Supernatural Self-Regard

I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. (1 Corinthians 4:3)

How do you see yourself? For centuries, traditional cultures believed that high self-esteem was the reason for most of the trouble in the world. The Greek word hubris – meaning unhealthy pride or too high a view of oneself – was often used as the identifier for this problem. But today’s western culture sees this issue through a completely different set of lenses, and we are told that the reason for most of the trouble in the world today is caused by low self-esteem.

Regardless of where today’s message finds you, whether your self-esteem is “high” or “low,” the Gospel is the key to maintaining the right supernatural self-regard. Paul wrote that he cared not how he was judged by others, and even went so far as to disregard his own opinion of himself. The apostle cared only about the opinion of the Omniscient One. The verdict about Paul’s life was to be delivered from above, and he rested in the reality of that truth. The Gospel does not encourage us to think more highly of ourselves, nor does it encourage us to think less of ourselves. Rather, the Gospel is rooted in thinking of ourselves less because we are thinking more and more of our Savior.   

Supernatural self-regard says, ‘I don’t care what you think of me, and I don’t even care what I think of myself,” because the verdict is already in: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Paul knew that he was justified (declared righteous) in the eyes of God because of what Jesus Christ had done for him. Paul did not need to prove himself to anyone, because he knew he was fully accepted in the Beloved.

Paul clearly had a puffed view of himself prior to meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus; he was a “Hebrew of Hebrews and in regard to the law, a Pharisee” (Philippians 3:5). After Jesus saved him, it would have been easy for Paul to sink into dismally low self-esteem because of how he had persecuted, imprisoned, and even killed Christians. But Paul understood the Gospel and lived with what I call supernatural self-regard.

How is it with you? Are you driven by the opinion of others? Are you driven by your own opinion? Jesus sits on the throne of the entire universe as the King of kings, Lord of lords, and Judge of all things. The verdict is in and court is adjourned. You have been loved with an everlasting love; you are the “apple of His eye,” as David wrote in Psalm 17:8. Paul and David were both great sinners in need of an even greater Savior, and they both had supernatural self-regard because they kept their eyes on God.

What about you?

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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The Believer’s Bread

The Lord gives you the bread of adversity. (Isaiah 30:20)

Today I would like to briefly unpack the holy and hopeful truth set forth by the prophet Isaiah regarding the believer’s bread. I don’t know about you, but I love bread. One of my cherished childhood memories is the tantalizing smell of baking bread in our kitchen as Mom prepared one of the main staples of our dining room table. Bread held a special place in the Boland home, and it holds a special place in Scripture too.

In the Old Testament, God used a loaf of barley bread as an image of Gideon and his men routing the Midianites in battle. In the New Testament, Jesus likens bread to the giving of the Holy Spirit (John 6:32). Probably the most powerful bread metaphor in the Bible is Jesus’ reference to Himself as the Bread of Life (John 6:35). Our Lord also used the imagery of bread in a negative way: he used the idea of leavened bread to highlight the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:6).

As I say, I love bread . . . but I’m not so crazy about adversity! So why would God give His people “the bread of adversity”? There are several reasons. In the time of Isaiah, the people of God had engaged in wicked, willful rebellion against God by relying on Egypt and Pharaoh for their sustenance and safety (Isaiah 20:2). Because our God is a jealous God and will tolerate no rival, He gave “the bread of affliction” (Deuteronomy 16:3) to draw His people back to Him and cause them to depend on nothing smaller than God.

Our great and gracious God gives us the Bread of Life; He gives us the bread of adversity as well. The writer of of the epistle to the Hebrews put it this way —

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. (Hebrews 12:7-8)

Think about it this way: If a father refuses to discipline his children, does he truly love them and want the best for them? Of course not! When we see the wheels coming off the track in the lives of our children, we step in with the appropriate discipline to provide the necessary course correction. How much more will our Father in heaven do for us?

A few verses later in the Hebrews passage, we read, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful” (Hebrews 12:11). No one likes to be disciplined. But God’s discipline is not a sign of His displeasure, but rather an indication of His deep and abiding love for us.

