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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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The “How” of Surrender

This week’s focus in the “I Give Up” Bible study on surrender focuses on the HOW of surrender. Laura Story says, “Surrender requires a willingness to change, it requires trust, and it requires active participation.”

But the truth that is central in this week’s teaching is that surrender isn’t about striving and human effort. Rather, it’s about GRACE and ABIDING IN THE VINE.

“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. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John‬ ‭15:5-8‬ ‭NIV‬‬

To abide in Christ means to intentionally remain in an ever-growing relationship with him. The result is over time being transformed to be more and more like Him. Abiding in Christ means not giving up, but continuing on despite our doubts or hardships. Abiding in Christ means allowing God to continue the work He is doing in us by staying attached to our source of life and strength.

Abiding in Christ is the key to living a fruitful life. Charles Swindoll wrote, “Jesus never commanded believers to produce fruit. Fruit is the purpose of the branch, but it is not the responsibility of the branch. The branch cannot produce anything on it’s own. However, if it remains attached to the vine, it will receive life-sustaining sap, nourishment, strength, everything it needs.”

As I was doing some research online I came across an article by  Laura Story on what it means to abide. Abiding, she says, is “learning to be a branch.” What does a branch do? It simply remains attached to the vine, and allows the life of the vine to flow through it. Without making any effort itself, it bears fruit.

Laura says, “First of all, Jesus isn’t against doing. He calls us to do a great many things, yet the source of the strength for the doing MUST come from abiding.”

She adds, “I took a moment to gaze out my living room window and noticed something about the trees.  None of the branches seemed to be struggling to connect with the trunks, or vines, if you will. It is the most natural thing in the world for these branches to stay attached to their source of life and strength and nourishment.”

So how do we walk in a lifestyle of surrender? It begins by acknowledging in ourselves we lack the ability to do this. We learn to be a branch. We remain attached to the Vine, which is Jesus Christ. We walk by faith, spend focused time daily with the Lord and abiding in His Word. And then we step out to do whatever He instructs us to do, expecting His life to flow through us.

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Be Still and Listen

In recent weeks, I’ve set aside time each Wednesday morning to pray and seek God’s direction about what to share in the God-Living Girls Thankful Thursday post that I do each week. Then, after doing my regular morning devotional time, I’ve started writing.

But this Wednesday was different. My husband Mitch and I have been working with a dear couple from our church who are helping us as we walk through some challenging circumstances we’re currently facing, and we had plans for that evening, to share a meal and a Christian movie my husband had gotten from the public library.

I got up in plenty of time to get my article written and ready to post before they were scheduled to arrive around 4pm, but with my mind focused on these future plans instead of on my current task I skipped one very important step in preparing to write. I failed to seek God’s direction concerning the topic, grabbed the first idea that came to mind and started writing. Not the best way to try to communicate effectively for the Lord!

The Lord was determined to get my attention, and eventually He did – but not until He used some interesting circumstances to slow me down. First, I used my WordPress.com site to start writing an initial draft of the article. When our daughter Amy came down to fix lunch, I clicked on my work to save it and took a lunch break, knowing I still had plenty of time left to finish the article before our friends arrived.

Then after lunch, I opened WordPress to get back to work – and the article I had started was no longer there. Puzzled, I started the process again, still not seeking God’s direction. I remembered the basic outline of the article I had been writing and started a second time to complete the post.

By now, it was almost time for our guests to arrive, so I decided to save my work and come back and do my final edit after our evening plans. I clicked on the article to save the latest draft – and my iPad which I was using to write locked up and again the article disappeared. (I learned later when I received a “Like” on my blog that the lock-up had actually caused my article to post on my blog, well before it was completed.)

This time, God finally had my attention. I stopped and prayed, asking God what was going on. His answer came quickly, “Be still and listen.” As I continued to pray, the message was clear. What I was writing was not His focus for this week’s lesson on gratitude. And my eyes were opened to exactly what had been going on all day. By now, it was time for our guests to arrive, so I shared with Mitch what God had shown me and we had a good laugh and relaxed to enjoy the evening with our friends.

