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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sheep Sleep (John 10:10-18)


“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.  I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away--and the wolf snatches them up and scatters them.  The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.  And I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd.  For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.  I have received this command from my Father.”

Why have you come to church this morning?  Why are you here?  You could literally be anywhere else today doing anything you wanted, so why have you come to church this morning?  My hope is that you have come looking for the very thing that Jesus promises in the first verse of today’s text.  Were you paying attention?  Jesus said he came to give us something - do you remember what it is?  Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b).  Abundant life.  That phrase captures what most people--including myself--long for.  May we pray.

In the Church’s calendar, does anyone know what season we are currently in?  We are in the Easter season, which began on Easter Sunday and lasts for 7 weeks, all the way through Pentecost Sunday.    We celebrate Easter not as a single day, but a season that lasts 7 weeks.  I find this significant because the experts indicate that it takes 6 weeks to form a habit, and so we are given 7 weeks  of Easter to make Easter a habit, to cultivate the joy and celebration of Easter as a lifestyle.  We are Easter people, and we spend this season allowing God to bring about Easter within us.

On the Sundays of Easter, we have heard stories of Jesus making post-resurrection appearances to his disciples, showing up wherever he pleases and whenever he wants, making himself known outside the tomb, along the road, in the breaking of bread, in locked rooms, and along the shore.  But today, on this 4th Sunday of Easter, the lectionary takes a hard left-turn away from the post-resurrection stories.  In today’s text, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11), and so today we explore the risen Christ as our shepherd, and what sort of flock we are supposed to be.

I AM
In this text, Jesus is making a clear statement about his identity.  “I AM the good shepherd,” he says.  Those first two words, “I AM,” have incredible significance and we would do well not to miss it.  In English, two little words, with huge significance.

You have to go way back in the Old Testament, to the story of Moses.  Moses was working as a hired shepherd at the time, tending the flock of his father-in-law, and he saw a bush that appeared to be burning, yet was not consumed.  A voice called out to Moses from the bush, and Moses approached it, and the voice said, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).  The voice then identified itself as the God of Moses’ ancestors, and commissioned Moses to lead his Israelite people out of slavery in Egypt and into the promised land.

Moses wants to know who is speaking to him.  He asks for God’s name, and in the Hebrew, God replies, ehyeh asher ehyeh: “I AM WHO I AM.  Thus you shall say, ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14).  Those two words, “I AM,” are a play-on-words that represents the one, true, only God.

And so, back in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says, “I AM the good shepherd,” thus linking his identity to God.  No one in Jesus’ day would have missed this connection.  In fact, 7 times in John’s Gospel, Jesus makes an “I AM” statement about himself, clearly identifying himself as God, which, if you remember, that’s precisely the point John was trying to make from the start: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

Meet the Good Shepherd
Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd,” but what do we really know about sheep and shepherds?  I certainly don’t know much about sheep!  This may surprise you, but growing up on Linwood Avenue between 24th and 27th Streets, not one single family had sheep.  The Presbyterian Church put on a live nativity every year and I have a few wool sweaters, and that sums up my personal experience with sheep.

When it comes to shepherds, my guess is that we all have about the same level of personal experience as we do with sheep.  When you think of a shepherd, is the image gentle, warm, and pastoral? A shepherd with soft hands lovingly cradling the sheep against his chest?  Let’s get that image out of our heads right now.  Nancy Blakely says, “The life of a shepherd was anything but picturesque.  It was dangerous, risky, and menial.  Shepherds were rough around the edges, spending time in the fields rather than in polite society.”  Kathryn Huey goes further and says, “Jesus was offering a most unexpected image to the ‘nice’ religious folks who must have been quite surprised and taken aback by it.”

Shepherds were rough-and-tumble people.  They didn’t really fit in.  They were outsiders, especially to good, polite, religious people.  Yet throughout the Gospel story, Jesus has a way of bypassing religious people and showing preferential treatment to outsiders, and as they encounter his love and grace, outsiders become insiders.  That’s good news for outsiders, and a word of caution for insiders.

