Monday, November 28, 2011

I Am...the True Vine!

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener...
I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
John 15:1, 5

As I sit to begin this thought, a bowl of sweet grapes sits in front of me.  Refreshing.  Satisfying.  Sweet.  Good to eat.  For someone trying to eat a bit healthier, fruit is my candy of choice these days.  “Good calories.”  Nutritional.  So, of course, as I type the above passage, focusing on a new “I Am” of Jesus, it’s the word fruit that draws my attention.  I want to be what fruit is to others.  As I begin to unpeel the layers of the onion that is Peg Forrest, what I hope people around me see at the very core are those same descriptive phrases.  It would be my desire that when I’m gone, those who knew me best might say about me such things:  Refreshing!  Sweet!  Soul satisfying!  Her words were “good calories, nutritional” to the heart.

For this to be true, the key, then, is found in clinging tightly to, abiding in, being closely connected to the true vine.  Without that “connectedness,” what I want is not what I will get.   Apart from him, I can “be” nothing; I can “do” nothing.  He is the only possibility for anything good to spring out of my life.  “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine (verse 4).”   

These questions naturally follow:
What does it mean to remain/abide?
How does this look, practically speaking?

Obviously, my research took me to Galatians 5:16-25, because sandwiched in this passage is the “good fruit” of those who belong to Christ Jesus.  I see a couple of repeated phrases which are in contrast to one another:  live by the Spirit (16, 18, 25) vs. gratifying the desires of the sinful nature (16, 19, 24).  These are in conflict with one another, so that we do not do what we want (17).”   I am a simple gal – so, in simple terms, I find two simple answers to the above two questions.
1)    In John 15, Jesus connects his abiding word as a critical piece to the abiding Christian (15:7).
2)    In Galatians 5, Paul, through the Holy Spirit, reminds the abiding Christian that to be fruitful one has to “keep in step with the Spirit.”  This occurs when the sinful desires are crucified and replaced with the abiding word.  Only then do we allow the life giving spiritual sap the ability to produce what we want to see in our lives:  refreshing, soul-satisfying, candy-sweet fruit!

So, being in the Word and out of the flesh allows me to stay in the abiding presence of the true vine.  Apart from him, there is no fruit.

Connected – nothing is impossible!

Monday, November 21, 2011

I Am...The Spring of Living Water!

I am...the spring of living water (John 4:1-30, Jeremiah 2:13)

The jar on her shoulders, while empty, carried the weight of the world, as the woman struggled with every step toward the well.  She preferred coming during the hottest hours, because she knew she’d be alone.  Better to sweat under the mid-day temperatures, than under the heavy stares and whispers of the other women.  Theirs were the voices she heard in her head, anyway.  She knew what they said, and she beat herself up regularly with the same sentiments.  Her heart carried the same weight she felt on her shoulders...yet, it was just as empty as the jar she sought to fill.  Internally, at her deepest level, she was gut thirsty.  No matter how many times she drank deeply from Jacob’s well, she wasn’t satisfied.  It was this deep dissatisfaction, that kept her searching, looking to so many men to fill the hole in her heart.

As she moved slowly towards the well, her eyes stared at the sight of an individual perched there...waiting.  Her spirits sank.  She didn’t feel like talking.  She kept her head down, hoping to avoid eye contact that might possibly invite any conversation.  The Jewish man apparently didn’t take the cue, asking her for a drink.  What twists and turns their dialogue took, until the moment he asked her to go call her husband, and then proceeded to unwrap her past.  She definitely didn’t want to go there, so she tried to change topics.  Yet no matter what direction she digressed, he followed, and the invitation was still the same:  “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  Translation:  I am the satisfaction of life you are looking for...drink deeply! You will never thirst again.