Remember, God’s ultimate goal in the lives of His children is Christlikeness (Romans 8:29). In order for God to conform us into the image and likeness of His beloved Son, the Bread of Life, we will often need to partake of the believer’s bread of adversity. God loves you so much that He sent His Son to die on a cross for you, and because of that amazing love, He will not always give you what you want. But He will always give you what you need . . . and often we need to taste the believer’s bread.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Divine Debt

From him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:36)

After carefully laying out eleven chapters that systematically explain all that God has done for the believer, Paul concluded this section of his magnificent epistle to the Christians in Rome with one of the most pregnant passages in all of Scripture, a passage that makes it crystal clear that all of life is to be lived for the glory of God. Romans 11:36 explains that this is because we owe God everything for all that we are and all that we have. There is nothing we have that He has not graciously given to us (1 Corinthians 4:7), and the more we have, the more we are in debt to the One who has given it to us.

Let’s look at this glorious verse more closely.

  • From Him

Here Paul is telling us that God is the source of all things. As the Creator, He is the first cause of all things in the universe from the very beginning; all things were created with God’s stamp of approval on them as “very good” (Genesis 1:31).

  • Through Him

Paul builds on the fact that God is the source of all things by making it clear that God is also the Sustainer of all things. God is not, as some have suggested, a distant deity who created all things and then departed from the scene, allowing things to unfold as they may. God is personally present and actively involved in every detail of life every day, sustaining all things by His powerful Word (Hebrews 1:3) .

  • To Him

Paul’s letter makes it clear that God not only is the source and sustainer of all things in the universe, He is working everything according to His perfect plan and purpose to expand the cause of His kingdom (Ephesians 1:11).

Finally, after telling us that all things are from Him, through Him, and to Him, Paul finished his holy hymn with one of the most remarkable statements of worship contained within the Word of God: “To him be the glory forever!” Every one of us exists in a state of divine debt, which is the greatest debt we can ever owe. As I said earlier, the more we have, the more we are in debt to the One who has given it to us.

I don’t know where this message finds you today. Perhaps you are in a season of plenty or a season of want. Maybe you are in a season of serenity or a season of struggle. But regardless of where this finds you, if you have Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you have everything, and so we echo Paul and exult, “To him be the glory forever! Amen.”

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Facing The Fork In The Road

Wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. (Proverbs 2:10)

Throughout the book of Proverbs, we are confronted by “forks in the road” time and time again. Each “fork” splits into two different, distinct paths. One path leads to wisdom; the other leads to folly.

Proverbs addresses a variety of important topics throughout its 31 chapters, but no matter what topic of truth is being presented, the reader is still faced with that fork, which, when rightly chosen, will make all the difference in the world in how your life will turn out.

Proverbs does not just provide wisdom for the art of godly living; it offers strength for the weak, comfort for the challenged, counsel for the confused, hope for the hurting, and light in times of darkness. In short, it is written for people just like you and me. Learning and applying the truths contained within Proverbs takes us from where we currently are to the place God is calling us to be . . . the place where we choose the right fork in the road.

In Proverbs 2, we are given a string of action words which, when followed, will lead us to pick the right road. In verses 1 through 4, God instructs us to —

  • Accept my words . . .
  • Store up my commands . . .
  • Turn your ear to wisdom . . .
  • Apply your heart to understanding . . .
  • Call out for insight . . .
  • Cry aloud for understanding . . .
  • Look for wisdom as for silver . . .
  • Search for it as for hidden treasure . . .

We can sum up all these nuggets of wisdom in a single word: discipline. The Christian life must be marked by discipline if we are to grow and mature in our faith. Rarely do we drift into right decisions. Only through a self-disciplined approach will we begin living a life of wisdom rather than folly. Yes, it is all of grace, but that grace must be appropriated by the believer. We are to seek wisdom as if we were searching for silver or hidden treasure.

Remember, wisdom is far more than simply avoiding the path of folly and sin. Wisdom is advancing in the direction God is calling us to go, and each time we come to a fork in the road, if we will look to Jesus we will be better able to choose the faithful fork of wisdom and live a life that brings glory to God and good to others, including ourselves.

The great baseball player Yogi Berra once quipped, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” I would quickly add that we must be sure that the fork we choose is the one leading to wisdom. When you do, you can rest in the promise that wisdom will enter your heart and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Joy’s Job

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. (James 1:2)

The very first thing we need to embrace about the idea of joy’s job in this world is the fact that joy does indeed have a job to do. Notice that James did not wonder “if” you will face trials, but rather assured us that trials are part of the Christian life. As I have said here many times, trials are promised to the disciple of Jesus.