Another part of the image of shepherds that’s important for us consider in thinking about Jesus as the good shepherd is the shepherd’s staff.  You know, that big, long, heavy Gandolph stick the shepherd carries around.  We read the line in the 23rd Psalm, “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me,” and we think, “Well isn’t that nice.”  Really?  Think for a minute about what that staff would have been used for.  It was sometimes used as a way of guiding and directing the sheep.  It was also used as a weapon to fight off wolves and other predators.  And sometimes the blunt end was used to give the sheep a gentle but firm nudge in the backside to get them moving in the right direction.  “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me” - there are times God needs to “comfort us” right in our backside to move us toward the green pastures where we find abundant life.

Ask yourself - has God “comforted you” in the backside lately?  Has God nudged you in a certain direction, and if so, how have you responded?  Here’s what I know - if God hasn’t nudged you lately, you probably haven’t been paying close enough attention because God nudges his sheep all the time.  And, if God has been nudging you, how have you responded?  Have you followed God’s leading and gone out to the place where you find green pasture and abundant life?  Or, despite God’s nudging, have you just sat on your backside and said, “Hey God, knock it off!”?

The shepherd is nudging us all the time, inviting us to follow where he leads.  He leads us out of ourselves and opens us to loving God and neighbor in all that we do.  In our young adult group which meets on Wednesday nights at 7, Carrie Davis was talking about this point.  She was talking about how getting involved in church in the last year and thinking about others has really helped her.  She said, “When you get involved, when you invest your time, when you stop being selfish and start giving more to the church instead of keeping it all for yourself - I dunno, it just makes you feel better.”

It makes you feel better because it gets your heart - your affections and desires and passions - in line with what God desires from his flock.  Doing those things are part of following the Shepherd.  They are ways we grow in our love of God and neighbor.  When we get our heart aligned with God’s heart, it just feels good, and it is how we experience the abundant life Jesus promised.

Contrast: The Good Shepherd and the “Others”
Jesus as the good shepherd stands in stark contrast to some other folks in the story.  Verse 10 identifies the thief, “who comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”  Verse 12 identifies the hired hand, who abandons the sheep when danger gets too close.  There is the wolf in verses 12 and 13, who snatches and scatters the sheep.  It is eye-opening to realize just how many folks, other than the sheep and the shepherd, find their way into the sheepfold.

Jesus himself said, just a few verses before today’s reading in John 10:1, “Anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.”  Then in verse 7, he says, “I am the gate for the sheep.”  You following all that?  Jesus is the gate, and anyone who enters the sheepfold, the church, if you will, without coming through Jesus is a thief.

This thought is very disturbing to me.  There are those who get into the sheepfold without ever coming through Jesus, the gate, who know nothing of his joy, and in their wake you will find destruction, as they steal abundant life from the sheep and kill their joy.  Don’t be surprised by this.  Disturbed, perhaps, but not surprised.  Church has always been one of the destroyer’s favorite places to hang out, because if the thief can get in and promote disunity, and discord, and disruption, and distraction, and all those things that work against the abundant life that Jesus promised, then he’ll take that deal every time.

But friends, we are called to something different.  We are called to abundant life.  Those who want to do the things that promote destruction, stealing joy, and spiritual death, well, I’m not sure who they’re following, but it ain’t Jesus.  Try this: before you say or do anything, ask yourself, “Does what I’m about to do lead to joy and abundant life for me and others, or does it kill joy and rob abundant life?”  If we would each do that in all the things we say or do, it’s amazing how much of the ugliness so often committed by Christians could be eliminated.

Listening for the Shepherd
We are God’s flock, the sheep of his pasture.  Jesus says in verse 16 that his sheep will listen to his voice and recognize him and follow him.  If you’re going to recognize and respond to the shepherd’s voice, however, you’ve got to be listening. 

