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About this series
The Four Great Invitations
Lessons from My First 50 Years with Jesus
Do you have a mentor? That one person with lots of life know-how you completely trust for sound wisdom and guidance? Well, if not, in this series, Chip will be that mentor for us as he shares some insightful experiences he’s learned from - through 5 decades of walking with Jesus. He’ll unpack how these lessons are rooted in 4 essential invitations Jesus challenged His disciples with throughout the Gospels. Don’t miss how these biblical insights can encourage, motivate and comfort you through all aspects of life.More from this series
So, as I start, I want you to listen very, very carefully. The Christian life is not a matter of doing more or behaving better. It’s a matter of going deeper. Let me say that again. The Christian life is not a matter of doing more or behaving better, but of going deeper.
If you were here in our last time together, I kind of ended it with the Christian life is not hard, it’s impossible. And so, here’s His invitation. Invitation number one: “Come to Me,” and the promise is peace. Invitation number two was, “Follow Me,” and the promise was purpose, direction, meaning, fulfillment.
And now you’ll notice in your notes at the very top, the blank is, “Abide in Me.” The promise is freedom, the promise is joy, the promise is power. It's – to abide literally means to stay connected to Jesus.
It’s so hard because there are three distractions. You might jot these down. Number one, the first one, why it’s hard to abide, is just write the word “distractions.” You are bombarded, I am bombarded, in fact, we carry distraction in our back pocket most of the time, don’t we? Buzz, buzz, blink, blink, blink, blink, right?
The second thing is distorted desires. In a fallen world, in other words, if you were riding in the Tour de France, as they are going up the steep, steep hills, they’re not saying, “I wonder why this is hard. It’s very, very steep.” I want you to know, as you live your faith and following Jesus, it’s uphill.
And then the third one is discouragement. The enemy’s number one goal is to get you to say, “I can’t do this. I am worth nothing. I am a failure. No one knows the thoughts I have inside. I can’t, I don’t think I can handle this anymore.” Or, “You know, I don’t want to quit, so I’ll just fake it, kind of.”
You’ll notice in your notes it says, “The context.” Put a circle around the word “context.” Anytime you get a passage, you want to know what came before it, what came after it, and why is it here? And the context is the chapters 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17 before what is right here.
In chapter 13, listen carefully, because we always think about the Lord’s Supper and Him washing their feet. But the very first line is, “I deeply desire to spend this time with you.” Jesus wanted to be with them. He washes their feet. Chapter 14, He desperately wants to be with them, so He says, “I’m going to leave, but I’m going to prepare a place for you because where I am, I want you to be with Me. And I promise you will be.”
Chapter 15, now they have taken a walk and as they have taken a walk and there are a number of things and there are vineyards, He pauses and what we are going to look at quickly is He is going to use a metaphor, a picture to say, “I am leaving physically, but I want you to stay connected to Me.”
And He’s going to say, “My Father is the vinedresser; I am the true vine, the hope of Israel, and if you stay connected to Me, in fact, everything that you have shared with Me when I was here physically, it’s going to be better.”
Chapter 16 says: how does it get better? Is, “The Holy Spirit is actually going to dwell in you and manifest not only My presence but the Father’s presence.” And then chapter 17, Jesus is praying for them and Jesus is praying for us even right now.
So, let’s imagine walking. We have sung a hymn, He has washed our feet, we don’t quite understand, we are a bit confused about this death that is coming. And He says, “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 it that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me,” here’s the invitation, “and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so 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,” result, “bears much fruit.” Why? “For apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away,” and then put a box around the next phrase, “as a branch,” I’ll explain why in a minute, “and dries up; and they gather them and they cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”
The promise, “If you abide Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
When you are connected to Him and He is connected to you, your desires will align with God’s desires and you’ll start asking Him things and you will see Him answer vividly and powerfully.
He goes on to say, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you;” now notice the shift, it’s, “abide in Me,” now it’s, “abide in my love.” Well, how do you do that? “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”
So, He [defines] this abiding not as just some ooey-gooey emotional feeling, but there’s this connection and there’s a connection that as we obey His Word, by the power of His Spirit, we abide in His love.
And then there’s a purpose clause. Why? What’s all this, what is the purpose of this abiding? “These things I have spoken to you that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”
I don’t know about many of you, but I don’t, at times, meet a lot of Christians that are really joyful. I meet a lot of Christians that talk about all their problems, all their struggles, how terrible the world is. This group of followers is going to go into the most hostile environment, eleven of them will sacrifice their lives. And the greeting card of the early Church in the midst of suffering and injustice and all kind of difficulty was this unquenchable, supernatural, non-understandable joy that they had. And it wasn’t because circumstances were good.
