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Occupy Till He Comes!

My scheduled Bible reading this morning was Luke 19. Though I usually use ESV for reading and listening to my daily Scriptures, using the YouVersion Bible app, today my app was set to KJV. And as I was listening to the reading of the Parable of the Ten Minas, one phrase jumped out at me. “OCCUPY TILL I COME.”

Though this is a familiar phrase, I had never before realized where it was located, partly because modern versions don’t use this wording. Jesus and His disciples were on their way to the Mount of Olives, walking along the road and using this parable to talk to the twelve who had followed Him during His years of ministry. By now, the disciples knew that Jesus’ parables had a purpose. Jesus spoke to the crowds “in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” (Matthew‬ ‭13:13‬ ‭ESV)‬‬ Likely there were unbelieving Jews along the road, and this was a message for the disciples (then and future) alone.

Jesus was about to send two of His disciples into the village to get the colt He would ride on the day we now know as Palm Sunday. Jesus was facing His crucifixion, about a week away, and He was doing more than telling a story. He was preparing His disciples for the time when He would no longer be physically with them. They would see Jesus suffer and die on the cross, be raised from the dead, and just before the ascension be commissioned for the work of being His witnesses, starting in Jerusalem and moving out from there to the nations around the world.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” ‭‭Acts‬ ‭1:8‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The Greek word translated “occupy” means to “take care of business.” The business of being Christ’s witnesses is now our responsibility. Matthew 24:14 tells us, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”‭

According to Joshua Project, there are approximately 17,446 unique people groups in the world. Over 7,400 of them considered unreached (over 41% of the world’s population!). Less than 10% of missionary work is done among these people. Jesus’ call to His disciples to occupy until the end comes and He returns, to occupy and take care of the business of the kingdom is still His call to His followers.

Are you obeying this call? You may not be able to go as a missionary to one of these unreached people groups. I know I’m physically unable to do this. But are you doing the “kingdom business” that God has called you to do? This was the message I heard from the Lord this morning. This is also my desire, to complete the work God has given me personally to do. Are you willing to “occupy till He comes?”

SWITCHING TRACKS!

I’m currently reading “You’re Going to Be Okay: Encouraging Truth Your Heart Needs to Hear, Especially on the Hard Days,” by Holley Gerth. She had the clearest understanding of renewing the mind that I’ve ever read.

“The other day I pulled up to a railroad crossing just as a train came barreling through it. At the last minute, it screeched to a halt and an engineer jumped out of the first car. He ran to the track, made some adjustments, and hopped back in to continue the journey. As I looked closer, I could see exactly what he’d done – switched the track.

“Our thoughts are a lot like that train. They go speeding through life, and we don’t give much intentional focus to them. They run on automatic based on past experiences and how we’ve taught ourselves to respond to different situations. Every time you react a certain way, your brain makes a note of it. That means the thoughts you think most have the strongest tracks, and your mind automatically goes there.

“When you decide to ‘renew your mind,’ it means stepping off the train and switching the tracks. We have to do this again and again. Then at some point, your brain realizes that this is the new normal response, and it goes there automatically.”

The mind is renewed one area at a time, as we apply this process. Our thinking changes as we apply “the mind of Christ” to our circumstances or sin pattern. Then we do it again and again, until our thinking in this area conforms to the Word of God automatically. Our new normal response is no longer conformed to the ways of this world. Our thoughts in this area now line up with the “good and acceptable and perfect” will of God.

The Fruit of Faithfulness

Tapestry of Beauty, an online women’s study group I’m a part of, is currently doing a Bible study on the Fruit of the Spirit. The last fruit we studied was faithfulness, so as I read Luke 16:10 in a devotion this morning, a new truth about faithfulness stood out to me. This verse uses dishonesty as an antonym for faithfulness. Other versions use “unjust” but by using the Blue Letter Bible to study the Greek word I learned that “dishonest” is more accurate. The meaning in this verse is “one who deals fraudulently with others.”

I used the S.O.A.P. method of Bible study to learn more about this verse. Stands for Scripture writing, O for Observation (such as doing word studies of key words and looking at the verse in context), A for Application in my personal life, and P for Prayer.

