Holy Land Pilgrimage: It’s Finally Here

My view of Jerusalem in 2010 as I walked across the Kidron Valley toward the East Gate.

After eighteen months of planning and preparation, my group and I leave for Israel on Wednesday!

Pastor Wayne Graumann and I will be teaching at various locations as our group of 35 pilgrims make our way through the Holy Land. Here are the dates and locations during our journey:

Wednesday, Nov. 13 – Depart the USA, arriving in Tel Aviv on Nov. 14th
Thursday, Nov. 14 – Jaffa, Caesarea
Friday, Nov. 15 – Megiddo, Mt. Carmel, Nazareth, Cana, Mount of Precipice
Saturday, Nov. 16 – Mount of Beatitudes, Capernaum, boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, Bethsaida, Jordan River, Tabgha, Church of Primacy of St. Peter
Sunday, Nov. 17 – Caesarea Philippi, Tel Dan, Gideon Springs, Beit Shean, Jerusalem
Monday, Nov. 18 – Western Wall, Temple Mount, Via Dolorosa, Southern Steps, Bethlehem
Tuesday, Nov. 19 – Qumran, Ein Gedi, Dead Sea (swim/float), Jericho
Wednesday, Nov. 20 – City of David, Shrine of the Book, Model City, Hezekiah’s Tunnel, Pool of Siloam, St. Peter Gallicantu, Garden Tomb
Thursday, Nov. 21 – Mount of Olives, Palm Sunday Road, Elah Valley and the Garden of Gethsemane
Friday, Nov. 22 – Depart the Holy Land to return home forever changed

Wayne and I will both be blogging (with photos) each day along our journey and we would love for you to follow along. My posts will appear here and Wayne & Kathy’s posts will be here: https://gofarther.me/

We would covet your prayers as our group of 35 walks the very places where Jesus walked. The spiritual growth that each of us will experience simply cannot be overstated. We carry you in our hearts with us!

Next stop: ISRAEL

Two Questions Women Shouldn’t Ask

During a leisurely lunch with three dear friends some time ago, horror stories and scars surfaced around two familiar topics.

Among the four of us, two are married with children, one has never been married or had children, and one is divorced with no children. We range in age from 35-51 and are committed Christ followers.

First, I need you to know something. This post took significant time to write and pray through because it’s rather blunt about sensitive topics.

This post isn’t a vent — it’s a plea borne out of loving others. That being said… 

Throughout our adult lives, my three friends and I have been asked two questions so many times that we’ve lost count. To this day, we remain flabbergasted that some women haven’t caught on. There are two questions that plainly shouldn’t be posed to another woman — unless she’s your BFF or a close second.

Question #1: Why aren’t you married?

Stated like that, this question isn’t really a question. It’s a judgment. 

Since I didn’t get married until I was 29, I fielded that question a LOT of times. We met when I was 23, dated for two years and were engaged for four years while he finished post-graduate college. During those six years, if we would have collected $1 from each woman who asked me why I wasn’t married yet, we could’ve easily paid for the wedding and honeymoon four times over.

As our conversation continued, my three friends and I realized that more often than not this question was posed by married women. That’s tantamount to a millionaire asking an unemployed person why they aren’t buying a mansion.

Even if asked in a caring or flattering way (perhaps she thinks highly of you), it still stings. Believe it or not, some women ask it to intentionally inflict emotional or social harm. And trust me, those on the receiving end can tell the difference.

I’ve also been asked innumerable times since my divorce nearly ten years ago why I have not remarried, along with who, when and whether or not I am dating. Frankly, the answer is entirely too personal to discuss nonchalantly with casual acquaintances. So I never bother. 

Last month, a Christian friend whom I hadn’t communicated with in a while asked about my dating status. When I responded that I was not seeking to be in a relationship, she typed a stunning one-word response: “Disobedient” — immediately followed by, “You’re not a nun.”

Wow. Currently, I am more content in Christ, peaceful and purpose-filled than at any other time in my adult life. But she didn’t ask about those things. She simply judged one aspect as the whole story and moved on.

If you are single, divorced or widowed, perhaps you need to hear this today: God gave marriage as a blessing, not an entitlement or commandment. He did not create us as half a person seeking another half to “complete” us. We are whole and complete in Christ alone. The rest is all grace.

