Jesus Prays

John 17

This is the longest recorded prayer of Jesus in the entire New Testament.  Jesus is clearly one who prays a great deal, and we can gain a great deal of insight into prayer in this chapter.  For the purpose of these notes, I will attempt to resist the temptation to engage in theological discussion or analysis of what the prayer consists of or what this or that “means” from a theological point of view, instead I hope to focus more on what we can learn about prayer itself.  A good point of beginning is to take notice of Jesus’ posture as He prays; note that He is not sitting quietly with bowed head and closed eyes but rather is looking heavenward with eyes wide open.  In fact, He is most likely standing with the disciples, and if you take note of His language, it might seem that He is not speaking in a very quiet voice at all.  Of course, we might say that our traditional posture results in a contrast because Jesus is the second person of the Godhead while we are not.  Might not this view overlook the fact that we are His co-heirs?  Well, it’s food for thought anyway…

Jesus opens this prayer by praying for God’s purpose to be fulfilled; this is and has been the principle focus of Jesus throughout His ministry.  Praying for God’s purpose to be fulfilled is entirely consistent with the idea that the fulfillment of God’s purpose is the reason for His being on the earth in the first place, and by extension is also consistent with the idea that this same purpose is our reason for being His disciples.  Throughout this Gospel, Jesus has used the expression “glorify” to refer to His death and resurrection, His work of atonement on the cross, and this is not different here.  Being thus “glorified” is God’s ultimate purpose for Jesus. Returning to the glory of heaven as He was before coming to this world is indicative of His having completed His work (purpose) in the world.

In 6-19, Jesus is interceding for His disciples.  He will complete His work of “glorification” very shortly and return to the Father, but they will remain in this world and they will have a rough time of it here. In a way, this section reads almost like a report, for Jesus repeats three of the things that He has just taught the disciples in chapters 14-16.  Keep in mind, that while we have been looking at these things over a period of weeks, and they cover the last few chapters, chapters 14-17 all occur in one place in one evening over a short span of time; a dinner.  Those three things that He repeats here are: 1) the belief that Jesus came from God (16:30); 2) the promise of complete joy (16:24); and 3) the coming hate of the world (15:18).  Then He prays for God to protect them as Jesus has protected them.  It is instructive for us to note that this “protection” was not always to protect them from the harm that the world might inflict upon them, and the book of Acts records quite a bit of that harm.  Indeed, nearly all of them would eventually be killed by the world.  The “protection” that was provided for them was a protection of their faith and their message, the two things that enabled them to serve God’s purpose.

Verses 20-26 are broken into two smaller sections, the first of which is vv. 20-23.  In these verses, Jesus is praying for the unity of all believers so that the world may see it and believe their message.  The message is the point, for it is trough their message that they have received that the gospel will be spread and the commission He left them with (Matt. 28:18-20) will be accomplished; it is the purpose of God again. The second section within these verses is vv. 24-26 where Jesus prays for all believers in their ultimate destination: eternity with Him.  Note that there is a comparison in all of this:  Jesus is in the world to accomplish the purpose for which God sent him, and then He returns to God’s heavenly presence.  The believer is in the world to accomplish the purpose for which God has placed him there and then goes to God’s heavenly presence with Christ.  This is our purpose, our challenge and our destiny.  Jesus has taken this seriously enough to die on the cross, the Apostles took it seriously enough to suffer and die for their message: How seriously do we take it?

Jesus has taught the disciples that they will have a powerful prayer life; that anything they ask for in His name will be given them.  Each time He has spoken on this point, the context has been doing God’s work; serving God’s purpose.  You will have noticed by now that every aspect of this prayer is in this same context: God’s eternal purpose.  Our prayers are powerful things, how much more powerful they could be if they were for God’s purpose to be accomplished rather than that we get the things we want?

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To Return Home

When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion,
We were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
And our tongue with singing.
Then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
And we are glad.