My study included looking at the verse in various Bible translations. I especially like this verse in The Passion Translation. It is even more enlightening when read in context.

“The one who faithfully manages the little he has been given will be promoted and trusted with greater responsibilities. But those who cheat with the little they have been given will not be considered trustworthy to receive more. If you have not handled the riches of this world with integrity, why should you be trusted with the eternal treasures of the spiritual world? And if you’ve not proven yourself faithful with what belongs to another, why should you be given wealth of your own? It is impossible for a person to serve two masters at the same time. You will be forced to love one and reject the other. One master will be despised and the other will have your loyal devotion. Your choice between God and the wealth of this world is no different. You must enthusiastically love one and definitively reject the other.”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭16:10-13‬ ‭TPT‬‬

Father, the current responsibilities in my life seem insignificant. But to You, they are very important. My faithfulness as I fulfill these responsibilities is the key to You entrusting me with greater responsibilities in the upcoming season of my life. Enable me by Your Spirit to faithfully manage the little that You have entrusted to me, so that You will be able to entrust me with greater responsibilities in the next season of my life. I ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Called to Be Salt and Light in a Dark World

I’m doing a Chronological Bible Reading Plan this year with one of the Facebook groups I’m a part of, and this morning we started reading the book of Isaiah. As I began today’s reading of Isaiah 1-4, I only made it to the 7th verse.

Your country lies desolate; your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence foreigners devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.” Isaiah‬ ‭1:7‬ ‭ESV‬‬

While I know in context this refers to the judgment Israel would face, Israel wasn’t the nation that came to mind when I read this verse. I received it as a message to the church in the United States of America and to me personally as a member of that church.

2020 saw our country facing a pandemic caused by a virus from China that shut down our economy and did unbelievable damage to our nation and other nations around the word. We also saw riots that resulted in many of our cities being burned with fire. Then the year ended with an election that evidence shows was corrupted by foreigners.

If these were signs that Israel’s sin of idolatry and unfaithfulness to God would be judged, should God’s people in this nation see these happenings as a judgment of our own sin. Could God be warning us as a nation that it’s time to return to the founding principles that have made America great?

Many of our founding fathers came from Christian backgrounds which influenced their beliefs and principles. These same principles and beliefs were foundational in the documents and events that founded this great country. We can conclude from the founder’s words that our country was established as one nation under God.

John Adams, signer of the Declaration of Independence, one of two signers of the Bill of Rights, and the second President of the United States wrote the following in a letter to Thomas Jefferson on June 28, 1813.

“The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.”

The apostle Peter warned us that when judgment comes on a nation, it begins with God’s people, “the household of God.”

For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” 1 Peter‬ ‭4:17‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Much of the church in the United States no longer holds fast to the Word of God. Compromise with the culture in which we live has become acceptable. In many churches, the truth of the Gospel has been exchanged for sermons that make us feel good. It’s time for the church of Jesus Christ to repent and return to foundations upon which it was founded.

As I was praying for our nation this morning, Matthew 5:13-16 came to mind. These verses which are familiar to most Christians describe our calling to be salt and light in the world. Salt preserves and adds flavor to life. Light reminds us that Jesus is the Light of the world, and as His body we are called to represent Him.

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew‬ ‭5:13-16‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Realizing the Brevity of Life

During the month of July, I have been reading through the books of Psalms and Proverbs, and this morning’s reading included Psalm 90. I’ve been using the New Living Translation to get a fresh view of these Scriptures that I’ve read hundreds of times in the around fifty years that I’ve been a Christian.

Psalm 90 is the oldest of the Psalms. It was written by Moses, in the form of a prayer, and entitled From Everlasting to Everlasting. The first verses focus on the eternal nature of our God.

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” Psalm‬ ‭90:1-2‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Moses starts with a reminder that no matter what circumstances we face, we have a safe dwelling place in the Lord. The New Living Translation calls it a home. In Him we have shelter and protection from danger or distress. The Creator of the earth and heavens calls us to come to Him and be secure.

The next verses are Moses prayer of lament over the brevity of life and the judgment of sins. This section ends with a reminder that our “secret sins” are not a secret to God.

