Do You Love Me More Than These

Jesus had been resurrected from the dead.  Before He ascended into heaven, He showed Himself to his disciples at various times.  One day, Peter and some of the other disciples decided to go fishing.  Before they had been disciples of Jesus, many of them had been fishermen.  Now that they were not spending all of their time with Jesus, perhaps Peter was wondering what he would do with his life.  Maybe he would go back to fishing.  The disciples got into the boat and fished all night but caught nothing.  Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not recognize Him.  He asked them if they had caught anything, which they had not.  He told them to cast their net on the right side of the boat and when they did, they caught 153 large fish.  Realizing that a miracle had just happened, John told Peter that it was Jesus on the shore.  When the disciples came to shore, Jesus had breakfast ready for them.  John 21:15 “So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’  He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’  He said to him, ‘Feed My lambs.’”

In the original Greek text, there are two different words that are translated into our modern languages as the word love.  When Jesus gave the question to Peter, He used the verb “agapaoo” which signifies to love affectionately, ardently, supremely, perfectly.  When Peter replied, he used the verb “phileoo” which signifies to love, to like, to regard, to feel friendship for another.  There is obviously a difference in what Jesus asked and how Peter responded.  Jesus asked a second time.  John 21:16 “He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’  He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’  He said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.’”  Again, Jesus used the verb “apagaoo” and Peter responded with the verb “phileoo”.  Jesus asked a third time.  John 21:17-19 “He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’  And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep.  Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.’  This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’” The third time, Jesus uses the verb “phileoo”.  It seems as if Jesus is saying “If you don’t have ardent love for me, do you even feel true friendship for me.”  This may explain why Peter responds “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”  Peter uses the verb “phileoo” again.  He seems to say “Lord you know that I feel friendship for you.”

If we go back a few days in time, Peter had proudly stated that he was willing to go to prison and to death with Jesus but instead, during Jesus’ trial, he denied three times that he knew Jesus.  Now, Jesus asks three times if Peter loves him.  What was Peter’s devotion to Jesus?  Did he really believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God?  When Jesus asked “Do you love Me more than these?” I believe he was referring to the fish that they had just caught.  Did Peter love Jesus more than his occupation as a fisherman?  Was he willing to give his life in service for Jesus?

Earlier, when asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus had said the following.  Matthew 22:37-38 “Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the first and great commandment.’”  How can anyone love something else more than God if he loves God with all of his heart, soul and mind?  Jesus asked Peter “Do you love Me more than these?”  Is there anything that you love more than Jesus or God?  You demonstrate what you love the most by your actions and the priorities you set in life.  If seeking to know God, obeying his commandments and giving yourself to Him aren’t your priority in life, it would seem to imply that you love other things more than you love God.

What about family?  Do you love your family more than God?  Are you more concerned about being with your family members; is pleasing them more important than pleasing God?  Jesus said in Matthew 10:37-39 “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.  He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.”  Jesus teaches us that we should love Him more than family or anything else.

What about your possessions?  What about your job?  What about pleasures in life?  What about the things in this world?  1 John 2:15-17 “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father but is of the world.  And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”  Do not love the world or the things of the world.  Seeking to do the will of God demonstrates your love for Him.

I encourage you to love Jesus and God more than anything else – more than family, more than your job, more than your possessions, and more than any of the things of the world.

Encouragement

Elijah was a prophet of God in Israel.  He was discouraged that the Israelites had given themselves to worship Baal and Asherah.  Elijah persuaded king Ahab to have a contest on Mount Carmel between the prophets of Baal and the Lord (Jehovah/YHWH).  You can read about the contest in 1 Kings 18.  The prophets of Baal were to select a bull, prepare it as a sacrifice, call on the name of their god, but put no fire under it.  Then Elijah would do the same thing and call on the name of YHWH.  The contest was that whoever answered by fire would be recognized as God.  The prophets of Baal prepared their sacrifice, called to Baal, but Baal did not answer them.  Then Elijah prepared his sacrifice and had water poured on the sacrifice; He prayed to YHWH who answered him with fire from heaven that consumed the sacrifice, the water, the wood, and the stones.  1 Kings 18:39-40 “Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, ‘The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!’  And Elijah said to them, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal! Do not let one of them escape!’ So they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the Brook Kishon and executed them there.”  But Queen Jezebel was very unhappy that Elijah had executed the prophets of Baal.  1 Kings 19:2-3a “Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.’  And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life.”  Elijah travelled a long way until he came to Horeb, the mountain of God where the Lord spoke to him.  1 Kings 19:9b-10 “The word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ So he said, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.’” Elijah was very discouraged, and he wanted to give up.  But the Lord sent Elijah back to Israel and told him in 1 Kings 19:18 “Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”  Elijah was very discouraged and needed to be encouraged.