Leaving the symbol of her thirsty life behind, the woman ran into town...”Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did (shame – gone!).”  Her next words were even more telling as she declared him to be the, the source of her soul’s true satisfaction.  (See John 4:1-30)

Many of us have found Jesus to be a sufficient Savior.  We’re grateful for the forgiveness of sin.  We’re hopeful for the gift of eternal life.  Yet the secret we harbor is the same as the woman at the well in Samaria.  We hold it inside.  We’re careful to not voice it.  To do so, doesn’t seem very “Christian.”  However, we’re just not satisfied.  We keep stuffing our lives with all manners of possibilities trying to find the one thing that will bring us happiness, contentment...fullness of life.  Yet Jesus came to bring us life and life more abundantly (John 10:10).  Anything other than Jesus is less.  Looking anywhere other than the cross is nothing more than a broken cistern (Jeremiah 2:13).  He is the spring of living water – turn away from anything you search for that you think will bring you happiness.  The guarantee is this:  it won’t.  It can’t.  Only Jesus can.  Anything else is sadly, simply – an idol. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

I Am...the God Who Fights for You!

I am the good shepherd (John 10:11, 14)...Part 4

Not only does a good shepherd lead...
                A good shepherd provides...
                And a good shepherd restores our souls...
                A good shepherd fights for his sheep!

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for Thou art with me;
Thy rod and staff, they comfort me.  Thou doest prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies...  (Ps 23:4-5a)

I really am not certain why Psalm 23 is primarily used as the food for funerals.  It’s a “how to” passage for life!  It’s food for today’s living soul.  It’s reminders for the journey of life, not for the dead.   I don’t know about you, but I need to know right now, today, in this very moment, that I have one who is fighting on my behalf. 

I don’t want to know that I just have a guard at the gate.  I want to know I have a knight in shining armor warring for ME!  Somewhere I came up with this belief system that tells me I am only protected as far as someone is willing to go into battle.  That’s my shepherd, Jesus!  As he leads me (and sometimes to get me to good grass and restorative waters his path leads me through dangerous places – like in the presence of my enemies), he will fight at all costs to protect me.  More than fight, he knows my fearful, anxious heart.  So, he comforts me and assures me of his presence.  I can breathe a whole lot easier when I know these truths:  I am fought for.  I am protected.  I am in his presence – always!  I am comforted...why, then, should I fear?  What can man really do to me?

Over and over again, this truth is lived out in Scriptures.  Some of my favorites:
Exodus 14:14 – “The Lord will fight for you!
Joshua – the battle of Jericho.  The Lord went before them as they marched and sounded the trumpet.  God penetrated the impenetrable walls and brought forth the victory.

David against Goliath - “You come against me with spear and a sword, but I come against you in the name of the Lord of Hosts.  The battle is the Lord’s!”

Jehoshaphat – God gave him the marching orders: Go into battle with praise.  Praise confused the enemy and they defeated themselves!  The Israelites never lifted a finger.

When God’s people followed, forsaking all other gods, He tirelessly, endlessly, stubbornly fought on their behalf.  These aren’t fairy tales, or dreams, or wishful thinking.  This is our God – the God who fights on our behalf!

I need to know this truth.  In fact, as I write, it brings tears to my eyes.  Many of you don’t feel you have anyone in your corner fighting for you.  It has left you feeling insignificant and unimportant.  Let me assure you –
You are not only worth fighting for – you were worth dying for!

Fear no evil!  Your God leads.  He fights.  He is with you...always.

Monday, November 7, 2011

I Am...Your Restorer!

I am the good shepherd (John 10:11, 14)...Part 3

Not only does a good shepherd lead...
                A good shepherd provides...
                And a good shepherd restores our souls.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me to lie down in green pastures
He leads me beside still waters; He restores my soul...
(Ps. 23:1-3a)

I have three friends who love to restore old cars.  Once classics, now damaged on the outside, rusted with time, and internally exhausted – done!  They beat, pound, weld, sand, scrub, pull apart, replace, wash, spray, paint, wire, bolt, and connect and keep on doing more of the same – until, voila!  What seemed hopeless is new again and its value is restored – actually, more than restored.