“You spread out our sins before you— our secret sins—and you see them all. We live our lives beneath your wrath, ending our years with a groan.” Psalm 90:8-9 NLT

‭‭Then we come to the two verses that jumped out at me as I was reading them this morning.

“Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty. But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away… Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” Psalm‬ ‭90:10, 12‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Seventy years are given to us!” These are the words that seemed to jump off the page as I was reading this morning. And before I looked forward, the words “teach us to number our days” came to mind. I was surprised to see that this truth was only two verses ahead. Because of the brevity of life, and the fact that I turned seventy-two in February, the thought came that I am “living on borrowed time.” The time when I will “fly away” to be in the presence of the Lord could be any time.

Remembering how fragile our life on earth is a good reminder to appreciate the years and months and even the days I still have to complete the purposes of God for my life. I need to value every moment and live wisely and with purpose. Time is short, so I need to live with a sense of urgency, seeking God’s wisdom for each day’s tasks.

At age seventy-two, I’m well aware of the brevity of life. As I read these verses, 2 Corinthians 4:16 came to mind. It begins with a reminder not to lose heart when our outer self, our physical bodies, begin wasting away. In my own life, over the last year I’ve seen the cartilage in my knees waste away so that my knees are now basically bone on bone. How do we not lose heart in this situation? The key is remembering this life is not all there is.

Living with chronic illnesses such as arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, and an endless list of other infirmities, as many of you who read my blog do, is living with watching your bodies slowly waste away. But the good news is that’s not where the Apostle Paul ended this verse. He added the encouragement that our inner self is being renewed day by day.

If you are a Christian, one who has been forgiven and who has accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, your inner self is renewed as you spend time in God’s life-giving presence. Colossians 3:10 (ESV) says we “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Through prayer and reading the Bible, God’s written Word, your inner self, the part of you that was made for eternity, is being renewed daily by the Holy Spirit.

No matter how many years you have left on this earth, they are a brief moment compared to eternity. Don’t despair when you see your outer self wasting away. Instead, turn your focus on renewing your inner self and on doing the things that will count for eternity.

Jesus Is With Us in the Storm

“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” Mark‬ ‭4:35-41‬ ‭ESV‬‬

On Tuesday, a Facebook group I’m in began a new study entitled “Jesus Calms the Storm,” based on the above Scripture. It’s a familiar story to those of us who have been Christians for very long, and when passages from the Bible are well-known it’s easy to just skim over the verses. But this morning, I saw these verses in a different way – from the viewpoint of the ones who were there with Jesus, His disciples.

After a busy day of ministry, it was around sundown and they were physically weary. So when Jesus said, “Let us go across to the other side,” they were ready to follow. They weren’t anxious about the trip, it was just one of many they had taken across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was still with them and they were at peace.

A pleasant trip on the Sea of Galilee

This was a routine trip, a short eight miles across to the other side. Mark 5:1 tells us they were headed to the country of the Gerasenes, and there were other boats in sight. Among the disciples were several men who had fished these waters for many years, before they left their nets and responded to Jesus’ call to follow Him. They were skilled at handling the boat, so when Jesus said He wanted to lie down and rest awhile, they weren’t concerned.

Unfortunately, this didn’t turn out to be the routine trip the disciples were expecting. Storms were not unusual on this area. The Sea of Galilee is 680 feet below sea level, and is surrounded by hills. When the winds from the Mediterranean come across the hills, the air is cool and dry. When this air comes in contact with the warm, moist air around the sea, it causes large temperature changes and strong winds dropping to the sea. The disciples were familiar with this, but what they saw this evening was frightening even to these experienced fishermen.

Suddenly, they found themselves in a very dangerous situation, when the high winds and huge waves began breaking over the boat one after another. The boat was quickly filling with water, and the experienced fishermen aboard knew they were in a life-threatening situation.

A storm at sea

So where was Jesus in the midst of this? He was in the stern of the boat, asleep on a cushion. But His nap didn’t last very long. The frightened disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus awoke from his sleep and rebuked the wind, speaking to it “Peace, be still.” And just that quick the storm was over and the water was calm.

