Prioritizing Like Jesus: John 15:1-17

Focus Passage: John 15:1-17 (NIrV)

“I am the true vine. My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch joined to me that does not bear fruit. He trims every branch that does bear fruit. Then it will bear even more fruit.

“You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain joined to me, and I will remain joined to you. No branch can bear fruit by itself. It must remain joined to the vine. In the same way, you can’t bear fruit unless you remain joined to me.

“I am the vine. You are the branches. If anyone remains joined to me, and I to him, he will bear a lot of fruit. You can’t do anything without me. If anyone does not remain joined to me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and dries up. Branches like those are picked up. They are thrown into the fire and burned.

“If you remain joined to me and my words remain in you, ask for anything you wish. And it will be given to you.When you bear a lot of fruit, it brings glory to my Father. It shows that you are my disciples.

“Just as the Father has loved me, I have loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love. In the same way, I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy will be in you. I also want your joy to be complete.

12 “Here is my command. Love each other, just as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than the one who gives his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command.

15 “I do not call you servants anymore. Servants do not know their master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends. I have told you everything I learned from my Father.

16 “You did not choose me. Instead, I chose you. I appointed you to go and bear fruit. It is fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you anything you ask for in my name.

17 “Here is my command. Love each other.

Read John 15:1-17 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Has God ever challenged you with a difficult person?

Or has God ever brought someone into your life who pushed you to grow – regardless of whether you wanted that growth or not?

If there is ever a passage that challenges us regarding our attitude and priorities about other people, it is this one. Many people really like this passage applied to others, but when we really dig in to apply this to ourselves, we run into some very challenging implications.

The part of this passage where this comes to Jesus’ big point is in verses 12 and 13: “Here is my command. Love each other, just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than the one who gives his life for his friends.

We love these verses when others apply Jesus’ teaching because it feels nice to receive excellent service and to receive gifts. However, when applying the verses to us, things get significantly harder.

The standard that Jesus gives, and the one He set is placing your friends’ lives ahead of your own life. There is no getting around this simple truth. Jesus set our lives ahead of His own life by dying a death that He did not deserve – for people (us) who did not deserve it. And He calls us to do the same if we wish to remain in His love. (v. 10)

This is very counter cultural to even today’s Christian world. The Christian self-help movement likes to make us think that our priorities should be God first, then ourselves, then others. After all, isn’t this way healthier and less likely to cause burnout?

Perhaps, but what often happens in the God-myself-then-others priority structure is that others get the leftovers, and over time, we turn inward and our backs face those who need our help.

The flipside is also damaging. Jesus never modeled a life where He didn’t take time alone to recharge. Praying alone all night, sneaking away from the crowds, and sending the crowds away were all part of His balancing act. The danger to the God-others-then-myself priority structure is that we lose our identity and our connection with God because others will have a tendency to push God to the side.

This passage does not teach an others-first or even a self-first mindset. Instead, it teaches a God-first perspective. The time we spend with God is the most valuable time we can spend. [Period]

Time spent with God is restorative to our health, it recharges our identity, and it reprioritizes our focus onto the things that God wants us to focus on. By spending time with God, He will direct us to His ministry for us – a cause that we can dedicate our lives to that helps others. What is left afterwards is self, and in reality, the more time we spend with God, the less important our “self” time will be. Our time spent with God is restorative and it should be our focus.

Jesus modeled a God-first, Others-second attitude. Self wasn’t even in His equation. If Jesus placed others first, as His followers, we should too!

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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The Not-So-Last-Minute Escape: Matthew 2:1-23

Focus Passage: Matthew 2:1-23 (CEV)

When Jesus was born in the village of Bethlehem in Judea, Herod was king. During this time some wise men from the east came to Jerusalem and said, “Where is the child born to be king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard about this, he was worried, and so was everyone else in Jerusalem. Herod brought together the chief priests and the teachers of the Law of Moses and asked them, “Where will the Messiah be born?”

They told him, “He will be born in Bethlehem, just as the prophet wrote,

’Bethlehem in the land
    of Judea,
you are very important
    among the towns of Judea.
From your town
    will come a leader,
who will be like a shepherd
    for my people Israel.’”

