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Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries

 

Who do you listen to?  audio

Mark 11:27-12:27

By What Authority 11:27-33

The story is told of a ship’s captain during the war, who was sailing along on a dark night and saw a light on a collision course. So he got his signaller to flash a message: “Alter your course 10 degrees west.” The reply came back “Alter your course 10 degrees east.” The captain then signalled “Alter your course 10 degrees west. I am a Commander.” The reply came back “Alter your course 10 degrees east.  I am a seaman third-class.”

By this time the ship’s captain was getting furious. So he signalled: “Alter your course 10 degrees west. I am a battleship.” The reply came back almost instantly: “Alter your course 10 degrees east. I am a lighthouse.”

That story addresses the issue of our passage today. That is the issue of authority. Where does authority come from? Sometimes it comes from your rank or status, as the commander in that story obviously assumed. But sometimes it comes from something innate like the immovable nature of a lighthouse set above a cliff. So where do you look to for authority for your life? That’s not an easy question to ask in this day and age. Life has changed so radically in the last 50 years that what was taken for granted 50 years ago can no longer be assumed. Truth is all relative, we’re told. Alternative facts are the go. Authority comes in various shapes and forms.

Jesus Enters Jerusalem   audio

Mark 11:1-25

I wonder how many of you were around for the opening of Parliament house in Canberra in 1988. We were living in Canberra at the time so it was a big event for us. The weekend before we took part in a prayer walk around the Parliament House hill with thousands of other Christians, but the big event was the arrival of the Queen for the opening ceremony. People flocked to Parliament house to get a look at her. Schools took their students along – in fact our daughter Katherine was in the front of the crowd and was able to give her a rose as she went by. That really impressed her grandparents!

Well that’s a bit like what it must have been like when Jesus entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. The city was buzzing. The word had got around. Jesus, the great teacher and healer was coming to Jerusalem, despite the danger from the Jewish leaders. Word was that he'd even been talking about death, predicting that he was going to be crucified, and saying that people had to be willing to take up their cross if they wanted to follow him. But that hadn’t stopped him from teaching and healing people and he was still arguing with the Pharisees.

At our Christmas carol service Steve was telling us about how much his son is enjoying the bright lights of London in the midst of the dark winter season. And it’s not surprising. We often associate light with feelings of enjoyment or safety don’t we? There’s something very peaceful about sitting in a room lit be candles or in front of an open fire staring at the flames. When we walk into a dark house the first thing we do is to turn on the lights because they give us a sense of safety.

Light for Judgement

But in fact light isn’t always about giving us a sense of peace and security.

When Di and I bought our last house we decided we’d put in an ensuite to the bedroom. So we had an architect draw up the plans, and then we went to a bathroom shop to see what fittings we should include. One of the must haves was a set of lights above the bathroom mirror. You may have something like that in your bathroom. Now you don’t put lights above your mirror for the sake of safety or peace. Nor do you put them there so you feel like a Hollywood star when you’re standing in front of it, like you’re standing in the spotlight for everyone to see? You don’t put them there so you can admire yourself in the mirror. In fact the opposite: those lights are actually there to show you all your faults; to show you the wrinkles in your forehead or around your eyes or lips, the spots that would be much better covered up, the hairs that need to be removed, or the moles that might need to be looked at by your doctor. A good light will do that for you, much as you mightn’t actually want to know what it’s telling you.

The Vine and the Branches audio (5MB)

John 15:1-17

Today is the first anniversary of the opening of St Thomas’. A lot’s happened in the last year hasn’t it? We’ve had a number of people join us. We’ve seen lots of new programs starting up, taking advantage of these great facilities. It makes you feel good to be part of it doesn’t it?    

In fact just being part of the Christian church is a good thing, whether or not you’ve got great facilities like these.  I wonder have you thought about what it means for you to be a Christian? For some it means the comfort of knowing that you’re on God’s side? For some it’s being part of a wider community of people who are mutually dependent and supportive? It might mean being part of a world-wide community of people who share a love for and who worship the one God? But you know, while being a Christian might mean all of those things to different people, none of them is at the heart of what Jesus says it means to be Christian. Here in John 15 Jesus begins to teach his disciples what it means to be one of his followers.

He says the whole point of being one of his followers is to bear fruit to the Father’s glory. In fact, he says if you don’t bear fruit, there’s something wrong. Have a look at John 15:1. He begins with the statement that he is the true vine and his Father the vinegrower. Now for the disciples this would have rung loud bells. The image of a vine or a vineyard was a common image of the nation of Israel. That’s what we read in our first reading from Is 5. There, in the song of the vineyard, God tells how he planted a vineyard, meaning the people of Israel, and looked for it to bear grapes, but all he found were wild grapes, of no use to him. And so he says he’ll tear down that vineyard, make it a waste, because it didn’t bear the fruit that God required from it. Israel had failed to do what God required, and so would be left a desolate wasteland.