I loved serving God as a married woman. I love serving God as a single woman. Simply put, God calls some women to serve through their marriage and others through undistracted singleness. The key is a passion to love and serve God no matter your marital status.   

And the second question… 

Question #2: Don’t you want children? 

Again, stated like that, this isn’t a question. It’s a judgment.

This question has caused more scars in my life (and my three friends) than any other. It presupposes so many things that it’s hard to know where to begin addressing it.

Asking a single woman that question is cruel — whether intentional or not. Perhaps having children has been a lifelong, unfulfilled dream that has cost her many sleepless nights and a river of tears. What if she believes marriage should come first? Should she rush out to the nearest bar and hook up with the first man she sees? Should she rush to the sperm donor bank and sign up? 

Asking a married woman that question presupposes that she is physically able to bear children. Perhaps she and her husband have tried to conceive children for years only to face financial hardships due to unsuccessful fertility treatments. No woman should ever be expected to share her private struggles or physical condition to justify why her home isn’t overflowing with children.   

My ex-husband and I were married for thirteen years, but didn’t have children. We trusted God’s plan that if He wanted us to have children, He would provide. I believe we would have been wonderful parents. But now looking back on divorce, I believe God knew best. 

Some people have pulled out the Christianity card. “God designed women to have children, so you’re disobeying if you don’t have them.” Yes, people have actually had the audacity to say such an unkind thing to me and my three friends in the past. And when such a statement comes from someone we hold dear, the wound plunges deep. 

Some people have played the adoption card. “So many children need good homes, why aren’t you willing to adopt?” Stated like this, that question is also a judgment. Perhaps she is, in fact, willing to adopt, but is still thinking and praying through the many considerations of such a monumental commitment.  

Simply put, no woman owes another an explanation to these two extremely personal questions. Over time, I’ve learned to smile and deflect the tension. However, the pain inflicted still takes significant prayer, extending relentless forgiveness, and time for God to heal.

The bottom line? Those two questions negate God’s sovereignty. They infer that we need to follow cultural norms or our own plans instead of submitting to His. If no one has ever asked you either question, you are among the blessed minority. 

If you are unmarried or do not have children, please hear this truth loud and clear:

Despite your marital or parenting status,
   God loves you right now
   Just as you are. 
   Precisely where you are.
You can joyfully, successfully serve him today.

Following God isn’t about conforming to some cultural mold of how others believe our lives should look. Remember the Apostle Paul? The Apostle Peter? One was married, one was not; one had children, one did not — but they made a powerful difference for God’s kingdom from their individual, God-designed circumstances.

God can use any person at any time in any place for His holy purposes.

No tangible thing on this earth makes us more or less of a Christian. Following Christ never hinges on whether or not we’re married or have children. It’s about being in relationship with Him. It’s about our desire to know Him and be fully known by Him. To rely on Him for our every need. To receive His immeasurable love and amazing grace into the deepest recesses of our soul with overwhelming gratitude.

So to my fellow women who have been on the receiving end of these two questions: I love you. I know what it feels like and I’m so sorry for your pain.   

And to those women who believe it’s okay to keep asking another woman either of those questions, STOP.

PLEASE STOP. 

They damage — and even kill — friendships.

*These wonderful friends are not members of my home church. They read this post when I originally wrote it and gave permission to share the generalities of our discussion in the hope of shedding much needed light on this sensitive topic.*

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Donna’s brand new individual and small group Bible study: “Perseverance: Praying Through Life’s Challenges” (based on the book of Nehemiah) is now available through Concordia Publishing House and Amazon.

Pastor Pyle

After nearly eighteen hours of travel, our group of 35 pilgrims arrived safely in the Holy Land. We were tired but exhilerated! Our Imagine Tours guide met us at the airport holding this greeting sign that provided us all a hearty chuckle to start our adventure.

I’m uncomfortable. 🙂

After climbing aboard our bus, we headed straight toward Jaffa – the modern name for the biblical city Joppa. The Hebrew word Joppa means beauty, which was evident by its breathtaking location overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

Our first order of business was to try out the local fare for lunch that included falafels and shawarma (meat cut into thin slices, stacked in a cone-like shape, and roasted on a slowly-turning vertical rotisserie).

Our first meal in the Holy Land!

We walked through Joppa seeing the seaport that Solomon used to import cedar logs from Lebanon which were used to build the original Temple of God in Jerusalem. It was from here that Jonah attempted to flee God’s calling to preach to the rebellious people in Nineveh.