I read this week that one of the most loving things we can do for another is to listen to them.  Question for you this morning - do you love Jesus?  If so, are you actively listening for the voice of the shepherd?  One of the most loving we can do for another is to listen  to them.  You know, when we come to worship, that’s one of the things we are here to do - to listen for the voice of Jesus.  Now, as a preacher, I am aware that people do all sorts of things during worship that ain’t listening; in fact, people do things that are the very opposite of listening.

Just because you come to church, does that mean that you’re listening to and following the Shepherd?  Truth is, we all know Christians whose lives are completely devoid of joy and who exhibit nothing of a personal walk with Jesus.  Un-Christlike Christians are in serious spiritual danger, and it is because they are not spending enough time with the Shepherd to even recognize his voice.

I come back to the question I first posed back at the beginning of the sermon.  Were you listening?  Do you remember what it was?  Why have you come to church this morning?  Why are you here?  You could literally be anywhere else today doing anything you wanted, so why have you come to church this morning?

My hope is that you have come to listen for the voice of the Shepherd.  That you have come to follow him wherever he leads.  That you have come to center your life upon him, and that the joy of his resurrection makes its home in your heart and spills out everywhere you go.  You are a beloved part of the fold of God, and that comes with a calling: to listen for the voice of the Shepherd, and following wherever he leads.

And as you look at your life and examine your heart, who are you following - really?  The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy.  The hired hand looks after himself and runs away when it gets too real.  The wolf comes to snatch and scatter the sheep.

Friends, Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  He doesn’t come to steal, kill, destroy, or run away.  He is the one who lays down his life for the sheep.  The voice of the Shepherd is calling, and those who know and love the Shepherd will listen to his voice, and follow him to green pastures of abundant life where we love God and neighbor in all that we do.

The Shepherd is speaking all the time.  Is the flock listening?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Disbelieving and Wondering (Luke 24:36-48)


Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.  He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?  Look at my hands and feet; see that it is I myself.  Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”  And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.  While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”  They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you--that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”  Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.

One of the things about being a follower of Jesus is that we never know exactly where he’s going to show up.  This is particularly true after the resurrection.  The risen Christ has a way of showing up in unexpected and unlikely places, surprising, startling, and sometimes frightening those who follow him.  Jesus has this annoying habit of showing up anywhere Jesus wants, often in spite of whatever way we have locked our doors or hearts.  Anywhere the risen Christ appears, transformation, change, and new life is sure to follow, thanks be to God.  May we pray.

Has someone ever startled you?  I’m talking heart-jumping-into-your-throat-somebody-get-some-towels-because-I-just-wet-myself startled?  I startle people like that all the time.  I don’t mean to, but apparently I sneak up on people without realizing that’s what I’m doing, and I think they are aware that I’m there, and they’re not, and they turn around and there I am.  Apparently, I’m a bit of a soft-walker, also not what you’d expect from a guy my size, but it’s a skill I developed growing up in an old house with creaky wooden floors and sneaking both into and out of the house during the middle of the night without my parents’ detection.

Having startled a number of people, I have even started to change some of my habits if I know I am approaching someone who might be startled to see me there.  From a long way off, I may start whistling or humming loudly to announce my approach, or intentionally clomp along a little louder just so my footsteps may announce my pending arrival.

Jesus, however, doesn’t offer people this courtesy.  It is late in the evening on the first Easter Sunday.  The day started as Jesus startled the women outside his empty tomb.  Later that day, he appeared and talked with two of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and upon their arrival, he broke bread, blessed it, and gave it to them, and their eyes were opened.  Though it was almost evening, they ran from Emmaus to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples what they had just experienced, no small feat considering it was late in the day and the trip was all of 20 miles, and they did it in robes, sandals, and without any marathon training.

By the time the two disciples join the others in Jerusalem, it is late in the day and they gather in a locked room - there are rumors and competing stories swirling around - that the body of Jesus has been stolen, that it’s been moved, that soldiers are combing the streets and going house-to-house to find, arrest, and execute the followers of Jesus.  But there’s another rumor out there, that Jesus has been raised from the dead - a resurrection, they called it - and he now lives again.