Herod secretly called in the wise men and asked them when they had first seen the star. He told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, let me know. I want to go and worship him too.”

The wise men listened to what the king said and then left. And the star they had seen in the east went on ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 They were thrilled and excited to see the star.

11 When the men went into the house and saw the child with Mary, his mother, they knelt down and worshiped him. They took out their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh and gave them to him. 12 Later they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and they went back home by another road.

13 After the wise men had gone, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Hurry and take the child and his mother to Egypt! Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is looking for the child and wants to kill him.”

14 That night, Joseph got up and took his wife and the child to Egypt, 15 where they stayed until Herod died. So the Lord’s promise came true, just as the prophet had said, “I called my son out of Egypt.”

16 When Herod found out that the wise men from the east had tricked him, he was very angry. He gave orders for his men to kill all the boys who lived in or near Bethlehem and were two years old and younger. This was based on what he had learned from the wise men.

17 So the Lord’s promise came true, just as the prophet Jeremiah had said,

18 “In Ramah a voice was heard
    crying and weeping loudly.
Rachel was mourning
    for her children,
and she refused
to be comforted,
    because they were dead.”

19 After King Herod died, an angel from the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph while he was still in Egypt. 20 The angel said, “Get up and take the child and his mother back to Israel. The people who wanted to kill him are now dead.”

21 Joseph got up and left with them for Israel. 22 But when he heard that Herod’s son Archelaus was now ruler of Judea, he was afraid to go there. Then in a dream he was told to go to Galilee, 23 and they went to live there in the town of Nazareth. So the Lord’s promise came true, just as the prophet had said, “He will be called a Nazarene.”

Read Matthew 2:1-23 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

At the end of every Christmas story that follows the wise men’s journey, we are presented with Joseph, Mary, and Jesus’ escape to Egypt. I’m not sure why my mind has created this picture, but I’ve often imagined the scene that the little family is leaving through the south gate of the city when the guards are arriving at the north gate to enter and kill the children.

But if we read closer at what Matthew describes in his gospel, I see a different scene taking place. If the wise men’s visit was during the day, then most likely, that same night both groups had their respective dreams. The wise men dreamed that they should not return to Herod and Joseph dreamed about the need to escape to Egypt. (v. 12-13)

Joseph didn’t waste any time. He packed up his family and they set out that night.

What Matthew does not mention is how much time passed before Herod realized the wise men had chosen to not return. “Later they [the wise men] were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and they went back home by another road.” (v. 12)

When Herod found out that the wise men from the east had tricked him, he was very angry. He gave orders for his men to kill all the boys who lived in or near Bethlehem and were two years old and younger. This was based on what he had learned from the wise men.” (v. 16)

The time between the wise men taking the different road and that information reaching Herod may have been days or weeks. It is even possible that Joseph and the family were crossing the border into Egypt on the actual night the slaughter happened in Bethlehem.

But maybe, from what we know about Herod in this event, the king had sent spies to watch the wise men and report on their actions and their direction. It is even possible that if there were spies following the wise men, they learned the exact location where the family was living. However, as soon as the wise men took the road that didn’t lead back to Jerusalem, the spies realized they weren’t headed back to Herod and they left to give their report.

With this information, the escape most likely happened a day or two ahead of the slaughter if there were spies watching the wise men, or perhaps even a week or two if Herod was simply waiting for their return.

This detail in the Christmas story tells me that God has everything planned out in detail, and He is not surprised by what is going to happen. God knew Jesus’ life was in danger long before Herod even knew of Jesus’ existence and He made a way for the family to escape the slaughter. This means that nothing that happens in my own life is a surprise to God. While not everything that happens is good, God is able to take the bad and salvage it into something good if we let Him.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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Flashback Episode — Refocusing Our Priorities: Mark 13:1-13


Read the Transcript

During the week Jesus was crucified, Jesus traveled into Jerusalem during the day and every evening, He would leave the city and spend the night outside of Jerusalem. On one afternoon, as they were leaving the temple, we are told about a remark one of the disciples makes, and how Jesus refocuses the conversation onto something much more significant.

