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This past week’s sermon was a challenge for me. I preached from John 15:1-11, Jesus’ teaching about the vine and the branches. He instructs his followers to abide in him. The challenge for me came regarding Jesus’ teaching on joy in verse 11.

11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

John 15:11

To be truthful I’ve struggled to have joy during the past several months. Now if Jesus had taught to be full of fear, doubt, frustration, or uncertainty, I would have had those covered during the last several months. My guess is that I’m not alone. Between pandemics and protests, viruses and racial tensions, stay-at-home orders and lifted restrictions, there is a sense of uncertainty that permeates our experience. Uncertainty does not feed joy.

As I studied and preached this text over the weekend, I became convinced that the goal of abiding in Christ is that we might have joy. Abiding in Christ is an active command from Christ, but it is first of all a gift. Jesus declared to his followers in verse 3:

Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.

John 15:3

As humans, we are born in sin and inherently flawed. We are prone to worry, doubt, and impatience. But Jesus teaches us that abiding in him and being made clean by him are gifts that he offers. No, I’m not inherently joyful. But when I reflect on what he’s done for me, I can have joy: the delight in God’s control in all things and his care for me through all things. Here are some reasons we can have joy regardless of our circumstances:

  • Jesus makes us clean through his cross. We don’t earn or deserve cleansing; it is a gift.
  • Jesus invites us to abide in relationship with him. We get to know and relate to the Creator of the universe.
  • Jesus makes us fruitful when we abide in him. We get to live a life that matters eternally because of Christ.
  • Jesus promises to answer our prayers when we abide in him. We get to bring our burdens and requests before him confidently.

John 15 teaches that our relationship with Jesus is the reason for joy. Do you need joy? Pause and think about the salvation that Jesus gave you. Remember that you are in a relationship with the Creator of all. Know that your life matters because Jesus gives you eternal life and the opportunity to share that life with others. Take heart that you can bring whatever struggle or situation to Jesus in prayer.

Abide in Jesus and have joy.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Early June 2020 marks an important moment in my life and in the life of Wilkesboro Baptist Church. We are reopening our facilities for in-person worship and Sunday school classes to meet.

I never imagined when 2020 began that we would be absent from in-person gatherings at church for more than 12 weeks. I never imagined that we would be in the midst of a global pandemic. I never imagined that we would be facing protests as a result of racial tension. And I never imagined that one of the more challenging things I would ever do in ministry is coordinate reopening our church facilities.

There are also some blessings that I can recount from this strange experience. The writer of Hebrews addresses the church and in doing so provides a template for looking at these blessings and the importance of meeting together again.

24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25

Here are some blessings to reflect on regarding our church during this time:

  • Serving others through love is our primary responsibility as a follower of Jesus. Even in this isolation and staying at home, we have been the church. Picking up groceries, serving meals, making face-masks, and praying with people over the phone are just some of the ways Wilkesboro Baptist members have served our church and community. I’m grateful that we have a spiritually healthy church that gives, participates, shares, and cares leading others to follow Jesus.
  • While we have not met in-person, we have not ceased meeting. Meeting together takes many forms. Hebrews 10:25 has been used to stress the importance of attending church services. This is an appropriate application. While we have not gathered in-person for several weeks, we have met together through media and family groups for worship. Online worship is not ideal, but it is better than no worship at all.
  • When we meet in-person again, we will be blessed by the smiles and songs. There’s something special about seeing a follower of Jesus smile in worship. There’s something special about hearing Christians sing in praise. This is a blessing we can all long for.
  • While our life has been interrupted, God is still in control. The reason we can pray and praise is because God rules and reigns. He is our hope and peace.
  • While outside forces may try to hinder the church, the church exercises her power through prayer. I think the prayer of the church encourages me the most. Many of you have joined us in special prayer for revival, awakening, peace, strength, and grace. No matter the outside challenges or the inside worries, our prayers can reflect confidence in God who is in control.

I’ll close this post with a quote I referenced in yesterday’s message from Jeremiah 33:3. It reminds us the glorious importance of our prayers.

God could move on his own, as He did in creation and redemption. He can take the initiative. He needs no permission to act. And yet, dealing with His children, it was His wisdom to place them in a training ground appropriate to their learning processes. We are to govern; we exist in an environment containing spiritual elements hostile to his sovereignty. What else could be better training?This is why in everything we are to present our requests with thanksgiving to God. Nothing is excluded, because all things affect the progress of the kingdom. Our work is large, and our faith operates across that part of God’s sovereignty visible to us. The long list of things we should pray for in the Bible (for governors, for the churches, for boldness) brings the entire movement of humankind, government, churches, and the kingdom under the influence of our prayers. God could move without our cooperation, but our cooperation is the method He uses to demonstrate His sovereignty. All power derives from God; He is the most powerful Agent in the universe. Prayer provides a way for us to cooperate with our all-powerful God.

T. W. Hunt, The Doctrine of Prayer, 70-1.

Photo by Illiya Vjestica on Unsplash