The Fruit and The Vine Agape 1

The Fruit and The Vine
AGAPE I

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:36-39 (ESV)

Fruit and the Vine

God’s benevolence and mercy towards man. Man’s devotion to or adoration of God. The benevolence, kindness, or brotherhood that man should rightfully feel towards others…this is agape, sorta. We can find definitions like this under love in pretty much all dictionaries but this only comes after the romantic and the erotic definitions. I wonder why that is? Is it because our vision of love can only come through our eyes first and we have bought into this notion that romance and sex are our only ways to express to love? Maybe it’s the lust of the flesh kinda love that say’s…”I really LOVE Starbucks Coffee Frappuccino’s with no whip and an extra shot of expresso”. Either way, man’s view of what love is always depends on the man (or woman)…don’t it?

The one thing that isn’t right when we look at the word love is that we tend to see it as a noun, like it is something tangible to grab onto but for the Christian it is and has to be a verb. So if agape is something we should rightfully feel towards another brother (or sister) then maybe we are missing the mark. I know I have, by a long shot. You see I was showing something that I was calling agape but inside, at times, I didn’t feel that agape should be given. This is my noun problem with the word. And even though I might be held to this line after I type it but the agape I should have been showing needed to be more of a reflex than something I thought exhibited I was a follower of Jesus Christ…spent too much on performance not on substance.

There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus was/is a Deuteronomical teacher and in the first part of His reply to the question, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” He demonstrates that with His reply from Deuteronomy 6:5. The idea is to love God, as John Gill puts it, with every measure He measures unto thee, do thou measure unto Him. So if God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life, which is His measure, than you best be using all strength, measured to you, to keep that in the forefront of your mind.

This totally flips the script on what the Pharisees wanted people to believe about the love of YHVH. What Jesus needed folks to understand is His Father’s love is not to be burdensome on us as if it was some downtrodden act of labor but that He wants us to be in the yoke with Him in His love. When we are yoked or “abiding” in Jesus then He is able to extend an unconditional love that He desires to share with us. Then once we experience this with the Savior, the Father will also be in that sense of agape as to be in agreement with the Son as He prayed in the 17th chapter of John’s Gospel.

So my first act of business is to go get me a yoke…no seriously the first act should be abiding. If I claim I’m Christian my first action has to be abiding in His agape, my next act is to apply agape to others so that the action and motion of His love does not just come to a dead end. I would like to cover that but that will be for another Freedom Fighter. I hope you’ll join me. Amen?

While writing this particular Freedom Fighter, my dear brother-in-Christ, James Getz, went home to be with The Savior. James just recently challenged me to exam the fruits of the Spirit in my life. The night I learned of his passing my wife and I were headed to a BBQ held by friends we go to Bible study with. As we assured each other that James made it home we found ourselves behind a red van with a bumper sticker that said…”Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”. Nough Said. – Chris Hughes is a graduate of the Colony of Mercy and a weekly Freedom Fighter blogger

Daily Bible Reading: Daniel 11-12

Think About This: “The Christian’s love for God has by some religious thinkers been divided into two kinds, the love of gratitude and the love of excellence. But we must carry our love to God further than love of gratitude and love of excellence. There is a place in the religious experience where we love God for Himself alone, with never a thought of benefits.”—A.W. Tozer

Life’s Surprises

Life’s Surprises

 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ Matthew 25:40

One of the surprises of life for me over the years has been the blessing of meeting some of God’s children who have special needs.

Bill  and Donald

In our home church in Philly there was a man by the name of Billy Meyers who faithfully stood at the door each week helping to greet people. Billy had some physical challenges – but his mind was sharp as can be.

During my time at Sandy Cove I had the privilege of meeting brothers and sisters who were residents at Echoing Hills, a Christ-centered care facility for folks with special needs. Many of them had cerebral palsy. Their bodies were twisted, many of them were in wheel chairs. Some of them drooled all over. For some reason, it never bothered me.  They touched my life in a special way. There was a love for God that was indescribable. And many of them couldn’t really articulate what was in there hearts.

Meet my friend, Donald. His caregiver has been bringing him to our Young at Heart conference. Most people shy away from him because he is different. His speech is really limited – mostly yes and no. He recently came and drew me a picture – it looks like something drawn by a pre-schooler, but it is a picture I will cherish.

This past week Donald was here for our Young at Heart conference. He was very animated throughout the week and you could tell he was having a great time. On Wednesday night we were singing the senior’s favorites and someone called out Jesus Loves Me.