Psalm 126:1-3 (NKJV)

David wrote of the time when the captives were able to return to their homeland, to Zion, the mountain where the Lord made His dwelling. He wrote of the pure joy of returning home, to the place where God made His dwelling in the midst of His people; the people were filled with laughter, so great was their happiness. The surrounding nations could see what God had done for them, for indeed, God had done great things for His people.

Have you ever been taken into captivity spiritually? Have you ever felt as though you have been taken far from the place where God dwells in the midst of His people? I’ve had those times, too. Maybe you’re in such a place right now…

For most of us, we don’t come into such a predicament because we were carried off by a foreign army, more likely it was by a series of choices; it might even have taken place because of unwise choices made by other people… and there we are, out in the wilderness alone.

Yet, the good news is that we don’t have to stay in captivity; we can go home again. For the Israelites, going home was a tough thing to do involving an arduous journey, and that might be the case for some of us as well, but God saw them through their trials, and will see us through ours.

There is nothing better in this life than to be in the place where God dwells in the midst of His people; do we really want to stay away for another day?

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Things Will Be Different

John 16:16-24

Jesus is continuing His “Farewell Discourse” here, and today’s text is a continuation of what He was saying in our previous text.  You might recall that we ended last time with verse 16 as transition from His discussion about the Holy Spirit into His discussion of the death, burial and resurrection. We will begin with verse 16 not only as transition but as the determining verse relative to the context and subject to be discussed in the remainder of chapter 16.

Although I always try to avoid discussing Greek words and grammar in these lessons, it is unavoidable here, for the English translation in the NIV (and most other English translations) does not note the fact that while we see the English word “see” twice in this verse, two different Greek verbs are used and translated “see.” We need to recognize that in English, the word “see” can mean two different things.  It can mean to comprehend as in “…oh yes, I see what you mean.” Or it can mean that I physically see something as in “…do you see that house over there?” In verse 16, the first “see” is the Greek verb theoreo from which we get our English word theory.  It generally means to observe or to experience visually.  The second “see” is the Greek word horao which means to see in a broader sense.  John has used it several times already in this Gospel (1:18,34,51; 6:46; 11:40) more in the sense of ‘seeing spiritually’ or comprehending.  While these two words are reasonably close synonyms, the difference here is telling; it’s as though Jesus were telling them that they soon would not be able to see him with their eyes (death, burial) but shortly they will realize who He is and what He has done (resurrection).  This double meaning will continue through this passage; it will continue along the lines of He will then be taken from their sight for a time (ascension) and then will return to sight (Second Coming) where even unbelievers will “get it.”

The disciples are buzzing; they are not caught in any great eschatological debate for they still are confused about His imminent departure.  Jesus doesn’t wait for the question and asks it Himself.  Notice that this is the third time it is repeated in a very short span of verses; this is no coincidence, for it would appear that John is putting great emphasis on the statement. Even today we take comfort from the fact that we will see Jesus in a little while.

In verses 20-22, Jesus combines two contrasting emotions: Grief and joy.  Their grief will result in a paralyzing fear that causes them to scatter and hide, but not for very long.  They will then be filled with a joy that will remain with them even in times of severe trial, for they will understand His promises.  Going a little further, He illustrates this by reminding them of the pain and agony that a woman endures during childbirth.  Upon the arrival of the child, her grief and pain are all but forgotten, so filled with joy is she when she sees her baby.