Once we understand that trials are an inevitable part our lives, we must learn how we are to profit from them, because just as trials have been promised to us, so too has the profit that we are to receive from them. Please note that James was not suggesting that we live according to the mantra of the popular 1980s pop song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Trials are never easy, and we are not to pretend to “be happy” when storm winds blow our way. You see, joy is a far bigger word than happy. Joy is a state of mind that rises above mere feelings; joy is an “inside job” performed in the heart of the believer, because we know that our God is good . . . and His goodness includes painful providences, which He delivers into our lives for our ultimate good and for His glory.

Joy is a peaceful, settled confidence that God is in control of all things, from our greatest joys to the storm winds that blow our way. God ordained the storm. He is in the storm with us, and it is in His presence through the Holy Spirit that we are able to receive joy’s job in our lives.

What is the job that joy does? James provided the answer; joy’s job is to produce perseverance in us (James 1:2). Trials are used by God to challenge our faith in order to grow and mature us in our walk with Jesus. James went on to say that our trials are actually “good and perfects” gifts from God to us (James 1:17), gifts designed to accomplish God’s greatest goal for every one of His children: Christlikeness.

When the apostle Paul wrote that “God works all things for the good of those who live him” (Romans 8:28), he was not in any way suggesting that all things are good. Some trials are very, very bad. But Paul was assuring us that God will take even the bad things and work them together for our good. Like Paul, James did not suggest that all trials are good and therefore we should be happy about them. What James was saying is that all our trials are producing good from the hand of God and thus should be received with joy.

One final point on the job that joy performs in our lives. Even in the midst of unimaginable trials that cause us to despair, our grief is part of our joy, because we know that God is using even this as part of the process of making us like Jesus. So the disciple of Christ doesn’t wait for the trial to be over to consider it all joy. Rather, we consider it all joy while we are in the middle of the storm, because we have chosen to consider it all joy because Jesus is with us and using our trials to make us more and more like Him.

Remember these words from the psalmist, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5). To be sure, there will be weeping in this life, but we need only stay close to God in order to experience the joy of the Lord, which is our strength.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Level Ground

Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” (Acts 10:34)

Peter understood that one of the greatest obstacles to overcome in expanding the cause of the Kingdom of Christ was rooted in the ages-old conflict between Jews and Gentiles. Most of the early converts to Christianity came from the God-fearing Jewish nation. Many of these Jews abhorred the “godless” Gentiles and had a hard time accepting them into the family of faith. And so the Holy Spirit prompted Peter to make it clear that God is no respecter of persons.

One of the very first things I learned as a young Christian is that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. At the time of invitation after each sermon, I often use that phrase to remind our congregation that anyone can be saved. I am living proof of that biblical truth.

The old hymn put it this way:

The ground is level at the foot of the cross. Anyone may come, for there is no cost. Rich man or poor man, bonded or free, the ground was leveled that day at Calvary.

When Jesus Christ was nailed to that cross and died in our place, He paid the penalty for our sins — every one of our sins. In doing so, Jesus satisfied the wrath and judgment of God, leveling the ground at Calvary, making a way to salvation for anyone who, by grace alone, trusts in Christ alone for eternal life. Here are just a few examples from the life and ministry of Jesus of just how level the ground is at the foot of the cross. All these were loved and welcomed by their Redeemer:

  • Despised tax collectors (Mark 2:15)
  • The shunned Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4:29)
  • An unwanted prostitute (Luke 7:47)
  • Perhaps the most widely hated and feared person of that time, a Roman centurion (Matthew 8:5)

To be sure, Jesus was and is a friend of sinners and faithful to forgive all those who surrender control of their lives to Him. For all those willing to abandon their self-salvation projects and trust in the Savior alone, the ground was truly leveled on Good Friday at Calvary. God does not save based on status. God does not save based on success. He does not save based on significance. It is all of grace. Showing favoritism is as inconsistent with God’s character as it is antithetical to the amazing grace of the Gospel message.

Is there anyone that you believe might be beyond the reach of our Redeemer? Is there anyone you would not be willing to evangelize because you think they are just too bad to receive the Good News? Remember, showing favoritism is a sin (James 2:9), and the best way to keep from committing that sin is to remember that Jesus leveled the ground upon which you are standing today, the ground you will be standing on tomorrow, and your footing forevermore.

As the Lord said to Isaiah —

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters;
and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. . .
Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. (Isaiah 55:1, 3)

ALL who are thirsty may come. Go tell that message to a lost and hurting world that desperately needs to hear it!

