Rhythm: Abiding and Bearing Fruit

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S (Scripture): John 15:1 [Jesus said to the disciples:] “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. 2 He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit. 3 You are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. 6 If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples.

O (Observation): What is the point of being a disciple? That one produces fruit for God and God’s Kingdom. How does one bear fruit? By being a branch connected to the vine – Jesus. How can one stay connected to the vine (and this bear fruit)? By remaining / abiding in Jesus, the vine!

So we are supposed to bear fruit and stay connected to Jesus.

Seems simple, but can be very hard.

A (Application): Over my studies of discipleship, I’ve come across a great illustration of remaining connected to the vine and also of producing fruit for God’s Kingdom.

First, a disclaimer: only because Christ makes it possible, can we produce fruit for the Kingdom. This devotion leans towards what we can do with salvation, and is not about how we earn salvation!

Second, the key to abiding and bearing fruit is to know that these two elements that seem like opposites belong on either sides of a pendulum swinging back and forth. On one side “Abide.” On the other side: “Bear Fruit.” (Annalternstive is Rest / Work.

An illustration: when I began serving the congregation I’m serving now, I drew the picture included in this devotion (see above). I asked them where the congregation felt they were on this pendulum. They mark the spot towards the work / bearing fruit side. The sentiment was: “we’ve got a pastor, so let’s get moving!”

Then I asked them: “When you make a new friend, or add a family member through marriage or birth, what do you typically do?” They all responded with remarks that belong to more of the abide/rest side of the pendulum swing. They realized that having a new pastor on board would mean that we would want to get to know one another and become one, before we started getting very active toward the bearing fruit side. We needed time to dwell together and be together.

Jesus knew when working with the disciples that they would experience times and seasons when they would need to simply remain in Christ and be one with Christ in order to be strengthened for the times when they would have to go and bear fruit.

This same sentiment holds true for you and me today.

If you are all work and no rest, you will burn out. If you are all rest and no work, you will not produce fruit. Imagine the pendulum swinging back-and-forth causing you to find rhythms of rest and work of abiding and bearing fruit.

How are those rhythms working for you these days? What is your daily rhythm? Your weekly rhythm? Your monthly or annual rhythms?

P (Prayer): Lord, you sustain by inviting us to abide in you. Help us also to bear fruit for you and your kingdom! Amen.

P.s. this concept and image comes from elements taught by 3D Ministries (3DM; https://3dmovements.com/)

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Work and Rest

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S (Scripture): Psalm 127
1 Unless it is the Lord who builds the house,
the builders’ work is pointless.
Unless it is the Lord who protects the city,
the guard on duty is pointless.
2 It is pointless that you get up early and stay up late, eating the bread of hard labor
because God gives sleep to those he loves.

O (Observation): Pointless. That’s the common thread of this psalm. The people of God strive for so many things (building houses, protecting, overworking). The point the psalmist is making is that all of this labor is done in vain if not done “in the Lord.”

The Lord is the key to all of the work and rest that lies ahead for God’s people.

A (Application): I hope you hear the Word today, especially when it comes to work and rest. That is a HUGE issue for us in America in 2017.

I remember going to hear a speaker back while I was in college. His motivation was this: the person who works 60 hours per week will do more and make more money than the person who works 40 hours per week; and the person who works 80 hours per week will make more than the person who works 60 hours per week.

That never sat well with me. Now I have a clearer understanding of why it didn’t sit well: God gives sleep to those he loves.

Lots of other scriptures support the balance of work and rest, and today’s Word is of importance. Getting up too early or staying up too late (in order to be more productive) is silly, it’s pointless. You work at like 50% efficiency when you’re tired and need sleep. So sleep!

I understand we all have deadlines, but don’t let staying up late and getting up early be the norm. Don’t let that lifestyle be the default for your production in this world. You will cause damage to your life and your loved ones when you go down that path.

Embrace the sleep God gives you. Turn it all over to God. Rest your weary mind.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us in our work and our rest. Amen.

Work?  Rest?  Yes!  In a Rhythm…

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S (Scripture): Hebrews 6:1 So let’s press on to maturity, by moving on from the basics about Christ’s word. Let’s not lay a foundation of turning away from dead works, of faith in God, 2 of teaching about ritual ways to wash with water, laying on of hands, the resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment—all over again. 3 We’re going to press on, if God allows it.

O (Observation):  The author is concerned that once the believers learn the basics of their faith in Christ, they will stop pursuing God’s call for them in the world.   That if they stop after the basics, they will find further challenges and not meet them.   The author is saying that if they turn from their disciplines of learning and living out their faith, they will be challenged to find the time or effort to keep on learning and living out God’s calling for them.  

They need to press on. 

A (Application):  But how much is too much?  Is too much Gospel a thing?   Are we offended by the Gospel call?    Sometimes we are.  Sometimes we can only handle so much as individuals…as faith communities.     This tiring should not bring shame, but neither should it bring disdain.  

Every healthy organism finds a rhythm of rest and work.   When God calls God’s people to get to work, they do so, or miss an opportunity.   When God calls people to rest, they should, lest they have no energy to do the work they will be called to do down the road.  

Every group must discern the right time for work and rest.  Whether to be out front, in the middle, or in the rear.   There is a time to be in each of those places.   

Sitting back…saying nothing…doing work…sharing the story…  we have lots of options.  

You have lots of options.  

What will you do, today?

P (Prayer):  Lord, give us wisdom to discern what to do when.   Amen. 