Have you ever been discouraged in life?  I suppose that there are times that we all get discouraged.  You can get discouraged when you are disappointed in what is happening in your life.  Maybe you have significant health issues or other problems.  Other people in your life may disappoint you by their actions.  Maybe your fellowship of Christians grows smaller and maybe you feel like Elijah that you are the only one left to serve God.  Whatever may be the reason for your discouragement, I want to encourage you.

What can encourage you?  You can be spiritually encouraged by having fellowship with others who have similar faith to you.  The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome in Romans 1:11-12 “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established —  that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.”  I find that having close fellowship and communication with others who have similar faith is a great encouragement to me.  You can have this close fellowship with a spouse or other brothers and sisters in your congregation.  I have had the privilege of travelling throughout my country and other countries and sharing fellowship with others who have similar faith but live far from me.  We worship the same God.  We have the same salvation.  We sing the same spiritual songs.  We experience similar problems and trials in life.  We share love for each other.  We are not alone.  We don’t have to be discouraged like Elijah who felt that he was all alone. 

I believe that one of the great purposes of the Christian assembly is to encourage each other.  Satan is busy throughout the week trying to draw us away from Christ.  The assembly can be a time where we encourage each other to draw closer to Christ.  Hebrews 10:23-25 “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.  And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”  You can encourage me to hold fast to my hope of the promises of God.  You can stir me up to have the love I should have for God and for others.  You can stir me up to have the good works that He wants me to have.  I believe that the Christian assembly was designed by God so that we would exhort and encourage each other.  Those believers who forsake the assembly do not receive the encouragement they need nor are they fulfilling their duty to encourage their fellow believers.  We all need encouraging Christian assemblies.  We need each other.

The Christian assembly is not the only way that we can encourage each other.  Today we are blessed with other means of communication that we can use to encourage others in addition to the assembly.  I cannot be with everyone who reads this message.  But I have written it to encourage you.  I have written it to encourage you to maintain your faith and your hope without wavering.  I have written it to stir you up for love and good works.  I encourage you to encourage other believers to draw closer to Christ and God.  Others need you.

November 2021

Relative to our work for the Lord in Mexico, my last report was February 2021. 

We had planned to make trips down into the interior of Mexico, but trips were cancelled due to COVID.  Mexico has a system which indicates the severity of the COVID problem in an area.  A color code is given from Red, Orange, Yellow, to Green.  Since it had been two years since we had gone down into Mexico, I determined that, with God’s grace, we would visit the brethren if the color code was yellow or green.

The travelers were Pepe from the border town of Agua Prieta, MX, Eiland Scott of Deming, New Mexico, Cesar from the border town of Nogales, MX, and me.

The plan was to visit the family of Abdon and Lorena in Los Mochis and the congregation of Las Flores near Guasave, both in the state of Sinaloa.  We left October 27th and returned home November 1st.  Guasave is over 500 miles south of the US border.  We are constantly warned that Sinaloa is home of a drug cartel and that travel is dangerous.  We have always taken Mexican brethren with us as we travel.  There are several military or police checkpoints as we travel and our Mexican brethren speak with the authorities and answer their questions.  This time the police even stopped us at a gas station to verify that we had the proper permit and were not traveling illegally.  When we answer the questions and show the proper paperwork, there is usually no problem.  God has blessed us that we have so far not had a problem with the drug cartel or the authorities.

Abdon and Lorena live in Los Mochis, but have been unable to grow a congregation there. 

Recently they have been traveling almost every Sunday to Las Flores to meet with the congregation there; this is a trip of about an hour.  The congregation in Las Flores is in a very rural community and has been faithful for many years. 

During the first day we visited with several of the families in the community.       

On Saturday we provided a meal of roasted chicken and tortillas.  We had a time of singing and reading of encouragements.