The disciples were discussing this very thing, when the two who had just run in from Emmaus burst through the door and said, “The Lord is risen indeed!” (Luke 24:34)  Somebody went and triple-bolted the door, and they were talking about all that had been seen and experienced on the road, and how Jesus had been made known them in the breaking of bread (Luke 24:35).  And all of a sudden, despite the locked door, Jesus himself was standing in their midst, and he said, “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36).

This is a consistent refrain in the resurrection stories of Jesus.  After his resurrection, when he appears to people, though he literally frightened the living Jesus out of these people, he always greets them with a word of Peace.  When Christians gather in worship today, we greet each other with a word of peace, because we gather with the resurrected Christ.  The one who lived and died is now alive again, and where the newness of Christ’s resurrection is recognized and celebrated, there is a word of peace.  We do it every Sunday - that’s why that line in the bulletin says “Passing the Peace of Christ,” not “Say hello to your neighbor,” not “Say how much you like their new shirt,” not “Ask how the game was last night,” not “Organize your errands and to-do list for the day,” not ask “Who’s in charge of lunch for today.”  It doesn’t say to do any of that - it just says, “Passing the Peace of Christ.”

It is both an act of worship and Christian hospitality.  Just look at how our worship begins, and even the most simple-minded person can get the point.  First, we gather in the Lord’s name.  Then, we are called to worship - a proclamation that we have uniquely come into the presence of God in worship.  We sing a song or songs of praise to say, “Hey, I sure am glad to be worshipping the Lord today!”  Having come into God’s presence, we realize that we may have come in with baggage that would keep us from worshiping God fully, and so we confess that and ask for God’s forgiveness, and then the assurance of our forgiveness is declared.  And then, as forgiven and reconciled people, we greet each other with the peace of Christ.  We say, “I have confessed and been freed from the baggage that would keep me from Christ’s peace, and you have to, and so we greet each other, face-to-face, that the peace of Christ that dwells within me might greet and be greeted by the peace of Christ that dwells in you.”  Did you know you were supposed to be doing, and saying, and experiencing all that in those handshakes and hugs at the beginning of the worship service?

I know I’ve told you the story before about friends of mine who were visiting their parents’ church, and it came time to pass the peace, and everyone in the congregation turned and greeted four of five people immediately around them and said in hushed tones, “Peace be with you.”  We always need to make sure we understand why we’re doing what we’re doing, because one little girl of about four, imitating what she thought the adults were doing, turned to her neighbors and just went “Psss psss psss psss.”  And, to this day, whenever I am in a worship setting with these two friends, when it comes time to pass the peace, I will simply turn to them and go, “Psss psss psss psss.”

Back in our story, though Jesus has spoken a word of peace, the disciples are apparently still frightened and have doubts in their hearts.  We know this, because Jesus says in verse 38, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”  Notice that Christ’s peace comes first.  The peace of Christ is a given, it is extended while fear and doubt still exist in the disciples’ hearts.  Jesus doesn’t withhold peace until all doubt and fear is gone, he doesn’t tell the disciples they have to get everything figured out before they get peace, he doesn’t say, “Agree with me and believe as I do and THEN I might share my peace with you.”  The peace of Christ - his love, mercy, and grace - is given to us before we ask for it or know what it is or have done anything to deserve it.

How contrary that is to how the peace of Christ is often experienced in American Christianity.  How often we refuse to share Christ’s peace with those whom we doubt or fear, even though Christ shared peace with his disciples, knowing their doubt and fear.

As Ted Henry said in his message last week, it is amazing how many Christians today withhold from others the very love and grace, peace and forgiveness, they have themselves received from the open hand of God.  It causes one to wonder if those who call themselves Christian and yet act in such ugly ways toward others have ever really experienced the joy of the resurrected Christ, or if they are perhaps just following Jesus in name only.

We can only pray for such persons, that some day their eyes and minds and hearts will be opened, that someday they actually will meet Jesus, that someday the resurrected Christ will make an impression on them and they will live the new life that Jesus offers.  And until that day, we pray for them, and we watch for opportunities to introduce the real, risen, living Jesus to them.