Now in 23-24 we again have a little problem with English.  This time the confusion is in the word “ask.”  The first “ask” is translated from a Greek word meaning to ask a question while the second three “asks” are from a Greek word that means to make a request.  In the first case, they will not ask Him questions because a) they will comprehend much more, and b) the Holy Spirit will be in place to provide understanding.  In the second three cases, He is once again making reference to the fact that they will enjoy a very powerful prayer life.  He also mentions the aspect of joy, a joy that will remain with them.  It is important to notice the connection between “joy” and the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

John 16:25-33

Jesus is admitting to them that He has often spoken to them figuratively, but that time is coming to an end.  The Father will not answer their future prayers as a favor to Jesus, nor will they ask Jesus and Jesus will ask the Father.  Their petitions will be going directly to the Father, for the Father loves them Himself.  After Jesus is crucified and has risen from the dead, they will have a relationship with the Father.  Please understand that this was a revolutionary statement. For those who respond in love to their belief in Jesus Christ, relationship with the Father is restored, thus completing the circle of Redemption History that began in the Garden of Eden. Before the Fall, Adam had fellowship with God: the redeemed in Christ have fellowship with God.

It seems from verses 29-30 that the disciples have finally understood that Jesus is in fact the Son of God, but Jesus still isn’t so sure.  Most translations make Jesus’ statement in v. 31 a question, as does the Greek.  He then once more points out that they will have a very rough time, but expresses the hope that they will find peace because of His warnings.  He ends the discourse with the great statement that He has overcome the world.  Theologically speaking, Jesus overcame the world because He overcame death itself.  He arose from the dead, never again to die and in so doing defeated Satan.  This is something that we say over and over in Sermons, books, lectures and classes… but how did this defeat Satan?  Isn’t Satan still very busy even now?

Here is how Jesus defeated Satan:  When He died on the cross, He paid the price for our sins; so far so good, right?  Then He arose from the dead… yes we all know that as well.  Here’s the critical point:  Because He paid the price for sin and established a New Covenant between Man and God, He paved the way for us to receive the gift of eternal life.  Have you entered into the New Covenant?  If so, you have received the gift of eternal life which means that even though you will die one day, you will live forever because the limitations of our physical bodies will not limit our ability to live, we will simply be transformed at the point of separation from our bodies to a new kind of existence.  As Paul put it: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Satan maintains his influence and control over men because they fear death.  When a people love God and have no reason whatever to fear death, Satan has no means by which to control them, for even if governments or empires murder and torture, they have no particular reason to change their beliefs or teachings for death has no hold on them.  When I was a youth and I read the Gospel accounts, in the back of my mind was the thought that it was all well and good for Jesus to bravely endure the cross because He knew in advance how the story ended.  Well, what Jesus is telling us in the last verse is that we also know how the story ends.  The result is that even under persecution and death, the community of believers would grow so large and become so influential that the Roman Empire itself would be transformed to Christianity.  The same is true today, for even though the world may oppose the church, it cannot destroy it because we know that the grave itself will never be able to hold us. This is how Satan’s grip is lost on Mankind; there will always be a remnant that will refuse to follow him in rebellion against God. Jesus has overcome the world, and in Him so have we.

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A Visit to the Ark Encounter

Last week on our way home, we met our son, daughter-in-law and four grandchildren in Williamstown, Kentucky for a visit to the Ark Encounter, and I have a few thoughts to share with you about our experience…

If you aren’t familiar with it, the Ark Encounter is a life-sized recreation of Noah’s ark that was put together several years ago by Ken Ham and his team to teach about Creation and the great flood found in Genesis and is in the same park as Mr. Ham’s Creation Museum.

Within the ark, along with background music and air conditioning, you will find a number of exhibits showing what life might have been like during the flood, along with exhibits showing how the animals might have been kept, cared for and fed throughout this period. There are also exhibits about the pre-flood world, how the ark might have been built and the post-flood world. Notice that I have said “might have been” a couple of times− obviously nobody really knows these things for certain, and that also applies to the exterior appearance of the ark itself. Since there is no way for anyone in the 2st century to know these things for sure, the developers had to make their best educated guesses for these things: That is reasonable and understood.

There are a few dinosaurs on the ark, along with other creatures that are more familiar, something that struck me as odd, and animal species are split into “kinds”. For example, there were a pair of the “deer kind” which after the flood developed into all of the species of deer that we know today through some sort of process that I’m not quite clear about.

OK, maybe I’m nit-picking.

