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Grapes

Jesus gives us our purpose in today’s Bible reading: bear fruit. He is the true Vine. And Believers are branches attached to the True Vine. The responsibilities of the branches are to stay connected with the Vine and let the life of the Vine flow through them. Union and Communion.

As long as a Believer stays in Union and Communion with the Vine, the life of the Vine produces fruit. Notice that the Vine produces the fruit through the branches. The branches bear fruit produced by the Vine.

Branches that are not attached to the Vine are gathered up and burned (John 15:6) because they take up space in the vineyard. But branches that are attached to the Vine, but aren’t bearing fruit are lifted up[1] (John 15:2) and given special attention so they can bear fruit. By raising up those branches, they are taken off the ground where the fruit was stepped on or stolen by a rodent or some other hungry animal.

Application?

How’s your fruit bearing? Do you bear the fruit produced by Jesus in your life?

Have you felt discouraged, just waiting for Jesus to come along and remove you from the vineyard? Rest assured that if you are still in union and communion with the Vine, you can never be cast aside. Instead, the Master Gardener will deal with you so that you can bear fruit.

Check your connection. Draw your life from the True Vine. And bear the fruit.

[1] Most modern English translations miss this key point, leading to some amount of confusion about the destiny of non-fruit-bearing branches that are still attached to the Vine. The Greek word means to raise up or to lift up, not to take away or to remove.

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source: Moody Publishers / FreeBibleimages.org

With today’s Bible reading, we begin reading Peter’s First Letter. Peter wrote his letter to Believers who were being persecuted for their faith. Like most other letters from the Apostles to the churches, Peter begins his with the standard greeting, “Grace to you”. But he does it a little differently than every other Apostle writes his greetings.

“Grace to you” was a typical greeting you would receive from a Greek friend in the First Century, regardless of whether or not your friend was a fellow Believer. It would sound like a “Howdy!” you’d hear on a Texas ranch today. But for Peter, grace was more than a “Howdy”. It was so much more!

Peter gets grace. He understands it intimately and wants everybody to get in on the grace that Jesus offers. In fact, he uses the word ten times in this letter, three of which appear in this first chapter!

Remember, Peter promised Jesus he would never deny Jesus (Matthew 26:35), yet in just a few hours, he denied knowing Jesus three times. He even called down curses on himself in his denial of knowing Jesus. A modern rendering of Matthew 26:74 might be, “I swear to God I don’t know the man.” Immediately, Peter heard a rooster’s crow, signaling a new day had begun.

Several days later, after Jesus’ Resurrection, when Peter saw Jesus for the first time, Jesus asked him three times if Peter loved Him. Three times: one “Do you love me?” question for each time he had denied knowing Jesus. (John 21:15–17)

Peter begins both of his letters the same way, and very differently than do Paul and James. It isn’t just “Grace to you!”, “Howdy!” It’s, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you” (1 Peter 1:2, 2 Peter 1:2)

It’s significant that Peter would begin his letters writing to persecuted believers who were “living as exiles”. (1 Peter 1:1 CSB) Peter’s “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” is very similar to the greeting King Nebuchadnezzar used in his proclamation (Daniel 4:1) after witnessing God’s miraculous protection of three devout Babylonian exiles. Just before Nebuchadnezzar’s proclamation, he says, “I issue a decree that anyone of any people, nation, or language who says anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego will be torn limb from limb and his house made a garbage dump. For there is no other god who is able to deliver like this. (Daniel 3:29)

The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar witnessed first-hand that God protects His people in their persecution. He observed not only the three young exiles in the “fiery furnace”, but a fourth who looked “like a son of the gods”. (Daniel 3:25)

Application

Peter subtly reminds his persecuted readers of another time — several hundred years earlier — when other persecuted Believers were dramatically and miraculously protected and delivered in their persecution.

Peter’s obvious implication is that, if God can deliver Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from a blazing furnace, He can do that and even more for his readers. Those young men didn’t know if God would deliver the way they expected (Daniel 3:16–18), but they knew that God is enough.

And the obvious application for you is that regardless of your situation, whether it’s religious persecution or just hard times, God is enough. God will deliver you. Not just God can deliver you, but God will deliver you.

God may not deliver you the way you expect, but just like with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, God is in control.

Whatever grace you need,
whatever peace you need,
may God’s grace and peace be multiplied to you.

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Man looking in the mirror

In today’s Bible reading, Paul continues with similar topics as we saw in his letter to Timothy. He tells Titus, “Make yourself an example of good works with integrity and dignity in your teaching. Your message is to be sound beyond reproach, so that any opponent will be ashamed, because he doesn’t have anything bad to say about us.” (Titus 2:7-8 CSB)

Paul puts a lot of pressure on these young pastors. He holds them to a high standard. But it isn’t a standard that they aren’t able to live up to as they live in dependence on the Holy Spirit. Oh, on their own, they’re in deep weeds! But leaning into the power of the Holy Spirit living through them, it’s a day-by-day experience of seeing God work through them. Paul knows they’ll never “arrive”. They’ll always have to live one day at a time, taking up their cross to follow Jesus. It’s a daily choice that every Believer must make. (Luke 9:23)

For Paul, you can’t say, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Paul knows that a life of integrity flows out of a close walk with Jesus.