The peace of Christ is a given.  It is not a reward for a job well-done.  Peace isn’t the destination, it’s the starting point.  It’s the catalyst to help us live as resurrection people.  It’s the gas in the tank.  Peace is the thing that gets the whole thing going and makes our discipleship possible.  The peace of Christ is freely given to all, with the understanding and expectation that once we have received and experienced it, our hearts and lives will testify to the power of the risen Christ to make all things new.

By no means does experiencing the new life in Christ’s resurrection make us perfect.  I’m not perfect, you’re not perfect, no one here is!  I’ve often said to people, if you do find a perfect church, don’t join it because you’ll ruin it!  Every church has imperfections and flaws it in because they have us in them - people with imperfections and flaws who, by the grace of God are hopefully going on toward perfection, but probably haven’t attained it yet.  The early disciples of Jesus certainly experienced that.  Verse 41 says, “In their joy they were still disbelieving and wondering.”  Did you catch that?  In their joy, because of the experience of the risen Christ in their midst.  In their joy, because of the transformation Christ was working in their hearts.  In their joy, because of the new life they were experiencing.  In their joy, in all of that, they were still disbelieving and wondering!  Being a follower of Jesus isn’t a magic trick where everything is just presto-chango in our lives where once we were this way and now, all of a sudden, we’re that way.

Friends, what matters most is not whether we have moments of disbelief or wonder, doubt or fear.    More determinative is the presence of joy.  And so the litmus test is whether or not there is joy in our lives, because being a follower of Jesus, particularly since his resurrection, it is intended that the followers of Jesus receive, reflect, and magnify joy.  Joy is the thing that matters.  We are to be joyful people; when we experience the resurrection of Christ, joy becomes our primary and determinative orientation.

And when it happens, Jesus has called and commissioned us to be witnesses to the power of his resurrection.  He says in verse 48, “You are witnesses of these things.”  Even though they don’t fully believe, even though they still have doubt, even though they still wonder sometimes and even though they still have fears, more importantly, they have the joy of new life in Christ, and because of that joy, they are called to be witnesses.  Full comprehension or understanding is not a prerequisite for participating in the life of Christ, and it certainly isn’t required for sharing it, and thank God it’s not!  Really, for who among us can fully grasp and comprehend the depths, the heights, and the bounds of the infinite mysteries of God?  How much we understand is not the issue here.  Rather, Jesus calls us to share, out of joy, what we have seen, experienced, heard, and known.

Friends, if the resurrection of Christ has caused you to experience the joy of new and transformed life, then you are also called to be a witness.  You see, the good news of what God does in our life is never exclusively for us.  It’s meant to be shared.  Like water poured into the font that marks the new birth in Christ, like bread broken in which the risen Christ is known, the good news of what God does in us through Christ is meant to be shared.  It’s called witnessing.

I know witnessing has been given a bad name in recent years, and I want us to be clear in what Jesus calls us to do.  Witnessing does not mean shoving our faith down someone’s throat or threatening them with hellfire and damnation if they don’t believe like we do.  It’s simply telling others where we have sensed and experienced God at work - home or school, work or even church - if we sense God at work, then we play show-and-tell about the wonderful work of God, in all things, everywhere, large and small.

It springs forth as the natural result of joy in our hearts, joy that is experienced because we are resurrected people.  What we were is dead, but who we are in Christ is just being born.  That is the good news today, and good news deserves to be shared.  What we were is dead, but who we are in Christ is just being born.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Fruit of the Vine (John 15:1-17)