I guess what I’m really getting to is that there is some interesting theology going on in the ark.

Were the people in Noah’s time really vastly advanced technologically and that technology was lost in the flood so that Mankind kind of had to start all over again? I must admit that is an intriguing theory, but I’m not sure we have any Scriptural guidance on it. Did the Roman gladiators fight dinosaurs in the arena? Hmmm…

There are a lot of little things like that which, frankly, left me a bit queasy after a while… but that’s just me being a victim of my training, I suppose.

For me, the best part was the movie explaining how they made the ark; that was quite a job, and the woodworking inside by Amish craftsmen is truly something to see.

Would I recommend a visit?

The people working there were amazing; polite, helpful and friendly; that’s big plus. If you want to try and visualize what the ark might have been like, and just the sheer scale of the thing: Yes. If you are looking for sound theology: Not so much.

Here I am with my pal Babe Ruth. I’m the one dressed like a bank robber

The next day, all of us went to the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory in nearby Louisville− you know, where they make baseball bats. I give that one 5 stars… go, take the family to see that, the kids will love it- you can actually swing Babe Ruth’s bat, or Willie Mays’ bat…

Yep, that’s the place for you!

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About the Counselor

John 16:5-16

In 15:1-17 Jesus taught the disciples about relationships within the community of believers and instructed them it would be characterized by love.  In 15:18-16:4 He taught about the relationship between the community of believers and the world, saying that it would be characterized by hate.  Here he returns to giving practical instruction about the coming era that includes more specific information about the working of the Holy Spirit.

Verse 5 raises the question in the mind of the casual reader of whether or not Jesus is mistaken in saying that they have not asked Him where He was going before, for Peter had asked more or less directly, and Thomas had also done so by implication.  It would seem that Jesus was not considering these instances because they were mouthed without understanding of what they were asking, for they had no clue that His journey would be a spiritual one. He explains to them that He must go away before the Holy Spirit can come to them.  This is not because they cannot be there at the same time, but because He must pay the penalty for their sins on the cross before they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, for this is the eternal purpose of God and His primary mission on this earth.  Put another way, Jesus came to the earth to go to the cross; only then does the Counselor come to the redeemed.

In chapter 14, Jesus presented the Counselor as the defense attorney for the disciples.  Here He continues the legal analogy with the Counselor being portrayed as the prosecuting attorney against the world. He portrays this in three ways: First, the Holy Spirit will convict the world of its unbelief.  Second, the Spirit will convict the world concerning the righteousness of Jesus.  Third, the Spirit will convict the world of its own guilt and coming judgment.  Just as the “Prince of this World” is defeated and destroyed by Jesus’ death and resurrection, so the world will be convicted in the coming judgment because light has come but they preferred darkness.

In verses 12-15, Jesus continues to teach the disciples about the work of the Holy Spirit in guiding them in the future, here discussing three more works.  First, the Spirit will guide them “into all truth.” In the coming apostolic community, truth would not be determined by mere human logic or recollection, but guided by the Holy Spirit.  Consider this: God has sent His Son to the earth to teach and testify to the truth.  Then the Son must die on the cross for our sins.  Will God trust the telling of this story and the teaching of the truth to the faulty memories of men?  No, He will provide the Holy Spirit to ensure that the story of Jesus’ life and recitation of His teachings are secure and accurate.  Second, the Spirit will pass on “only what he hears” to the disciples (apostles).  Only what comes directly from God will be given to them as the truth.  Third, the Spirit will continue the work of glorifying Father and Son by revealing Jesus Christ as the Son of God.  This provides a unity of purpose between Father, Son and Spirit with a strong link to God’s original purpose of sending His Son to the earth, a linkage that continues into the eternal future and coincides with our purpose for being born and redeemed as well.

Verse 16 is a transition into the next section which will be our subject for next time.  Jesus will shortly be arrested and crucified and they will see Him no more.  It is as though He is saying to them that they should take heart and have courage, for He will be back very shortly to confirm all that He is telling them, and of course this promise is borne out by history.

