Abiding and Bearing Fruit

Written by Rhonda Boyd Alstott

John 5:5-8 “I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, it is he that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”

 

Most of the time, when I think of glorifying God, worship and praise come to mind, but in this last of the seven “I am” statements of Jesus, I find out that bearing fruit is another way that we glorify God.  This comes straight from the mouth of Jesus as he makes his farewell discourse.  In true Jesus fashion, he gives us an allegory of a vine and branches to make His point.  We cannot bear fruit unless we abide in him, and he abides in us.  He also gives the indication that not abiding leads to some pretty serious consequences.

 

So what does abiding in Jesus really mean?  The Greek word used for abide is meno and it means to remain, dwell, and continue.  Jesus is specific about this when He further says that His words are to abide with us.  There is nothing we can do of eternal value if we are not remaining in Jesus and letting His Word continue in us.  It’s the only way we can bear fruit.  It’s like Jesus is telling me that my relationship with Him is so important that I must safeguard it so I can fully abide in Him.  By doing this, I can grow more in Christlikeness and help further His kingdom.

 

Maybe the best way I can describe what abiding in Christ really means is to share what it looks like in my life personally:

*I am faithful to study the words of Jesus found in the gospels.  Though often challenging, these words give me concrete examples of who Jesus was and how He loved and dealt with those around Him. 

*Consistent prayer time where I am able to pray “your will, not mine”.  I am able to set aside my personal preferences for the better good of the faith community I live in.

*I am not motivated by fear and have peace knowing that there is nothing that I will go through that He is not there with me.

*My critical spirit demonstrated by contentiousness stays at bay.  This battle of my flesh is only won with my staying connected to Jesus.

*My motivation has less to do with a personal agenda and more to do with a kingdom agenda.

*I have a supernatural love for others that I don’t like, don’t agree with and don’t understand.  As much as I try to do this in my own power, it is a supernatural love that overcomes my personal thoughts and feelings and I in turn am able to pray for God’s best in their lives.

*I am able to forgive others as God has forgiven me. 

*I can work with others in the body of Christ to accomplish the greater good for His kingdom.

 

I could go on and on, but hopefully you get the picture.  Abiding in Christ enables us to grow up spiritually into disciples that reflect the true heart and nature of Jesus instead of selfish desires.  In Verse 12 of Chapter 15 Jesus commands us to “Love one another”. 

 

One of the Studies I have done in the past two years was Beth Moore’s Chasing Vines.  She gave us a list of questions that helped us see how we were abiding in Christ.  We were challenged to use them to evaluate the health of the fruit we were growing in our life.  I leave them with you for those looking for a great personal assessment:

*Is my heart growing warmer or colder toward people?

*Am I constantly in a bad mood?

*Am I increasingly exhausted?

*Do I get fixated on offenses, or am I willing to overlook most of them?

*Have I become harsher or gentler over the last year?

*Do I lose control easier?

 

May you abide in Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith

And May your fruit be filled with the love of Christ, to further His kingdom, not ours……


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How a Fearless Self Inventory Moved Me Forward in My Relationship With God

Written by Jenell Jacks

 

A fearless self-inventory can provide a method of looking at myself honestly and without emotion to determine the mistakes I’ve made and why I make them again and again. I ask God to forgive me for my sins. What I don’t do is tell Him specific sins in my life that are controlling my behavior in a negative way; mistakes or defects that are obstacles to God’s ability to use me.

 

That’s what I inventory. I ask God to search my innermost thoughts and feelings and show me where I’m offensive or hurtful. Am I selfish, self-seeking, self-pitying? Is my self-will in control? How can I ask God to remove something I don’t even know I have? He shines His light on the darkness within me and I can see the exact nature of my wrongs. I see I am a complainer, lacking in humility, desirous of control, arrogant, dishonest, acting in self-righteous anger, fearful, argumentative, a worrier, lacking tolerance, judgmental, impatient, holding high expectations of others … you get the picture.

 

I’m surprised to find how often and how easily these defects of sin surface in a single day. I see now that if I have fears, frustrating situations, worries or hurts, it’s likely I am the problem. I create my own chaos. Why can’t I be better? Because I can’t. Only God can relieve me from this bondage of self. Only God is able to transform me from my self-will to God-will if I am willing to let Him. I learn to take responsibility for my part of the problem without looking at the other person. God helps me to look at all of my shortcomings with honesty and no fear.

 

But it’s all about the action. I know it’s a daily surrender to God in my life. I ask Him to make me aware of my faults throughout the day and ask for help to pause so I can say “Not my will but thine be done.” I ask God to show me a better course of action. I practice not worrying about what I can’t control, giving everything over to God. I ask for His guidance in all things.