The lesson God taught me on Wednesday was not a new one, but apparently one I was needing a refresher on. The key to walking in the will of God is setting aside our own understanding, being quiet before Him, and listening for His direction. Only then are we ready to step out and follow Him into His purposes. But when we ignore this essential step – in writing, but also in every aspect of living our daily lives in a way that is pleasing to the Lord – we will miss the mark. And our efforts will be fruitless.

Today, I’m grateful for the lessons God teaches me as I imperfectly seek to follow Him. He knows us completely, and still loves us with an unending and steadfast love. We will make mistakes, but our blunders don’t have to hinder His plan if we simply choose to remain teachable. When I finally slowed down enough to realize God was trying to get my attention, the lesson came quickly and clearly. And I realized this lesson, not the one I had been trying to write based on my own understanding, was what God wanted me to share this week.

On this Thankful Thursday, I encourage you to slow down and take time to hear from God. Rushing forward based on our own understanding is never the best way to live. Has the Lord ever used your blunders to teach you a lesson in how to effectively walk with Him? If so, feel free to share your experience with us in the comments.

Exploring Rest: How Work and Rest Fit Together

As I learn about what it truly is to rest in the Lord, my goal is to do a short weekly blog post exploring what it is to REST IN THE LORD. This week, we are looking at how work and rest are not opposites but rather two sides of the same coin.

To rest, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, can mean “freedom from activity or labor.” When we are speaking of spiritual rest or resting in the Lord, this is not what we are referring to. Another definition given by this dictionary comes much closer to the biblical meaning of rest: “peace of mind or spirit.” When I am resting in the Lord, I am at peace within, regardless of what is going on around me.

My normal morning routine includes a time of being quiet before the Lord and listening to His voice. I also spend time in God’s Word, since this is what He often uses to speak truth to my heart. And this morning, through a verse that popped up as the Verse of the Day on one of my Bible apps and another on Scripture passage on my regularly scheduled reading, I heard one message loud and clear: REST IS NOT CEASING FROM WORK. IT IS COMMITTING THE WORK I NEED TO DO TO THE LORD.

If you are like me, most days you have work that needs to be done. So this is an essential principle to understand about walking in rest. I am writing this on Tuesday, which is a day that will be filled with laundry, writing two needed posts for God Living Girls with Chronic Illness, and doing some bookkeeping for our business. Not what I would normally think of as a day of rest! Yet this is what God was speaking to my heart this morning. So how can we rest in the Lord and still accomplish the tasks that need to be done?

  • This begins by committing to the Lord whatever is on your schedule for the day. “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” (Proverbs‬ ‭16:3‬ ‭NIV)‬‬
  • To commit our plans to the Lord, in the original Hebrew language, means to roll the weight of them onto the Lord. What a wise way to begin the day! By rolling the burden of our responsibilities on Jesus’ shoulders, we stop trying to carry the heavy weight ourselves and acknowledge our need for His help. We still need to fulfill our responsibility, but this enables us to enter God’s rest even while we are working.
  • So what are to commit to the Lord? Whatever project or undertaking is scheduled for this day, whether it is routine or especially difficult and complex.
  • This verse promises, when we take these steps, the Lord will establish our plans. To establish something is to make it firm and stable. But the Hebrew word translated “establish” in this verse can also mean “to direct, as an arrow” on it’s way to the target. If we have committed our plans for the day to the Lord, rolling the weight of it onto the Lord, He will direct our steps throughout the day. And while inwardly at rest, we will accomplish what God desires for our day.