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Photo of the Week: July 8, 2020

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Mob Rule and the Destruction of History

Reader Advisory: This is an Opinion Piece that expresses the view of its author. If you are likely to be upset by a view of recent events that may differ from your own, please stop reading now, and we’ll see you tomorrow. If, however, you are not offended by a diversity of opinion then please feel free to continue, and for best results, please begin with the Prologue to this piece, if you haven’t already read it.

Over the past month or so, we Americans have borne witness to some rather bizarre cultural twists and turns that followed the horrific murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman as a few of his fellows stood by watching: I hope they throw the book at those guys.

I was, as you know by now, on a road trip when all of this began, and the first I heard in the wake of this was the controversy about whether or not the name of Fort Lee should be changed. I still haven’t figured out what the connection between the two might be, but nevertheless, that was the first thing I heard while on the road. As recently as this morning I heard reports about the need to take the name Lee out of the name of Washington and Lee University, where Robert E. Lee is buried and where he was the University’s President at the time of his death.

There are many places in the Southeastern United States named after Confederate heroes, it isn’t just General Lee, but let’s just take him as an example…

Robert E. Lee was an honorable man by all accounts who possessed many admirable qualities personally, and who is said by many to have been a great military tactician, and most of the history of the American Civil War would tend to bear that out, although he was not infallible. Prior to the war however, he was an officer in the US Army, a graduate of West Point, and was actually offered overall command of US forces at the outset of that war, but he chose to renounce his oath of allegiance to the United States and chose instead to take up arms against the US, and if that doesn’t make him and so many others like him, traitors then I simply don’t know what to say! I too have taken that oath 3 times, and if I took up arms against my country the only thing they might name after me is the prison cell I rotted in. Yes, I know that he felt his first allegiance was to his state, but his oath was to the United States.

Fine, change the names if you want; Who cares about a name?

Then the mob began terrorizing cities, tearing down statues, setting fires, throwing bricks… while local officials did nothing to stop them, and while the police, whose job it is to enforce the law and maintain public safety stood around and watched. In Seattle, the mob was allowed to occupy a significant part of that city, and calls for help from citizens often went ignored as the mayor declared it a new summer of love.

Well, it was a summer of love until the mob came for her that is, then she morphed into a law and order mayor.

I’m sure I don’t need to mention any more instances; you’ve all heard the reports. The point I’m trying to illustrate is that when those who are in positions of public trust refuse to stand up to the mob, then the mob rules the day, and in way too many places this summer, our public servants have let the mob rule the cities they are responsible for making safe for their citizens.

What really amazes me is that in more than one of these cities, these elected officials are up for re-election, and in November, they will win their elections in spite of their negligent disregard of their duty. Have I mentioned that they are all members of the same political party? Do you see other members of that party denouncing what has been going on?

Not so much, for the mob is helping their cause in this election year, and in the process, it is wiping away their party’s shameful history as the Party of Slavery, Segregation, Jim Crow and the KKK.

Yep, it makes me a little crazy to watch this.

Four years ago, I began posting a weekly series on the history of Progressivism, and if you were around back then I suggested my theory that we have been locked in an ideological struggle between Progressivism and Classical Liberalism for more than a century. I suggested then that we are gridlocked politically because there are no more compromises to made, and that the USA cannot really move forward again until somebody wins, and somebody loses. I stopped posting on the subject rather suddenly because I could see that I didn’t need to post about it, for it was playing out right in our living rooms on the evening news for all to see.

Just think about what’s been gong politically over the last four years: The Russia hoax, which although discredited is still being played. The ever-growing thought police making everything racist, sexist, homophobic, and diversity of opinion into assault. The idiotic Ukraine story that led to a shamelessly fraudulent Impeachment, and my personal favorite, the politicizing of the COVID pandemic… and now the attempt to sanitize the history of the Party.