 

I know it’ll take a lifetime but God says progress, not perfection. He’s pleased with my willingness to do the work. I experience more serenity, hope, and a love for others that I’ve not had. I see how my forgiveness and mercy to others is a gift, not an act of martyrdom, because of the effect of God’s love and mercy on me. I can live in gratitude and freedom, no matter what, as long as I take my position by His side one day at a time.

 

I know I’m not alone. We have a shared problem – sin. But the good news is we have a shared solution – God. It’s the victory over all this that testifies to me the miraculous transforming power of God in my life. Not my victory, but God’s victory!


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What are you leaving behind in order to move forward with God?

Written by Sue Schmitt

 

Philippians 3:14. 
I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. NIV

I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. NLT

 

My picture of happiness is all of my children and grandchildren gathered around my table in the house. We are sharing a meal, and sharing our stories of love and laughter throughout our years together. There is no greater feeling than being with those you have loved and nurtured for almost 40 years. This is my wish, but not my reality. I have a broken family. Two of my daughters have chosen to exit my family. It is heartbreaking, and yet I hear God ask me to continue to pray and follow him. Can I leave behind the perfect picture that I thought was my family, and still follow God with love and joy?

I recently read Max Lucado’s book, You’ll Get Through This. He used parallels of the story of Joseph to illustrate how we suffer today. I can relate to Joseph. I have been cast out by my daughters. Joseph was sold by his brothers. He was only 17 years old when his brothers threw him in the cistern. He was 37 when he would see his brothers again, and still a few years later before he would see his own father. Sometimes, God takes his time. I haven’t seen one of my daughters in five years, and the other in a year. It feels like an eternity to me. Joseph never lost sight of God, and always remained firm in his faith.

Geneses 39:20-21 says, “But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him: he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.” Joseph endured slavery, exile, imprisonment, for over 20 years before he was reunited with his brother. When the opportunity arrived, he was without anger.

God took 120 years to prepare Noah for the flood, and he took 80 years to prepare Moses for his work! God wants us to trust him and defeat Satan. God can turn any bad situation into a teaching moment with a good result. Life is hard. Everyone has suffering and difficulties. If we keep our eyes focused on God, and His word, God will see us through the difficult times. God is our refuge and strength.

Maybe we need to surrender our wants, and ask God, what is it that He wants? Do you trust God enough to surrender your brokenness? Allow God to have the time and show you what He has in store for you. If we trust God to do the next best thing in our lives, the results are limitless.

Maybe you do not suffer from a broken family, maybe it’s a frustrating job, or a difficult school. Give it to God. Pray for his help, and guidance to leave the hurt behind you. What might God have in store for me that could be better than anything I could have imagined? What are the possibilities? God is limitless. You may be surprised!


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What is God Up To During the Pandemic?

Written by Becky Perkins

I was asked to write a blog. It was to be a blog without a theme, scripture, or focus. I was told to write what I wanted to write. I decided it was time to share what has happened in the life of a Director of Education at Wesley Chapel during a pandemic! Yes, it has been hard, trying at times, not easy, but in the midst of the struggle, God has worked and answered prayer.
 
Pre-pandemic, I remember telling our pastor that I was very concerned because we did not have many babies and preschoolers in our children’s ministry. I was concerned that this was the case because we did not have young parents in a class or a small group. I had been praying about that situation for a while and was looking for someone to fill a role of starting new classes and growing ministries. And finally, God spoke and I listened. I am sure God was speaking all along the way, but the “I listened” part was not happening. Once I listened, and obeyed what He was telling me to do, then God was able to start moving and doing a work that only He could do. You see, I was not willing to obey because it took some time and effort on my part, and I was not wanting to struggle through the growth process again of rebuilding groups and teams. 
 
During the pandemic, God has been bringing new people to Wesley Chapel. Yes, during a bad and hard time, God is working. Several of the new people are young adults with children. April 2021, a new Sunday school class was started, now called, “Growing in Faith”. The class began with about 8 people, and it has grown so much that they had to change rooms to handle the growth. With some personal training and direction, the class has gained 2 new teachers of the Word. God encouraged Faith Development leaders and individuals, who are starting their faith journeys, to pray for direction. A “Parenting Through the Phases” class has started on Wednesday nights, a new mom’s small group every other Thursday night, and He inspired team leaders to add people to the children’s ministry team, to the youth ministry team, and adult education team. I know that there are several other places these people could be on a Sunday morning, Wednesday evening, and during monthly meetings for these teams. The culture today calls for their attention to so many other places and needs. There is a reason these young adults are here at church. Why are they here and what is it that draws them to church?
 