Didn’t Jesus care about these men who were handpicked by Him and closest to Him? Weren’t they obeying Jesus who told them to “go over to the other side”? Why, then, were they going through such a turbulent time?

How sad the disciples must have felt when Jesus looked at them and said, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” After this experience, they were amazed and said, “Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

No one is exempt from the storms of life. Remember, the boat Jesus and the disciples were on wasn’t the only one around. Mark told us that other boats were around them, so the men on these boats who may have been unbeliever’s also faced the storm. The Gospel does not tell us anymore about them, but they faced the frightening situation without Jesus. When we go through storms, we have an advantage over those who do not know the Lord. We are never alone in the storm; the One Who has power over the wind and the sea is with us.

Peter, one of the disciples who went through this storm with Jesus, later wrote of us experiencing storms in life that cause us great grief. When they come, he encouraged us to rejoice, because trials test the genuineness of our faith, which is more precious than gold. As we go through the storms, we can know we are being guarded by God’s power as we place our faith in Him.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter‬ ‭1:3-7‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Another thing we know is that the disciples had a promise that they were going across the Sea of Galilee to the other side. When we face a storm in our lives, one thing that I’ve found helpful is spending time in God’s Word, asking Him to give me a promise to hold onto.

In a recent article, Pastor Greg Laurie compared the Coronavirus pandemic we have been going through this year to one of the powerful storms on the Sea of Galilee.

“This terrible COVID-19 pandemic is like a massive storm. We are afraid and worried about our futures.

“Although we might feel forsaken, we are not. I am comforted by this beautiful story, as it reminds me that I can trust God in the storms of my life. Jesus watches us in our storms.”

The Mark account of Jesus calming the sea ends with the disciples asking each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him.” As we trust Jesus during the storms we face, the storm may not stop immediately. God is sovereign, and His will will prevail. But we can be assured that we will come out of our storms with more understanding of the greatness of our God.

How Big is Your God?


Last week, I was reading in Numbers 13 and 14, the story of Moses sending twelve men, one leader from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, to spy out the land of Canaan. God had promised Moses that He was giving this land to the people of Israel. Moses gave the men clear instructions. They were to see whether the land was good or bad, rich or poor, whether the people were few or many, whether they were weak or strong.

As they were leaving, Moses encouraged them with these words. “Be of good courage and bring some of the fruit of the land” (Numbers‬ ‭13:20‬). They left the wilderness of Paran, according to the command the Lord had given Moses, and for forty days they spied out the land of Canaan. Then it was time to return with a report on what they had learned. ‬‬‬

After showing some of the fruit of the land, including a single cluster of grapes that was so large two of the men carried it on a pole between two of them, they began their report on a positive note. Canaan was a land flowing with milk and honey.

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But as their report continued, the affirming words were replaced with words filled with doubt and fear. The facts may have been true – the cities were large and fortified, the people strong, some of them extremely large, descendants of the Nephilim, who according to Hebraic and other legends (the Book of Enoch and other non-biblical writings), were a race of giants and super-heroes who did acts of great evil – but they left God out of the picture.
‭‭‬‬‬‬
The report of the majority of the spies ended with these words.

“We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” (Numbers‬ ‭13:31-33‬) ‭‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

The ten spies were grumbling against their leaders Moses and Aaron, the rest of the congregation raising loud cries against the Lord for bringing them into the land. They were convinced that they would die in the wild, that their wives and little ones would become a prey. Their answer was clear.

“Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers‬ ‭14:3b-4)‬

But there were two spies who saw Canaan through a different lens. Caleb saw the same problems ahead, but he had a different attitude from the other spies.

“But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, ‘Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.’” (Numbers‬ ‭13:30)‬ ‬

Through this time, Joshua was silent. But when Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before the people of Israel, both Caleb and Joshua tore their clothes in grief over the people’s blasphemy against God and rebellion against Moses. And they said to the people of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”

Instead of heeding their wise words, the people of Israel wanted to stone these two righteous men. But Number 14:10 ends with the glory of the Lord appearing and Him speaking.