The Journey can be Exhausting

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S (Scripture): Philippians 3:10 The righteousness that I have comes from knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings. It includes being conformed to his death 11 so that I may perhaps reach the goal of the resurrection of the dead.

12 It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. 13 Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. 14 The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.

O (Observation): Paul is helping the faith community know that one's faith journey is always ongoing. And the strength to continue the journey does not come from one's own gut or power or inner strength. Rather, the power to run this race of faith comes from knowing (or being known by) Christ and the power of his resurrection. And not just this, but letting one's ego go is part of the faithful response to being in this race / on this journey.

The race / journey continues. We never reach the zenith. But we strive for it. Always.

A (Application): Martin Luther once said:

This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.

According to this quote, the journey of faith never ends. That can be exciting and yet exhausting.

If you are exhausted, take a breath, take a break, but let someone know you are going through this exhaustion. Don't just hold it in. Let close ones know your experience. Sometimes the church helps with this process. Sometimes it makes things worse. Find someone you trust and let them know. You are not alone. We are in this together.

And a little break is needed from time to time.

Catch your breath. Splash some water on your face…maybe have some wine and bread. Remember who and whose you are.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us strength on this journey of faith. Amen.

Who is Setting the Pace for You?

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S (Scripture):  Luke 24:28  As they came near the village to which they were going, Jesus walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

O (Observation):  This text comes not from the Daily Moravian texts…but this is the Gospel text assigned for Sunday, April 30, 2017.   

These two followers of Jesus received news of Jesus’ death.  They are despondent and downtrodden.   On their long walk back home, the resurrected Jesus comes alongside these two men and asks what is troubling them.  They share that Jesus has suffered and died, not recognizing this stranger is Jesus himself!   Jesus reminds them of the salvation stories, starting with Moses and the prophets…on to the current day.  But these followers still don’t quite know what to make of this stranger…(who just happens to be the resurrected Jesus!).

Not until Jesus breaks bread with them is he revealed to them, fully.  Their “eyes were opened and they recognized him.”  Then he left…vanished.   And the disciples realize that Jesus was there in their midst, the whole time.

A (Application):  We don’t always get it.  We don’t always get the fact that Jesus is journeying with us.   The world around us is constantly challenging us.  Kids’ sports practices.  The latest gadget.   The dwindling bank account.   The competition to succeed.   The race to the top.   The need to meet the quotas.   The rat race….over and over and over again.

Breathe.   Just breathe.   Let today be the beginning of something new…a break.   Just for a few minutes…just for a day…maybe for a  few days.   Re-charge.

While you are resting…maybe you will have a chance to recognize God’s presence in your midst.   While we are running, we have a hard time catching our breath or noticing what God is up to in our lives.

You need some downtime to sit, break bread with others…and notice that God is here.  Now.  In your presence.   Do this “rest” thing with someone you love and trust.   See what happens.

Then…get back at it.   Go on.  But now, know that God is with you.  That will change your whole outlook on the race you are running.   You will no longer be running the race for yourself…you will realize that you are not running alone.  You will see that God is with you on your journey…let God set your pace.

P (Prayer):  God, slow us down…pace us…let us know your presence is real.  Amen.

6 + 1 > 7


S (Scripture): Leviticus 23:1 The Lord spoke to Moses: 2 “Speak to the Israelites and tell them, ‘These are the Lord’s appointed times which you must proclaim as holy assemblies – my appointed times:

3 “‘Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there must be a Sabbath of complete rest, a holy assembly. You must not do any work; it is a Sabbath to the Lord in all the places where you live.’ ”

O (Observation): This one is a throwback to the 10 Commandments: Keep the Sabbath!

As God’s people are being established with all of these Levitical laws this part of Leviticus begins the appointment of festivals and holy gatherings.  

The fact that keeping the Sabbath is the first on this list should not go unnoticed.  After working, set aside time to rest. Very important, indeed!

A (Application):  I think the concept of Sabbath has been lost on most of us.  The idea that rest can make us more productive is just a concept in which people just don’t want to believe.   

We always have things that need to get done: dishes, bathe the pets, vacuum, pull weeds, mow the yard, do the laundry, drop kids off, pick them up, deal with the bills, dust…and…and….and then you consider your work life: meet that deadline, respond to those emails (day and night w/a smartphone), make those meetings, fly out to the convention, apply for a raise, work from home…and…and…and…

When did you rest?   When did you spend Sabbath with God or family?   

The crazy thing about keeping the Sabbath is that, with God, we end up being more focused, have more energy, and have more clarity on the things we are called to do.  

With God, 6 + 1 > 7!!!

Take that rest.  Let the dishes sit for a day.  Is it that important to reply to that email this minute?   Find your rest and guard it with all your energy!   You will see a blessing from the Lord.  

And remember that 6 + 1 > 7, in the Lord.  
Have you experienced this before?  What has that felt like?

P (Prayer): Lord, you give us rest to be able to bear fruit in abundance.  Bring the abundance!  Make us believe!  Amen.  

…a Place Apart

  Retreat is important.

When is the last time you went on retreat?

I’m at a continuing education event at Lutheridge, in Arden, NC.   The tag line for this retreat center is “a place apart.”

Many thanks goes out to my wife, who is taking care of all 3 of our kids while I’m away for retreat and education.  

Go ahead and give yourself permission to enter a time of retreat.  You need it. 

Feel free to name some hurdles that stand between you and your time of retreat.   Maybe this community might hear you and give you some guidance.