First, I must mention, that every one of the people I talked with after their first visit to Wesley Chapel came back because they felt so welcomed and recognized by the greeters, hospitality, children’s desk servants, and others in the worship service. They feel drawn to Pastor Tony’s preaching style. I have learned they desire to know how to be good parents, they have a need for friends their own age who are searching as they are, and they want to know what God has to say to them concerning their careers, family, and the world around them. They are not much about a denomination or the organized church. They are about the reality of the world they are living within, and they are about serving other people who are in need. They desire to make a difference in their own lives, the lives of their family and in the world around them. The biggest thing I have noted is their desire to study from God’s Word and know what it says to them. They don’t necessarily want to be told what to do and believe, they want good open discussion without criticism and with care of each other, so that they can form their own beliefs. They show a love for the Lord that is authentic. In the midst of this movement from the Lord, a couple young men have felt that God is calling them into ministry! How exciting for we at Wesley Chapel who are watching this movement.

 

Does this generation of the 21st century do ministry, read scripture and lead classes as we did in the 20th century? Absolutely not. Let me share what I have had to learn. I have had to learn how to get into their world, into their backgrounds, and get to know them in a personal way, as the people they are on a day by day basis. I have had to learn how to talk with them, not talk at them. I am learning to do a lot of listening, keeping my mouth shut and really listen. I allow them to ask me questions, then I answer. Most of the time, people need to talk to hear themselves. In discussion and listening to one another, they figure out what God is saying to them. You see, the younger generation was not taught as we were taught in school. We sat and absorbed information in a classroom, memorized the information, and repeated the information back on paper for a test. Sometimes the information stuck and other times, we just learned for that period of time. The younger generation have sat in classrooms that encouraged discussion, listening, and how to figure out the information that was being taught. They have formed their beliefs and opinions from organized self-discovery. I have had to learn how they communicate. Texting is the favored mode of communication, emails are too long, and they don’t get on a computer to read and work with lengthy emails. They communicate, purchase items, do banking, and do all of their business from their phones. I am sure they are not doing it perfectly, but did we do it perfectly in our generation? When developing leaders, we have to let them struggle through the wealth of information, experiment with it, not change their actions and how they learn. We must allow them to figure it out in God’s timing how He would want them to transform into men and women of the faith. They soon figure it out and they will administer the information and beliefs to grow along on the Discipleship Pathway of their lives.

 

God is at work in the world around us, it just looks different from generations past. I am reminded of the scripture, “In the last days God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams”. (Acts 2:17) It is the young men and women who will see visions, they are the ones with the hope for the future.

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Stubbornness

Written by Cindy Music

When I was asked to write a blog on a time when God broke through my stubbornness my first thought was “I’m not sure that He has, that He usually just goes around it”. After some prayer, soul searching and conversations with myself, the Holy Spirit took me back 20 years ago.

 

Twenty years ago, my friendships and relationships were centered around church. I had dropped or at least minimized my time spent with family and friends who were not Christians. I didn’t attend parties where there was alcohol. I didn’t attend a milestone birthday party of my nephew because it was at the casino (I didn’t want to contribute money to a place I didn’t support). I didn’t meet friends out at bars for drinks. I didn’t want to be a part of the lives of life-long friends and family that were openly becoming part of the LGBTQ plus community. If someone didn’t live the kind of lifestyle I thought they should (like mine), I spent as little time with them as I had to.

 

I thought I was doing what God and my peers expected of me. Keep in mind I only hung out with people who were like me.

 

Move forward a few years. I was introduced to someone that was kind, giving, fun to talk to and laughed about the same things as I did. We would hang out, go to movies, to the zoo, or just talk on the phone. One area we weren’t alike was this person was not a Christian. In fact, not a believer. When I realized this, I began to change how I saw this person. We’d meet at the movies and I would bolt as soon as I could. I didn’t linger in conversation or have dinner afterwards. You can see the pattern starting again.

 

One evening during my prayer time, the Holy Spirit was very clear in telling me, if I was the only Jesus this person ever saw, I had done a pitiful job. I had been everything but Christ like. In fact, I had given this person so many “Christian” restrictions there was no room for Christ’s love and acceptance to come through.

 

So, what do you do with that? I called and apologized. I confessed that for someone who claimed to be a Christ follower, I had not shown Christ’s love. What I found out in the conversation that night was this person had been turned off by churches because of how Christians had treated them. This person had long hair and heavy metal t-shirts. When he went to church, he was told how he needed to dress, act, and present himself. He had to fit into their box in order to be accepted.

