Life, Breath, & Everything Else

One of the dangers of the Christian life, especially when you have been a Christian for a while is to think that you can do it alone. Yes I know the gospel. I know all that, but somehow we can slip into thinking that says I can be fruitful because of my own abilities and giftedness. So prayer drops off, Bible reading goes and is replaced by self reliance which leads to pride. And this can happen due to the busyness and routine of life and also due to time and age! There are times in Christian life when we can feel really spiritually flat, like our spiritual tanks are empty. Sometimes it can be due to fatigue, bad sleep, grief, health problems but sometimes it can be a result of trying to do things alone and be our own source of spiritual life, nourishment and power. According to the Lord Jesus – the vine. We can not do it! I have been very much reminded of this and the words of the Lord Jesus in John 15.

Jesus’ disciples have already taken hold of Christ, who he is, and what he has said and this is why Jesus tells them to remain in him. Look with me at v.4:

4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me

It seems to me that in our culture, we rarely use the word Abide.  The word also means to stay, or to to remain, to be permanent, to be constant, steadfast. We are to abide in Christ. This seems scary, it is so hard to abide in Jesus. How do I know that I will keep on abiding in the Lord Jesus? If I don’t will Jesus give up on me? The wonderful think about Jesus words here is that they are a promise. Remaining in Christ not our responsibility alone! The Lord Jesus enables us to abide in him. God is faithful to the promises that he has made to his people – to us! Jesus remains in us and enables us to abide in him by nourishing ups with his Holy Spirit and with his power! The responsibility is not ours alone, which is a wonderful reassurance, but we are still responsible. We are dependent on the vine! And if we try to imitate Christian conduct, Christ likeness and witness, if it is not derived from the person of the Lord Jesus, the vine, it will lead to fruitlessness. Which is what Jesus says in the rest of v.4: Which is what Jesus says in the rest of v.4:

“Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”

The other danger is the think that we can bear fruit by acquiring our spiritual nourishment from supplements and additives – instead of the vine- instead of the Lord Jesus! An example of this is replacing reading the Bible with reading books about the Bible, instead of working hard at praying, we read books on prayer. We cannot bear fruit independently of Christ or receive spiritual nourishment outside of Christ. Christian books, Bible helps, Bible devotions are good things in themselves, but they are poor sources of nourishment if that is the your only source of nourishment. We bear fruit from the vine. The vine is Christ. The Word of God reveals him. So go to the Word. Go to the source!

We can never say to Jesus, or in practice say to Jesus, I don’t need you. I am not dependant on you.

5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.

Apart from Jesus humanity can do nothing of eternal value or another way of putting – without Jesus we cannot produce spiritual fruit. Without Jesus we are spiritually bereft. This is hard because it goes against what our nature and what our culture tells us – which is that we are the masters of our lives. Our first parents thought this also when they fell into this trap. Adam thought He knew better than God, Eve was deceived into believing that God was stingy and was holding them back and both her and her Husband instead of living  under God’s authority, chose to live under their own authority. We are naturally like this which is why Jesus words in v.5 are so offensive to our world, apart from Jesus we are totally cut off and alienated from God and can do nothing of eternal value. And the end result for those who don’t have a relationship with Jesus, who don’t abide in him and his word is to be cast out of God’s presence.

 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.

Judgement is not an easy topic, it is hard, it is painful, it is offensive because our culture tells that we are not accountable to anyone but ourselves, that there is no such thing as sin and if there is a heaven we are all good enough to go so to get there all we need to do is merely die (AKA Justification by death – Sola Mors). Branches that don’t bear fruit are useless. People who don’t bear fruit, who don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, who don’t glorify God are thrown out.

Our function as human beings who were created in the image of God is to bear fruit for God. The fruit comes as resulting of trusting in Jesus. If we are not trusting in Jesus then we are fruitless.A dead branch is the person who does not have a personal faith or relationship with the Lord Jesus. Every single church I have ever been in and served in there have been people who were not in the vine, that is they did not have relationship with Jesus. They were fans of Jesus, but they did not know him, and they were not living with Jesus as the Lord. They are next to the vine, surrounded by branches, but they were dead branches. Look at Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus and hung himself in selfish sinful and worldly regret. He was a dead branch and no one knew it. But… He knew it and more importantly Jesus knew it.

