Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Marvelous Metaphor

John 15: 1-8 Marvelous Metaphor
In John 15 it is as if Jesus is saying to me “Listen closely and you will hear and see how spiritual life will work for everyone from now on.”

The words of Jesus are the most important and powerful words ever spoken by human lips. Each time Jesus spoke, God’s eternal intentions for all mankind became clear as they simultaneously appeared as actions through His daily life. Truly His words are “spirit and life” to all who hear them and obey them. Jesus lived what he spoke. He truly was the word that became flesh.

I have known and understood this about Jesus’ words on some level all of my spiritual life but my personal experience with the first 8 verses of John 15 have made me a true believer in the power of Jesus’ words—especially his metaphors. Jesus’ words are the most awesome power on earth and they belong to all who believe.

Jesus promised in John 8 that His words have the power to liberate the human soul if we abide in His words. Jesus knew HIs words were truly the final words on every subject concerning God and human life. He knew because He received and lived each word from His Father and faithfully delivered every word just as He had received them.

On the last day of His life everything Jesus said and did was a coming together of God’s eternal purposes. No detail of Jesus life was unimportant or accidental. Certainly His last words on His last day should hold our attention in a special way. It is clear that He meant for John 15 to be central for His followers. The timing and the tone of John 15 is that of foundational truth for all who would ever follow Him. On that last day it was as if Jesus is leaning close to each of us and saying “Listen closely and you will hear and see how spiritual life will work for everyone from now on.”

On this most wonderful and tragic of all days before His crucifixion Jesus chose to describe the new spiritual reality that was being birthed for mankind by His death, burial and resurrection using a metaphor—the metaphor of God’s new vineyard on earth. Jesus’ use of metaphors, examples and parables is the work of Divine genius. Metaphors have a power to change lives unlike any other form of communication.

I am convinced that the John 15 metaphor is the key to healthy spiritual formation for every generation. Certainly John 15 has been this for me and there is clear evidence in church history that this passage has held tremendous power over all who have sought to truly glorify God and bear fruit that remains. John 15 is life changing when this marvelous metaphor is given its rightful place as the final word of Jesus on spiritual formation and fruit bearing.

Jesus’ use of metaphors began with His very first sermon called the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. This sermon describes a kind of spiritual life that has inspired, informed and infuriated spiritual seekers for nearly 2000 years.

More than an intellectual argument in favor of life found in God, the sermon on the mount is a description of a human life satisfied fully in God. It is the description of the kind of life Jesus would live before His followers. Each metaphor in the sermon paints a picture so the spiritual seeker can hold the infinite truths in place long enough for their power to work their way into the human spirit for permanent and profound life change.

The power of the metaphor is in the fact that it allows an individual to be influenced over time by the truths contained in the metaphor. That is the power of John 15: 1-8. In the metaphor of the Vine and the branches there are essential spiritual truths that can only be understood and lived over time. Jesus knew this and He gave the metaphor at the exact moment when its power was most needed—the last day of His pre-resurrection life.

Meditate on John 15 and you, too, will find it marvelous.


Tomorrow I am heading to southern Brazil to record 35 more radio programs with my dear friend Edson Bruno. Edson used to be our sound and media technician at the First Baptist Church of West Hollywood, Florida. He now is the director of a great radio station in Joinville, Brazil. Edson returned to Brazil at almost exactly the same time Pam and I returned.

It is a joy to work with such a kind and godly man. Those who remember him will be able to tell that he has lost weight and I have gained it. Life is sometimes just not fair.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Loyalty and Love

I recently spoke to a group of Brazilian pastors and leaders in northern Brazil. In the group was a living example of love and loyalty. His name is Rev. João Tenório. He is man who was discipled and prepared for ministry by my father-in-law, Byron McCartney, back in the early 1960s.

When he heard that I would be giving a one day leadership seminar this dear man caught a bus and made the four hour trip to spend just a few minutes with me. He was honoring his love and loyalty for the McCartney family. I still am amazed at how loyal Brazilians are to their friends.

Being with this dear man was worth the trip. I pray I will be as loyal to the friends of my friends.

Mike Wells

There are certain people who have had a great impact on my way of seeing spiritual life. One of those people is counselor and author Mike Wells. Mike's ministry, Abiding Life, leads defeated and broken Christians to the permanent cure that exists in Jesus' presence in us moment by moment. The way Mike leads people to this healing place is truly amazing.

Mike was able to spend three days with us at our new Abide Training Center. He was able to help the 40 leaders who were present gain the confidence they need to counsel and disciple. It was truly a blessed experience.

To learn more about Mike's ministry and to order materials, go to abidinglife.com.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

My Center Revealed in the Storm

My Center Revealed in the Storm

“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give you. Let not your heart be troubled , neither let it be afraid.”
John 14: 27

“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in my love.”
John 15:9

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulations, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as you, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
John 17: 20-21

Jesus promised that His disciples could be as safe, satisfied and successful in the world as He was. Not just in the world to come but in the world as it now is. They all could be as safe, satisfied and successful as He was in the world. He promised.

