Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I have been chosen and appointed by God to bear fruit (John 15:16)

I was in the middle of a two-week Practicum for my graduate degree in Christian counseling when the Lord decided to powerfully intervene in my life.

The presenter was encouraging us to ask the Lord to show us our "old name."  He was referring to any label that had been slapped onto our soul...maybe early in life...that had continued to dog our steps and keep us back from experiencing the full realization of our new identity in Christ.

I thought about people whom I had counseled and how they had been labeled as "ugly" or "stupid" or "can't do anything right" or "wish you had never been born" or...  Though I was very aware of the rejection that I had suffered as an adolescent, I wasn't sure what my "old name" might be.  So I prayed about it.

Several days later, it came to me.  My "old name" was outcast.  Boy, that really hit the nail on the head.  That's exactly how I felt for years.  I felt like nobody liked me; that I didn't belong; that people didn't want me around.  And so I retreated into my own world.  It felt safe there, I guess, but it wasn't fun.  And, at the core, I was pretty lonely.  Sadly, though I had some casual friends, my closest friend was my dog.  If I wanted anyone to hang out with, I had to call them up.  Rarely, if ever, did anyone choose to spend time with me unless I asked them.

After figuring out our "old name", the presenter then encouraged us to ask the Lord for our "new name."  He wasn't telling us to try and get a sneak peek at our new name written on the white stone in the book of Revelation.  He was suggesting we ask the Lord for a revelation of our new identity in Christ. 

What might my "new name" be?  The thought really intrigued me.

After some time, the Lord crystallized my thinking and told me my "new name" was chosen friend.

Today's Scripture in context (the words of Jesus) provide the biblical basis for that new name:

"No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you."  (John 15:15,16 ESV)

There it is!  Chosen friend.  All of God's children...including you...are God's chosen friends!  But it was particularly meaningful for me to hear that since I had been (and seen myself) as an outcast for so long.  The Lord even gave me a partial paraphrase of John 15:16, in light of how I always had to be the one to call people up to spend time with them or I would be alone.  God said:

Rich, you did not call me up but I called you up!

Wow!  Thank You, Lord!  You took the initiative with me to be my friend.  You didn't have to choose me, but You did! 

And what was God's purpose in choosing you and me?  So that we would bear fruit...kingdom results... through answered prayer.  What a privilege! 

God took an outcast and called him His chosen friend so that my life could count for His see people rescued from the domain of darkness, brought into the kingdom of Jesus, and set free to walk in fruitful newness of life!

And that's what He has done for you as Christ!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I am a branch of the true vine, Jesus, a channel of His life. (John 15:1-5)

I painfully remember the day in college when the Lord first began to bring the wonderful truth of Jesus being the Vine and I being a branch home to my heart.  I was a senior at Penn State University.  I called it "State Penn" in those days and was later paroled after four years with a degree in meteorology.

I was an "on-fire" Christian by my senior year, having first placed my trust in Jesus as Savior in the fall of 1972, my freshman year.  Subsequent to that decision, I came face to face with my need to repent of running my own life, and by God's grace, I came to surrender to Him as Lord in the summer after my sophomore year.  That was a powerful work of God, but that's another story for another day.

By the time my senior year rolled around, I was involved with Campus Crusade for Christ; had been trained in how to share my faith; and was on a roll, zealously and relentlessly moving through my entire dorm floor (72 students), bound and determined to share Christ with everyone on that floor before I graduated.  It got to the point where I would walk down the hall, people would see me coming and they'd run in their rooms and lock their doors.  Undaunted, I would find another time to catch them off guard and share the gospel with them before they had the chance to escape!  I didn't take the time to get to know most of the guys...I didn't think I had the time.  I was just eager to check another person off my list and get the goal accomplished.

Somewhere along the line, the initially godly desire to evangelize my entire dorm floor evolved into the subtly ungodly goal of simply reaching my objective.  It became much more about me and what I wanted as opposed to God and what He wanted.

One day I was listening to a set of tapes on John 15 by the late Ron Dunn, and the Lord convicted my heart.  I realized that I had trusted Christ as Savior, was trying to submit to Him as Lord, but I had not come to see Christ as my Life. 

I believe that is a journey that all of us in Christ must walk...coming to know Christ not just as Savior; not even just as Savior and Lord; but as Savior, Lord and Life.

Some, by the amazing grace of God, come quite rapidly to all three.  Others spend decades in Christ before they move beyond the basic place of salvation and progress to surrendering to Christ as Lord.  Many...perhaps most...never come to embrace Him as Life.

Shortly before His death, our Lord wanted His disciples to make sure they knew where life came from.  He wanted them to know that the Christian life isn't "trying to imitate Jesus".  Good luck!  Give it a try for a while, if you think that is possible to do in your own strength.  You'll soon grind to a halt in frustration, guilt and weariness.  It is a futile endeavor, because the only One who has ever lived the Christ-life is Christ Himself!

What does the branch need to do in order to receive the strength and nourishment it requires to be vibrant, filled with fruit?  It needs to abide, to remain, to stay connected and yielded to the vine.  It is a place of trusting, not trying; resting not striving. 

At that moment listening to those teaching tapes, broken and reproved for my fleshly attempts at obeying God's commands, I chose to take my place as a branch trusting in Jesus, the Vine, as my Life.  I made the conscious decision to allow His love, His wisdom, His power, His direction, His Life to flow in and through me, becoming a channel of His life rather than simply an outflow of my own fleshly humanity.  It was a decision that completely altered the course of my ministry.

And it can alter the course of yours as well.

If what I have been writing is going over your head or maybe you're trying to wrap your mind and heart around it and it just isn't clicking, I encourage you to take the words of Jesus in John 15 and pray about them.  Think about them, asking the Holy Spirit to make real what our Lord was teaching:

"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing."  (John 15:4,5)

Sadly, it is very possible to go through life thinking that we are doing what God wants and even seeing "results" but not bearing any fruit to God's glory at all.  Jesus meant it when He said that apart from Him we can do nothing.  He didn't mean that you can't get up in the morning, brush your teeth, get dressed, go to work or school, do your work, come home, have dinner, spend time with the family, watch TV and go to bed without Him.  People do that all the time.

What Jesus meant is that apart from Him you can do nothing that constitutes fruit that remains to the glory of God.  Apart from the strength, power, motivation and love of Christ, it will just be wood, hay and stubble to be burned up at the final judgment (see 1 Corinthians 3:12-15).  But the works that we do while abiding in Christ are gold, silver and precious stones that will be eternal.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to see much or even most of my life go up in smoke when my works are judged by the King.  How about you?

Won't you make the choice today to abide in Christ, allowing to be your all, your very life?

By the way, you may be wondering if I ever accomplished my goal.  Nope.  The Lord wouldn't allow it.  I reached 71 out of 72.  But I know He orchestrated another way...a better way than my fleshly reach that final one!

No, I didn't reach my goal, but I was able to reach God's learn that I am a branch of the true vine, Jesus, a channel of His life.