I was moved to tears when I looked down and saw Donald with the biggest smile on his face singing EVERY word of this simple little kid’s song. Somehow despite his physical and mental challenges he comprehended this simple truth.

A famous theologian was asked to summarize the greatest truth of the Bible. To his audience he responded, “Jesus loves me this I know.

Some people don’t know how to handle people who are physically and mentally challenged and choose to stay clear of them. If you have never availed yourself of God’s special children – don’t pull away – embrace them and learn from them. You might just be surprised. – Dr. Bill Welte is President/CEO of America’s Keswick

Daily Bible Reading: Daniel 9-10

Think About This: If we fail to comprehend how much we are loved by God then there will be no energy to turn the machinery of our lives in the way [it was] meant to turn. Selwyn Hughes

This Week’s Verse to Memorize: I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.  On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Psalm 63:5-6

Excuse Me, Sir

Excuse Me, Sir

“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. Matthew 7:14

If someone came to you asking for directions, could you help them? I mean without the assistance of your apparatus or map. What are the prerequisites that would qualify you?

Excuse Me, Sir

(Apparatus- the technical equipment or machinery needed for a particular activity or purpose.) Without these we can be helpless.

(Prerequisite- a thing that is required as a prior condition for something else to happen or exist.) With these we are effective.

So, for me to give directions would mean I am familiar with the area and could direct this person to his desired destination.

What if someone who knows the Lord but has gotten off tract comes to you for guidance, then what? Are you ready? Of course we could refer them to an “expert” or tell them they need counseling, but what if they just need directions to get back to the road? I understand that there are certain people with the “gift” of council but what are the prerequisites of giving directions? For me it’s as simple as, if I’ve been there I should know how to get there.

Where do you go when you lost? I don’t mean unsaved but maybe you’ve traveled a road that lead you astray, after all like the song says “Prone to wander…” Have you ever had to ask for directions back to the “narrow path”?

Jesus instructs His disciples to be careful because “broad is the way that leads to destruction”. This path, if not traveled frequently can be hard to recover. I heard of a story of tribal Christians that had a routine of going into the jungle to spend time with the Lord. Each man had his own place and as the story goes, if that man’s path was over grown his buddies would know he hasn’t been down there recently. It may take some help to recover that “narrow path”.

I love the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, and the teaching Jesus gives to His Disciples in the two chapters that follow. Maybe you can direct a man who is “off tract” to a scripture that you are familiar with, that God used to redirect your journey. It’s a great opportunity and will minister to you as well. Maybe we should make sure we have our “prerequisites” in order. And by the way, it’s not wrong to use your “apparatus” if needed. Deuteronomy 31:8 – Rob Russomano serves full-time at America’s Keswick and is a graduate of the Colony of Mercy

Daily Bible Reading: Daniel 3-4

Think About This: As a pilot calls on winds and a storm-tossed mariner looks homeward, so the times call on you to win your way to God. As God’s athlete, be sober; the stake is immortality and eternal life. Ignatius

This Week’s Verse to Memorize: [Now] we have this [hope] as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul [it cannot slip and it cannot break down under whoever steps out upon it—a hope] that reaches farther and enters into [the very certainty of the Presence] within the veil … Hebrews 6:19

Aslan is on the Move!

Aslan is on the move!

Sorry if I’m a late bloomer, but I have never explored the writings of C.S. Lewis. I was challenged by my Biblical literary professor to read the works of C.S. LewisAslan is on the move

Early in the book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I noticed that the children had imagined being different animals. That caught my eye initially, and I realize later that there is a reason for that. Sure enough, when they entered the world of Narnia, the Beaver announced, “Aslan is on the move.” Even though they had never met him, it sparked in each one of the children a different response because they are different: different in character, different in emotions, and at different stages in life. In addition, like the children, we also have a different response when life presents new endeavors.

In looking at the parallels between Narnia and the Bible, Aslan represents the person of Christ in the storyline of Narnia. And when each child responded differently, I began to wonder about how we each react to Christ. So, I pose a question for you: What was your response to when you first heard of Christ?

We all come to Christ in different conditions, and from all walks of life. And it’s good to remember that because of our differences our walks do not always look the same.

For me, in short, I was a shattered glass, broken in many pieces. Christ came in and began to place each piece of me back together as if I were a puzzle. He completed and mended all the damage that life inflicted. Hallelujah, what a savior!