They had this connection - His presence, His personality, His comfort, His encouragement, even in the midst of what was happening there. But what has happened in our world is a subtle shift happened. And the shift that happened, especially in America and then it spread all over the place is that, actually, the real joy in life is if your life works out. You find the right person and you’re healthy and you’re upwardly mobile and things go your way and you have these expectations that it’ll be wonderful. And Jesus is sort of like your self-help genie that, “Jesus, help me get what I want.”
And a lot of people are deeply discouraged with God because He hasn’t come through. “I prayed about this, and I wanted that and I’m still single.” “I prayed about this, and I wanted that, but the company didn’t go public.” “I prayed about this, and I wanted that, but my kid didn’t make the traveling team, in fact, the coach was a jerk.” “I prayed…” right?
And kind of our hands are on our hips. And it’s like, “Hey, God, what’s wrong?” And we have missed what it means to abide.
And the Scripture teaches “In Your presence is fullness of joy, and at Your right hand are pleasures forever.” And don’t get me wrong, the gifts of God that He wants to give, He wants us to enjoy a good meal. He wants us to enjoy sex with our marital partner.
He wants us to be accepted and loved and find security. He wants us to have a job that we were made for and we are passionate about and brings great fulfillment. But all those things are gifts. And He says, “Where it starts is abiding in Me and Me in you.” The true vine, the great access to the Father, is Jesus.
And then this one line I do want you to get. “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away.” Your translation is a little bit different, but about eighty-five percent of the time that this word is translated in the New Testament, it means to lift up. It’s not a negative. It’s like a vine and there’s a branch on the ground. And so, He lifts it up and positions it so it can bear fruit. And the ones that are already bearing fruit, He does something that feels very painful, He prunes it and He cuts off some of the extraneous things so that it’ll bear fruit.
And then remember you put a box around, “If any branch in Me that doesn’t bear fruit”? He’s talking to followers.
He says, “They are burned and cast into the fire.” This is not a picture of a believer going to hell. Jot on the side of your notes, “1 Corinthians chapter 3.” And you can go study it a bit later. And what he says is that we all, once we have come to know Christ and His Spirit lives in us and our sins are forgiven and He lives in us, there is a judgment, not for our salvation, but there’s a judgment coming where we give an account for: What did we do with the life that God gave us? The time, the energy, the money, the spiritual gifts?
And he says at that judgment, the things that were done for Him with the right motive, there are rewards: gold, silver, and precious stones. But those things where He gave us things and we didn’t do anything with them, or we did things in order to impress people with the wrong motive, he says they are wood, hay, and stubble. And there’s this judgment that those things burn and he’s very quick to say, “But you will be saved as through fire. There’s a refining process.
So, Jesus is saying to them, “There’s a lot on the line. The only one that can live this life is Me. And the only one that can live it is when the Holy Spirit, dwelling in you, produces this life.”
And then you’ll notice, I just did a little study for you. I’m hoping that you’ll kind of dig in on your own and take it deeper.
But it says, “What did Jesus teach Peter and the disciples about abiding?” “If you abide in Me and My – what does it say? “My words abide in you, ask.” There’s this vertical relationship like breathing and we inhale God’s Word. And as we inhale God’s Word through teaching, through time alone with Him, by kind of reading the Scriptures slowly and quietly. Not to get my three chapters done and put a checkmark, but to say, “What do You want to say to me?”
Here’s the one thing I want you to get. The Christian life is about Jesus wanting to be with you. He wants to be with you. It’s a relationship, it’s not a duty. It’s not just reading the Bible or praying so long or talking. And then did you notice? After there’s this vertical relationship of Him manifesting His presence, He says, “Abide in My love just as I abide in My Father’s love.” And He talks about loving one another. So, there’s this connection.
What I want you to know is that everything we are going to talk about is impossible to do alone. You can’t do it and I can’t do it. Every command in the New Testament is in the second person plural. “You all love one another, you all honor one another, you all encourage one another.”
No one can live this life apart from God’s Word. The inhaling of the Scriptures and the exhaling of talking to God in honesty and intimacy and authenticity. God is never impressed with our words. He is always looking at our heart and He longs to be close to us.
In fact, He longs to be close to us in the times when we want to run away from Him. Your failure, your mistake, your difficulty, you blowing it for the thirty-third time and you don’t really want to pray – the moment you come honestly, “Oh, God, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” and you mean it, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted; He saves those that are crushed in spirit.” That’s what David could say after he committed murder and adultery.