But now Jesus has come and he declares that he is the true vine. He is the one who will obey the Father and please him in all he does (v10) the way Israel failed to do.

But if Jesus is the vine, those who have joined him as his followers are grafted in and become branches of that same vine. And that means that we too are expected to bear fruit. If we don't bear fruit, the Father, the vine grower, will prune us. He’ll take away those parts of us that are unfruitful, or that are bearing wild grapes, and those parts that are bearing fruit he’ll prune to make them even more fruitful.

Have you ever had a grape vine and watched how it grows? It first sends out shoots, some of which have flowers on them which become grapes. But then about the time that the grapes are beginning to ripen, it’ll suddenly have a spurt of growth. New branches spring out of the vine, new growth. To the casual observer it looks wonderful, full of health and vigour. But the vine grower isn’t interested in lush growth; he’s interested in luscious grapes. So one of the jobs of the vine grower is to go along and prune those branches that don’t have any fruit on them.

So here’s the first thing we learn from this picture of Christ as the vine and us as the branches. The whole point of being a follower of Christ is so that we can continue his work, to bear much fruit to the glory of God.

But then the question arises, how are we going to bear fruit? Well, fairly obviously, the first thing you need if you’re going to bear the right fruit, is to be grafted into the right vine. Now this is important. No matter how good a branch may be, unless they’re grafted into a healthy vine, they’ll never bear any fruit. Again, following the analogy of the vine grower, most if not all commercial grapes are grown from grafted vines. What the grower does is to select a variety of grape that appears to have the desired characteristics and then grafts that branch into a root stock that’s known to be healthy and vigorous and disease resistant, etc. And the result, hopefully, is a vine that produces plenty of good fruit. But until that branch is successfully grafted into the root stock, it’s of no use. In fact if it’s left too long it’ll shrivel up and die.

That’s the picture that Jesus is giving of our situation. We need to be grafted into the vine, that is into the life of Christ, in order for us to flourish and bear fruit. But notice who all that depends on in the first instance? It doesn’t depend on the branch does it? It depends entirely on the vine grower. So too, our salvation, our being grafted into the vine, doesn’t depend on our efforts, but on God who does it all for us. God’s gift to us is to graft us in, if we ask him to, so we can take part in the life of the vine, in the life of Christ. Only then does he expect us to bear fruit, as we draw on the power of God, on the life of Christ, to deliver the fruit that God desires.

But having been grafted in, how are we to bear fruit? Well, there is something we have to do. If we’re to be drawn into the life of Christ, if the graft is to take, as it were, we need to remain connected to the vine. That’s why it’s so important to be part of a church, part of the body of Christ here on earth.
That’s what Jesus says next you see: “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing..” It seems so simple, doesn’t it? If you want to bear fruit you need to draw life from the vine. That means you need to remain firmly connected to the life of the vine. That’s what I take him to mean by abide in me. So we need to be constantly looking to Christ for our daily food; to be constantly feeding on the word of God, on the bread of life; firmly connected to him and to other Christians. But there’s also a moral element to it. You may have noticed that while vs 1-8 give the picture of the vine, vs9-17 seems to work in parallel, to flesh out what this metaphor means in practice. So in vs 9-10 he explains, not how to abide in the vine, but how to remain in his love. But it seems that these are essentially the same idea. And how do we remain in Christ’s love? By keeping his commandments. So you see there is a moral aspect to this remaining in Christ. Mind you, it isn’t some sort of harsh, Victorian asceticism, some mean-spirited legalism. Rather he’s talking about the sort of loving obedience that he showed to the Father’s will, that leads to fulfilment, to life in abundance, that’s the road to liberation, not bondage. Look at v 11: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” Our obedience to the will of God gives us complete joy as we share in the life of Christ and in his love.