You see, God used a non-believer to open my eyes to see people how He sees them. Recently, this person’s friend asked me if he goes to church or shows any interest in knowing Jesus. My reply was, “My husband will not be one who comes to know Jesus by walking through the front door of the church. It will be through the back door. Where people accept him as he is, and walk through life being Jesus to him.” A lot of damage has to be undone before he will be able to see the authenticity of the Christ followers who love and see him as Jesus’ does.

 

I continue the process of restoring old relationships with friends and family that I had once passed judgement on. I have learned that I cannot make disciples of Jesus when my only relationships are with people just like me. Since I started allowing God to transform my stubbornness into openness and grace, I love having relationships with people who don’t always think or believe like I do. These are the people that God uses to broaden my knowledge and life experiences. I am learning how to be a part of someone’s life and still be what God wants me to be. When I am focused on the direction God is leading me in, I don’t have much time to judge others on where they should be.

 

I am working hard at meeting new people from all walks of life. I can’t know what others are going through unless I walk along side of them. What great experiences I have had in recent years. I like getting to know people and what their life experiences have been. It helps me grow in my faith and what better way to share Jesus than with someone.

Yes, there are still times that God goes around my stubbornness and uses someone else to accomplish His mission. Sadly, those are opportunities that I have missed seeing God at work. I have no one else to blame but my own selfish ways.

Life is too short to miss out on God experiences. I will continue my faith journey, knowing God isn’t finished with me yet.


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Hope Does Not Disappoint

Written by Ahnya Evinger
 

Disappointment. If I am being honest, this is only the tip of the iceberg of emotions that barrage me once a month when I am reminded that I am not a mother, yet. Hope. It is what keeps me saying “yet.”

In 2016, the summer my husband and I decided we wanted to start our own family, I listened to a sermon on Romans 5:1-5, and I loved the line “Hope does not disappoint.” God impressed upon me that this was a scripture to carve into my soul, to write into the rhythm of my heart. I was unprepared for the importance of the words in my life at the time, but over the last six years, I have clung to the knowledge that hope does not disappoint.

Paul is very clear in Romans 5:1-5 that hope is not something that comes easily, though. Hope is a product. The scripture states, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand, and we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that our suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” These words of encouragement and affirmation have battled my doubts and fears. Paul speaks of justice, faith, peace, and grace before he even gets to hope. (I’ll have to save that for another day, another blog.)

Paul reminds us to rejoice in our sufferings. I don’t know about you, but when I’m suffering, my first natural instinct has not been to feel or show great joy. Being joyful in the midst of suffering takes intentional practice. I have had to reframe my perspective to focus on gratitude instead of pain in suffering. Paul provides us with a reason to rejoice. He explains that the eventual product of suffering is hope. Suffering first produces endurance. Endure is “to suffer (something painful or difficult) patiently”; endurance is “the power of enduring a difficult process or situation without giving way.” Why are we able to endure without giving way in the midst of suffering? Because Jesus is our firm foundation and cornerstone. Like he calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee, he can also bring peace to my soul when wave after wave of pain and suffering seem to crash in over me. I know because I continue to experience Him working through every situation in my life. Endurance produces character, and character produces hope. When we endure without giving way, God has an opportunity to shape and mold our character. God is able to develop our qualities in the likeness of Jesus. Through this experience, we become a people with expectation and desire for Jesus to be glorified, living in hope.

As a little girl, I remember being amazed by rock ledges overlooking bodies of water. I remember being frightened that the rock would plunge into the water under my weight. Consider a rock jutting out along the seaside, battered by waves every day. Every day, the rock is hit with wave after wave after wave. When will the stony edge succumb to the power of the wave and be swallowed by the sea? When the storm rages, will it be the end of the rocky coast? No, the rock endures, but it does not emerge the same in its features. The pounding water has eroded the rock, and over time, it changes and evolves. Likewise, God uses our suffering, our endurance, to erode parts of us, to better serve Him. We can live with the expectation that Holy Spirit pours God’s love into us each day. God’s love is poured, reminding us of its constant flow. We know with certainty that just as our blood pumps through our body, God’s love radiates from our hearts.

I continue to cling to the words “Hope does not disappoint” as I wait with expectation for the miracle of children in my life. Joe and I know from six years of waiting that a child is a miracle. We are grateful for a compassionate doctor who is alongside us on this journey. We are grateful for the multitude of prayers spoken on our behalf. We are grateful that in our suffering, God continues to mold us into the likeness of Jesus.


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