Preparation Hymn “Immortal, Invisible”
Closing Hymn “Just As I Am”
The Blessing of Abiding in Christ!
This past Tuesday, I came across a story that sadly, will happen many times over. Two men from Rhode Island are being charged for fraud in relation to the federal forgivable loan program for small businesses. Applying for what they saw as free money and a way to scam the government for $544,000 (over half million), both men, ages 51 and 52, claimed to have dozens of employees with four businesses they owned and ran. The problem is, they don’t have any employees nor do they own the businesses they claimed to run.
And so, while over 33 million people are out of work who could really use the financial help of the federal government to pay their bills and take care of their families, we have certain individuals who don’t have a problem stealing funds under the chaos of a pandemic. With 4 million business loans already approved and $660 billion earmarked for assistance, it probably doesn’t surprise any of us that there are other investigations of fraud going on right now across the U.S. We have smart people doing dumb things who don’t feel any remorse until they get caught.
Billy Graham was speaking to a university professor one time and asked him what he thought our greatest need was in the United States. Hear these insightful words from a non-Christian. “I may surprise you (he said to Billy), because I’m not a religious man, but I believe that the greatest need that we have at this hour is a spiritual awakening that will restore individual and collective morals and integrity throughout the nation.”
Do you think that university professor is correct? Does our nation need a spiritual awakening? Have morals and integrity in America diminished in any way during your life time? Are things that were considered questionable just a few decades ago considered totally permissible and acceptable today? Has truth, that was once black and white and good enough for all, taken a back seat and been replaced by what we believe is right in our own eyes? Is a nation only as good and strong as the individuals and families who make it up?
I share this with you, because as we continue to go through challenging days and the uncertainty of a virus, while we do our best to make adjustments to our new temporary lifestyles, there is something I don’t want us to forget that I believe will help us get through all of this and all of life. I refer to something Jesus shared with His disciples in John chapter 15. Jesus talked about the critical and continual need to abide in Him.
Now, keep in mind, as I read three familiar verses from John 15, John’s Gospel itself, could really be divided into two major sections. The first section of chapters 1-11, covers roughly three years of time, while the second section, chapters 12-20, cover the last week of Jesus life leading to His death and resurrection. What’s exciting about these last chapters, like chapter 15, is how they give us some extra clues, some personal insight, the special connection Jesus had with His men and how important this time was for them to have a private conversation together.
Let me show you what I mean. Let’s say somehow, you could foresee the future and you knew exactly the time of your departure from planet earth, when you were going to die. My guess is, you would gather your family and friends around you and tell them some parting words that were most important to you to pass on to them. This is exactly the situation we have with Jesus and His men, because Jesus knows what is about to happen. He knows Friday is coming. And while there are many of these intimate moments Jesus has with the twelve Apostles, I want us to look at just one of them together. Let’s look at John 15:5-7, where Jesus is speaking.
5 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. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
Today, I want to talk about this idea of abiding in Christ, the blessing we can share in by staying in close fellowship to God Who is the source of life itself. For I believe that God wants to be our source of strength through all of life’s challenges, including seeing us bear positive fruit in His Name. And yet, Jesus is also very clear, if we don’t abide in Him, our future prospects are bleak.
So, how does that apply to present day? Well, as you know, our governor from Michigan told us she is extending the sheltering in place until May 28th, because of the challenges of Covid-19. And I’m guessing for all of us that was not the news we wanted to hear. We are already a little stir crazy and anytime we hear the word “delay’ or an added restriction to our freedoms, we find ourselves getting discouraged because we had our hopes up. We were hoping things would relax over the next few weeks as temperatures warmed up. (Which, by the way, we’re still waiting for temps to warm up. It snowed again on Friday.) But discouragement is not just a concept we’ve being dealing with in 2020.
I was watching a black and white documentary about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who as you know wore braces on his legs from polio. And though polio limited him physically, it did not limit his courageous spirit to tackle the impossible. Here was a man who began his work in January of 1933, inheriting the worse economic situation our country had been through so far, the Great Depression.
Before Roosevelt took office, 54,000 American businesses had collapsed, nearly 3,500 banks had gone under, and roughly 25% of the American workforce were unemployed as people stood in lines to get food for their families. (Have you noticed anything similar on the news with people in food lines?) And one of Roosevelt’s famous quotes to encourage the nation was this: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” President Roosevelt saw himself as a Christian man with a mission to turn things around and to give hope to the hopeless.
And praise the Lord, our nation rose from discouragement and despair and went forward with hope as life became good again, as I believe many prayed and looked to God for answers, like my grandmother, who was raising her firstborn child, a daughter, who would become my mother one day.