Wow! When I sat down to study this verse, I had no idea all of the meat in these few words. I know this is my desire for my day. How about you? And to accomplish God’s purposes and be at rest as I’m doing it! A double blessing. Lord, I commit the tasks before me today to You, and I choose to work at them as You instruct me to in Colossians 3:23-24, with all my heart, working for You and not just to please those I am serving. Because in reality, it is the Lord Jesus Christ I am serving.

I Am Doing A New Thing

For the last two years, God has clearly put a specific word on my heart for a Word of the Year. In 2016 it was JOY. I learned that JOY is found in our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. And I began forming a new habit of CHOOSING JOY when I didn’t always feel it in my emotions.

In December 2016, I again received clear direction from God for a Word of the Year for 2017. HOPE was the word I heard repeatedly in prayer, as 2016 came to an end. Again, it proved to be a very appropriate choice, during a year that turned out to be one of the most difficult we’ve recently been through. I shared some of the things God has taught me this year about hope in my recent blog post: https://readywriterbr.wordpress.com/2017/12/26/exploring-our-theme-part-2-still-anchored-in-hope/

As December 2017 began, I again began asking God what word He wanted me to focus on for 2018. For the whole month I prayed, but no one particular word stood out to me. Then as I was reading my Bible and praying this final morning of 2017, I sensed God speaking not a word but a phrase to my heart: A NEW THING. I did a search using one of my Bible apps, and Isaiah 43:19 jumped out at me as a clear word from the Lord.

I’m not sure what lies ahead of us in 2018, but there are definitely some signs that God is at work. My husband has an appointment on New Year’s Day that has the potential of being a major breakthrough in his dream of producing Christian movies – or possibly a total detour from God’s plan. We are moving forward with expectancy that the Lord will make His will clear.

Some of the major issues we have dealt with in 2017 are now behind us, others should be behind us in the next few weeks, and still others present longterm issues that are unlikely to be resolved any time soon. 2017 has definitely been a year of walking through the wilderness, but at no time have we been alone. God has clearly led us through this year, bringing us into a place of increased obedience to the precepts of His Word and a deeper knowledge of His nature. As 2017 comes to an end and 2018 is on the horizon, I’m taking hold of this promise that the Lord is making a way in the wilderness and will provide streams in the wasteland.

And as the new year draws closer, God is continuing to speak to my heart. REST. My new Word of the Year. This is a year to learn to REST in the Lord and in His work in my life. To REST in His promises and His character.

I Am the True Vine

As we get to the final one of the “seven I Am statements” from the Gospel of John, we come to another very familiar idea, that of Jesus being the Vine and His disciples or followers the branches.

John 15:1 says Jesus Christ is the TRUE VINE. When Jesus calls Himself the True Vine, He is emphasizing the fact that His nature corresponds in every respect to the nature of a vine. He is the genuine thing! And as the vine imparts sap and productivity to its branches, so Jesus infuses His own strength and life into those who are His “branches.”

Bearing fruit is our calling as followers of Jesus Christ, proof that we truly are His disciples. And it is a very natural process. There is no effort or strain involved. Our main responsibility in living fruitful lives is to stay attached to the Vine, Jesus Christ, so that His life can flow in and through us. Or as Jesus said,

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John‬ ‭15:4-5‬ ‭ESV‬‬

‭‭Without Jesus, the True Vine, we can do nothing of value to God. But with Him, our lives become increasingly fruitful. Our part in fruit bearing is (1) to stay attached to the Vine, and (2) to cooperate with the process of being pruned for greater fruitfulness.

Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” John 15:2b ESV

And this whole process brings glory to our heavenly Father.

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” John‬ 15:8

Father, the desire of my heart is to bring You glory. Apart from Jesus, I can do nothing worthwhile. There is no way in my flesh I can live up to Your perfect standard. But because I am a branch and attached to the True Vine, Your Son Jesus Christ, it’s not up to me. All I have to do is stay attached to the Vine and allow His life to flow through me to produce fruit. And this fruit brings You glory. Thank You for this part of Your wonderful plan.