Little Luther waving from Jaffa

We wound our way through narrow stone streets and walkways to spend some quiet time in the Church of St. Peter, which is believed to have been built over the site of Simon the Tanner’s home where Peter received the missionary vision from God in Acts 9-10.

St. Peter’s Church in Jaffa, Israel

Wayne gathered us for a time of prayer overlooking the city to pause our busy feet and minds to ask God to bless our time for this great spiritual adventure.

Wayne gathering us for prayer overlooking Jaffa, Israel

We concluded our day with a delicious meal of local fare of grilled fish, a plethora of fresh vegetables, and mini lamb burgers at our hotel in Netanya, Israel. Even though we were in the middle of a bustling city that is home to nearly a quarter million people, the sea breeze and beautiful shorelines of the Mediterranean Sea beckoned within walking distance.

Thank you, God, for getting us here safely an starting off our adventure in such stunning surroundings!

When Summer Beckons of Gardens and Harvest Fields

The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Luke 10:2-3

As a little girl, Grandma’s garden was a magical place. Rising early, I would open the low picket gate, hands trembling with anticipation. After all, high adventure awaited.

I loved pretending that beautiful oasis was my kingdom. I ruled over butterflies, bumble bees and fat red earthworms. My scepter was a fragrant stalk of mint and my princess glitter was the fresh morning dew.

Grandma puttered around in her floppy hat, earth-encrusted gloves and apron patiently weeding, pruning and keeping the kingdom delightful. She taught by example how loving care encourages gardens to produce a rich harvest.

By the end of our lazy, garden mornings together , her small basket overflowed with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and other fresh delights we would enjoy later in the day.

Flowers were my crown, a little summer dress was my ball gown, and life couldn’t get any better all the way around.

Although picturesque, when Jesus said that the harvest is plentiful, He meant something entirely different than my childhood kingdom.

Jesus spoke of souls, not of garden knolls. Instead of butterflies, bees and worms, He spoke of laborers bringing in His harvest.

That’s you. And that’s me. Every Christian who calls themselves a disciple is His laborer.

Harvest denotes a time of urgency, not lazy summer days. It offers a precious short window of opportunity to pluck what the Lord of the harvest has already prepared: souls for His kingdom.

As His laborers, do we adopt the same sense of urgency? With over seven billion people on the planet, the harvest field is massive. When Jesus spoke these words about the harvest field, He looked upon a generation open and ready to receive the Gospel.

You and I live in a generation ready for harvest.

Look around, what do you see? I see thousands coming together at youth gatherings and Christian conferences. People say the church is declining. I say we’ve lost focus on the harvest.

Instead, what if:

…we focused on reaching the lost instead of counting heads in the pew?

…we focused on ministry initiatives instead of placating the comfortably saved?

…we focused on mobilizing God’s laborers into the harvest field instead of moving someone out of the White House?

Being His laborer means I need to stop acting hypocritical and start loving people like Jesus did. It means being willing to risk it all and get my hands dirty to bring in His harvest.

It’s HIS harvest. You and I just have the privilege of being His gardeners, our wages fully paid by His sacrificial blood at Calvary.

It’s a great big world. We have a great big job. And we have a great big God who has equipped us to bring in His holy harvest.

So we believe.

We pray to the Lord of the harvest and step out in faith, trusting Him to bring in an overflowing abundance.

We can even wear a floppy hat.

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Donna’s brand new Bible study: “Perseverance: Praying Through Life’s Challenges” (based on the book of Nehemiah) is now available through Concordia Publishing House and Amazon.

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Can Anything Good Come Out Of Nazareth? (Advent, Week 1)

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.” (Luke 2:4-5)

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

That’s what Nathanael asked Philip in John 1:46 when Philip announced that they had found the One about whom Moses and the prophets wrote.

Rather than take offense at Nathanael’s skeptical question, Philip simply invited Nathanael, “Come and see.” Moments before, Jesus had invited Philip to follow Him. Now Philip invited Nathanael to see Jesus with his own eyes.

It comes down to inviting.

In the heart of today’s bustling City of Nazareth, the Church of Annunciation sits over the site believed to be Mary’s house. Originally built in the mid-4th century by Constantine, the church invites visitors to see the place where the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that God had chosen her to be the mother of the Messiah.

