Dr Doug Bursch, pastor of Evergreen Foursquare Church in Auburn Washington, talks about withering in our faith when we do not attach ourselves to Christ; or conversely, thriving in faith, hope, and love as we attach ourselves to Christ our vine. Listen here. You can hear past podcasts from Dr Doug Bursch at fairlyspiritual.org.
Doug talks about withering or thriving in our faith as we attach ourselves to Christ our vine.
Peter once said to Jesus,“What becomes of us, Lord? We have left everything to follow you.” Shortly thereafter, Jesus tells Peter a story: “A mob of field workers forms in front of the payroll table, intolerably impatient for the day’s wage. Somewhere among their ranks a rumor starts that late-comers receive equal pay. Unhinged even at the notion, a spokesman for the morning crew lets out: ‘you dare spite us when we have bore the burden of your field in the scorching heat. You are not only crazy, you are unjust.’ Here the landowner himself steps in. ‘I do you no injustice sir; didn’t we agree to the wage of a dollar a day? Am I not free to do what I want with what is my own? Or are you envious because I’m gracious? Take your pay and go, but know that in my kingdom many who are first shall be last, and last first.’
When we last see Peter and Jesus together, they’re on the shore of the sea, revisiting this very issue. “Follow me” Jesus says, “and feed my lambs.” “But what about him (John)” Peter asks. “What about him?” Jesus replies. “If he is to remain until I return, what is that to you? You follow me.”
Even after everything we’ve been taught since we were kids, we still compare ourselves to others. We still judge others against ourselves. We hastily draw up conclusions about the posture, position, and workload of everyone else around us. And on both sides we are left wanting. We may even be angry with God, envious of his manifold grace toward everyone—the burden-bearers and the late-comers. Here is one of those rare occasions where Jesus goes in for our individual need over that of the group: “never you mind all those others” he says, “you follow me!”
You remember that David and Goliath story from church when you were a kid? The one you heard every year as part of a packaged “kids-church” curriculum? Conversely, its hardly a children’s story. The whole account includes a high level of brutality. The head of a giant is removed. An enemy empire is hunted down and slaughtered. As adults, the David meets Goliath construct is familiar to almost everyone almost everyday, the mighty favorite over the puny underdog. Yet even a casual re-read makes the whole thing fresh. For I am weak. I am forgetful. I need reminders. I need ancient histories to constantly assure me that somewhere under heaven giants do fall. Giants do fall. They fall with a violent crash. We all need to know this and cling to it tightly. The challenges of this life and the chaos of this world will come to a head, and that head will be removed. That is what our scriptures tell us. So hang in there. The Lord is your defender!
Just so we all know, parents don’t know everything. Parents make mistakes. Parents do their best, most often with very little time to think, training to rely on, experience to draw from, or reciprocation to expect. Equally, parents may be faithful Christians, have wonderful supports in place, feel confident in the leading of the Lord, and still get it wrong. I tell you, with the speed at which our culture bombards, parents are most often shooting from the hip. I do not judge them. For I am one of them. Shooting from the hip is not an enduring recipe, but callus ridicule and dismissive indifference is no recipe either. If you are a parent or you know a parent… extend much much grace.
On occasion I take this risk. I write something direct to you. I do so because I believe it’s how I can genuinely express a certain kindness. I want you to know that God is for you today. He is. God is for you. And he intends for your life his peace, his comfort, his favor, his hope. I really do believe this. It motivates my day. If, for whatever reason, you are not so sure about this. If you are not all that convinced of God’s favor and comfort. If you are emphatically opposed to any such notion, that’s okay. I do not wish to challenge you on this point or try to convince of something else. Nor do I wish to dismiss how you might feel differently; I don’t think that helps either one of us. Instead, you get to be you. I get to be me. Perhaps the two of us could unite around this one thing: that a certain kindness will not hurt us. In fact, it might keep us talking and learning and loving differently, loving better. There are enough daily difficulties to wear out our wits and deplete us of all hope. I certainly don’t want to add to that list. I come in peace. God comes in peace. He is for you today. So am I.
The scriptures are a living testimony of persons who saw things and heard things and believed things when they didn’t see or hear anything. Their experience was paired with language that only the Spirit of God could carry through the ages. When we open ourselves up to the scriptures, we are hearing echoes of songs sung in sadness, joys celebrated in victory, prayers offered in gratitude, and praises lifted in agony. If we really listen, we can almost hear ourselves in there somewhere amidst the rushing stream of faith. Even more, in working the scriptures through, we find that our collective story—ours and those before ours—together put before the world, not a science about God presiding over man, but a portrait of God present with real people.