I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the idea. Yes, I could be entirely wrong: I’ll admit that, but I doubt it. If nothing else, this is going to be a very interesting year to watch. Happily, whether I turn out to be right or wrong, my hope is entirely placed in Christ, and not in the crazy world we are living in these days: In the end, justice will be done, evil will be but a distant memory, and tears and pain will cease forever.

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Hated by the World

John 15:18-6:4

While the first 17 verses of chapter 15 discuss relationships within the Christian community, verses 18 and following discuss the relationship between the Christian community and the outside world.  In the first instance, the relationship is characterized by love, but in the second it is characterized by hate.  This is a new reality that the disciples must deal with, one that exists to this day. To begin to understand this phenomenon, we must remind ourselves that the world Jesus speaks of is continuing to live in rebellion against God.  Jesus brought this contrast between God and Rebellion into the harsh light of day and the people didn’t like it, and His disciples will soon do the same thing with the same result.  We too will make this contrast easy to see if we live according to His teachings, and in doing so we will also cause some to believe and be saved, but the majority will not appreciate our work.  For this reason, Christians in “tolerant” America are ridiculed in the press, movies and television, and are sometimes singled out in the public square for derision.

Christians are not “of this world” but instead “our citizenship is in heaven.” (Phil. 3:18-20) The world we live in today is “post-modern” meaning that the overriding standard of morality is what is right for me.  Post-modernism doesn’t allow anyone to say that something is “right” or “wrong” absolutely and calls on individuals to seek that which is right for them and demands “tolerance” from everyone else.  Obviously, post-modernism is not the philosophical basis of the Bible, and as we all know many people have a hard time listening to anyone tell them differently.  This entire philosophy demonstrates that most people do not wish to be reconciled to God, or as Jesus put it, to “know the One who sent me.”

As a result of Jesus’ ministry, the world was left “without excuse.”  He has spoken the truth of sin, death, right and wrong, and He topped it all off by confirming His teachings with miraculous signs so that there would be no way for anyone to claim that His teachings were simply another random philosophy: They were the very words of God.  As a result, rebellious humanity in large part hated both Jesus and His Father, as the prophets had foretold.

Jesus reminds the disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit. Note that this is not a teaching about the Holy Spirit as much as it is teaching about what their responsibility would be.  The presence of the Holy Spirit is beneficial in a great many ways, but it doesn’t mean that we have no work to do; our part is to teach people about the Gospel and make disciples.

Jesus has told His disciples unpleasant facts about their future, and now in 16:1-4 He tells them why He has done so.  The unpleasant future would soon begin with the arrest and senseless murder of Jesus Himself by Jewish leaders who believed that they were keeping God’s Law by doing so.  The book of Acts documents a reign of terror against the early church in which many were arrested and tortured or murdered by people who thought they were doing God’s work in silencing God’s truth that is not only an irony but sheer madness.  Jesus has told them of these things so that they would not drift away from their faith when the trials came; so that they would hold steadfast in the knowledge that God’s plan was playing out.  In truth, the more the church has been persecuted, the more it has grown because of the courageous stand taken by the followers of Christ.  Sadly, there have also been times when the church itself has persecuted the truth by torturing and murdering “heretics” who were teaching the truth within the church.

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Mob Rule and the Destruction of History: Prologue

My Mom and one of her great-grandsons in 2017

I mentioned here on TLP several weeks back that I officiated at the funeral of my mother back in February, breaking quite a few of the usual rules for preachers doing funerals, the most obvious of which is that you have someone else do the funeral. In that particular post, I left it at that, for believe it or not, I try very hard not to make these posts about me, preferring to make them about Him instead. I also usually avoid writing here about my views on current events, politics and social issues, and when I do share these thoughts, I clearly label them as Opinion pieces. Mob Rule and the Destruction of History will be an Opinion piece and will post tomorrow. This Prologue is a story that is part of my family history that I am sharing with you today so that you can better understand where I will be coming from in the main piece tomorrow and with that said, let’s get started.