Application

There are inconsistencies in our lives. If you think you don’t have any, just ask God and listen. Spend time in His Word and He’ll tell you. When He shows you things that don’t look like Jesus, thank Him for the forgiveness that He gave His children through Jesus’ death on the cross.

The entire Christian life is one of daily cross-taking. It’s a life of daily self-denial. It’s a daily reflection, looking for Jesus and asking God to bring out the character of Jesus in your life. And it’s asking God to take away the things that don’t look like Jesus.

It’s true for young pastors like Titus and Timothy. And it’s true for you, too.

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account reconciliation

Again, I’ll highlight what I have said before, that when you see a word or phrase repeated in close proximity in the Bible, it’s a signal of its importance. In today’s Bible reading, Paul uses reconcile five times in only three verses. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

The word reconcile is used in accounting. You may have reconciled your checkbook to make sure that your income and expenses come into agreement. Hmmm…. come into agreement. That’s what it means to be reconciled!

One of my Greek lexicons (a fancy word for dictionary) says this about reconciliation:

to reestablish proper friendly interpersonal relations after these have been disrupted or broken (the componential features of this series of meanings involve (1) disruption of friendly relations because of (2) presumed or real provocation, (3) overt behavior designed to remove hostility, and (4) restoration of original friendly relations)—‘to reconcile, to make things right with one another, reconciliation.’[1]

The fact that God reconciles people to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18) demonstrates that the relationship was broken in the first place. And the relationship was broken by Adam and all of his descendants. Otherwise, Paul could speak of us reconciling ourselves with God.

But God is the one Who takes the initiative because we, as fallen creatures cannot. In fact, even if we could take the initiative, we would not. Yes, we are that fallen! We are that broken!

Until we can understand the gravity of our sinful condition, we can’t grasp the incredible goodness, grace, and mercy of God to reconcile us to Himself. Because God has reconciled His children to Himself through Jesus Christ, we can have peace with God and peace with each other! “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:15, (CSB)

And we get to be a part of God’s ministry of reconciliation! He has made us His ambassadors to plead with our family, friends, and acquaintances, “Be reconciled to God!” What an amazing priviledge!

And what an amazing responsibility!

Application

Have you been reconciled to God? Have you recognized your infinite debt to God due to your own sin? He has done all that is necessary to restore you to Himself, if you will only accept His offer! Be reconciled to God!

If you have been reconciled to God, have you told your family, friends, and acquaintances about this glorious God Who has extended His grace to you, and to them?

Who can you tell today?

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 501. Print.

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Paul brings out a very important and highly applicable point in today’s Bible reading. I’ve already pointed out that the Corinthian church had many problems, including pride and narcissism.

They thought it was all about them. This worldview is man-centered or anthropocentric. If their ideas were correct, then what could they think when they go through hard times? If the universe revolves around me, what am I supposed to think when things don’t go my way? If it’s all about me, then what am I to think when other people disappoint me? What am I to think when I don’t get what I want?

If everything revolves around me then if things don’t go well, I will be angry. All the time. I will blame other people. I will even blame God. I mean, after all, isn’t He there to serve me?

Life doesn’t make sense to pride-ridden narcissists thinking anthropocentrically. But God has a better way. If everything is understood Theocentrically (God-centered), then everything makes sense. Even the things that don’t seem to!

If… God is all good. If… God is all-loving. If… God is all knowing. If… God is all-powerful, then everything has a purpose. Nothing happens by chance. God will work out everything to make His Name great. For any other being in the universe, this would be the height of egotism. But if God were not supremely interested in Himself, He must be supremely interested in something else, making Himself worship something other than Himself, making Himself an idolater. Go back and re-read that again if you need to.

Why did God create the universe? For Him. Why did God create mankind? For Him. Why did God plan the atonement before He created the world, and therefore before our first parents sinned? It wasn’t for us! It was for Him. Why did Jesus die on a cross. For Him. Why? Because God relentlessly pursues His people through a covenant relationship. He did all of these things because we couldn’t. And because if we could, we wouldn’t. We are fallen creatures. We are broken creatures. We, in our natural state, are enemies of God. So God pursued. Not because He needed us. God had an eternity past to enjoy Himself by Himself and the other Persons of the Trinity.

Application

Why did I spend over 350 words talking about man-centered vs. God-centered. Because our worldview matters. A lot! Look at the end of 2 Corinthians 4.

Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16–18 (CSB)

Paul reminds us that we should focus on what is not seen, not what is seen. As we focus on the unseen realm, all of life will begin to make sense. And the things that don’t make sense, make sense, if God is completely in control.

If this life is all there is,
then there is nothing better.
But Paul says that what we see
can’t hold a candle to the light of the
incomparable eternal weight of glory
(what we can’t see).

Mic Drop!

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