In Nazareth, Mary received a holy invitation to be a key player in an epic story that re-wrote history.

Christmas and invitations go hand in hand. God invites us to receive by faith the most priceless Gift ever given. You and I invite others to see the hope of the world reflected in the holy eyes of a Baby.

And then there was Bethlehem.

The word “Bethlehem” likely brings to mind nocturnal shepherds watching over their flocks. However, its meaning extends far beyond a pin on a map.

The word Bethlehem comes from two Hebrew words: (1) beth and (2) laham. Beth, roughly translated, means house. It does not necessarily denote a specific kind of building, but rather its function. Laham is a masculine noun which means bread (Genesis 18:5; Numbers 21:5). In fact, Leviticus 21:6 refers to laham as sacrificial bread.

So what is the significance? Bethlehem means House of Bread. What is a house of bread? A bakery. How did Jesus self-identify in John 6:35? “I am the bread of life.

Some may scoff and dismiss it as a cutesy coincidence that God introduced the Bread of Life to the world from a bakery. But wait. What is a bakery’s function? To provide food. Time and again Jesus fed the multitudes, both physically and spiritually. And the Word made flesh continues to feed us through Word and Sacrament today.

Advent is a time for us to praise God for the gift of the Bread of Life, who taught, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

Then there was Mary.

Mary’s betrothal time should have been filled with happy preparation for her new life as Joseph’s wife. Instead she grappled with the staggering news that she was pregnant. Not because their passion raged out of control, but pregnant like no other woman before or since ─ by the Holy Spirit.

A virgin conception? Incredulous at best, blasphemous at worst.

Yet Mary believed God’s angelic messenger. She trusted by faith and set the holy standard for surrender and submission: “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Even though people could legally stone her to death? Let it be.

Even though Joseph could divorce her? Let it be.

By God’s amazing grace, Mary’s womb carried the One who conquered our tomb. Let it be!

And finally there was Joseph.

Chosen by God among all men on earth to be the guardian of our Lord. In steadfast faith, Joseph believed God’s message in a dream. Unwavering, he stood by Mary when culture dictated that he shun her.

With relentless perseverance, Joseph traversed miles on foot to become a midwife on the fly. He followed Caesar Augustus’ census decree and registered with the lineage of David — from which would birth the Divine.

Joseph adopted the Father’s Son and safeguarded the Light of the world.

Mary and Joseph were handpicked by God to nurture the Cherished of God. They didn’t ask for it. They likely faced persecution over it. They could have given in to fear and trembling, yet God strengthens those who turn to Him in faith.

Even though God’s plan turned their quiet life chaotic, Mary bowed low to lift His praise high: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

So, can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

 


Coming in 2019:

New 8-week DVD Bible study series based on the book of Nehemiah
(Published through Concordia Publishing House)

Appointed to Go

Ten months after I began working at my first law firm as a file clerk, the firm acquired a small New York firm to expand its practice in the northeast. All of the acquired firm’s client files then needed to be integrated into our firm’s conflicts, filing, and docketing systems.

The task was gargantuan, so my boss appointed me to accompany her to New York to get the job done. We spent two weeks in those dusty New York file rooms inputting information into our computer system, generating new labels, and organizing all of the files according to our firm’s standards.

But there was a great perk: the hotel where we stayed sat in the heart of Manhattan and we had a weekend between the two work weeks to explore. Talk about fun!

I was twenty-three and had never been to New York. It was October, so she and I enjoyed crisp fall weather, ate at great restaurants, and spent our free weekend visiting the Empire State Building, taking in a Broadway show, and visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

Even though the work was tedious, being appointed to go to New York was one of the best experiences of my working career. Why tell you this?

Because you and I have been appointed by God.

He chose us as branches for His vineyard and appointed us to bear fruit that lasts. Our work in His vineyard may be tedious at times, but it is rooted toward His mission from the very start. Our effectiveness as His missionary fruit-bearer rests in Jesus, the true Vine, working in and through us.

Jesus willingly set aside the privileges of heaven for over thirty years to invest Himself in disciples who would continue His message following His death and resurrection. As soon as Jesus began calling disciples to become fishers of men, their appointed work was not classroom study but active practice.

During three-years of earthly ministry, Jesus taught us that workers of all vocations were to be laborers in the vineyard (John 4:36).