On Sunday, they had their assembly. We brought canned tuna and peanut butter.  The women made tuna salad and we had sandwiches for lunch.  Later we had a time of encouragement again.  Juan and Mariano are the two leading men of the congregation.

Eiland made a special effort to reach out to the youth of the members to encourage them to obey the gospel.  The trip was successful in encouraging the brethren in Sinaloa.

On Monday, November 1st, we arrived back in Nogales late in the afternoon.  We were met by some of the brethren to welcome us home.

I meet with the church in Nogales one Saturday a month to encourage them.  The church in Nogales appears to be strong, but I believe that their evangelistic efforts have been impacted by COVID.

I also meet with the church in Agua Prieta one Saturday a month.  This congregation is small but hanging in there.  By the way, that guy on the far right is Keith Moore from our Sierra Vista Congregation.  Eiland is in the red shirt.

There are costs in working with and supporting the brethren in Mexico.  Our funds are low at this time.  If you can help us towards the cost of the work in Mexico, please send donations to Church of Christ, c/o Duane Cogburn, 86C Martin Lane, Moriarty, NM 87035.

Please pray for the brethren in Mexico and for the success of the Lord’s work there. 

In His service

Brother Ed Anderson

At a Funeral

When one of our loved ones passes away, we usually have a funeral, a wake, a memorial or some other means of remembering the one who has passed away.  Each section of society has their own special traditions for how they deal with death.  If the deceased is truly loved, the family will mourn the loss.  Family members remember events in life there were special to them and now they appreciate that they will no longer be able to enjoy that family fellowship again.  When Jacob died, the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days in Egypt then took his body to Canaan and mourned seven additional days there (Genesis 50:3,10).  When Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha died, the sisters mourned for him (John 11:19). We also read about the disciple Dorcus dying.  They called for Peter.  Acts 9:39 “Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them.”  While Peter resurrected Dorcus to life, my point is that we have examples of Christians mourning over the loss of fellow Christians.

While it is appropriate to mourn the loss of loved ones, we can also rejoice.  If a loved one has lived a long life or has been sick or has suffered a painful disease, death may come as a relief.  We might rejoice with them when they die because they no longer have to suffer here.  We are promised a new body.  1 Corinthians 15:42-44 “So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption.  It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.  It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.”  Revelation 21:4 “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”  I’m looking forward to my new body.

Perhaps there will be those at a funeral who are not believers.  Non-believers have no hope for a life after death.  For them, life has a different meaning than for a Christian.  Perhaps they have spent their life in seeing what they can get out of life to please themselves.  But there can be this hopelessness that life doesn’t have much meaning.  When we speak about our loved one who has died and that he will be resurrected and given a new body, that should create interest in the non-believer.  When the apostle Paul preached to the Areopagus in Athens, some were interested to hear more.  Acts 17:30-32 “’Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.’  And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, ‘We will hear you again on this matter.’”  The proof of life after death is given by the resurrection of Jesus.  1 Corinthians 15:20-22 “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.”  Christ’s resurrection is a powerful testimony that we will also be resurrected and be made alive after death.  Be ready to share your faith with an unbeliever.

There will be others at the funeral who believe but have forgotten the need to be ready.  Maybe they have let the things of this world distract them from what is important.  Jesus gave the following description in Mark 4:18-19 “Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.”  A funeral is a good time to remind us that we do not live forever and that life is short.  Our time to die could come at any time.  We can each ask ourselves if we are ready to go.

We have been promised life after death.  We have been given exceedingly great and precious promises.  2 Peter 1:4-11 “By which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.  But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.  For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.  Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  The picture may be of a Roman general triumphantly entering Rome after conquering his enemies.  We also can have the picture of ourselves being grandly welcomed into the everlasting kingdom of Christ.  But we have to be ready. 

I think that a funeral is a good time to remind us all.  We do not live forever.  Our time to die could come soon.  Now is the time to strengthen our faith in Jesus and His resurrection from the dead.  I encourage you to make any changes that you need to make in your life now so that you will be ready to go. 