At the funeral last February, just a short time before the whole COVID crisis burst upon us, I looked out at those who had come to my Mom’s funeral, and saw the largest gathering of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren that is ever likely to be in one place at the same time, since they live all over the country. This was my only chance to tell them all about the legacy she had left for them, for you see, my mother had a secret, a secret that I was forbidden to share during her lifetime; my sister didn’t even know about it. Her secret was such that certain things would make her very emotional and irrational, like a PTSD trigger might do, so she only spoke openly about it to me once, when I was about 13 and, unable to continue, told me to ask my Grandfather about it, which I did the next time I saw him. Here is the briefest of thumbnails of what he told me…

My Mom was born in a small West Texas oil boom town in 1923, where she lived until moving away right after graduating High School in June of 1940. As is usually the case with boom towns, there were a great many single young men from other areas living there, having come to work in the oil fields, with much the same atmosphere as a Wild West mining town. As was the case throughout the states of the old Confederacy, Texas was solidly Democratic, part of the old “Solid South”. My Grandfather, however, never once mentioned party labels when speaking with me, instead using the label “Party of Lincoln” and “Party of Slavery, Segregation, Jim Crow and the Klan”.  He, and member of the Party of Lincoln, was a small businessman all of his working life, and in those days he had a small oil business that included 3 service stations and several gasoline trucks that loaded up with gasoline at nearby refineries to supply his stations and to supply other independent service stations in the surrounding counties. Yet there was a problem with this, for there was a shortage of good labor caused by the demands of the oil fields. Even so, my Grandfather never went short of good help, because the oil fields were mostly “White Only” − there were plenty of highly competent black men to drive his trucks.

That is where the problems really began, because my Grandfather paid “White Man’s Wages” to black men, because he believed that was the right thing to do. The Party of Jim Crow was not going to take this lightly…

Aside: If you aren’t familiar with the history of time and place, the 1920’s and 30’s was the high-water mark of Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan, not to mention lynching.

As a result, my Grandfather and his family were labeled “N…..lovers” and were shunned by the white community who feared the mob, which in this case, was the KKK.

It’s important to note however, that my Grandfather was not the only one in the area who was a member of the Party of Lincoln, and as a result of circumstances and necessity, they came to form a small resistance to the KKK, with food and other necessities, money and all too often armed force− this was not a pretty time.

The Party of Slavery came calling to my Grandfather’s house one night in 1933 or ’34, mostly drunk in their ridiculous costumes and very brave masks. My Grandmother was ordered to take the 5 children to the cellar as my Grandfather loaded his guns. My Mom, always a bit incorrigible, crept into the front room of the house unnoticed just in time to see her father on the front porch engaging the mob in conversation. It seems that an easily recognizable voice, brave behind his mask, indicated that their intention was to burn down the house and kill the entire family. Upon hearing this cheerful news, my Grandfather lowered his weapon directly at the man and asked him if he was going to be the first to try it…

After a sufficient number of profane threats, the highly courageous mob made its way home. Apparently, this scene was repeated from time to time at various homes.

On another occasion in this general time frame, my Mom was walking down a country lane early on a Sunday morning and stumbled upon a man hanging from a tree who had been lynched the night before.

These are the two events that she never got over, and to her dying day, she would lose it whenever she saw a member of the Party of Slavery, Segregation, Jim Crow and the Klan on television lecturing us on Civil Rights and calling everyone else “racist”. If I’m entirely honest, it kind of makes me crazy as well, and is one of the reasons I spent many years of my life in politics opposing the Party of Shameless Hypocrisy. For her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, several of whom are “of color” I think that what my Grandfather and others did is a legacy to be proud of and to carry on in their lives.

I ended the funeral service by posing the following challenge to the young family members present:

Knowing what you now know about the legacy you have been given, what are you going to do about it?