Jesus made it clear that the disciples would play a real, active part in the Great Commission beyond His time here on earth (Luke 24:45-53). Over and over in the New Testament, we see Jesus appointing His disciples to go bear fruit. We see this first and foremost in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).

Jesus sent the disciples into the world with the specific mission to witness what God had done in Jesus, not to be preservers of man-made traditions which can divide.

Our effectiveness as His disciples (branches of the true Vine) rests in Jesus’ working through us. And even though Jesus’ hands-on discipleship training was confined to His earthly ministry, He appoints us without reservation to a worldwide ministry.

When Jesus ascended to heaven He sent the Holy Spirit ─ just like He promised ─ so that we could carry out the Great Commission. Being chosen by God means that you and I are part of Team Jesus. Now, as part of His team, we have been appointed.

For instance, I was chosen to be an employee of the law firm. However, once an employee, I was then appointed to go to New York to help set up the new office. Being appointed is specifically task-based.

You and I are chosen to be branches in His vineyard, but each of us is appointed to complete varying tasks within. His vineyard.

When He created each of us, God gifted us with certain abilities and skills. When He appoints us to specific tasks He provides the opportunity to grow and to develop those skills. All disciples are grown and matured to bear fruit for the glory of God, and the sweetest fruit comes from our areas of God-given giftedness.

What abilities and skills has God given you? How are you leveraging them to bear fruit for His glory?

For example, I have served as a vocalist in my church’s music ministry. However, don’t ever ask me to run anything technical. That is definitely not my gift. I am pretty sure that I would short circuit the whole church and plunge us into darkness.

Yet when God brings all technical and vocal arts to work together, each appointed in their areas of giftedness, He creates beautiful music to draw people to glorify Him.

Being appointed is not something to fear but a privilege to embrace as we go about doing His work.

Going involves movement and momentum.

I pray that God uses both to strengthen and to grow your gifts as you bear fruit for His glory.

 

Brand new DVD Bible study releasing on July 5, 2018:

Friends, Not Servants

“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15

In the first century Roman culture that surrounded Jesus, the term “slave” did not necessarily mean mistreatment or indentured servitude associated with the oppression of any particular race.

Slaves under Roman rule often held positions of authority and power. Oftentimes, they had been enslaved as foreign prisoners-of-war or enslaved due to non-Roman families who had sold them into slavery to repay a debt. It was a common practice in those days.

While serving his master, a slave could earn wages, enter into contracts, and even buy and sell property. Some slaves even owned slaves themselves.

In Jesus’ day, slaves could serve in many different capacities, including a hairdresser, midwife, or even a cook. They also served in chain gangs, as well (which is how we understand slavery from our American history courses).

It was typical for Roman slaves to strive for release from servitude by the time they reached thirty-years-old, as was the usual practice. Once freed, they could live out their lives as ordinary, free citizens, carrying with them the wealth and/or possessions acquired during slavery.

Believers in the Old Testament were called servants of God: Moses (Psalm 105:26), Joshua (Joshua 24:29), and David (2 Samuel 7:5), among others. The apostle Paul even used the term slave or servant to describe his work as a messenger and agent of God (Romans 1:1, 1 Corinthians 4:1).  

A servant in the first century culture was simply an agent doing whatever his master commanded, even if he did not understand the purpose.

That scenario makes me think of a bank teller today. If the bank manager asks a teller to transfer money from one account to another, the manager does not owe the teller an explanation or a reason for the request. The teller is merely an employee who follows instructions without question.

So how can we be assured that we are friends of Jesus, not slaves? Look back at John 15:15 above. Being a friend of Jesus means that He reveals to us what the Father revealed to Him (John 3:11, 3:32).  

Jesus testifies about what He has seen and heard, and His message is truth (John 8:40). Jesus did not hold back anything from us that the Father made known to Him in order that you and I would be fully equipped. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, He enables us to obey all He commands us: love one another as He loves us.

Even though there are still hidden things of God that we do not know, Jesus relates all that He does know.

The intimate relationship that Jesus enjoys with the Father, He expands to include His friends.

We can share our joys, our struggles, and our doubts.

When you and I abide in the true Vine we are granted access to a relationship with and knowledge from the vineyard Owner – God Himself. Servants or slaves would never be given such unfettered access in their master’s house; friends alone receive such privilege.

