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They said to one another, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come on us.” Genesis 42:21 (NIV)

It’s a story I have heard from my youth. Joseph, just a boy of perhaps 18 was a dreamer. He was the favored son of his father and a source of contention among his brothers. So much so that when the opportunity came, these brothers sold their brother into slavery and told his father that he’d been killed by some unknown, but savage beast.

The disadvantage to seeing the end of the story is that you forget to contemplate what was going on emotionally for those involved. Judah, the ringleader of the brothers wanted Joseph out of the way once and for all. Rueben fought for the integrity of family and his father.

Imagine for a moment, if you will, the anguish of Joseph that day. We remember him more as the good looking and wiser ruler that led Egypt through famine and won the safety of his family. But that day near the old well, it was a different story.

Don’t forget for a moment that the story of Joseph, like any story in the Bible or any other book is a story about real people with real feelings and real emotions. These were the guys Joseph played football with on Sunday afternoons. These were the guys that Joseph learned tending livestock from. These were the guys who helped him put the first worm on his hook and cheered as he pulled in his really big fish.

As Joseph was led away behind the caravan of camels it wasn’t just his brothers he saw disappear over the horizon, it was everything he remembered. He left the arms of his father to deliver food and to the best of his knowledge would never see dad again. Some of us have an adventurers’ heart. Launching out into the great unknown has a certain romance to it. The adventurer chooses to leave the well-known for the unknown. That can’t be said for Joseph. As he was led away he saw his very future being ripped from his hands.

Fast forward now twenty years into the life of Joseph. Somewhere in his life Joseph made a decision to trust God. Read his story in Genesis and you’ll see the presence of God in his life mentioned repeatedly. Whether it was before he was sold into slavery or after, somewhere along the line Joseph made a decision to make the best of every situation and to realize that regardless of what happened God was in control. Because God was in control his ‘duty’, so to speak was to serve this God to the best of his ability.

Like Joseph, there are those times when life deals us a horrible hand of cards. There are those people and those events that seem destined to ruin us and destroy us. But we don’t see the end of the story. We must focus on a God we can trust to know better than we do how life should go. We must rely on the one who sees the end of the story to get us through the middle chapters.

PRAYER: Father, during those times when life seems hopeless and I’m not sure I can continue on, help me remember how you used the abuse Joseph suffered to save the lives of his family. Help me serve you faithfully during my distress. Amen.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

The ’YOU ARE’ statements remind us of the great love the Father has for us. Our Heavenly Father is a relational God. By that I mean that he earnestly desires relationship. Since we are made in his image, we too are relational beings.

Jesus said we are salt and light to those around us. He says our complete dependence on him is crucial for our existence. We are intimate friends of the Almighty God and creator/sustainer of the universe. Today, we look at one final ‘YOU ARE’ statement that Jesus makes regarding us. That statement is found in Acts 1:8. Jesus and his disciples are gathered on a hillside outside Jerusalem.

Imagine the emotions of his followers at this time. They had walked with Jesus for about three years. They’d seen the power of God manifest in him through healings and his teachings. They’d experienced the power of God in their own ministries. Then, in a whirlwind of activity, Jesus was brutally murdered only to rise again three days later! I can’t imagine how they must have felt.

Then Jesus utters the words of Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After saying this, he ascends into heaven. Amazing. Simply amazing.

His final words to us leave us with both a description of who we are and a challenge for how we should be. We are his witnesses. In order to understand what that really means we need to think for a moment of what Jesus is NOT telling us.

First of all, he tells us we are witnesses, not judges. Judges determine what is right or wrong. Judges determine our guilt or innocence. Judges have the power to sentence us for our sin, to condemn us. Yet when Jesus was face to face with the adulteress in John 8, he says, ‘neither do I condemn thee.’ John 3:17 states that Jesus didn’t come into the world to judge or condemn the world but to bring life to those who need forgiveness. In the same way, we are not called to condemn others for their sin, but to show them the way to life and forgiveness.

Jesus didn’t call us to be lawyers either. A lawyer spends his or her time defending the one position or another. They scrutinize the law and try to prove or disprove one’s guilt.  In some cases they aren’t really concerned about what the truth is, they are more concerned about proving their position.