***A special message from guest speaker, Ted Henry, who shared with the St. Paul congregation on April 15, 2012.***

John 15:1-17
This is the word of God for the people of God!
What does it mean to belong?
Dictionary – says it means to be suitable, appropriate or advantageous – Like a Dictionary belongs in every home!
It can mean to be the property of someone – This Bible belongs to me.
Or having the right social personality or character to be a member of a certain group or not!  She is a really nice... Bless her heart… she just doesn’t belong here!
It can mean being a member of a club, a family, or an organization, a Fraternity or Sorority…even a gang.
In order to belong to a group of any kind there are certain “expectations and boundaries” that must be adhered to.
We all want to belong… but not always are we willing to stay within the boundaries of belonging.
The challenge in the Church today… is the seemingly difficult task in defining and maintaining those expectations and boundaries!
That last night of his earthly life, Jesus CLEARLY defines to His Disciples what it means to belong as well as the boundaries and expectations!
He does it by sharing something familiar and as well as something new, offering them something they could cling to…. for the world as they knew it ….. Was about to be turned totally upside down.
Describing how the disciples were to “belong”… Jesus used an image that was very familiar to them both in their daily lives and in their religious instruction: the Vine.
Jewish tradition and scripture often used the Vine as a symbol for the people of God.
Isaiah 5 is a good example The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight.
Jesus uses this analogy because the Disciples understand the expectations of the vine and the work of the Gardener.
BUT Then Jesus completely Shatters the Imagery, he Shatters the Norm…. by saying that He is the vine!
By describing himself as the Vine, Jesus not only defines who He was, but he also redefines the relationship between God, Jesus and the community of believers.
Jesus was saying to the Disciples, “You think that because you belong to the Nation of Israel you are a branch of the true vine of God… 
Well you’ve got another think coming!
The only thing that can save you is to have an intimate, living, fellowship with me!”
Jesus let the Disciples know their Jewish heritage was not the way to God’s salvation.   Only Faith in HIM… faith in Jesus could bring them to salvation.
This is a crucial element, a pivotal point in their understanding of the full nature of belonging to God, Jesus and to one another.
John Wesley said: The root is unseen. The root bears the vine, diffuses sap or life to all the branches. The branches are many, yet meeting in the root, they are all one;
Thus all true Christians, though in place and often opinion…very distant from each other…. meet in Christ Jesus.
As believers we are weak just like the branches and unable to stand up on our own, removed from the vine, from the root we wither and die.
God is the Gardener… the tiller of the soil and is ever watchful and wise about His vineyard, just as He is to the church. So we must be fruitful.
On a grape vine we expect grapes, so in a Christian we expect Christian temper, disposition, and fruits or works honoring God.
However, even the fruitful branches of the vine need pruning.
What happens when we properly prune a plant? It bears more. It bears more fruit, it bears more flowers!
So, even fruitful Christians need pruning in their lives.
We are promised this sanctification, this purification of our lives to grow closer and closer to Jesus. Closer and closer to a Christ like perfection, which should be “the goal” for all True Believers!
The fruit are the Good works for the Kingdom, more than just the “Good things” that we often get caught up in….but rather the God things!
Verse 5 and 6 Jesus said 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains (ABIDES)  in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit;   6 If anyone does not remain (ABIDE) in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 
SO If we don’t abide in Christ…. if we don’t maintain our dependence on Christ through daily exercise of our faith…. then the corruptions of life creep in and we begin to wither and spiritually die, just like a branch that is severed from the vine!
So what does it mean to REMAIN in or to ABIDE in Christ?
Allow me use an analogy and preface the use with this… All analogies are inherently imperfect in some way.
A man has fallen. He has fallen to temptation, has made a huge mess of his life, heart, soul and mind have fallen to immorality. His life is in the proverbial “GUTTER.”
Now let’s suppose this man has a very good friend.
A friend of strong moral character, a lovely and loving nature, who rescues the man from his situation and lifts him out of the degradation he is living in. Lifts him to a new life, guiding him out of temptation and back to a life of morality and JOY!
The catch, the fine print if you will, is that the man must stay in continuous contact with his friend.
If he loses contact he will immediately begin to slip back into his temptations, back into his old ways. His weaknesses will overcome him!
His very SALVATION is dependent on continual contact with the strength of his friend.
Abiding in Christ is something like that. Keep in mind that even Christ needed continuous contact – he needed contact with God. Again and again Christ would go off to a solitary place to meet with God. To connect with the Father.
We need that contact even more. We cannot survive without an intentional and deliberate time with Jesus; a time in prayer, a time, in study and a time in silence
Verse. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Let me take a Brief PAUSE Here – Let’s just make clear that Jesus is not saying,
Pray for a New Porsche and it is yours or pray for a new house or to make the highest score on a test…. This says Pray for something that is for the Good of the Kingdom and the prayer must include, Let Thy Will be done…not Let Thy will be changed Lord to suit me!
To ABIDE in Christ, for His words to REMAIN in us…..it will mean, for most all of us, a rearranging of our schedule, a rearranging of our life to FIT GOD IN, because for most….  (Well surely none of you here today)
GOD has become an afterthought, an only in crisis thought, an only in time of need thought, or an only on Sunday morning thought.
The reality is that God MUST be our First thought in everything we do.
Our first thought in the morning when we wake, our first thought as we begin our day. Our first thought as we take on various tasks and projects and our even our last thought as we close our eyes to sleep.
Rearrange your life in such a way that you never enter a day in which you have even the slightest chance to forget God and all He has done for you!
JESUS goes on
10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy, MY JOY... may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 
See …..We are chosen for Joy. The joy of Christ.  Now does that mean we will always be happy? Of course not.
There will be situations in life that may make us unhappy BUT we will have the Joy of the Lord in our hearts to overcome that temporary unhappiness!
We are chosen for LOVE – sent out into the world to Love one another!
Sometimes we act like we are sent into the world to compete with one another, to outdo one another, to dispute and quarrel with one another!  AMEN?
A few months ago I attended a program called Plowpoint Ministry.
I learned about Christian conferencing, handling Pastor Transitions, defining spiritual gifts and how to work with churches on visioning what God’s purpose is for them.
But the primary process I learned about was handling “conflict resolution” in the church!    Why would there ever be conflict in a church?
Jesus said
12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 
As I studied about church after church bickering and divided over petty things, like potato salad recipes, about one member not getting along with another and the entire congregation taking sides, sitting on one side of the church or the other based on whose side of the argument they were on! Seriously – perhaps the potato salad recipe was a Blue Ribbon winner but in the grand scheme of life… come on
Two concerns stood out to me
1.       It became abundantly clear to me why so many outsiders, why so many Non-believers use US as the reason NOT to join a church.
After all they can see the very same bickering over petty things, the boasting, the EGOs, the mistreatment of one another in their work, community, and school lives… so why join a church and add another arena of bickering to their lives!?
It reminded me of a humorous story I read about a rather “proud” Sunday School Teacher who was preaching to his class about the importance of living an exemplary life. As he strutted across the room with his head held high and his chest out He arrogantly asked, “Now children why do people call me a Christian?”
There was a brief silence in the room and then one of the boys slowly raised his hand, “YES?” boomed the teacher.  The boy quietly responded…
“Probably because they don’t know you?”
I also became concerned about the health of our Pastors and questioned my own future in the pulpit…
In the work force…Doctors, lawyers and clergy have the most problems with drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide.
40% of pastors and 47% of spouses suffer from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations from their congregations
1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or perceived moral failure.
70% say they don't have any close friends.
75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
80% believe that pastoral ministry negatively affects their family.
All this because of Conflict within the church.
Now I realize that as Christians we are not perfect and from time to time we all have behaviors and attitudes that don’t necessarily reflect our belonging to Jesus and the Body of Christ.
Sometimes we might even push the boundaries and expectations.
BUT those attitudes seem to be growing more and more prevalent in the church at large and it is shocking how many Christians are unwilling to extend the even the smallest iota of Heavenly Grace they have received…. to one another.
Perhaps… through Plowpoint’s Ministry working in churches…. revealing the healing power of Jesus Christ…. one day there will be a revival within the church and the elimination these unbelievable statistics.
Keep in mind this little poem– ‘You are writing a Gospel, a chapter every day, by deeds that you do, by words that you say. People will read what you write, whether faithless or true. SAY! What is the Gospel according to you?’