It is in the direction of this safe, satisfying and successful place that all disciples are to be led by those who disciple them. They are to be led to the safe, satisfying and successful center where Jesus Himself lived. Spiritual directors from ages gone by called this leading process “centering.” Jesus called it abiding.

“Abide in Me, and I in you.” John 15: 4

Every human being lives from some center where they have been led to live. It is the center where they feel their best chance for safety, satisfaction and success can be attained. Discipleship of any kind is about finding and living from this kind of center.

Jesus led His first disciples to His center. He called His center “oneness”.

“I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” John 17:23

The apostles led others to this same center.

"For I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me…” Galatians 2:20

The quality of our personal discipleship centering is tested and proven in the very real storms of the world. The storms reveal the quality of our center.

As our personal storms intensify, the quality and durability of the centering of our lives is revealed. The question of Christian discipleship always is “Will the center from where I truly live and find my life remain safe, satisfying and successful as Jesus said it could during the storms?”

Any discipleship centering that is not equally available for all believers 24/7 and moment by moment is less than Jesus lived and promised to all. Oneness means it must be there for all at the same time and in the same quality. We need a universally available center.

Any discipleship centering that cannot deliver and keep its promise for security, satisfaction and success in the storms of life for all is less than Jesus lived and promised to His disciples. Peace (safety), good cheer (satisfaction) and love (success) in the storms is the universal mark of a properly centered or discipled christian. Peaceful, satisfied, relentless love in the world as it is remains the goal of Christian centering or discipleship.

The storms of our personal worlds are intensifying and discipleship systems that have not centered believers in Jesus are failing. As good and necessary as some systems may be to the experience of the church in the real world, they are being revealed as imperfect and inadequate because they are imperfect and inadequate as a equal center for all. Nothing short of a perfect center for all will stand the storms.

Matthew 7: 24-27 “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them. I will liken Him to a wise man who built his house on the rock; and the rain descended, the floods came, and he winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.”

As the storms increase the inadequate centers from which disciples attempt to live will leave them out in the storms. The good news is there is still a perfect center in and for every believer. That perfect center is a Person.

Jesus' last command to His disciples about centering people centered in Himself.

Matthew 28:18-20

“All authority is given to Me…. I am with you always.” This universal command begins, centers and ends in Jesus.

Jesus' last words to His disciples left no doubt where the disciple should center themselves and others.

John 15:1-8

“ I am the Vine…You are the branches…Abide in Me…. without Me you can do nothing.”

A branch can only live centered in the Vine.

The Apostle Paul left no doubt about where the true center for his discipleship was and where he led disciples

I Corin. 1:30 “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”

I Corin. 2: 2 “For I determined to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
Galatians 4:19 “My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you.”

All discipleship centering that does not lead believers in the perfect, personal, loving, eternal presence of Jesus within will cause people to fail in the storms. They are failing already. Too many are not centered in Jesus. Too many fail to abide.

In a strange way, the sooner these good, important things we have centered people in fail the better. The storms are increasing and the disciples that failed to center their lives in Jesus’ perfect presence within are failing. Those who failed to center disciples in the perfect presence of Jesus have failed Jesus’ followers and Jesus Himself.

It is too late to ask for smaller storms. We need to ask for centered disciples not smaller storms.
We need disciples so centered in Jesus that they, like Jesus, can remain safe, satisfied and successful in the storms. Disciples who can go in the direction of the pain and the storms as unrelenting love are in short supply. Abandoned crosses litter the hallways of our churches.

We need to stop fasting and praying for smaller storms and return to and then live from a perfect, personal center that is constantly overcoming the storms. That perfect center is Jesus—the true Vine. This perfect center is in every believer right now. All other centers, no matter how good and noble, must be abandoned as the center. The storm is here but so is the kingdom.

The centers that will fail are not new but those who redesign them and rebuild them for today’s storms will find themselves and their disciples unprepared for the wind and the rain that is upon us.

Here are a few of the discipleship centering systems that must be abandoned as centers from which we live. No matter how good they may be when used correctly in Jesus’ name, all of them must be abandoned as the center of Christian life. They are not perfect and they are not universally available to every believer so therefore they cannot be the center. They cannot produce oneness.

If you have centered yourself in one of these they will not keep you safe, satisfied and successful in the storm. A storm will come and their imperfection with be revealed.

Abandon them as the center in order to find their true place as servants of the center.

The failing discipleship centers are….

Centering on Jesus’ special leaders.

Centering on safe, satisfying and successful leaders will fail in the storms.

The inscription over this center is “Everything depends on the anointed ones.”

Be near the anointed ones and be safe, satisfied and successful.

The central belief is “Discipleship is in them.”

Centering on Jesus’ special churches.

Centering on safe, satisfying and successful churches will fail in the storms.

The inscription over this discipleship center is “Well led churches take us above or through the storms.”

The central belief is “Discipleship is Mobilization.”

Be led well by them to be safe, satisfied and successful.

Centering on Jesus’ special power..

Centering on Jesus’ power for safety, satisfaction and success will fail in the storms.