The Way, The Truth, The Life

Jesus was getting ready to be crucified, to be resurrected, and to return to the Father.  While His apostles didn’t understand what was really going to happen, they understood enough to be anxious.  So, Jesus reassured them.  John 14:1-6 “’Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.  And where I go you know, and the way you know.’  Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?’  Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’”

Just as the disciples were anxious about the future, you and I can also be anxious about our future.  The reassurance of Jesus applies to us as well.  “In My Father’s house are many mansions.”  The word translated “mansions” literally means dwellings.  The nature of these dwellings has not been revealed to us.  The important point is that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us.  Then He adds “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”  Jesus promised to come back again and receive us to Himself; we will get to be with Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”  We are assured of being with Jesus in the Father’s house.

Then Jesus added “And where I go you know, and the way you know.”  But Thomas felt that he didn’t know.  So he said “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?”  Jesus responds by saying “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  Jesus said that He is three things:  the way, the truth, and the life.

“The Way.”  Jesus taught in Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  Jesus is the door.  John 10:9 “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”  There is no salvation any other way.  Acts 4:12 “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  Jesus paid the price for our salvation.  We were slaves to sin.  Jesus ransomed us.  Matthew 20:28 “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  Through Jesus we have the forgiveness of our sins; through Jesus we are made righteous before God; through Jesus we are reconciled to God.  Only through Jesus can this be possible.  He is the way. 

Jesus is also the way by showing us the way to live our lives.  Matthew 16:24 “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.’”  Jesus also said in John 12:26 “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.”  As Christians, we are the disciples of Jesus and we follow His teachings and the teachings of the apostles.  Jesus teaches us how to live and, in that sense, He is the way.

“The Truth.”  Jesus was being questioned by Pilate in John 18:37 “Pilate therefore said to Him, ‘Are You a king then?’  Jesus answered, ‘You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’”  There were many lies and half-truths in the time of Jesus and the same is true today – what life is all about, what is the nature of God, what is right and what is wrong, etc.  His teachings are truth.  We are set apart from the world as followers of God’s truth.  Jesus prayed in John 17:17-19 “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.  As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.  And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.”

“The Life.”  God gave His Son that we would have everlasting life.  John 3:15-16 “That whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.   For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  Jesus is eternal life.  1 John 5:11-12 “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”  We must sow to the Spirit and not to the flesh.  Galatians 6:8 “For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.” 

“No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  Years ago, a young man tried to convince me that all religions (Muslim, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, etc.) are all good and we should all accept each other as different paths to God.  But this is contrary to what Jesus taught.  While we should show love to all, Jesus clearly taught that there is only one way to the Father, only one set of truths, only one way to eternal life.  Jesus said “No one comes to the Father except through Me.” 

I encourage you not to be anxious about the future.  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  He has gone to prepare a place for you and will come again and receive you to Himself.

Wilderness

The Bible tells us about the Israelite nation suffering as slaves in Egypt under Pharaoh.  God then performed mighty miracles through Moses to finally convince Pharaoh to let them go.  Exodus 13:17-18 “Then it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, ‘Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’  So God led the people around by way of the wilderness of the Red Sea. And the children of Israel went up in orderly ranks out of the land of Egypt.” The people left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea by walking on dry ground when God performed another mighty miracle in dividing the waters.  They entered the wilderness where God gave them the Law.  When God was ready to send the Israelites into the promised land, God commanded them to send spies into the land.  When the spies returned, ten of the twelve spies reported that the land was good but the people were too strong for them to conquer.  They wanted to return to Egypt.  Numbers 14:26-35 “And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who complain against Me? I have heard the complaints which the children of Israel make against Me.  Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the Lord, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will do to you: The carcasses of you who have complained against Me shall fall in this wilderness, all of you who were numbered, according to your entire number, from twenty years old and above.  Except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, you shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in.  But your little ones, whom you said would be victims, I will bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised.  But as for you, your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness.  And your sons shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years, and bear the brunt of your infidelity, until your carcasses are consumed in the wilderness.  According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years, and you shall know My rejection.  I the Lord have spoken this. I will surely do so to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die.'”  So, the Israelites spent forty years in the wilderness.

Perhaps you also feel like you have spent time in the wilderness in your life; maybe you are in the wilderness even now.  The wilderness has come to stand for a time when you feel like you are separated from all that is good.  You could feel isolated physically, emotionally or spiritually.   Maybe you feel great suffering.  You may be depressed.  You may have little hope that things will improve.  I want to assure you that you do not need to be depressed.  There is hope.