As branches abiding in Christ our true Vine, we are not simply granted access into the Master’s vineyard. We are welcomed into His family as adopted sons and daughters (Ephesians 1:5; 2 Corinthians 6:18).

Usually when something is bought at a price it becomes a possession. Yet Jesus did not sacrifice His life to gain us as trophies.

He sacrificed His life and calls us friends.

What an incredible blessing it is to be a friend of Jesus!

 

Brand new DVD Bible study releasing on July 5, 2018:

Abiding Prayers

When I was a little girl, I always knew that God was “up there somewhere.” Our family really did not attend church, but Mom always led us in grace before dinner each evening: “God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food. Please take care of our family, please take care of everyone. Amen.”

Although acknowledging in prayer that God is great and good, our family’s evening meal prayer was not a picture of abiding. It did not provide a clear picture of who God is or what Jesus accomplished on the cross.

I did not know a single verse of Scripture, so His Word did not abide in me. I had a small Bible that my grandmother gave me as a Christmas gift when I was a young girl, but I never opened it. I tucked it away in my keepsake box and there it remained … for decades.

Oh, how I wish now I’d opened His Word to meet my Savior!

The Lord’s words are LIFE and we abide in Christ through communion with Him and the study of His Word.

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:7

This verse is not a promise of reward, but rather a statement of relationship. When we abide in this way, our prayers are much different than that meal prayer of my childhood. The prayers of believers who abide will be of such a nature that they are in full accordance with the counsel of His Word.

Such abiding prayers lean toward fruitfulness.

When Christ and His Word abide in us, prayer becomes a powerful tool for change ─ not for our glory, but for the Father’s glory (John 15:7-8). The power of prayer is dependent upon the faith given to us (His disciples) by God.

The power of prayer is unlimited to those who abide in Christ ─ unlimited power because we have been connected to the ultimate Source of all power.

Scripture contains numerous special exhortations to pray (Matthew 7:8, John 14:13, John 16:24), yet many Christians admit they do not regularly pray.

Perhaps some days we feel that our prayers are like droplets in an ocean. We wonder if they are making any difference to anyone at all. Doubting questions takes our eyes off the One who hears our prayers. You know, questions like:

How can God hear my question above the millions uttered each second? Why should my prayer matter? What difference does it make?”

I have asked all of these questions, and then some, but Scripture tackles all of our doubts. God always answers the prayers of His people: “When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.” Psalm 91:15.

God answers our prayers. Period.
He is not deaf.
He is not ignoring us.
He is not too busy to listen.

Our prayers may not be answered the way in which we like or ask, but God always answers them in accordance with His will and His plan for our life.

Prayer is an integral, inseparable part of our life in God’s vineyard.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, we are reminded to pray continually.

God longs for that personal, quiet time with you ─ His precious child.

Consistent, abiding prayer enables every believer to live in abundant freedom with the One who breathed life into you, redeemed you, and loves you like no other.

 

Brand new Bible study coming on July 5, 2018:

Our Focal Point Matters

As a new believer in my early twenties, I made myself a nervous wreck running every thought, word, and deed through the lens of “Was that a sin?”

Every time I messed up, that paralyzing question ricocheted through my mind making me jump at my own shadow. I imagined God lurking overhead with thunderbolts in hand ready to smite me on the spot.

Now don’t misunderstand me; it is important to seek the Lord’s discernment for sinful behavior, especially when willful sin is at play.

However, by keeping my focus on whether or not I was sinning, I took my focus off the One in whom I needed to abide.

Sin does not necessarily equate with failing to abide. We are sinful by nature. In other words, we sin when we don’t even know we’re sinning. Consequently, sin does not automatically translate into a failure to abide.

However, willful sin is a different story. Willful sin is choosing not to abide in Christ. Willful sin says, “I don’t need God to accomplish what I want to accomplish.” Willful sin hisses the lie that we can live spiritually significant lives apart from abiding in the true Vine.

So what happens when God’s people do not abide in Him? Jesus does not mince words: “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.” John 15:6

Ouch. 

Judas Iscariot fell into that category. Judas went through the outward motions of following Jesus as one of His disciples, but his actions over time revealed that he did not inwardly abide in the Vine.

Silver was worth more to him than our Savior. Consequently, he was cut off, thrown into the fire, and burned.

You and I can properly perform all of the outward religious activities, but if we are not inwardly abiding in the Vine to bear fruit that lasts, we will be cut off, as well.