A living branch is the person who trusts in Jesus who abides in him, who remains in him, who wants what the Lord Jesus wants, and obeys his word and prays in line with Jesus will (as Jesus says in vv.7-8). The good news of course  is that Gode sent his son Jesus to die on a cross, to be judged in our place, to be punished in our place for ignoring God’s rule over us, bearing the sins of all who will trust in him so that we can be right with God, so that we can be grafted into the vine and becoming living branches! If we believe this and I mean really believe this then we must keep on remaining in the vine, remaining in Christ. For our spiritual nourishment comes from him.  Don’t settle for spiritual supplements and additives. Remain in Christ who alone is the source of our strength, power and salvation. For we are dependent on him, for life, breath and everything else!



What’s the Go With Lent?


Once again Lent is upon us. I realise that many people in the Church today don’t observe Lent and perhaps don’t even know what it is about. So in this post I am answering the questions:
1. What is Lent and why observe it?
2. How does one observe Lent?
3. Should I observe Lent?

1. What is Lent and why observe it? – Lent is a 40 day period leading up to Easter that focuses on three things, (i) Self Examination; (ii) Prayer; (iii) Repentance.
Historically, Christians who have observed Lent view this 40 day period with the mindset that says “I am going to go into battle against sin in my life”. Now I realise that when many Christians who are from non-traditional Anglican churches (or non-liturgical church) hear this they understandably ask the question: “Why set aside 40 days for Self Examination; Prayer; and Repentance when these are things that Christians should be focusing on all year round?

The reason why I observe Lent and look forward to Lent is that although it is absolutely true that Self Examination; Prayer; and Repentance are things that Christians should be focusing on all year round, they are not always done consistently by me all year round, due to tiredness, laziness, and due to plain old fashioned pride.

I find Lent very helpful in that it provides me a platform and the opportunity to be more deliberate and intentional when it comes to self examination, prayer and repentance. And although Scripture is silent when it comes to Lent, it is certainly not silent when it comes to these three things.

2. How does one observe Lent? – Christians that I know whom observe Lent often give up things in order to be more focussed on repentance. I know one bloke who told me that he gave up Chocolate for Lent. My view is that it is only worth giving things up that serve to hinder your repentance and your walk with the Lord Jesus Christ, thus giving up Chocolate is only worth giving up if it is causing you to sin! Lent is a good time to pray, asking God our Father to show us those sins that we are not dealing with, or those habitual sins that keep revisiting us and discourage us. Use Lent to give these up, during Lent a good move may be to acquire an accountability partner; a godly Christian whom you trust who can ask you how you are going during the next 40 days, someone who will pray for you specifically during those 40 days. And when Lent finishes continue to not sin in the area that God has convicted you about.

Lent is also a time to start something that you should be doing that you are not doing. For example in a previous parish where I served some years ago there was not a strong culture of mid week Bible Study groups, so I encourage the congregation to give up something for Lent that they are currently not doing – “give up not reading the Bible, give up not praying”. So I started a Lenten Bible Study Group. What was great about this is that people who normally didn’t study the Bible came to the group and when Lent finished at Easter, after Easter the Lenten Bible study group continued.

3. Should I observe Lent? I think that Lent is a one of those things that in itself is neither right nor wrong. As I said earlier, Scripture is silent in regards to Lent, so God’s people are free to observe it or not observe it. But I would only say this to you:
If you are struggling with a persistent sin in your life, a habitual sin, a sin that you think you have conquered that keeps returning, if you are struggling with praying and reading the Bible consistently, why not give Lent a crack? You just may find that Lent and the emphasis that it brings is just what you have been needing.

So it is my prayer that if you decide to observe Lent that it will be a wonderful special time of blessing for you, that God will use these 40 days to mould and shape you more and more into the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ!
p.s Here is a great Lenten Study Book, ‘Shadows of the Cross’.

The Challenge of Living by Grace


Recently I came across one of the most comforting and moving quotes I have ever heard from the Pulpit regarding assurance. (Thank you Rev Matt Kennedy)

“You have entrusted yourself to Christ. You cling to him still. And yet guilt and fear regarding past sin and present sinfulness lead you sometimes to despair, wondering whether you truly have forgiveness. But your feelings, worries, and fears cannot overturn Jesus’ work. The efficacy of his blood does not depend on your confidence. It is secured by his word and his promise. And these are sealed by His Holy Spirit who dwells in you. Your justification is an objective reality secured by the finished work of Jesus Christ at the cross”.