“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.’” (Numbers‬ ‭14:11-12)‬‬

This is an interesting Bible story, but where is the application in our lives? There are probably as many applications as there are people reading this post.

For me, the application was clear. In the situation we are currently walking through, the changed lifestyle that we are all experiencing because of the COVID-19 pandemic and all the ramifications that have come out of it, what would I make my focus? Would I tremble in fear as I turn my eyes on all the problems we are going through and the possible problems ahead? Or would I focus on our invisible God who is bigger than the visible problems we face – indeed, bigger than the biggest problem I will ever face?

The answer was clear – I choose to turn my eyes on the Lord, to focus on Him and move forward into the future in faith. I don’t want to end up like that whole generation that left Egypt did, except for Caleb and Joshua who saw the situation through the lens of faith. Because of the grumbling, unbelief and rebellion of the people, that generation wandering for forty and then died in the wilderness, just as they feared would happen.

I choose to look at my problems through the lens of faith in a God who is bigger than any problem we may face!

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When I Surrender, I Worship

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Romans‬ ‭12:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬

When we began our study on surrender, Romans 12:1 was one of the first Scriptures we studied. Now that we are coming to the end of our study, we go back to this important verse.

Laura says, “Considering all that Christ has done for us – making us right with God by his atoning death, freeing us from the penalty and power of sin, lavishing us with his grace – how should we respond?

After eleven chapters full of rich truths that are the foundation of our faith in Christ Jesus, the apostle Paul begins chapter 12 of Romans with his answer to this question. How should we respond to the grace and mercy of God? The only appropriate response is found in surrender, in presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. Paul says, this “is your spiritual worship.

We don’t surrender our lives to God to gain his favor. We offer ourselves to him in response to the favor he has already freely shown us because of the saving work of Jesus.

A CORRECT UNDERSTANDING OF WORSHIP
Worship is not an emotional response, though often emotions may be a part of it. Worship is not singing songs of praise, though singing is often a part of it. True worship is a choice to respond to God in gratitude and praise for who He is and for all He has done for us.

True worship, according to Romans 12:1, is presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. Surrender is the main requirement for worship. And worship is to be constant because it is an expression of God’s worth, which never changes, even when our circumstances and emotions fluctuate from day to day.

Laura shares a feeling of apprehension when she first began to understand the link between surrender and worship. We are to present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. But none of us are holy. Even our best attempts at surrender are imperfect.

Laura says, “I can’t present myself as a holy and blameless sacrifice on the basis of my track record. But I can present myself to God as holy and blameless based on his mercy!” When God looks at us he doesn’t see our self-centeredness and failures. He sees in us the righteousness of Jesus.

As we bring this study to a close today and tomorrow, let’s spend some timBlamelesse in thanksgiving and praise. And to get us started, I want to share the chorus of a song written by Laura Story reminding us this life we have is no longer ours to do with as we please.

Not My Life

This is not my life
It is Yours, it is Yours
This is not my heart
It is Yours, it is Yours
I surrender all I am
Place my life into Your hands
Jesus, I am Yours
I am Yours

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Jesus: Our Example of Surrender

This week, we are coming to the end of our study of I Give Up: The Secret Joy of a Surrendered Life, by Laura Story.

Christian author Katherine J Walden said concerning surrender:

“The enemy knows that without surrender, we will never experience the freedom that God offers us. Without surrender, we will remain spiritually malnourished, ill and confused. Without surrender, our foxholes become prisons of the enemy’s making. Our lack of full surrender limits God’s ability to both work in our lives and through our lives.

“God’s call to surrender is not an intimidating, angry bark heard from the other side of a battlefield. God’s invitation to surrender is expressed through the example of his Son, Jesus, as described in Philippians 2:5-11.”

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians‬ ‭2:5-11‬ ‭NIV‬‬

The call to surrender is a call to live like Jesus lived. He willingly took on human flesh, taking on the very nature of a servant. He humbled himself by becoming obedient, even to the point of death on the Cross of Calvary. His choice to always do whatever his heavenly Father asked enabled him to be victorious.