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Faith That Refuses To Falter

Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith. Your request is granted.” (Matthew 15:28)

This woman of great faith is found in a gospel account that is as strange as it is sublime. A Canaanite woman came to Jesus, begging Him to help her demon-possessed daughter. She came to Jesus looking for help, as so many others had done throughout His ministry . . . but Jesus did not say a word to her at first. The disciples took this as a sign that Jesus wanted nothing to do with her, and they urged Him to send her away (Matthew 15:23).

Like I said, strange . . . but also sublime.

[Jesus] answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman came and knelt before him, “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” “Yes, Lord,” she said, “But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” (Matthew 15:24-27)

It is important to know something about the use of this word “dog” in this first-century cultural context. The Jewish people would commonly use the term to describe the Gentiles, because that is what they considered these pagan, people to be: godless “dogs” that were unworthy to receive any mercy or blessing from the hand of God. Jesus, however, when He used the the term “dogs,” was not being insensitive or unkind. He was simply contrasting the current Jewish attitude of contempt toward this non-Jewish woman with His own attitude, which was one of love and compassion.

Notice that the woman, far from being put off by Jesus’ use of this word, replied in kind, content to accept the designation as long as she could receive whatever blessing Jesus would bestow. I am reminded of the tax collector, who “would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner'” (Luke 18:13). The Canaanite woman had a faith that did not falter, even in the face of the disapproving disciples and a seemingly disinterested Savior.

I believe Jesus was making a very important point to you and me in the way he interacted with this woman. He gave the appearance of having no interest at all in her, but Jesus was actually giving this woman the opportunity to stretch her faith – to keep praying, to keep seeking the solution to her problem, and to trust in the unwavering goodness of God.

I need to ask you an important question: When was the last time you were confronted with “the sound of silence” from your Savior? Have you been asking but not receiving any response? Let this strange, sublime story of the faith of the Canaanite woman both encourage you and challenge you to never give in and never stop asking and seeking whatever “crumbs” you desire from our loving Lord. And regardless of the answer you ultimately receive from Jesus, you can be sure that He is growing and maturing you to develop a faith that refuses to falter.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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UN-SEPARATED

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? (Romans 8:35)

Since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, sin has caused all of us to experience separation, both vertically from God and horizontally from each other, as well as separation from the created world around us. But Jesus came to end that separation; when we are in Christ, by grace through faith, we are un-separated, because there is nothing in the universe that can come between our Lord and His people.

In our passage today, Paul was writing to a church that was about to undergo intense persecution, and he offered his readers cosmic comfort, reminding them that they had been un-separated from their Savior, regardless of what storms they encountered:

  • Not trouble . . .
  • Not hardship . . .
  • Not persecution . . .
  • Not famine . . .
  • Not nakedness . . .
  • Not danger or sword could separate them from the love of Christ.

Let’s take a moment to marinate on the verse immediately following this list of the difficulties that were facing God’s people, a verse which Paul had quoted from Psalm 44:22 — “As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are condemned as sheep to be slaughtered'” (Romans 8:35).

The Bible makes it crystal clear that Christians are not exempted from trials, hardships, even physical death. Yet far too many in the church today hear nothing about this biblical truth; instead they hear messages about receiving a crown, but not carrying a cross. And so when the storm winds begin to blow, they tend to fall away from their faith, grumbling that “I didn’t sigh up for this!” But, beloved, this is exactly what we signed up for. Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. . . . In this world you will have trouble” (John 15:20, 16:33). Storms, suffering, and sorrow have been promised to use, but so has being un-separated.

How have you been dealing with your struggles lately? How have the storm winds blowing through your life been affecting you? How are you bearing up? Remember, regardless of what you are up against, you are not facing it alone. Your Savior is right there with you, every step of the way.

Let me close with a word of encouragement from the great Bible commentator Matthew Henry:

Christ has his book of life, a register, and roll of all who shall inherit eternal life . . . Christ will not blot the names of his chosen and faithful ones out of this book of life . . .  Christ will produce this book of life, and confess the names of the faithful who stand there, before God, and all the angels, he will do this as their Judge, when the books shall be opened; he will do this as their captain and head, leading them with him triumphantly to heaven, presenting them to the Father.”

If I may presume to add to Mr. Henry’s thought, I would simply say that Christ will not only present us to God as our captain, but as our Bridegroom. We are not only un-separated from our Savior, but we will be united to Him in His love for all eternity. How glorious!