“Indeed, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first of those who have fallen asleep. Since death itself came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man; and that man is Jesus Christ. In Adam all men die, so in Christ all men will be made alive. And each in turn: first Christ; then when he comes, those who belong to him. After which, the end will come when he hands over to God his kingdom after he has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power. For he must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet—the last being death itself.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-26)
The real miracle of the resurrection of Jesus is the release of the church into the world. The church—the bride of Christ, who he himself loves as one loves his own body—is released into the world, bearing a most peculiar story. But more than a story. More than mere history. A real miracle. Jesus’ closest friends really had witnessed something the world had never known. They had seen a man who claimed to be God executed by torture at the demand of religious Jews under the governorship of Rome’s Pontius Pilate. They had seen this man buried in the ground (like all men are buried in the ground), then suddenly come to life again and walk among them as a real conqueror over death, a just champion over sin. The church witnessed this, and thus continues to defend (for over 2000 years now) against every anti-God spirit that Jesus Christ is LORD of all Lords. Such defense was and still is rooted in an unshakable confidence that only by confessing this name Jesus is there salvation from sin and justification for righteousness. There was and still is a peculiar power in bearing witness of this Jesus. The name Jesus is our witness.
The name Jesus is our witness
“Let this be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God has raised from the dead—by him this man is standing here before you well. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we can be saved.” (Acts 4:10-12)
The name Jesus is our witness. The power of this witness is what the church immediately sees and hears in her new life of spirit-born allegiance. It is what the world around her sees and hears as this spirit-born allegiance leads to daily radical obedience in the face of injustice. The name Jesus is much more than mere story or testimony or history. It is the only real miracle of our life. And in that sense, is beyond natural; it is supernatural, born of God. For his is the name we have taken as our own, the only name for which we are pledged. The church belongs to Jesus; he belongs us. We are one in him as a bride and groom are one in marriage. We are one in him as the whole of a man’s body is one being. Wherever we are we witness Jesus, seeing in everything else his miraculous provision, yet bearing in ourselves his living presence. “Thus it is written that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in Him you might have life in his name.” “And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'”(Jn 20).
The witness of Jesus are the acts of the Holy Spirit
“God has raised this Jesus to life, and we all are witnesses of it. Even now, exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” (Acts 2:32-33)
The witness of Jesus are the acts of the Holy Spirit. The visible actions and vibrant activity of the Spirit pulsing through the people of God testify that this Jesus who was crucified is very much alive. For Jesus is the restoration, regeneration, and renewal of all things; in whom all things are brought forth and hold together. We see this in his birth—Jesus is Spirit-formed in the womb of Mary. We see this in his ministry—Jesus is Spirit-led among the people of Palestine. We certainly see this in Jesus’ death—one wholly surrendered to the Spirit of obedience. Our earliest accounts of the new testament church describe miracles and wonders at the hands of the apostles, the defining testimony of the resurrection of Jesus and the fulfillment of the scriptures. Repentance and forgiveness preached; present healing and enduring hope offered; the witness of Jesus thrust forward through Spirit-filled martyrs readied for heaven. Yet again these things are not so much a history of the acts of the apostles as they are a witness of Christ through the acts of Spirit. The Spirit of God comes alive in us as he came alive through the obedience of our Christian ancestors, as he once came to life in Christ himself who surrendered all unto death. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you” Paul says, “then he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you”(Rom 8).
We are witness of these things
[Paraphrased] This Jesus, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, even now sits at the right hand of the Father as both LORD and God, having poured out the Holy Spirit on the church. We all are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:8, 2:32, 3:15, 4:20, 5:32, 10:39-41, 13:31
[Paraphrased] But the righteousness of faith says this: the word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the word of faith that was preached to you), that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses unto salvation. And there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord is LORD over all and gracious to all who call upon Him. For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Romans 10:6-13
We are witness of these things. The church is witness of something the world has never known—a real resurrection, a miracle of life over death. That which was truly dead is now alive, and we along with him. By way of faith (that is, by way of belief substantiated by confession) we are the visible, viable testimony that Jesus is risen, is Lord of all, and is able to reconcile us to God. But here comes a snag. The resurrection of Jesus is only made real if Christ has indeed risen in our hearts. If he has not, than Jesus coming up from the grave is only one more fantastic story in a world plagued by fantasy. So then, is Christ alive in you? Has Jesus arisen in your heart? Do you bear in yourself his peculiar witness in the world? Every sane person is looking for honest testimony, reliable evidence, unalterable facts. Your neighbor, your boss, your landlord, your in-law, these all are looking for something much deeper than peace-of-mind; they are looking for real life, true life. Do you have life? What you yourself have freely received, freely give. Your witness will make all difference in the world.
I share these important scriptures that I believe are for the church this week. And when I say the church, I mean you specifically. I printed these scriptures out on paper for myself early this week and have been reading them a couple times a day. They are inspiring and encouraging, and in every way practical and helpful. May the Lord bless you richly as his word comforts your heart. —Pastor Dan Isaiah 41:10 So then do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will hold you up with my righteous right hand.
Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.
Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
1 Timothy 4:12 Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for all believers by your speech and in your conduct through love, faith and purity.
Deuteronomy 31:6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.
Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving in your heart, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
1 Corinthians 4:13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. Yet God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will provide a way out so that you can endure.
Zephaniah 3:17 The LORD God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He takes great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed each day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs our trouble. Now fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
1 John 4:8-10 Beloved, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God’s love was revealed among us: God sent His one and only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. And love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Jude 1: 20-21 But you, beloved, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God as you await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you eternal life.
Psalm 55:22 Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.
1 Peter 5:5-7 All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, so that in due time He may exalt you. Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.