The inscription over this discipleship center is “Faith can still every storm.”

The central belief is “Discipleship is supernatural power”.

Be powerful like Jesus to be safe, satisfied and successful.

Centering on Jesus’ special commands

Centering on Jesus’ special commands for safety, satisfaction and success will fail in the storms.

The inscription over this discipleship center is “We must all be the same.”

The central belief is “Discipleship is Conformity as a group.”

Conform together to be safe, satisfied and successful.

Centering on Jesus’ special information.

Centering on information for safety, satisfaction and success will fail in the storm.

The inscription over this discipleship center is “Supernatural information prepares for the storm.”

The central belief is the “Bible information is discipleship.”

Learn the Bible to be safe, satisfied and successful.

Centering on Jesus’ special works.

Centering on the special works of Jesus for safety, satisfaction and success will fail in the storm.

The inscription over this discipleship center is “God is with those who do the good works Jesus did.”

The central belief is “Imitating Jesus is discipleship.”

Imitate Jesus’ works to be safe, satisfied and successful.

A Universal Fact.

No one ever abandons the center from which they live until a better center from which to live appears. Only when a safer, more satisfying and more successful way to live appears will a person make the move to the new center.

Knowing this move is only made when such a center is placed within reach of all, Jesus’ plan for new centering or discipleship is revolutionary. It is beyond special things, people or plans. It is perfect. It is available to all equally right now. In his own words Jesus said it was near. It is within.

Every believer need only look within to find the perfect center from which the Christian life lives. It is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Safety, satisfaction and success abide in every believer right now. Safety, satisfaction and success are not a place. It is a living center named Jesus.

How strange it is that we work so hard to build special places to center disciples when the perfect center for all discipleship is a person who abides in every disciple from the moment of new birth. We frantically build outside as if something outside could become perfect enough to be an equal center for all. As we frantically build our new, special cathedrals for centering disciples, centering perfection waits unnoticed and unwanted within.

Whether the reason for building these special Jesus places is good or bad, these very special things and places cannot be the center from which believers live and find safety, satisfaction and success. As centers they must be abandoned. As manifestations of the center, may they grow and be governed from the center!

Make no mistake, many things in which we invest so much of our time and effort can be special. Still, they are never perfect and never available equally to all They are never available equally to all in the storms so they cannot be the center Jesus promised. Anything that is not the same for all cannot produce oneness.

Only abiding in Jesus, who is the center of our lives, makes us all one in the only true safety, satisfaction and success. Centered in Him, let the storms come.

The church is one to the extent that it lives from the same center. That is far beyond the oneness we seek in the special things we do in Jesus’ name.

Jesus is the true center. Are you centered? The storm is upon you. The perfection is within you.

Abide in the true Vine to be safe, satisfied and successful.

“Be of good cheer.”

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Best I am and the Best I have

I have always been fascinated with definitions. Over the years I have come to believe we rise and fall on our definitions because we are constantly interpreting reality according to our definitions.

For example, here in Brazil the definition of a traffic law would be better understood as a suggestion not a a rule. This may not sound like a big deal, but anyone who has driven here will understand that double yellow lines on a highway are mostly for decoration and not obedience. That makes a big difference in the real world. Now that I know that traffic laws here are suggestions, I drive expecting people to do pretty much what they please. When I get back to the USA I change the definition back to a rule and not a suggestion.

How do you define love? Is it a suggestion? A rule? A priority? A life?

One of the best definitions I learned many years ago for love goes something like this....
"Love is behaving toward others the way God has behaved toward us in the person of Jesus Christ."

I have used this definition for many, many years and it has served me well as I have moved through the messy traffic of life.

One of the more recent definitiions I have used is one I have developed personally over time.
"Love is giving relentlessly to another the best one is and the best one has."

Do these two definitions match? I believe they do. God is relentlessly giving us the best He is and the best He has. He is giving us Himself in the person of Jesus. This perfect, relentless love now abides in me so I can begin to relentlessly love in the same way.

When you define love as anything less than Jesus, you just turned love into a suggestion. Love is not a suggestion or a law.
Love is a relentlessly giving person. To love is Christ. To be loved is Christ. The best God is and the best God has is mine and yours right now and relentlessly forever. Relentless love abides in me! Relentless love is what I can now release.

When you read the sermon on the mount the next time you will see that the life being described by Jesus as salt and light is a life of sustained, relentless love. Even our enemies are to receive the best we are the best we have. That is far beyond a suggestion or a rule. It is a life. It is Jesus' life.

The best we are and the best we have is Jesus. The love we give is the love we have received and will forever receive.

Jesus told us to "abide" in His love as He was abiding in His Father's love. Jesus is inviting each of us to live from the best He is and the best He has moment by moment. The fruit of this receiving is relentless love released--the best we are the best we have released for others.

Define love as anything less than Jesus' best for us, in us and through us moment by moment and life's traffic will soon become a source of real frustration and danger.

Someday love will not be a suggestion in the world. We better get used to love now because in the Kingdom of God all traffic flows on love.