Jesus didn’t call us to be judges or lawyers. He calls us his witnesses. In reality, a witness only has one job and that job is to tell what they have seen or experienced. Like the old line says, “Nothing but the facts”, that’s the job of the witness. An expert witness is one that knows a great deal about the subject to which they testify.

In Luke 24 Jesus says, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

A good witness isn’t responsible to evaluate motives or analyze a situation. They simply record what they have seen and experienced. Our job as witnesses is to simply show others by word and deed what we have seen and experienced with Jesus Christ. I’ll be honest with you. I don’t understand everything about God. There are many questions I have regarding how he works in this world; why some prayers seem to be answered and some don’t; why world tragedies happen and innocent people die.

I can’t answer a lot of these questions, but what I can tell you is what Jesus Christ has done for me. I can tell you about the peace I have in the midst of my failures. I can tell you how I have experienced forgiveness when I didn’t deserve it. I can tell you how, when I’m afraid or worried, he comforts me.

When Peter and John were brought before the religious leaders, they were told to stop healing people and stop talking about Jesus. Their response was, “As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20) That should be the motto for each of us as we make our way along the path we call life.

Being Jesus’ witness doesn’t mean we are super-evangelists like Billy Graham or other great preachers. Being Jesus’ witness doesn’t require special training. It certainly doesn’t mean you need to be a pastor. In fact, people are more likely to listen to you as a witness if you AREN’T a pastor or evangelist. What people really want to know is what Jesus has done for you.

Peter tells us we should always be ready to give an answer for why we have hope in Jesus. Again, not a well polished sermon, just a word of hope. He says in 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

Jesus says, “When (NOT IF) you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” (Luke 12:11-12). In other words, I believe one of our prayers every day should be that we will have opportunities to tell others what Jesus has done for us, and that the Holy Spirit will give us the words to say.

Jesus says we ARE witnesses. It’s not a question of IF we are a witness, but how good of a witness are we? It’s not a question of how good you are, it’s a question of how good he is! It’s not about having all the right answers; it’s about knowing what he’s done for you.

My prayer for us today is that we will live in such a way that others notice a difference in our words, our actions and our attitudes, and that when they ask us why we are different we will have the words to testify, to witness what Jesus has done for us (Matthew 5:16)

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, I thank you for the opportunity I’ve had this week to share the ‘YOU ARE’ statements you have made about us. I pray now for my brothers and sisters in you. I ask that we might go forth as living witnesses to your grace, mercy and forgiveness. I pray for anyone who has not experienced your touch. I ask that they may find the peace only you can offer. In your name I pray, Amen.

“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15

We’re looking at the ‘YOU ARE’ statements of Jesus. The ‘YOU ARE’ statements of Jesus remind us of the identity we have through our faith in Christ. Jesus never indicated in his teaching that his followers would be obscure and unprepared for the challenges before them. Quite the opposite. We are the salt that brings out the best in the world; we are the light to guide the world to fulfillment; we are so intertwined with the Son of God that others would be hard-pressed to see the difference between us and Him.

Now, Jesus moves further yet. Salt, light and abiding in him bring us into a friendship like none other. The fourth of our ‘YOU ARE’ statements is one that we tend to forget most often. Jesus tells us in John 15:15 that, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

Think about what that verse is really saying. Jesus, the Son of God, the one who stood beside the Father and helped him create this beautiful world we live in calls us friends. Too often we get wrapped up in religious tradition and focus on the theology of scripture and, in so doing, lose the significance of the fact that God wants to be friends with you.

What must it have been like in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve walked with God in the cool evening air. The human couple, no doubt, had so many questions to ask their friend, and he enjoyed their company immensely.

That friendship was lost when Adam and Eve fell into sin. The whole story of mankind is God’s attempt at regaining the friendship he lost with us as a result of sin. That’s why Jesus came to die on the cross. It wasn’t just to forgive our sins. It wasn’t just so we could live in eternity with Christ in Heaven. It was because he wanted to restore a lost and cherished friendship with us.

When I was about 6 years old, my family spent an entire summer living in a small, borrowed cottage on a lake. A few cottages down from us, another family moved in to spend the summer as well. I was excited because this family had a boy my age. My new found friend and I played from sunrise to sunset exploring the shoreline, walking nearby trails, having all sorts of adventures.