People are hard on cars over the years.  People are hard on people.  Too often enough, the wear and tear of life, aren’t the only reason we need to be restored.  Sometimes, the way people treat us, hastens the battering and the bleeding and the wearing out of the soul.  I frequently sit knee to knee, and look eye to eye with some of these people.  I have been one.  Restoration of old cars is an expensive, long, and tiresome process.  So is restoring a soul.

But Jesus...He is in the restoration business.  That’s in his job description.  People are far too valuable to bring before some novice, hobby-loving repairman.  People deserve better.  To begin with, Jesus has already purchased everything we will need to be completed.  It’s been paid for with his blood.  We don’t have to put a dime into fixing ourselves, and couldn’t afford him if we had a dime.’s a done deal.

He has all the right tools – love, grace, mercy, patience, forgiveness, gentleness, kindness are just a few.  He knows when, where and how to use them.

He has the time – He’ll stay with us as long as it takes, never leaving us or forsaking us.

He knows how to best care for us with exactly what we need – after all, he created us.  Who better, then, to do the restoring?

Oh, and he has an instruction manual to help us along the way – so we don’t have to have a complete over haul, ever again.  The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul (Ps 19:7)! 

He thinks of everything!  Now, while on the road of life, we can look for the warning lights, change the oil regularly, and do some daily maintenance that will keep our souls running like energizer bunnies... J

Here’s the real message of restoration!

Only God can turn a mess into a message
A test into a testimony
A trial into a triumph
And a victim into a victorious warrior!

Come to your good shepherd.  Be restored.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I Am...Your Provider!

I am the good shepherd (John 10:11, 14)...Part 2

Not only does a good shepherd lead...
            A good shepherd provides.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me to lie down in green pastures
(Ps. 23:1-2a)

By name, our God is Jehovah Jireh (meaning, I AM...the God who provides).  The Hebrew word for “want” is chacer: to lack, to be in need.  We may not have all we “want,” but we can be assured our needs are taken care of on a daily basis.  My biggest problem is that I get my needs and my wants all mixed up.  It’s so easy to do when you live in our instant gratification society.  So, in order to get perspective, I’ve had to ask myself: what does God say?  Not Abraham Maslow.  Not the government.  Not my next door neighbor.  If my shepherd promises to give me what I need, then maybe I need to examine what my shepherd thinks is important.

In Genesis 22 – God provided the lamb.  As sheep, our shepherd became the lamb that took away our sins!  We NEED salvation.  He provides.

Throughout the Psalms & Proverbs as well as in Matthew 6: God provides food, clothing, shelter...and we do not need to worry.  He provides.

In 1 Corinthians 10:13, He provides a way out of temptation...  I have an escape.  Thank you, Lord...I definitely need that provision!

In Philippians 4:13,  God provides us with strength.  In Romans 8, we’re reminded that we have unlimited power for “the one who raised Christ Jesus from the dead dwells in me!”  I can do all things!  An amazing provision!

In Isaiah 61, God provides good news: healing for the brokenhearted, freedom for captives, release from darkness, a comfort for those who mourn, and a crown of beauty out of t he ashes of our lives...  I can be a Resurrection Woman!

In Ephesians 2, God reminds us that, while we were once far off, now we are brought near, and adopted into a new household:  a community designed to be a family.  I am never alone!

Also in Ephesians 2:10, God provides for us a “good work” that he predestined us to do “in Christ Jesus.”  I have purpose!

In Ephesians 3, we have been granted full confidence to approach the throne of grace!  I am heard!  I take advantage of this provision often!

In Revelation, we have the hope of heaven.  I have a future and a hope!  God knows we need this kind of “vision,” for without it people perish!

In Hebrews 12, God provides a cheering squad that helps us endure the toughest of times.  Yep – need that, too!

I could go on and on...thus far I am overwhelmed at what I have been given!  I am truly blessed.  My Shepherd provides above and beyond all that I could ask or even imagine. Praise, Jehovah Jireh – “I Am” the One who provides!