.

So when the Son says ‘my Father is glorified when you bear much fruit’ he’s essentially saying ‘bear as much fruit as possible.’ and fruit (whatever it is) is clearly something good, something that I’d want.

Again we see the round about and constant Other affirming nature of the Godhead:

  • Glorify my Father by bearing fruit
  • Prove to be my disciples (thus glorifying the Son)
The Son says ‘glorify him’, the Father says ‘glorify him!’ each about the other.
This is good for us too for since God is Other-centred and outwardly life giving we benefit from him when he is glorified by and in us. As a result of the ‘glorify-him no glorify-him!’ nature of God we get to ‘bear fruit’. But what exactly is ‘fruit’? It’s obviously a good thing, but other than that what can we say, what are we talking about? Let’s look into the passage to find out.
Let’s look at v12-15:
  • The first thing suggested from these verses it that it’s obedience, but not just cold and plain obedience, it’s obedience that’s born out of intimacy and familiarity with God. So, stating it more clearly, part of the fruit is intimacy and friendship with God.
  • Also in our mind at this point, and not inconsistent with the above statement, it’s the Fruit of the Spirit laid out by Paul in Galatians 5:22. It is character that is Godlike. We become more life giving, generous, warm hearted and joyful – that’s fruit I’d be keen to produce!
  • Fruit also has something to do with answered prayer. The Father wants and will answer our prayers.

 

God The Father: The Gardening Father

Scripture

Today’s full Bible reading is John 15:1-17

‘I am the true vine and my Father is the vine dresser.’

John 15:1

Observation

This is quite a clear ‘here’s what the Father’s like’ sort of verse. The Father is the ‘vine dresser’ or sometimes the translations say ‘the gardener’.

He is as actively involved with his people as a vine dresser or gardener is with his plants. Daily a gardener waters, prunes and shapes his plants and depending on the season of the year he treats it differently. In winter the vine gets very little attentions from a gardener apart from perhaps some protection from the frost. In spring time there is weeding and shaping, in summer there is watering and gathering and in autumn there is preparing for winter.

As a vine dresser he knows the vine, knows its needs and is committed to the vine’s wellbeing. The vine after all is Christ, not us; that is perhaps a useful idea and one for us to stay with for a while. I am/we are branches on the vine and get the attention and dedication of the vine dresser purely because I’m part of the vine and the gardener loves the vine.

Again we see how much the Father is committed to his Son and how my benefits come from being in the Son. Plead the Son therefore, have confidence in the Son. Dote on the Son, delight in the Son, have the love and affection of the Father toward the Son.

The Father tenderly prunes, shapes, harvest, waters and waits over the vine. Those are all words then that describe the character and personality of the Father, my Father.

Application


The vine dresser always acts in such a way to try and bring about more fruitfulness from the vine. The Father, by implication, will always work and act in our lives to try and bring about more fruitfulness for us. Fruitfulness of Christ-like character, fruitfulness of intimacy with the Father, fruitfulness of answered prayer and personal joy in God.

Given that that’s his motive it allows me to surrender to his ways and submit myself to what he wants to do. But surrender in the Christian life isn’t ‘let go’, surrender is ‘go on abiding’. When I surrender to God and submit myself to his plans that doesn’t mean that I ‘coast’ through life or that I simply shrug my shoulders and say ‘whatever will be, will be’. Rather it looks like a practical and intentional pursuit of Jesus. I am promised the vine dresser’s good will by virtue of ‘abiding’ in the vine and so I shall ensure that I, in as many ways and means, abide in the vine.

Prayer


Father. Thank you so much that you are committed to the careful working and pruning and shaping and trimming of my life, with the intention of bringing about more fruitfulness. Thank you that you give what I desire, fruitfulness, purpose and intimacy. Help me to surrender, not in the sense that I ‘give up’ but in the sense that I ‘press in’ to Jesus more and more. Amen.