Jesus goes on  15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
Jesus shares something even greater….
 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—
I Have CHOSEN YOU! He has chosen us! He picked us for the Team!
Do any of you remember as kids choosing sides for a Team?  Yeah… Everyone wanted to be chosen first right…Pick me, Pick me!! The excitement of being chosen first or even second was exhilarating….. You wanted to be on the winning Team. True!!
But what about the poor person who got chosen last… how did they feel?
Not so great right. 
Here is the awesome thing about being chosen by Christ! YOU are a first round choice. The First Pick…  You are a Winner. Selected to be on the A Team!
Through His salvation we, you and I are also CHOSEN to be His friend! 
And that friendship with Christ brings us to a greater intimacy with God than even the greatest of all men ever knew, before Christ came into the world!
You are chosen to be partners with Christ.
You are chosen to be ambassadors for Christ - to go out into the world
You are chosen to go out and bear fruit – spreading His word to the world.
Not to argue with people about the Word,
Not to threaten them with the Word,
Rather to attract them to it - living lives that others see and desire!
The Life of a Christian… is not a life people should want to run from – it is one they should want to belong to – to be a part of!
Remember YOU are chosen for JOY!
A gloomy, downcast, Christian is a contradiction in terms! It’s and OXYMORON.
I read an article by William Barclay… He said – “Nothing in all religious history has done Christianity more harm than its connection to black clothes and long faces!”