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Labor In The Lord

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. (Colossians 3:23)

Today, the first Monday in September, is Labor Day, a holiday that honors the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, laws, and well-being of the United States. For the Christian, it is also a time to reflect on work as worship. I have said here before that work is a gift from God, given to mankind in the Garden of Eden before the fall of Adam and Eve. (If you’d like, you can click on this link to hear “The Gift Of Work” sermon, which I preached on May 2, 2021.)

Our first parent’s terrible act of cosmic treason in the Garden brought a curse upon work, but work is still a good gift given to us by our good God. To be sure, work is more difficult since man’s sinful rebellion, but I would emphasize that work is nonetheless a good gift that is to be used to expand the cause of God’s kingdom for His glory.

Principles for work proliferate throughout sacred Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. All work is to be seen as a gift from God. All work is good work. All work is to be done for the glory of God. And there is no such thing as sacred work, as opposed to secular work. Whether we are working as a butcher, baker, or candlestick maker, we are doing good work, as long as we are working for the glory of God.

Here are three things to reflect on regarding Labor in the Lord.  

Work is a GIFT from God.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it (Genesis 2:15).

This took place before the fall. Work is not a punishment from God, as some imagine; work is His good and gracious gift to us.

Work is for the GLORY of God.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men (Colossians 3:23).

Yes, most of us work out of necessity, in order to earn money to pay for our food and shelter. But our hearts are to be fixed on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), and we are to work for His glory, not ours.

Work is for the GOOD of others.

Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

Jesus said that the second greatest commandment, after first loving God, is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39). When we put these two truths from Matthew’s gospel side by side, we understand that we are always to be working to bless others, that they may see the grace and glory of God reflected in our attitude and actions.

We have all been given gifts, talents, and abilities to do work that honors our Lord. Christians are to occupy every sphere of the work force, because all work is an act of worship when it is done for the glory of God to expand the cause of His Kingdom.

I’d like to raise one final point about your Labor in the Lord. We must always remember God’s formula for work:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work. (Exodus 20:8-10)

On this Labor Day, let us remember that work is a great gift from God . . . and so is rest. Make no mistake, our God can do much more with our six days of work than we could ever do by working all seven on our own. Work and rest are the rhythm of the Christian life of Labor in the Lord. When we see work as a gift from God for the glory of God, our work will be performed for the good of others, and human flourishing will be the great and glorious increase that God will provide.  

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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The Savior’s Sap

Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches.” (John 15:5)

I have said here many times that deep down inside of every human being is the desire, whether we acknowledge it or not, to live a life that truly matters. Today’s verse tells us how this is to be accomplished: by staying connected to Jesus, the true Vine.

In the Old Testament, grapes symbolized the fruitfulness of God’s people Israel when they were following His plan and purpose for their lives. In building on this image, Jesus made it clear that He, as our Vine, is the One responsible for our fruitfulness, but we must remember to stay connected to Him. If you cut a branch that is loaded with fruit off from the vine, the fruit will wither and die in short order. Only when the branch stays connected to the vine, receiving its nourishing sap, will it remain fruitful.

So the question is, Are you receiving the nourishment you need to live a life that truly matters? We can answer that question by checking our fruit.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Make no mistake, every disciple of Christ is absolutely dependent on Jesus for producing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Our source of life and spiritual fruit does not come from within ourselves. No matter how well we try to live and how hard we work, we simply cannot produce the fruit of the Spirit apart from staying connected to and receiving the sap from the Vine. Jesus laid blunt emphasis to this point, saying “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

This picture of the vine and the branches is as profound as it is personal. When the branch is separated from the vine, it dies; when it is connected to the vine, it lives. And all true branches bear good fruit, which is why Jesus says, “By their fruit you will know them” (Matthew 7:20).

Where have you been receiving your nourishment from lately? From the true Vine? Or from somewhere else? Only to the extent that you stay connected to Jesus will you live a life that will live on after you are gone — that is, a life that truly matters.

One final point: Pruning is necessary. Jesus said, “Every branch that does bear fruit [my Father] prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 15:2). To be sure, pruning is painful, but it is necessary. In order to maximize your potential in the service of your Lord, God, the great Gardner, must prune you, even if you are already fruitful, because He knows there is more you can produce.

If this finds you in a season of pruning, fear not! God is at work in you to make you more fruitful for His glory and for the good of others, including good for you!

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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