As people began to leave the service a young nurse of 30 or so from the nursing home came up to me and said, “Are you trying to tell me that Lincoln wasn’t a Democrat?”

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I am the Vine, You are the Branches

John 15:1-17

Today we continue our study of Jesus’ remarks to the disciples in the Upper Room.  Our passage is one of the best known in all of Scripture in which Jesus uses the illustration of a vine to describe key relationships within the Christian life.  The text moves to its climax in verse 16 with the word “then” giving us a conditional statement that if our relationships are working together properly, “then” our requests will be granted.

This is the seventh and final “I Am” statement in the Gospel of John, and it is intended as an illustration of the relationship between the Father, the Son and the Church.  Jesus is the vine, the Father is the gardener and the disciples are the branches.  Notice that Jesus points out the fact that in a vine a branch has the function of bearing fruit, and no fruit can be borne by a branch that has been removed from the vine.  His point here is that the disciples must remain in Him in order to accomplish their purpose.  The Father as gardener will remove any branches that do not bear fruit, and prune the ones that do so that they may bear even more fruit… but what is “fruit”?  It is easy to say that He is referring to the making of new disciples, and certainly this is part of the answer.  Considering that the Father will be pruning individual branches as well as the entire vine however, there would seem to be something more involved.  In this case, it would be the removal of sin from our lives so that we will not only build new disciples, but that we would live such lives of love and purity that we would produce even more disciples than before.  One could say that this pruning involves God’s fine-tuning of our spiritual lives so as to bring about maximum growth not only in ourselves but as a result, in the entire Christian community.

Here Jesus restates the “I Am” in verses 5-6 and adds that we must remain in Him or we cannot produce anything.  Consider what happens when we attempt to produce spiritual fruit apart from Christ, entirely on our own… what is the result?  Usually the result is either nothing at all or the entry point for sin and wickedness into the community of believers.  One might even suggest that this is the formula for the development of cults in the extreme case. Much has been made of verse 6 in certain circles, but notice the word “like”.  If we do not remain in Him we are “like” branches that will be cast in the fire.  It did not say that we will be cast in the fire; repentance is an option, and most of us have had our times of straying and then come back to living “in Him”.

Verses 7-8 establish clear linkage between “remaining” and being disciples.  If we remain in Him… we will be seen as His disciples.  Remember that a disciple is one who knows what the Master knows (“and my words remain in you”) and who does what the Master does (bear fruit).  Thus, if we are His disciples in reality then He will answer our requests for His purpose.  It would go without saying that we wouldn’t be making selfish requests.

Jesus now introduces a second analogy to illustrate this relationship, and that is the relationship between the Father and the Son.  The illustration is Father/Son is the same relationship that is between Son/disciple.  The Father has loved the Son, and the Son has responded with love and obedience.  Therefore, since the Son has loved us, we respond with love and obedience. To remain in His love is to have our joy made complete.

Going one step further in 12-13, Jesus tells us exactly what obedience looks like: “Love one another as I have loved you.”  This is the command He is talking about, and as we saw a few sections back, this means putting others ahead of ourselves: always:  The Christian life has no room for self.  Verse 13 goes still further when Jesus mentions that the greatest love is to lay down your life for your friends.  In His case this meant the cross.  In our case, who knows the future?  One thing is clear however, to lay down our life of selfishness is paramount.

There is an interesting contrast between “servant” and “friend” in the last 3 verses, one that is even stronger than the NIV gives us, for the Greek word rendered “servant” (doulos) is the word for “slave”.  The contrast is clear: A slave is an inferior relationship while a friend is an equal relationship.  Don’t get crazy just yet, for this equality is entirely conditional.  Go and bear fruit.  Love one another.  These are the conditions, and realize that the first will not happen until we accomplish the second.  Then the Father will grant whatever we ask.  This is the conditional nature of the Christian life, and the challenge before us today.  As our culture continues to crumble and the church falters what will we do? We will remain in Him, love one another and bear fruit.

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