One day we got into a horrible argument. I don’t remember to this day what it was about, but I do remember spending the next two or three days without my friend because we refused to talk with one another. I remember the loneliness. I remember the sadness. When good friends fight it cuts a part of you out.

I also remember reconciling the relationship. We both said we were sorry. There were a few moments of awkwardness, and then, as if nothing had happened, we were off on some new, exciting, great adventure. Our friendship was restored!

When Jesus says, I no longer call you servants, I call you friends, what he’s really doing is calling us back to the relationship he’d always wanted to have with us. A relationship that sin has kept us from having with him.

Sin isn’t a very popular term in our society. We like to call it poor choices, bad decisions or any number of other things. But the fact is, sin is sin and it separates us from a God who wants to befriend us but simply can’t outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ.

So, what does friendship with Jesus look like? I want to leave you with an acronym that reminds us of true friendship in our earthly realm and, especially with God through Jesus Christ. The acronym is the word CRUSH. Now, you might think it’s an odd acronym because usually we associate this word with passing feeling temporary infatuation, but bear with me on that part.

  1. The C in CRUSH stands for Confidant. Jesus says, in John 15:15, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

A good friend is one who is willing to confide in you about their deepest, darkest secrets. They are comfortable telling you their true feelings because they know they can trust you and that you won’t think less of them for how they feel.

Friendship with Jesus means he is willing to listen to our struggles, but not only that, he wants to help us understand life, others, and God himself. The deeper our friendship with Jesus, the easier it is to understand life.

  1. The R in CRUSH stands for Reliable. Proverbs 18:24 says “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Reliable friends are friends you can trust. They won’t lead you into things you shouldn’t be in. They won’t drag you into gossip or other activities that tarnish your relationship with family, God or others. You can trust a reliable friend to think of your best interests. You can trust Jesus to think of your best interests too.
  2. The U in CRUSH stands for Understanding. Proverbs 17:17 tells us that “A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.” Loyal friends understand your feelings. They may not agree with them, but they will stand by you. Who better to understand you than Jesus? He was there when you were formed in your mothers womb. He has watched you grow up, been there through the struggles, sees your pain, your emotional scars, your fears, your worries. He will always be there for you.
  3. The S in CRUSH stands for Sincere. Proverbs 27:5-6 tells us, ‘Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.’ This verse reminds us that good friends are sincere. When they see you on a slippery path to destruction they will warn you of the consequences; they may try to show you the error of your ways. But they will always do so in love. They will always stand by you even if you make the wrong choices.
  4. The H in CRUSH stands for Healing. The ultimate sacrifice is the sacrifice of one’s life for another. Jesus said, in John 15:13, ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’

We celebrate the heroes of our lives, but the greatest hero of all is Jesus Christ. He gave his life so we can live, not only here on earth, but in eternity with him. By giving his life for us we can be healed or forgiven of our sins. He is a friend we can count on, and he earnestly wants to have a deepening friendship with us.

My prayer for us today is that we will remember that Jesus wants to grow deeper in friendship with us. There is nothing you have done, or will do that will cause him to longer be your friend. He offers you forgiveness and strength to face the battles ahead.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, I’m amazed that you would choose to be my friend. Thank you for giving your life for me and that you base your love for me on who you are and not on what I can do for you. In your name I pray, Amen.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

The ‘YOU ARE’ statements Jesus makes about us are messages of hope which carry with them the responsibility for us to live in a Christ-like manner. So far we’ve looked at the fact that we are Salt and Light, that we not only add delightful flavor to the lives of those around us (which is salt), but we also are called to be a light to guide others to a deep love relationship with Jesus Christ. The third ‘YOU ARE’ statement Jesus makes involves what we might call community.

Jesus says, in John 15:5, that “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

In order to fully understand the meaning to this passage as the disciples would have seen it, we need to remember that the vine and branches of a grapevine are different than many the branches of the trees we see in our yards and forests. The branches of the grapevine are so closely intertwined with each other and the main vine that it can be difficult to tell where the vine ends and the branches begin, or where one branch ends and another begins.

When Jesus tells us we are Salt and Light he is characterizing our relationship with others, but here his emphasis is more on our relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ himself. The lesson is simple and two-fold – We aren’t in this alone and we have the power of Jesus Christ behind us.

While the strength of a light was dependent on its source, the same is true for the branch. The strength of a branch is only as strong as the vine it is a part of. There are many ways in which our lives are like branches.