Yet why do those who are saved by Grace find living by grace such a challenge? Why is it that when we share the wonderful news of Christ saving death on the cross for sinners with people, when we tell them that if they place their faith in Christ alone and repent that they will be forgiven all their sins, no matter how great those sins may be, why do we struggle to really believe that our sins are forgiven?

Here are some thoughts as to why:

We have an over-realised view of victory over sin (in our own lives  others) – Sin is still something that we must fight. It is like a prize fighter who has been hit by the knockout blow, but is still on their feet throwing punches. In his brilliant book entitled Holiness, J.C Ryle writes these words:

“If the Bible is the rule of his faith and practice, he will find his course laid down very plainly in this matter. He must ‘fight’…[and] the principal fight of the Christian is with the world, the flesh and the devil. These are his never-dying foes.”

In this life, that fact that we have been redeemed does not mean we will never battle with sin again. If we fail to see the reality of whom and what we are to fight again and act as if the fight is over, when we inevitably sin we will then conclude that we are not really forgiven, “If I were truly forgiven, I would never sin”.

We focus on our feelings – We live in such a touchy feely culture here in the West. Everything is about feelings.  It reminds of a quote from the movie about Margaret Thatcher where she says:

“Do you know that one of the great problems of our age is that we are governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas.”

Whilst I am pretty certain that Mrs Thatcher was not making a theological statement, when it comes to the Christian life, perhaps we are falling into the trap where we care more about our feelings than we do about the mind of Christ. Our feelings are not an adequate measure of our standing before God because our feelings can be wrong. When I am really over-tired I become very emotional and teary, for no discernible reason. I am actually rather quite ridiculous. When my wife first saw me in this state she used to ask me what was wrong, now she simply tells me to go to bed. Our feelings can be influenced by so many external factors, (i.e. tiredness, hunger, temperature, diet, dreams, a movie we have watched, a piece of music we have listened). Nowhere in Scripture is the Christian ever told “Trust your feelings”. That comment belongs in Star Wars, not the Scriptures.

We listen to the wrong voice – Contrary to what many Christians may think, the Devil cannot read our thoughts, but having had thousands of years of exposure to human beings, he is an expert on human behaviour. He understands body language, he has listened to many a conversation, and when it comes to telling lies, he has had thousands of years of practice. All in all, the Satan is an expert at manipulation and deception. He is brilliant at making a half truth appear as a full truth (which is in reality an un-truth). One of his biggest lies is the one that starts with the words:

…remember when you…”

Does this seem familiar?

“Remember when you…”:

  • Did this
  • Said that
  • Did that
  • Didn’t do that

Or how about this one:

“God has really forgiven your sin”

“God does not really love you”.

“You are too sinful for God to forgive you”.

It is lies. Remember the Apostle’s James words to us in his Epistle:

7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)

To think that because of the work and person of the Lord Jesus Christ, we can resit the Devil and when we do, he runs from us and in fear.

We use poor liturgy- Our liturgy must be driven by our theology. Yet how tragic it is when Christians have the right theology and use poor liturgy. Liturgy that makes the service all about our feelings, that downplays our sin and downplays grace, and therefore downplays assurance. Liturgy where the service leader begins the service by saying “Hi Guys!”Liturgy where so little of the Scriptures is read, Liturgy where the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is like sunlight that appears through the crack in closed vertical blind. I wonder if Christians would be more confident of what Christ was done if they celebrated the Lord’s Supper more often, where we are reminded in a physical and tangible way of what Christ did for us at the cross and what he achieved for us at the cross.  (Just a thought).

When Jesus died, his last words were it is finished. His cry was one of victory, of accomplishment, of completion. If your trust is in Christ and him alone, if you believe in Jesus as your King and Saviour, like the leper, you have been made clean, you have been forgiven, you have been saved by God’s truly…amazing…grace! So live by grace, live with the knowledge that Christ has paid for your sins, past…present and future.

O What a Saviour We Have!

O What a Saviour is our Lord Jesus!!