And so, on the right side, I just put, you know, Peter and the disciples, what did they do early on? They heard all of this and they were confused, they were anxious, then they failed, right? They abandoned Him. Then they got hopeful, you know? And then His death, then they were – don’t think anything is going to happen. They were defeated.
Then they went to His Word after the resurrection. And they looked at some of those Old Testament promises and the things Jesus told them. And then they prayed. And as they waited, they received power. Then the Holy Spirit indwelt them.
And if you want to jot down Acts 2:42 to 47, you’ll find that there is a life-giving, powerful community where, on a regular, rhythmic way they gave their attention to the apostle’s teaching and to the prayers and to meeting from house to house and sharing a meal and loving one another and meeting the needs of the poor. And it said, “The Lord added to their number daily.” That’s the picture of abiding and how it is manifested.
If you turn to the back page, I put a little picture that I introduced last time. I didn’t grow up reading the Bible. I didn’t grow up in a church that taught the Bible. As I shared earlier, then I came to Christ just before I went away to college. There was a bricklayer that began to help me grow. I tried really hard in my effort and my energy to live the Christian life. Once I found out I couldn’t do it, I quit. At least I tried to quit. But Jesus wouldn’t quit.
And so, in the midst of that, I began to learn, okay, how do you abide? And those things that came out of John 15, notice there’s the Word and Prayer in this vertical relationship. You notice there’s Witnessing and Fellowship in the horizontal relationship. And it’s all about having Christ as the center. And then just as you learn and as I learn, obeying what you know. I put a few observations about this wheel. It serves as a guide in our personal growth as a basis for abiding. Notice a wheel is dynamic. It’s always moving. When it’s moving, you don’t see the spokes. It’s not about how much you pray or this or that. What happens is you begin to see Christ. The emphasis is on relationship.
The Christian life is not about sort of some self-help, like, “How am I growing and how am I doing? And am I praying enough? Am I reading enough? Am I doing this?” Here’s the Christian life: My focus is on Jesus. All those things are merely means. When you’re really struggling and when I’m really struggling, don’t start focusing more and more in. Start setting your eyes and your focus on Him. And I want to talk about how to do that practically, because I have heard people say that, you know, “Fix your eyes on Jesus,” and I thought, Great! What does that really mean? How do you really do that?
By the way, if you want the full wheel illustration with verses and how it all works out, just Google, “The Wheel Illustration,” It was developed by another high-school-educated person named Dawson Trotman, who started a ministry called The Navigators, a discipleship ministry. And that bricklayer was a part of The Navigators.
You know what it means to abide, right? It means to stay connected to Jesus. How do you abide? It has something to do with the Word and prayer and being connected to other believers and responding in love and obedience to what we know, right?
It's really, really hard to abide, because we all get distracted, right? We all have distorted desires. Satan is always offering and the world is always offering really, really good things in the wrong way or the wrong time. And so, we fall in love with the gift. “If so many people knew my name,” or, “If we went public,” or, “If I had a house or I had a second house,” or, you know, “If I…” Well, you know, “If my body looked better and…”
You know, we have all these things that if/when, if/when, if/when, if/when. And then if you ever do get them it’s like, “Ugh, they didn’t deliver.”
And God says those are all gifts. Those are all things I want to give when you understand, “Every good and perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation.” I want you to enjoy these things as gifts and give Me the credit and cause it to spur on our relationship.
Well, back to this wheel. I accidentally learned how to abide. Are you ready for this? It was a pure accident, and my motivation was carnal. That’s how kind God is.
So, I’m deciding I can’t quit the Christian life and my roommate was a wrestler and we were very competitive. He was a heavyweight wrestler, and I was the skinny point guard. And so, he was going to go to this training program put on by this group that does the wheel. And he had these sixty verses he had to memorize. And there were two verses, you know, two verses on God’s Word, two on Prayer, two on Obedience, and then there was another – sixty total.
And so, I thought, I’m going to do one a day. I’m going to have them mastered. I’m just going to walk in and go, “Hey, Bob! How you coming with the…”
But to go through all of them, you know, I’m a very over-the-top, zealous, nutty person. I remember doing this. I’d get next to my bed and, Oh God, oh God, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. Please, please, please, please, please. And I’m going to feel really bad about myself for about two days and then I’ll catch You later. It was sort of like whipping myself.
And I remember in this journey praying like that about a behavior that I was struggling with. And I didn’t know how that would work, but I remember getting up and thinking, I’ve been telling God how sorry I am and not changing over and over and over again. Because I didn’t know how to abide.
See, at the heart of abiding is honesty.