Well, I believe we will rise from this discouraging scenario as well, as we pray and look to God for answers. In the midst of a pandemic, God will lead us and provide for us and if need be – even carry us. Covid-19 may have taken us by surprise, but it did not take God by surprise. And so, I have chosen to turn to the One Who not only possesses all the answers we search for, Who understands what our innermost hearts need most, but He Himself is the answer to all of life.
Yet, the question remains, how are we to handle discouragement when it comes knocking on our doors? When you and I face some type of trial, or we are struggling to make sense out of life, or life itself has lost its zest for the moment, life is just not fun or enjoyable, where do we normally turn for answers? Where do we place our hope? Do we pray and look to God for help, or do we try figure things out all by ourselves? I think for the average person one of two things happens when dealing with a crisis of some kind. One, we can run to Christ for help or two, we can run away. We either are prepared to go forward with Christ, Who promises to stand with us, or we decide to stand on our own, and look for solutions elsewhere.
For my own life, I have decided to follow the advice of Jesus, to practice abiding in Him, for the Scripture says, apart from Him, I can do nothing.
And if abiding in Christ is that critical, then what does it mean to abide in Him?
To abide in Jesus, means we are to draw life from Christ, like a branch draws life from the vine. We are to live a life of dependence upon Christ, just like grapes are dependent upon the vine for their source of energy and life. We are to keep in constant fellowship with Christ so He can produce His fruit in us. We are to exercise faith in Christ to provide all that is needed. And we are to practice repeated acts of faith through good deeds, realizing all of these involve the discipline of obedience by following God’s Word.
So, for me that means, every day, from morning to night, I am to remain in fellowship with God, talking to God throughout the day and asking the Holy Spirit to guide me in all that I do and say. Each day I make it a practice to begin and end the day in God’s Word, while doing my best to follow with an obedient heart what God’s Word is saying to me. As I walk by faith, I am to place my trust in God’s sovereign ways and will, even when I don’t understand why something has happened, I trust that God can somehow can turn garbage into compost and use it for good. And so, I try my best to be consistent in my spiritual walk with God, day after day, because I believe this helps to prepare me for when the crises of life actually arrive (which they will on occasion). My daily abiding with Christ steadies me and gives me the confidence that God goes with me every step of the way.
It’s like being a boxer preparing 12-15 weeks in advance for a championship bout. The boxer builds ability and confidence through each successive day and week and month of training and doesn’t wait until the night before to get ready. Well, as we abide in Christ each day, we are training ourselves to rely on God to be our source of strength and provision. We are taking small steps of faith that build – leading to our spiritual growth and preparation, reminding us always, God is in this thing with us and we are not alone.
This is why our Lord told His disciples, you need to abide in Me and I will bless you with the resources you will need for any situation. For Jesus knew without that spiritual connection, they would accomplish nothing of eternal value.
Q: Does anyone have a real fireplace in their house or a wood-burning stove at a cabin in the woods or a cottage on a lake? Let me ask a silly question: When you burn wood in a fireplace, do you want the wood green, or do want the wood to have time to dry out and season? Obviously, we want the wood to dry out, don’t we? It burns better and cuts down on the smoke. However, have you ever asked the question why does the wood naturally dry out? The answer is because it is no longer connected to its source of life. Plant a tree and it will grow. Plant a wooden fence post and it will eventually decay.
In John 15, Jesus uses the imagery of a vine and a branch and stresses how a branch can only bear fruit if it’s connected to the main vine. Why? Because a branch needs a source of life and energy or it will lose its vitality for growth. Without life flowing through it, the branch will wither, dry up, become hardened and die.
And I think the analogy Jesus is making is that the same thing will happen to us if we don’t stay connected with Him. You see, if all we ever get for our spiritual well-being is a message here and there from YouTube or Facebook, as inspiring as they may be, then we are settling for a convenient happy meal when God wants to offer us a full-course Thanksgiving dinner with leftovers you can eat day after day. If we truly want to grow spiritually and be able to remain standing when the tests of life come our way, then we need the consistency of staying connected day by day. Staying connected is a matter of priorities and planned neglect. We plan to neglect those things that would hold us back in our walk with Christ, that keep us from abiding in Him and being fruitful, while we establish priorities that will help us grow.
Be like a clinging vine steadily growing on the side of a tree. It never fears but always trust. For when the storm winds blow from one direction it presses the vine closer to the tree. When the storm winds blow from the opposite direction, the vine is protected by the tree. Either way the connection remains and the vine lives on and grows. And that’s what God will do for you when you abide with Him, for nothing can sever your connection to your Heavenly Father Who watches over you and remains with you 24/7.
Jesus said, “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.”
I close with this benediction:
“Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the One Who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” (Deut.31:6) “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His…” (2 Chron.16:9)