  1. A Branch can only give what it gets from the source. If we aren’t receiving nourishment from the main vine there is no way we can grow. For the believer that means a consistently as possible we need to be reading God’s Word and praying. Like a tree branch that breaks in a storm, when separated from God our spirit withers and we grow weak.
  2. A Branch is flexible during times of storm. Have you ever noticed how trees can bend in a storm? Especially small trees? At times they seem to be able to bend all the way over to the ground. They are also flexible when bearing the weight of fruit. I’ve seen apple trees with branches so heavily weighted that they touch the ground. Yet once the fruit is harvested they spring back.
  3. That brings up another point about branches. They bend when needed to meet a certain situation. In life that may mean that from time to time we need to change our way of thinking for the good of others. Brittle lives, like brittle branches break under pressure. The older the branch the easier it is to break because it becomes resistant to change.
  4. Branches, especially grapevine branches are completely interdependent. They need each other. In the same way we need to remember that we need each other. The Christian life is a life of fellowship, unity and togetherness. Believers in Jesus Christ are not islands to themselves but communities with different gifts, different backgrounds, different likes and dislikes, but a common bond of love and unity based on Jesus Christ. In the same way, when one part of the branch is wounded, the vine and other branches are injured.
  5. Branches are made to bear fruit. Jesus gives a beautiful word picture of God’s tender care for us. The grapevine will produce, from time to time, small, unhealthy branches that will sap the strength from the main branch and decrease the quality and quantity of the fruit. The vine dresser (God) will work to remove those small branches (pruning) and lift the main branch up higher to get more sunshine and get healthier fruit.

I grew up in the church. In fact, my father was a preacher for over 68 years. Having grown up in the church, I have heard many sermons on this particular passage. It seems like most of them have focused on the pruning and the casting off of the bad parts of the vine. The message was almost always negative and issued as a warning to us that we better behave or the gardener was going to come and cut us off. But now, as I look at it, I see this passage differently. I see this passage of the vine and branches as a deeply passionate love story. The phrase ‘if you remain in me’ uses the word ‘abide’ in some translations.

What Jesus is telling us is that the relationship he wants with us is so intimate, so close that we are intertwined; wrapped up in each other; so much in love with each other that it’s hard to tell we are two separate people! All this even though I am a weak and rebellious child. All this inspite of my failures.

Later on in John’s gospel Jesus says ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit–fruit that will last–and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.’ (John 15:16)

Imagine that. We are chosen by Jesus. Remember Junior High? Remember lining up to choose teams? Some of us hoped we’d be chosen first. Others of us, like me, just hoped we’d be chosen. With Jesus we are his first pick. And He chose you because he wants you to succeed, he wants you to bear fruit.

Some may think bearing fruit relates to great spiritual victories. I think that when Jesus talks about bearing fruit he’s talking about being the best that you can be; of living in the power of His Holy Spirit and showing the fruit of the Spirit. The Apostle Paul writes: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23.

Now, you might say, “That sounds good preacher but you don’t know my past. You don’t know the people I work with. You don’t know the difficult family situation I’m in. You don’t know about this huge load of debt, fear, guilt, worry (fill in the blank) I carry.

Ah, but that is the second beautiful part of the love story. Jesus says the vine dresser, a picture of God himself, comes in to lift us up when we struggle. He takes away the things that weigh us down (prunes us) and lifts us up. What a marvelous story of God’s grace and compassion for us.

My prayer for you today is that if you are struggling with the weight of the world on your shoulders you will open your heart to the work of Jesus in your life through the power of the Holy Spirit. He wants you to succeed. He doesn’t say you CAN be a branch. He says you ARE a branch.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, I thank you for this picture of love and grace. I thank you that as your branch you have chosen me to be fruitful. Lift those of us up who struggle with life. Empower us with your Spirit to live fruitful lives. In your name I pray, Amen.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16

The YOU ARE statements of Jesus are foundational  for Christian living. They remind us of our position in Christ and how important we are to him. Yesterday we were reminded that we are ‘The Salt of the Earth’. As salt we have the power and opportunity to make a pleasing and satisfying difference in the lives of others.

Today we look at another “You Are” statement from Jesus. This statement is found immediately after Jesus teaching about our position as salt.