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” (Ephesians 1:13)

The Lord offers the great news of salvation. Furthermore, the great news reinforces that as a believer you are sealed in Christ, never to be let go. What an awesome thought!

Prayer: Thank you Lord for generously providing the Holy Spirit, and giving us the promise that exempts us from destruction, but establishing us forever; eternally with you.  – Juan Mendez is a graduate of the Colony of Mercy and serves full-time at America’s Keswick

Daily Bible Reading: Daniel 1-2

Think About This: When the Spirit, the word and the providence of God agree we can be quite certain that the Lord is leading us, for these three always agree and are in harmony and cannot disagree. George Muller

This Week’s Verse to Memorize: [Now] we have this [hope] as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul [it cannot slip and it cannot break down under whoever steps out upon it—a hope] that reaches farther and enters into [the very certainty of the Presence] within the veil … Hebrews 6:19

Have You Been Called to Moriah?

Have You Been Called To Moriah?

“Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”— Genesis 22:2 (NKJV)

Have you Been Called to Moriah

There are some words in Christianity that really feel comfortable with folks but nothing causes discomfort more than the word “obedience”. I thought it was surrender at one point but as my walk has gone along I found that surrender can only segway into obedience. And if you stop at surrender and don’t go the distance into obedience you may need to examine the reason why. After all delayed obedience is really disobedience isn’t it? We could even say that it is easier to give up than to go on…hmm.

If we were to take a look at Abraham while he was still Abram we would see a man who was called by YHVH to leave behind everything that was familiar to him, “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” (Gen 12:1) Then we would see a man that responded to it pretty quickly. He surrenders his comfort zone, obeys YHVH’s command and along the journey YHVH show’s him the Promised Land. Now let’s do a Biblical fast forward and get to something that becomes a most cherished item for the now Abraham…Isaac. Isaac represents the fulfillment of a promise of YHVH and that was no laughing matter for Abraham (maybe for Sarah, sorry had to take a jab at her doubt).

Then YHVH does something that will be the ultimate test of any God-fearing father, He instructs Abraham to sacrifice his son. When you look at it in Scripture it’s pretty cut and dry. No way out, no wiggle room…nada! And Abraham does the same thing that he did when he was Abram, he responded quickly and he didn’t argue. It took three days to get Moriah and Abraham remained sustained during the journey, even though I’m sure his mind was racing with the thought of losing his son. He and Isaac leave the servants behind once they got to that place of sacrifice and went to do business with YHVH; Abraham remained obedient while being left alone. (Sidebar: What you are when you’re alone is what you are, agreed?)

And as we read along in the 22nd chapter of Genesis we get to verses 9-12 and can see what the end result is. Out of Abraham’s faith in obedience we see YHVH-Jireh showing Himself mighty and wise. I am quite sure Abraham got Holy Spirit goose bumps at that moment but I don’t think the rich, young ruler got them when Jesus told him to sell everything that he cherished and brought him comfort. “Are you kidding me Jesus? I got a lot invested in that!!” I bet a multitude of jaws fell to the ground when Jesus said, “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.” (Matt 10:37) These are idea’s that “Americanized Christianity” cannot and do not grasp because it’s too occupied with the next “American Idol” isn’t it?

So, have you been called to Moriah? Simple question but do we hear it being asked? Have we become so desensitized or familiar with the things of God that all we do is show up on Sunday and wait for the Pastor to give his message so we can move on to the next thing…like watching a football game on FOX? (I better be careful there, I am an Eagles fan) Job displayed the right attitude when he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” You see the main point outta all of this is you obey YHVH’s leading and He will provide, no sacrifice necessary. If it’s gotta go…it’s gotta go, period. My hope is that I learn not to argue with YHVH when the times comes, over and over again. I pray that this is your desire as well, Amen? – Chris Hughes is a graduate of the Colony of Mercy and blogs weekly for Freedom Fighters

Daily Bible Reading: Esther 7-10

Think About This: “If you allow yourself to have only simple and uncomplicated desires, you will be more pleasing to God than if you died the death of a hundred martyrs. Turn your anxieties to the fact that you have delayed in offering this sacrifice of simplicity to God. Can true love hesitate when the Well-Beloved asks?”—Fenelon

This Week’s Verse to Memorize: [Now] we have this [hope] as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul [it cannot slip and it cannot break down under whoever steps out upon it—a hope] that reaches farther and enters into [the very certainty of the Presence] within the veil … Hebrews 6:19

Why Should We Care? Our Environment

Why should we care? Our Environment

Genesis 1:21  – So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Graeme 1

 

I recently watched a documentary called “Mission Blue” on Netflix. The documentary chronicled the life of Dr. Sylvia Earle, a prized oceanographer. The feature gave a detailed look at her life studying and now advocating the protection of our oceans and marine life.