If you are in the wilderness because of sin in your life, you can only truly depart from the wilderness when you repent of your sin and confess it before God.  1 John 1:8-9 “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  When you have the forgiveness of sins, then you can have peace with God. Romans 5:1-2 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

If you are in the wilderness because of other circumstances, I cannot tell you when you will leave the wilderness.  But I can encourage you to be strong and continue faithful.  The following scripture talks about resisting the devil.  1 Peter 5:9-11 “Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.  But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.  To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”   May God perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.  Whatever suffering you are experiencing now, it is little compared to the ultimate glory you will receive when you remain faithful.  Romans 8:18 “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

After Jesus was baptized, he went into the wilderness.  Matthew 4:1-3 “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry.  Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.’”  Jesus resisted the temptation of the devil.  As Jesus was led into the wilderness, God may also lead you into the wilderness to allow you to be tested.  He will not tempt you with evil, but He may allow you to be tried to test your faith.  God told Abraham to take his son Isaac into the wilderness and sacrifice him there.  Abraham obeyed God and faithfully passed the test.  You may also be in the wilderness to be tested by God.

There may be another reason for being in the wilderness.  It may be that you intentionally put yourself in the wilderness for spiritual renewal.  I believe that the apostle Paul hinted at this when he said that after his conversion he went to Arabia (Galatians 1:15-17).  You too may choose to isolate yourself for a time to seek God in prayer and be given renewal and direction in your life.

Many people find themselves in the wilderness and feel isolated from what is good.  If you find yourself in the wilderness, I encourage you to remain strong and endure the trials that you face.  The eternal blessings in Christ Jesus are reasons for you to remain faithful.

The Purposes of Jesus on Earth

Before time began, God made a plan.  He planned to create the world and all that is in the world.  He also planned to create mankind.  But He knew that we would all sin and be lost.  So He purposed, before time began, that He would demonstrate His grace by sending Christ Jesus to the earth for mankind.  2 Timothy 1:9-10 (God) “who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.”  It was no accident that Jesus came here.  Praise God that He sent Jesus to the earth.  God sent His Son for some very good reasons.  Let us look as some of those reasons why Jesus came.

God loved the world that He created.  He loved the people in the world even though they were sinners.  John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”  God could have decided to condemn and destroy the world because of our sinfulness.  Instead He decided to save the world by sending Jesus.  Jesus came into the world to seek and save that which was lost.  We have the example of Zacchaeus, a sinful tax collector; Jesus came to his house.  Luke 19:8-10 “Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.’  And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.’” So perhaps the first and greatest reason that Jesus came was to save sinners.  The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 1:15 “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”

Jesus came to bear witness to the truth.  There is much falsehood in the world – falsehood in what people worship and believe, falsehood in what is good and what is bad, falsehood in what we should do and what we should not do.  There are many lies in the world.  Jesus came to speak the truth.  When Jesus was on trial, Pilate asked Him what He had done.  John 18:36-38 “Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.’  Pilate therefore said to Him, ‘Are You a king then?’  Jesus answered, ‘You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’  Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth?’ And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, ‘I find no fault in Him at all.’” Jesus said that He came into the world to bear witness to the truth.

Jesus came to be a light.  John 12:44-47 “Then Jesus cried out and said, ‘He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me.   And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me.   I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.   And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.’”  Light allows us to see how things are, to know what is good, and to see the path that we should take.  Jesus came to be a light so that we would know the way and not abide in darkness.

Jesus came to preach the kingdom of God.  Luke 4:42-43 “Now when it was day, He departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowd sought Him and came to Him, and tried to keep Him from leaving them; but He said to them, ‘I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent.’”  God sent Jesus to preach His kingdom.  Through Jesus we come to understand about His kingdom and can become a part of His kingdom.

Jesus came to serve.  The apostles James and John wanted positions of honor in His kingdom.  Matthew 20:25-28 “But Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.   Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.   And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave —    just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.’”  Jesus, the Son of Man, came to serve.  Since Jesus came to serve you and me, we learn that we are to serve one another.

Jesus came to give life.  John 10:7-10 “Then Jesus said to them again, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.  All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.  I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.  The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.’”  Not only did Jesus come to save us, but He came to give us life – abundant, eternal life.

Jesus came to save you, to bear witness to the truth, to be your light, to tell you about the Kingdom of God, to serve you and to give you life.  I encourage you to rejoice in Jesus and rejoice in the Father who sent Jesus for you. 