Let’s look a little closer at what was said from the gospel of Mark, chapter 13, and let’s use the New American Standard Bible translation. Starting in verse 1, Mark tells us:

1 As He [Jesus] was going out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.”

While I had planned on reading more for this episode, let’s stop reading here and focus on what was just said, because it is incredibly relevant for us living today – maybe even more relevant than to the disciples looking at the magnificent temple. It would be very easy to keep reading and completely miss the relevance of these first two verses. While I don’t know the back-story for why this disciple made this comment, or really what the intent of his thought was, on the surface, this remark speaks to the remarkable achievements of the human race.

While the temple in Jerusalem was one of the most spectacular buildings to see in the ancient world, in today’s culture, we could substitute virtually any of the hundreds or even thousands of distinctive man-made structures that have begun to identify the location where they were constructed. In many ways, just seeing a specific building or specific skyline can immediately identify what city is being displayed.

In this short statement about buildings, the unnamed disciple unintentionally tries to draw the focus onto what we as humankind can build and accomplish. Now 2000 years later, we are able to build buildings bigger, taller, and more magnificent than anything constructed during the first century or at any point during ancient times. This is in part because we have better materials and bigger tools at our disposal.

But regardless of whether Jesus was talking about God’s house on earth, also known as the temple, or if we were to substitute the focus from the temple and onto some of the most spectacular towers and buildings in the 21st century world, I believe Jesus’ response would remain the same.

Jesus responded with the sobering reality in verse 2 that begins with a question: “Do you see these great buildings?” Jesus asks this disciple. “Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.

The response Jesus gives is fascinating in my mind because it appears as though Jesus leads the disciples into thinking that He is agreeing with him. It is like Jesus says, “Yep, these are pretty amazing buildings. Too bad they will soon be completely destroyed.”

If I was tempted to put words into Jesus’ mouth, I likely would have responded with the statement, “Do you see these great buildings? They are nothing compared to what God has in store for all His followers in heaven.” I may also have framed it along the lines of feeling in awe of God because when we are in a large building of that sort, such as a cathedral, we are reminded of how small we are in comparison to how big God is. Sure, God is much bigger than any and every cathedral ever constructed, but it’s good to be reminded visually of our “smallness” when pride likes to trick us into thinking we are bigger than we really are.

But Jesus doesn’t make a comparison with the best humanity can do placed next to what God can do, and He doesn’t even frame the magnificent buildings as structures that can help us draw near to God.

Instead, Jesus focuses our attention on the temporary nature of anything humanity can build or achieve, and this is incredibly relevant for us.

First, every achievement we accomplish will fade in significance with the more time that passes. Our minds minimize our past successes in light of our current challenges and our future fears. This is just a part of human nature. The best we can hope to do is slow this fading in our minds by structuring time into our lives to focus on what we have achieved in the past, and this is best done when framing our accomplishments in the context of what God was able to do through us.

Next, every achievement we accomplish will be out-done by someone else at some point in the future. While we might die on top of the hill of a certain accomplishment, eventually, someone somewhere will beat the record we set, or build something bigger, better, or more efficient than we did. Records and achievements are fluid and as more time passes, we as a species get better and better, faster and faster, and more efficient with what we do.

The best we can hope for with achievements like this is to be happy for those who out do us. There is a good chance the person who out did us looks up to us in some way, and rarely are they the bad guy in a competition. While we shouldn’t ever stop pushing forward and trying to do better following a big achievement, we shouldn’t let our achievements define who we are – because that sets us up for emotional failure where it shouldn’t be.

Someone who identifies with being the best at a particular skill will lose a part of who they are if another person becomes better than them. When a person’s identity is wrapped up in a past accomplishment or a certain set of skills, then they have an unhealthy foundation.

In our passage, the unnamed disciple appears to identify with the magnificent buildings as amazing accomplishments from a human perspective. But Jesus reminded him, and all of us, that the really important things in life are not physical in nature. The best accomplishments and achievements we can do as a species could in seconds be turned to rubble if hit with the right natural disaster.

Instead, Jesus warns us to not focus on the achievements of humanity and instead, He subtly suggests that we focus solely on doing God’s will, focusing on what He would want us to focus on, and to resist getting caught up with what society and culture want us to pay attention to.