But notice too, that although obedience to Christ’s commands leads to joy, it doesn’t mean it comes without any pain. Going back to the picture of the vine, our fruitfulness might also involve us being pruned. I guess we can all think of things in our life that God has had to remove in order to get our focus back on him. And just like the vine, the things God prunes away aren’t necessarily bad. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a leafy branch. If it were an ornamental vine like the one in this picture, a leafy branch would be fine. But if you’re hoping for big juicy grapes, that leafy branch might need to be cut back. It might even be necessary to cut back some of the smaller bunches of grapes so those that are left are even healthier. So there will be times when God will come along with his pruning shears and take away some otherwise perfectly fine thing that just happens to be distracting us from doing his will. He might even stop us from working in some area of ministry because he wants us to put more time into something else. There’s a warning there isn’t there? Be careful that that favourite toy of yours, or that favourite occupation, that hobby or sport, those friends even, don’t get in the way of your service of God. Use them by all means as a means of recreation, of refreshment when you need to get the stresses of life out of your system, but be careful that they don’t take over, or distract you from God’s work, because that’s when God just might come along with his pruning shears and remove them. And notice the place of God’s word in doing that pruning. In v3 he says “You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.” There’s a play on words in the Greek between the word for prune and the word for cleanse. It’s as though he’s saying that his words have already cleaned away some of the unfruitful growth. That’s happened as a result of them hearing the word of life that he’s spoken to them. That is, as his words have given them life, as they’ve heard them and believed in him they’ve thrown off their old beliefs and begun to bear the sort of fruit Jesus is talking about in their own lives. It’s also happened to them corporately, as his words have led to many falling away because they couldn’t take what he was saying, not least of which was Judas Iscariot (6:66, 12:37-41).

Again, if we’re to bear fruit, how will the fruit come about? Well, as we’ve already seen, the fruit draws its life from the vine, not from the branches. In other words, it’s God who will bring the fruit. But still, we have our part to play. Have a look at vs7-8 “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” And v16: “16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.” God’s desire is that we’ll bear much fruit to his glory, so he promises that all we have to do is to ask him to bring our efforts to fruition and he’ll do it. Here is the secret to being a fruitful follower of Christ: ask him to give you the fruit you desire. Paul says in 1 Cor 3 that one person plants, another waters, but God gives the growth. So if you want your service of God to be fruitful, ask him to provide the growth.

We talked about this briefly last week, when we saw that the Holy Spirit is given to us in part to convince those to whom we witness of the truth of our testimony. If you’re sharing the gospel with your friends or family members then make sure you’re praying at the same time, asking God to send his Holy Spirit to speak to the hearts of those to whom you’re speaking, to give the fruit that you’re looking for.

Next, notice that this idea of abiding is far from a passive thing. I think sometimes people read it like that. I think some people interpret it as like being in a retirement home, or a holiday resort on the Gold Coast, where you can just sit back and relax in comfort, while someone else looks after you, does all the maintenance, etc. A couple of weeks ago we sang that hymn “Abide with me”. Its words are exactly what I’m talking about. It speaks of God abiding with us as the evening of life draws near. Of God providing comfort and protection to us when all other help has failed. But us abiding in Christ here is nothing like that at all. Abiding here has to do with where you get the energy to produce fruit. It’s grounded in mission. It’s an active, output oriented concept.
That’s why Jesus repeats his new commandment, there in v12. Remember, the point of the new commandment, the reason for loving one another the way Jesus loved us, was so that people would see that we’re Jesus’ disciples. Loving one another is just part of the process of bearing fruit. And loving one another is part of the reality of remaining in Jesus’ love.

Finally, notice that abiding in the vine results in a new relationship between Jesus and his followers. He says “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” Our being grafted into the vine changes our relationship to Jesus from being subjects, servants, to being friends. We become partners with him in the ministry of the gospel. We’re his ambassadors, speaking as those who’ve been given the mind of Christ; in fact we’ve been given a message from Christ, to pass on. We share with him the task of bearing fruit to God’s glory.

And what sort of fruit are we to bear? The New Testament talks a lot about good fruit. For example it speaks of the fruit of lips that confess his name; good works; the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ; the fruit of light that is found in all that is good and right and true; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness; generosity. As Jesus says in v16, this is the sort of fruit that’ll last, that’ll bring glory to God the Father.
So we’re called not as servants, but as friends of Christ to bear much fruit to the glory of God. And if we’re to do that we’ll need to be firmly grafted into the life of Christ, into the life of his Church; we’ll need to be committed to obeying him in everything we do; we’ll need to be drawing our strength and energy from him; we’ll need to be relying on him to produce the increase, and we’ll need to be output oriented, looking to serve God in all we do.

Are you a Tool?  audio

Acts 9:1-30

I have a great collection of tools in my work shed. Most of them came from my father and grandfather though some I’ve bought for myself. Of course the fact that I have them there doesn’t necessarily mean they get used; or get used well when I do use them. But the ones I do use and can use well are the ones I particularly look after. I enjoy woodwork and so I have some good quality chisels and planes. But as many of you will know, a chisel or a plane aren’t much use unless they’re sharp and without chips in the blade. So I sharpen them regularly.

But we’re not here today to talk about my hobbies, we’re here to talk about witnessing to the gospel. So what have tools got to do with that? Well, as we’ll see in a moment God’s tools are people and he chooses to use the most unlikely of people as his tools in that task of sharing the gospel  

I mean, who could be more unlikely than Saul? He hasn’t got a clue has he? I wonder if you’ve noticed over the past few weeks how there’s something of a theme of blindness and sight running through these chapters

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