Again, ouch.

It took many years for me to learn to abide (and I’m still working on it by His grace alone). Over that time, God in His Word has impressed upon me that what we focus on matters. If we are focused on not sinning, then we are focused on our sin. If we are focused on abiding, then we are focused on Christ.

One focuses on self, one focuses on Christ.

When we abide in Jesus He abides in us, and His love abides in us. Rather than examining every single thought and action through the lens of “Did I sin?” examine it through the lens of “Did I abide?” Did I strive to love and serve Him with my thoughts, words, and deeds? If yes, then we are abiding.

In His love, God will convict believers of our sins when we fail. And we will fail. Miserably. That’s part of living in this fallen world. But there’s Good News!

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we trust Him to break up the hardened soil of our hearts by pointing out those sins, giving us the space and grace to repent, and then receiving His divine forgiveness.

As you examine your thoughts, are they focused on abiding in Him or whether or not you are sinning?

The goal of abiding is to bring glory to God. When your focus strays, ask God to re-center your thoughts on Him. That is a godly prayer! Much like the disciples asking Jesus to increase their faith, God honors our requests to draw closer to Him.

Only our true Vine provides the very nutrients we, as His branches, need to survive and thrive in His vineyard.

Open His Word to meditate upon His words of life.

Abide in Him as He abides in you.

 

 

Brand new DVD Bible study coming on July 5, 2018:

Dependent Branches

As a know-it-all twenty-something, I thought the world was my oyster. If I worked hard enough and played even harder, true happiness was inevitable. I had a good job, many friends, my own apartment, and a big city full of possibilities. I answered to no one except myself. My time, resources, and decisions were disbursed as I saw fit.

I was also not a Christian.

After many poor decisions and dependence on money for happiness, my life was anything but happy. Eventually, cavernous debt became a millstone around my neck and it was clear that my immature, worldly-centered, unchecked independence, was quickly destroying my life and future.

Have you ever desired for independence so badly that you almost self-destructed?

After being baptized into the faith that God called me to, I learned that He calls us to be part of His vineyard. I had to learn from scratch that believers are dependent on Him for everything. After all, every blessing in our lives comes only through the unmerited grace of God.

We as disciples constantly struggle with thoughts of independence ─ mainly, asking God to bless the plans that we believe are best for our own lives. But that’s not the meaning of John 15:4.

“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.”

Jesus tells us that we are to remain in Him. What does that even mean?

When Jesus talks about abiding, the Word tells us that it translates into believing that Jesus is God, following God’s commands, believing the Gospel, and relating in love to the community of believers (fellow branches in God’s vineyard).

That doesn’t sound like a call to live independently. God planted (sent) Christ, the true Vine, to establish and care for His Father’s vineyard. As His branches (disciples), you and I are dependent on the Vine for everything — even the air we breathe.

If you read through John’s Gospel without pause, you will note that there is a consistent emphasis on the disciples’ complete dependence upon Jesus to accomplish His work and will in the world. Jesus is the perfect portrait of complete dependence on God, the Vinedresser. He sets the example that we, as His disciples are to follow.

I often fall far short of complete dependence on Christ for everything. Some days, I fall short of depending on Him for even the smallest things. Can you relate? How would you describe your dependence on the Vine?

When is the last time you halted your footsteps to determine if the direction you are heading is in accordance with the Father’s will? John reiterates that even the very words that Jesus utters are the words of God (John 3:34, 14:24).

In this sinful world, you and I fall short of such a perfect standard. However, we are not without hope!

Christ abiding in us provides the strength we need to follow God with every heartbeat of our lives.

The life Jesus lived, He lived by the Father (John 6:57). Jesus did not heal people or perform mighty miracles for self-glorification. His thoughts, words, and deeds, were in one accord with the authority of the Vinedresser (John 5:19, 30). Why? So that we may see the glory of the Father through the true Vine.

Nothing and no one completes us but Christ.

Only the Creator completes the created.

We will not find contentment, fulfillment, or purpose apart from the risen Christ. The world may tout independence as the only way to ride through life, but it is a runaway train.

Dependence on Christ provides the nutrients, care, and growth we need to be fruitful in this life. God planted us in His vineyard and connected us to Christ the true Vine so that we can bear fruit for His glory.

No greater calling or privilege exists.

 

Brand new 8-week DVD Bible study releasing on July 5, 2018: