Today has been a blessed Sunday. My family has been in town visiting, and I have enjoyed spending time with them. My Leadership Theory and Communication class is over (officially tomorrow), and I feel good about the previous 7-weeks of course work. I have learned so much about being a servant leader, and about how to manage more effectively, should the Lord place me in a position of leadership some day. I am surviving the heat, which today, has been oppressive. We had a chance of storms last night, and there is another slight chance tonight. Still, the heat is getting tough to handle, and I will be really glad when the monsoon comes with its full force.
With everything on my plate this week, and into the weekend, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to make it to church. I had prayed about it last week, and I had made the decision to return to SBC for the remainder of my time in Phoenix. The transition back to SBC has been difficult, and for a good 6-7 months, I felt out of place there. I was still stinging from the fact that my ex-husband and his girlfriend attend, and that the church I remember from my younger days simply doesn't exist anymore. Still, I have felt the Lord leading me back there, and so I faithfully returned last Sunday, and made the commitment to make SBC my home church from this point forward.
I prayed about church on Friday, seeking the Lord on whether or not I should plan on it, since my family would be in town. Most of my family, my brother and his wife, are strong Christians. My younger nephew and his girlfriend attend church regularly, but I am not sure about the middle children. They were all going to be in town this weekend, and I figured they would not attend church with my parents. I wanted to go, and like I said, I had made the commitment to attend SBC, and to make it a habit of regular attendance the previous week.
I prayed about it earnestly, and I felt the Lord was saying to me, "Carol, you need to go. You need to go on Sunday." So this morning, I was determined to get up and go to church. I woke up after a difficult night. I didn't sleep well, just not feeling well, and I woke up with the start of a migraine headache. I got up early, which is very unlike me, and I made my coffee. The Lord sustained me because the early hour made it possible for me to have a good visit with my brother and sister-in-law, and get some caffeine into my body. By the time, 9 a.m. rolled around, I was already in church mode (PTL). So the family split and went their way, and I left the house and drove over to church. As I pulled into the parking lot, once again, I felt this sense of peace, a settled peace. I headed into the Venue, where my son plays, and I took my normal spot over to the right of stage (in the back). This is opposite where my ex sits, and for the most part, while I can see him, he is not able to see me. It has been a good location for me, and gives me a nice line of sight to watch my son perform as part of the worship and praise band.
I was expecting to hear our Pastor Emeritus, Dr. Darryl DelHousaye preach, but instead the Venue Pastor preached. I was a little disappointed because I wanted to hear our former pastor teach today. As I sat there thinking that I was going to miss his message, I felt the Lord say to me, "rest," so I did. Worship was great as usual, and the service proceeded normally with the Venue Pastor overseeing baby dedication, etc. Finally, he started his message, and said that he would be preaching this Sunday and next from John 15:1-5 and 6-10.
I am the True Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser. Any branch in Me that does not bear fruit [that stops bearing] He cuts away (trims off, takes away); and He cleanses and repeatedly prunes every branch that continues to bear fruit, to make it bear more and richer and more excellent fruit. You are cleansed and pruned already, because of the word which I have given you [the teachings I have discussed with you]. Dwell in Me, and I will dwell in you. [Live in Me, and I will live in you.] Just as no branch can bear fruit of itself without abiding in (being vitally united to) the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in Me. I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever lives in Me and I in him bears much (abundant) fruit. However, apart from Me [cut off from vital union with Me] you can do nothing.I should say that the Venue Pastor is turning into a very strong preacher. He has preached several times recently, and all of his messages have been life informing. So as I sat there, I relaxed, and I let things go. As I did that, I felt this sense of peace come over me. This passage of Scripture is one of my favorite metaphors in the Bible -- Jesus as the Vine, His followers as the branches. I have taught on this passage a couple times, so I am familiar with the text. Our Pastor did a great job, just like his message last week, and I felt like this was the reason why the Lord wanted me to be at SBC today. You see, I have heard His voice say to me "Abide in me," and I have replied, "Yes, Lord." My heart desires to obey, but in truth, I have not done a very good job of abiding in Him. I struggle. I strive. I want to do things my own way. I don't abide.
Today's message was slightly different from the normal Vine sermon. Our Pastor presented the topic initially by reminding us of the work of the Trinity. According to Scripture, God is the Vinedresser, Jesus is the Vine, and the Holy Spirit is the Fruit Bearer. We, of course, are the branches. I say the Holy Spirit bears the fruit in this way in order to explain the mysterious work He does to cause the fruit to blossom. The branch doesn't make fruit nor does the branch have the capability to push fruit out. No, the fruit blooms through the spiritual influence of the Holy Spirit as He works in the life of the branch or the believer.
The message was pretty straight on to what I have taught before, but one thing remained with me today, that actually helped me immensely. The Pastor made a remark about abiding in the Vine, and he said that according to verse 5, anything we attempt to do outside of Jesus will never fulfill us. He said it this way...
If we look to anything other than the Vine for our support, our sustenance, and our service, we will never find fulfillment. Even good things such as marriage, ministry, a job, etc. while able to provide enjoyment or satisfaction, they will never sustain us because they were not designed for that purpose. What this means to me is that as long as you are looking to a job for your fulfillment, your peace, your joy, you are missing the point of abiding in the Lord. Yes, as hard as that may seem, the truth is that we are to seek the Lord for our support, for He is our Source.
I have known this for a long time, a very long time. In fact, the Lord has repeatedly reminded me that I am seeking fulfillment in things and not in Him. I know I do this, and I know this is the reason why I feel so unfulfilled in my work. Furthermore, I am placing a lot of emphasis on financial security, when the Lord is my security. He is my portion and my cup. I know this, I know the truth, and yet, I still do not abide.
So today, as I was leaving church and driving over to have lunch with my son, I prayed to the Lord. I am tired of struggling in this way. I am tired of feeling overwhelmed. As I consider the Lord's leading in my life, I realize that the more I place my faith in things or in people, the more I will be disappointed in the results. I loved the fact that my Pastor stressed how unfair it is for Christian's to do this to another person. He spoke directly of marriage, but his point was well-taken. When we look for a person to meet our needs, then we are placing a burden on them that they were not designed to carry. Only the Lord is able to meet our needs.
Today, I learned the lesson of abiding in the Lord. Most often when we think about the word abide, we choose the definition that says "to wait" or "to remain" in something. We think that we are to "to remain stable or fixed in a state," and while this is true, there is really more to abiding than just remaining stable. In fact, abide can also mean "to accept or act in accordance with (a rule, decision, or recommendation)" or "to accept without objection," which suggests that there is an attitudinal component as well as a physical component. We must remain fixed to the Vine, but we must also understand the nature of the roles of Vinedresser and Vine. God is the One who cares for the vineyard, who knows the business of growing vines. Jesus is the true Vine, and we are connected to Him. Apart from Him, as the word says, we can bear no fruit (produce no good thing). This suggests that all fruit is the result of our union with the Lord. Wild fruit that is useless, tasteless, and of no good purpose is grown when the vine is wild (a metaphor for Israel and the Jews). The True Vine gives life to the branches, and bears excellent fruit.
As Christians we must understand that the Vinedresser (God) tenderly cares for the Vine. He prunes the branches, and He gently lifts them off the ground so that they will bear more fruit. There is a beautiful illustration of the love of God in this story. We see that God carefully, and with great tender affection and mercy, takes care of His precious crop, His precision vineyard.
Metaphors are often difficult to understand, but in this case, we grasp that the only way to bear good fruit is to be vitally connected to the Lord Jesus Christ. In the AMP, verse 4 says, "Dwell in Me, and I will dwell in you. [Live in Me, and I will live in you.] Just as no branch can bear fruit of itself without abiding in (being vitally united to) the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in Me". The only way we will live a fulfilled and a satisfied life is if we abide (dwell with Christ, and allow Him to live in us).
I drove home from church feeling good about the day. I got the point of the message, and I realized that I have been striving to produce good fruit all on my own. I have been doing the Lord's work (Regent) without abiding in Him. God has graciously supported me, and I have born fruit, good fruit, but only after I relented and allowed Him to do it. It has been a constant struggle with me refusing to abide, and then when the mounting pressure hits the high point, I cave and I relent -- praying for forgiveness of my sin. I have chosen to attempt to control, to do, to be -- all in my own strength -- when the answer all along has been to simply dwell, to abide, to accept the fact that no good thing will ever be produced outside of my relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now as I think about my life, my current situation, my struggles, of which are many, I understand that I am in this season of my life, a season of pruning, of where the Father is tenderly trimming me in order to produce abundant fruit. One of the things our Pastor said that was interesting and was suggested as encouragement. He said that if you are in a season of pruning, do not feel as though your life is over, your progress is stagnated and not improving. He said that often we view our current struggle through a microscope rather than to see it in its continuity. He used a great example of the stock market over the course of the past 100 years. He said that if you only focused on the crash in 1929, you will never see the actual picture of the progress of the market. When you zoom out, you see many dips in the progress, but OVERALL, the progression has been upward. This is similar to our lives. Phil. 1:6 says that "And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you." So no matter where you are today, the final outcome is upward toward the calling of Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:14 ESV).
I took heart today with this encouraging remark because it reminded me that where I am today is a far cry from where I was 6-9 or 12 months ago. I am stronger, I am better, and I am more ready to do the work the Lord has for me to do. I am not ready yet, at the least, I haven't arrived at the work He intends for me to do, but I am progressing toward that time. I am being made ready, being prepared, and I must abide in the Lord in order to not feel overwhelmed, to not feel so stressed.
I must remain, I must abide, and I must be content to be a branch in the Lord's vineyard.