Jesus says, in Matthew 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Jesus’ proclamation that we are ‘The Light of the World’ is full of meaning. Think of a world without light. Several years ago now I cooked maple syrup with a friend. We cooked down the sap in a small cook shack about a quarter of a mile into the woods. We had no electricity so we used gas lanterns, flashlights and other battery operated lights for cooking on those nights when we had to cook late.

One night I was cooking alone and finished about 1:00 AM. I shut everything down and turned on my flashlight for the trek to the road. To my dismay, the batteries were dead! Although there was no moon, I knew the way and there was enough light to see to get to my car, so I set out. I slowly began my journey into the dark. About half-way into the journey an owl screeched loudly. It seemed as though it could have been in the trees directly above me. Now, mind you, I was a grown adult. I knew what the sound was. I knew I was in no danger from an owl. I could see the yard light marking my destination in the distance. Those were the facts. But fear doesn’t always look at the facts, and to be honest, I panicked. I began to run towards my car.

Now those obstacles in the dark became weapons. I caught small saplings across the face and almost stumbled several times in the darkness. I only ran a short distance before logic took over and I regained my composure.

That story reminds me of how darkness can affect our lives. It causes fear. It causes confusion. It can make you do things that are out of character for you. What’s true for physical darkness is true for emotional and spiritual darkness as well. Darkness has an adverse affect on every aspect of our lives.

Light, on the other hand, is different. Light gives us warmth. Light gives us protection. Light gives us guidance. Light is powerful! How much darkness does it take to destroy light? The answer of course is NO amount of darkness can overpower light. The smallest amount of light can penetrate darkness. The darker the darkness, the brighter the light seems to shine!

The key to lights effectiveness is its power source. Take, for example, a laser beam. The beam from a laser pointer is relatively harmless. However, lasers can be used for a variety of purposes, including cutting some of the hardest materials on earth. It is the power source, not the light itself that gives the laser its strength.

So, if you are the light of the world, what is your power source? Jesus tells us in John 8:12, which says, “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

When we choose to follow Christ, we become agents of his light. Our light is a reflection of his glory, power and grace. It exposes the compassion, forgiveness and love that made others seek Jesus out. It shines for others to see so that when they are in darkness they can find the way to his light.

How should this light be used? Jesus says, (my paraphrase) ‘If it’s getting dark do you light a candle and then put it under a bowl? Of course not! You put it on a stand or someplace in the open where others can benefit from the light. Hidden light is of no value whatsoever.

Imagine you are walking on a dark path with a friend and you have one flashlight between you. Your friend is completely dependent on your light to guide him through the darkness. Does it do any good to shine it into the trees? Does it do any good to shine the light from side to side, or worse yet to shine the light behind you or into your friends eyes? The answer again, is no! You shine it on the path in front of you so you both can benefit from its light. We become a guide for those around us.

For the believer in Jesus Christ, our flashlight, so to speak is the Holy Bible. It gives us the guidance we need for our relationships, our behavior and our spiritual growth. Psalm 119:105 says “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” We must never lose sight of the importance of letting the Scriptures guide us, and others through the darkness.

The purpose of this light is to draw people towards the Father. Jesus says let your light shine in such a way that others notice your attitude, your actions, the way you treat others. They will be so impressed by what they see in you they will praise God because you are in their presence.

I close with one final story. Several years ago a co-worker came to me with a request. Her father had been rushed to the hospital the night before and was in surgery. She said, “I know you are a religious guy, could you pray for him?”

I didn’t flaunt my religion for everyone to see. I’m not the type of person who preaches to people every chance I get. It wasn’t my words that drew this co-worker to me. It was my attitude of approachability. As a result of this event in her life, my co-worker eventually said yes to Jesus! People seek light when they are in darkness.

So my question for us today is this. Do others see the light of Jesus in our lives? Do they seek us out because we are a source of comfort, protection and guidance? Jesus doesn’t say “you could be a light to the world”. He says ‘You ARE a light to the world.”

My prayer for each of us today is that we will spread Christ’s light of forgiveness, understanding and grace to all those who cross our paths today. We have no idea how the light we live by could benefit others.

PRAYER: Father God, you have given me the awesome opportunity to be a light to those who are struggling. Help me shine for you today in my actions, my words and my attitudes. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

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