Love For God

Matthew 22:35-38 “Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’  Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the first and great commandment.”

The heart is the chief organ of the body for physical life.  The heart came to stand for the center of man’s mental and moral activity, both the rational and the emotional.  To love God with all your heart is to love God from the very center of your being.  From your heart you speak; from your heart you act (Matthew 15:16-20).  Therefore, love for God should fill your heart and motivate everything that you do.

The soul is the natural life of the body; it is the immaterial, invisible part of a person.  To love God with all your soul implies that you love Him with all of your life.    It means living for Him and possibly dying for Him.  Your whole life is for Him.

The mind is the seat of your intellect and does the thinking.  It is where you choose to believe.  It is where you accept what God has revealed as truth.  It is where you make decisions.  Loving God with all your mind would include that you choose to submit to Him; you choose to thank Him for His blessings; you choose to meditate on his laws and principles; you choose to do and say and think what He asks you to do and say and think.

In parallel scriptures in Mark 12:30 and Luke 10:27 it is added to love God with all your strength.  I believe this implies that you use all your powers that you have in service to God.  It could be mental or physical or spiritual strength that you have; you give them all for your love for God.  It is not a partial love.  It is a giving of all you have, all of your strength kind of love.

It is not always easy to distinguish between the heart, soul and mind.  There seems to be overlap and interconnection between them.  But I don’t believe distinguishing between them is important.  To love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength leaves no room for anything else.  It implies that you love God with your whole being.  This is what God asks from each of us.

How do you demonstrate your love for God?  Jesus said in John 14:15 “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”  Jesus continued in John 14:23-24 “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.  He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.”  In other words, if you love Him, you will do what He asks you to do.  When you choose to violate a command of God, it demonstrates a lack of love for God.  1 John 4:20-21 “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?  And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.”

Why do we love God?  1 John 4:19 “We love Him because He first loved us.”  Look at some of the things that God has done for us in love.  He created a wonderful universe for us that contains the heavens and a beautiful earth with rocks and plants and animals and people so marvelously made.  He gave us everything that we need.  He knew that we would be sinful so He made a plan of salvation in which He sent His Son to die for each of us to give us everlasting life.  John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”  He has promised a wonderful eternal life if we love Him.  1 Corinthians 2:9 “But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’”  

When I think of having great love for God, I think of King David.  He demonstrated his love for God by his righteous life and by the psalms that he wrote about God.  One day, David brought the ark of the Lord to the City of David.  He sacrificed many oxen and fatted sheep.  2 Samuel 6:14 “Then David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was wearing a linen ephod.” David truly loved God.  And yet, there were times when David was selfish and disobeyed the commandments of the Lord.  I’m thinking especially of the time when David committed adultery with Bathsheba and caused her husband to be killed.  But God forgave David when he confessed his sin and repented.  I suppose that none of us completely obeys the command to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.  When we discover that we haven’t demonstrated love for God, like David, we should confess our sin and repent.

My encouragement to you is to love God because of the love He has for you.  Let his grace teach you to love Him with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Titus 2:11-14 “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.”

Meeting Specific Needs

At the end of the letter by James, he listed some encouragements for specific situations.  James 5:13-15 “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.  Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”  Let us look at these and other needs that you might be having.

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.”  Life is not always easy for you.  There are many hardships that might cause you to suffer.  It could be persecution from non-believers.  It could be financial hardships where you do not have the money to pay your bills or pay for what you need.  It could be difficult relationships that you are experiencing.  It could be difficulties from your government.  It could be your tasks that you are having difficulties doing what you need to do.  It could be physical illness or handicaps that you have.  What is it in your life that causes you to suffer?  Whatever it is, the answer is to pray.  Tell the Father what you see as your hardship.  You can ask God for relief from those trials that you suffer.  The Father might deliver you or He might give you the strength to endure your trials and ask you to have faith and trust in Him.  1 Peter 5:7 “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”  Spend time in prayer with the Father about your suffering.

“Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.”  Hopefully sometimes you can be cheerful and happy.  Maybe things went well with you or you received some blessing or you heard some good news.  It might be natural to break out in song or whistle a happy tune.  James says to sing psalms.  Psalms might be one of the 150 psalms we have in the book of Psalms or it could be any spiritual song.  Most spiritual songs either praise God or Jesus or they teach us some important spiritual principle.  When you are cheerful, praise God in song.

“Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”  Multiple times in our area, those who have special illnesses have called for the elders of the church and they have prayed and anointed them with oil.  I do not think that the elders have special powers.  I do believe that the elders should be spiritual individuals of faith.  It is the prayer given in faith that we present before God that He will hear.  He is the one who heals.  Some illnesses may be the result of sin that needs to be repented of and forgiven.  When sickness comes, seek healing from God.  I don’t think it is wrong to go to a physician, but don’t forget to go to the One who made us and has the power to heal.

Are you sad or grieving because of the loss of a loved one or other source of grief?  God is the God of all comfort.  2 Corinthians 1:3-4 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”  Psalms 147:3 “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”  When you are sad or grieving, take your situation to God the Father and seek His comfort.

Are you anxious about what may happen in the future?  Philippians 4:6-7 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  Pray to God and put your trust in God to carry you through any future situation.

Do you have a decision to make and don’t know what to do?  Ask God for wisdom.  James 1:5-6 “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.” Ask in faith for wisdom.

Are you discouraged?  2 Corinthians 4:16-18 “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”  Regain the proper perspective that what you are going through is temporary and you can trust in God to give you that which is eternal.

I have listed just a few of the situations that you may be facing.  God has given us guidance for virtually every situation in life.  I encourage you to search the scriptures to find God’s guidance and then apply it in your life.  Hebrews 13:5b-6 “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’  So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?’” Being a believer and follower of Jesus Christ is not just about going to the church assembly; it is a way of life for you to follow.  God will be with you to help you.

Jesus the Vine

Jesus told us that He is the true vine.  John 15:1-8 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.   You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.  Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.  If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.  By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”  Jesus uses the analogy of a vine to help us understand our relationship with Him and God the Father.  Jesus said that the Father is the vinedresser, Jesus is the vine, and we each are branches in the vine.

The purpose of a grape vine is to produce grapes as fruit.  You and I, as branches in Jesus the vine, are expected to produce fruit.  Jesus said “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away.”  What fruit are we expected to produce?  Since one purpose of fruit on a tree or vine is to reproduce the plant, it would seem natural that fruit would include sharing the gospel with non-believers that they may become Christians.  It should be our desire to tell others about God and Jesus.  But that is not the only fruit that the Bible describes.  Consider what is written in Romans 6:20-22 “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.  What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.  But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.”  The fruit of the world is unrighteousness and our fruit as children of God is holiness and righteousness.  Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”  We, as branches in Jesus the vine, should naturally bear the fruit of the Spirit.  I believe that our good works are fruit.  Titus 3:8b “Those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works.”

If we don’t bear fruit, Jesus said that we will be taken away.  Jesus also used a parable of a fig tree to illustrate this point.  Luke 13:6-9 “He also spoke this parable: ‘A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.  Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’  But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it.  And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’’”  Without fruit, you and I will be rejected.

Jesus wants us to bear much fruit.  Jesus said “He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”  “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”  I can imagine a grape vine with only a few grapes, or a fig tree with only a couple of figs.  That’s not what God wants from us; He expects much fruit because He is glorified by much fruit.  If you and I are producing some fruit in our lives He prunes us that we will bear more fruit.  Jesus said “Every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”  When one prunes a grape vine or a fig tree, parts of the vine or tree are cut off.  Maybe parts that are dead are cut off.  Maybe parts that are not producing fruit are cut off.  In a sense, this hurts the vine or tree because a cutting occurs.  But the keeper of the vineyard does the pruning so that there will be more fruit.   Jesus does not describe what our pruning might be.  Perhaps our pruning from God is discipline or chastening.  Hebrews 12:7-11 “If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?  But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.  Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?  For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.  Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”  Events can come into our lives to prune us, to cause us to repent, to change our priorities in life, to cause us to produce more fruit for God.  These events may be painful, but He is glorified that we bear much fruit.

We must abide in Jesus.  He said “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”  “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.”  What does it mean to abide in Jesus?  We are to be in Christ Jesus.  Consider 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”  Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” 1 John 2:3-6 “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.  He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.  He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.”  Walking according to the Spirit instead of walking according to the flesh demonstrates that we abide in Jesus.

My encouragement to you is to abide in Jesus.  Seek to bear much fruit for God.  Understand that God will prune you that you bear more fruit.