The decision to live a lifestyle of surrender to God can simply be described as following Jesus. And by making this choice, we are set free to live in the freedom God offers us, to walk in the victory he gained. 

A lifestyle of surrender is also a life of putting others before ourselves. As Laura Story says,  surrender has a “ripple effect.” If you’ve ever thrown a stone in the water, you’ve noticed the ripple effect – with concentric circles going out from the place of contact. How we live matters, not only in our personal lives but also in the lives of those around us. As we follow Jesus’ example, we aren’t the only ones who are changed.

Philippians 2:5 mentions that the mindset of Christ Jesus is to make a difference in our relationships with one another. And to understand more clearly what that means, we just need to look at the two verses right before this passage about the mindset of Jesus.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians‬ ‭2:3-4‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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I wanted to close today with Laura Story’s latest song, one that reminds us of the victory that Jesus won on our behalf. As she says, “Our fears and our failures hang dead on the cross.” And because we were crucified with him, we are able to share in His life and His victory.  Following Jesus is choosing the lifestyle he lived, a life of daily surrender to the will of God. And doing so means sharing in His victory, which includes all of the benefits that are a part of that.

 

Love Is!

Our focus for this week in Laura Story’s Bible study “I Give Up” has been two-fold.

  • First, we looked at the “How” of surrender, in light of John 15. In simple terms, the key to developing a lifestyle of surrender is abiding in the Lord and allowing His life and power to flow through us. 
  • Second, we looked at The Fruit of the Spirit, with a focus on the first fruit listed, love.

“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 ‭5:22-23NIV‬‬

The fruit of the Spirit was never intended to be seen as a list of goals for us to fulfill. That is a task that is guaranteed to end in failure. The fruit of the Spirit isn’t fruit we can produce in our own strength. No, it is the Holy Spirit through us who produces this fruit.

Fruit in our lives is determined by who or what controls our hearts. Galatians 5:16 makes this clear. It says, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” But the opposite is also true. If you walk in the weakness of your flesh, you will gratify the desires of the flesh. That’s why we focused on abiding in Jesus, the true Vine, before looking at the fruit of the Spirit.

We demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit when we allow the Holy Spirit, also known as the Spirit of Jesus, to flow through us to those around us. Galatians 4:6 says, “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts…” The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus, at work in our lives, conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ.

Author Jerry Bridges said, “The fruit of the Spirit is fundamentally relational. Rather than originating with us, it flows to us from our union with Christ, and it flows beyond us to bring us into fellowship with others. The secret of this flow – and our unity with God and others – is humility.

The first fruit of the Spirit is love. Some have even said love IS the fruit of the Spirit and the other eight qualities are demonstrations of love. The English word for love has a very broad meaning. But the Greek word translated “love” in Galatians 5:22, “agape”, has a very precise meaning. This love is not a feeling but rather a choice. It is a godly love which comes directly from God. It is the very nature of God, an unconditional love that God has offered us freely and He wants to flow through us to others. It is a sacrificial love, as seen in God willingly offering His own Son to pay the penalty for our sins so we could be restored to relationship with Him.

As Christians, the fruit of the Spirit of love is demonstrated in two main ways. Both are commands, given by Jesus in Matthew 22: 37-39.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

First, we are called to love the Lord with our whole being. It’s easy to see this love as a demonstration of surrender. The apostle John wrote, “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” 2 John‬ ‭1:6‬ ‭NIV‬‬

The second command to love has to do with our “neighbor” – and Jesus made it clear in the parable of the Good Samaritan that a neighbor is anyone in need of our mercy (see Luke 10:25-37). Love for our “neighbor” is described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

As you think about the fruit of love this week, I encourage you to ask yourself two questions:

  1. Do I love God with my whole heart and soul and mind? If my answer is no, what or who do I love more than my Savior and Lord?
  2. How does God want me to be a conduit of His love to those around me, starting with my own family? Is there something God is asking me to do to show His love to my “neighbor”?

As you answer these two questions, don’t lose sight of the underlying truth from this week. In our own strength, we will never be what God has called us to be or do what God has called us to do. Be sure you are attached to the true Vine, Jesus Christ, because that’s the only way we can love like He loves.

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