With this said, as we come to the close of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I want to leave you with:

Be sure to continually seek God first in your life and intentionally focus on the things He wants us to focus on. While there is nothing wrong with pursuing greatness, we must always keep our motives in check for why we are pushing towards a particular goal. If the motives revolve around self, self-esteem, or even self-worth, then these are negative motives in God’s eyes. Instead, if the motives relate to helping others, giving glory to God, or spreading the news about Jesus to a certain group of people, then these are positive motives in God’s eyes.

As we are focusing on the things God wants us to focus on, be sure to study the Bible for yourself to keep your relationship and connection with Him strong. Unless you are neglecting helping others in the world, you will never hear God tell you He wants you to spend less time in your Bible and in prayer. For most people, prayer and Bible study are among the first things that get crowded out of a busy schedule. This regular challenge is to resist giving up on personal Bible study when life gets busy, because Bible study, at least for me, helps me stay in the right frame of mind and it helps us have the best perspective on this life that we can have – and it helps us have a strong relationship with God too.

And as I always end each set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Season 3 – Episode 40: Cam discusses a short teaching moment Jesus has with one of His disciples as they were leaving Jerusalem, and we focus in on why the truth Jesus shares is incredibly relevant for us living in the 21st century.

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.

Facing Judgment Day: Matthew 10:5-15

Focus Passage: Matthew 10:5-15 (NIrV)

Jesus sent these 12 out with the following orders. “Do not go among the Gentiles,” he said. “Do not enter any town of the Samaritans. Instead, go to the people of Israel. They are like sheep that have become lost. As you go, preach this message, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal those who are sick. Bring those who are dead back to life. Make those who have skin diseases ‘clean’ again. Drive out demons. You have received freely, so give freely.

“Do not get any gold, silver or copper to take with you in your belts. 10 Do not take a bag for the journey. Do not take extra clothes or sandals or walking sticks. A worker should be given what he needs. 11 When you enter a town or village, look for someone who is willing to welcome you. Stay at their house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, greet those who live there. 13 If that home welcomes you, give it your blessing of peace. If it does not, don’t bless it. 14 Some people may not welcome you or listen to your words. If they don’t, leave that home or town, and shake the dust off your feet. 15 What I’m about to tell you is true. On judgment day it will be easier for Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

Read Matthew 10:5-15 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

At the close of Jesus’ instructions to His disciples before He sends them out on a missionary journey during the middle of His time on earth, Jesus tells them how they are to interact with the towns they meet.

Jesus first described what they were to do, and then He described what they shouldn’t take with them. Jesus finishes by describing how they are to interact with the people and towns they come to. He says, “When you enter a town or village, look for someone who is willing to welcome you. Stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, greet those who live there. If that home welcomes you, give it your blessing of peace. If it does not, don’t bless it. Some people may not welcome you or listen to your words. If they don’t, leave that home or town, and shake the dust off your feet. What I’m about to tell you is true. On judgment day it will be easier for Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.” (v. 11-15)

In His concluding remarks, Jesus makes a statement that is almost startling. “On judgment day it will be easier for Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.” (v. 15)

Jesus closes by basically saying that anyone who refuses the messengers who God has sent them is in worse shape than the worst towns in the ancient world. Sodom and Gomorrah were so bad that God personally intervened and destroyed them. Jesus basically describes those who refuse to listen to the messengers God has sent as being in worse shape than these horrible, ungodly locations.

Within this idea, I see two themes present. One theme is a warning; the other theme is a promise.

The warning I see in this idea is that those who don’t pay attention to God’s messengers have no hope for the future. While it may appear on the surface that they are wise to reject God, when judgment day arrives, they will have no defense.

However, with this warning is a promise for another group of people: Those God has sent as messengers. God’s messengers throughout history have not been received well. Those God has sent will always have people who oppose them. Since God’s messengers always faced opposition, and since Jesus Himself faced opposition, I see no reason to believe it will be any different in the future. God’s messengers will face opposition.

The promise for God’s messengers in this idea is that even when we are rejected, God will stand up for us when judgment day arrives. God will fight for those who claim Jesus and His sacrifice.

All of God’s followers have an advocate in Jesus. Jesus paid the ultimate price and faced ultimate rejection when He was crucified. None of it was what He deserved, but He chose it for you and for me. When history finally ends and judgment day arrives, Gods followers and His messengers will know that they chose the right side.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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