Jesus has chosen each of us to belong to him…
We are chosen through His salvation and our faith to be privileged members of the family of God – so that God is no longer a distant stranger, but a very close friend!
Jesus provides us with the Ultimate Backstage pass. Access to the Green Room and ….front and center seats!
Jesus has chosen each of us to belong to him…  BUT the choice….. here is the Caveat
The Choice to accept that invitation or not belongs to WHOM?.... AMEN
It is your choice and your choice alone.
When you make that choice to accept the invitation, you make it based on your willingness to live within the relational boundaries and to live within the Expectations of the Body of Christ.
BUT the Temptations often get in the way, our lives get busy and our calendars fill up with us doing the “Good things” in life, instead of the “God Things” We become stressed out, on edge….
We must STOP, STEP BACK, LOOK at our lives and PRAY! Pray to the Gardener to come in and prune us.
God is the Gardener, He will prune or as the Greek word means, He will clean any area of our life that needs it, so we can bear the God Fruits in life.
Is there something that keeps you away from the all the glory and Joy God has for you?
Is there anger, is there hurt, addiction, self-pity, fear, worry, anxiety, lack of forgiveness, some wrong doing you have committed or someone else has committed against you or an emotion you’ve held inside …..
More than likely it is NOT something you show to the world. It is more than likely buried deep inside, hidden away so people can’t see it…
BUT you can’t hide it from GOD! He knows what it is!
He already knows where the pruning is needed…. He already knows the hurt, the pain, the sin…
 BUT He wants you to acknowledge it.
Offer it up to HIM…. after all He is the one to do the pruning. He is the one who knows how to do it properly – Unlike you and I who often tend to prune ourselves or others so judgmentally, particularly in the church …..
We prune so completely, we sever…our relationship with each other and GOD and we wither away.
VERSE 13- the best saved for last… Jesus said 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 
As the Disciples sat with Jesus that night they had no clue what was about to happen, much less what the next chapter would be……You know! You are living it!
This is the time for healing. This is the time to cleanse your heart and mind of anything that keeps you from bearing fruit, from living the Joyful Life of a Christian, t hat keeps you from loving all of the people outside of these four walls and especially loving one another inside these four walls.
Christ made the ultimate sacrifice…..He wasn’t nailed to the Cross to die a criminals death and rise again
For you to live in anger, worry, pain, anguish or with hatred in your heart….
He laid down His very life for you ….FOR YOU… His friend…. His Chosen one… so that His joy would be in you and Your Joy would be made complete.
Amen