As I watched this movie, highlighting scenes of underwater video, I couldn’t help but be taken back by God’s creation. The incredible panoramas of fish of all shapes and sizes and coral reefs with colors that could mesmerize your eyes, they were spectacular.

As the documentary ran to a close it highlighted the damage man has done over the last five or six decades. How over 50% of our world’s coral reefs are now gone, and gave a list of fish almost existent from over- fishing.

I must tell you after watching that I had two immediate knee-jerk reactions. 1) A conviction over the way I personally treated something so beautiful that God had created and 2) a sense of guilt for even giving a rat’s tail about the environment at all.

“I know who made the environment and he’s coming back and going to burn it all up. So yes, I drive an SUV.” ~Mark Driscoll

Now you may have read this and asked yourself why I would say that. You see, since my younger youth I have been brought up in Christian circles to believe the exact sentiment highlighted in the quote above from Mark Driscoll.  That caring for things like science, global warming, and animal rights were “hippie” causes that didn’t matter to the “Christian.”

Colossians 1:16-17 – For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

Why should we care? Because He cares…

The Bible is painted with scriptures highlighting the beauty and importance of God’s creation and how it is “created by him and for him.” Now if God has created this earth for his enjoyment, why are we so quick to pass it off as a non-essential and neglect and mistreat it?

Now I am not here to give you an itemized list of the five recycling practices you need to implement nor am I here to be an example of someone who is doing all the right things in this area. What I am here to do is to try and start the conversation because I’m doing the same with myself.

My own personal goal is to continue to become more and more Christ-like, which entails caring about the things HE cares about. If He’s created the birds of the air, the beasts of the fields and the fish of sea I believe it’s my/our job to do what I can to preserve that for HIS glory.

If you’re someone who has already begun taking strides in preserving our planet, what are some tips that can help us get started?

Graeme Wilson – Director of Marketing at America’s Keswick

www.mission-blu.org

Daily Bible Reading: Esther 4-6

Think About This: I cannot imagine a much greater misfortune for a man (not to say a clergyman) than not to know, or knowing, not to minister to, any of the poor. George MacDonald

This Week’s Verse to Memorize: [Now] we have this [hope] as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul [it cannot slip and it cannot break down under whoever steps out upon it—a hope] that reaches farther and enters into [the very certainty of the Presence] within the veil … Hebrews 6:19

Is Your Bucket Full or Empty?

Is Your Bucket Full or Empty?

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:11

I am working through Bill Hybels new book, Simplify … Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul published by Tyndale. I am not necessarily a Bill Hybels fan, so if you don’t like him – please don’t write me letters :)

How Full is Your Bucket

The question he raised which is a good one to think through is what is your life like when your bucket is full and what is your life like when your bucket is empty?

Some of us are by nature wired that we view life through the lens of a glass half full while others are wired to look at life through a half empty glass.

Hybels asks several questions about our “bucket” that are worth asking:

  • What does your life feel like when your energy bucket is filled to the brim?
  • What does it feel like when you’re filled up with God, when you are connected to Jesus Christ?
  • What does it feel like when things in your family are running on all cylinders? When your schedule is sane? When you are eating right, exercising, sleeping?
  • What sort of things fills your bucket? What refuels you? What activities or engagements restore your energy levels?
  • What do you need to do to start pouring new streams of replenishment into a depleted life?
  • What relationships inspire you?
  • What do you read that elevates your perspective?

I would suggest that we need to take a good hard look at answering these questions. If you and I are not careful, our bucket will empty with all the wrong things vs. good things.

As I have been thinking about my bucket, the primary thing that should fill our buckets is God and God alone. In Psalm 107:8-9, David reminds us: “Let them praise the Lord for His great love and for the wonderful things he has done for them. For HE satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.”

What is filling your bucket, brother? What are the characteristics of your life when your bucket is full? – Bill Welte is President/CEO of America’s Keswick

Daily Bible Reading: Esther 1-3

Think About This: Let the Bible fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Henrietta C Mears

This Week’s Verse to Memorize: [Now] we have this [hope] as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul [it cannot slip and it cannot break down under whoever steps out upon it—a hope] that reaches farther and enters into [the very certainty of the Presence] within the veil … Hebrews 6:19