Category Archives: Uncategorized

The One Who Sees Us

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, He said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is no deceit.”

“How do You know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus replied, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”  (John 1:47-48)

What moves my heart about this passage is how Jesus truly saw Nathanael.  He didn’t just check out his appearance.  He saw straight through to the inside of who Nathanael really was.

Jesus saw that Nathanael was a man of integrity, someone with a mindset to do the right thing, no matter what.

When Jesus expressed this, it was a goosebumps moment for Nathanael.  The future apostle realized that Jesus knew his core, the thing that motivated him and made him tick.

There are other instances in the Bible where Jesus was the one who saw.  In the story of the woman at the well, Jesus saw that the woman had gone through multiple marriages.  When Jesus went to the town of Nain, he saw how deep the loss of a son was to a widow, and was moved to help her.  When Jesus was at the Pool of Bethesda, he saw a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years and asked the insightful question, “Do you want to get well?”

Isn’t this what our heart longs for today?  One of my life coach instructors teaches that people are always asking, “Do you see me?”  We all so much want someone to “get” us.  I know when I talk to someone and they lean into me with their listening, it feels like an itch is finally being scratched.

Because sometimes I feel with others like we’re not speaking the same language.  I want to make a connection, but I don’t know the words.  I want to matter, but my efforts fall flat.

We probably all feel that way at times.  That’s why we need Jesus.  He’s the one who can understand our language.  He’s the one who sees straight through to the core of who we really are — what drives us, what we need, what makes our heart sing.  It’s a rare and wonderful thing.

We can realize that we’re not alone.  We’re never an island.

And we can know that because Jesus sees, his heart is moved, and he acts on our behalf.

When we go through inner pain and turmoil, he leans into us, and weeps with us.  There’s a communion that takes place.

I really like what Jeanie Shaw wrote about this in her blog today: “I am learning, in my relationship with God, that there is special sacredness in suffering and intimacy in infirmity.”

There can be intimacy, a closeness, in the midst of that thing that makes us feel most isolated.

Because Jesus is the one who sees.

You know, there’s so much in my life now that’s a testament to Jesus being the one who’s seen me, so many times when I’ve been given exactly what I needed.  Marrying my husband is exactly what I needed, as was joining my church, and having the jobs I’ve had.  Our move to Auburn ten years ago was exactly what I needed.  My recent study of life coaching is exactly what I need.

The question is, what is my response to this?

Here’s what Nathanael’s response was to Jesus: “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Jesus sees us.  His heart is moved.  He acts.  This happens innumerably more times that we perceive.

But maybe, sometimes, we will get goosebumps, like Nathanael, and respond with faith, “You are the son of God.  Only the divine could do this.”

 

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The One Who Finds Us

The next day Jesus decided to set out for Galilee. Finding Philip, He told him, “Follow Me.” (John 1:43)

The cool thing about this passage is that Jesus found Philip.  He didn’t just come across him.  He actively looked for him until he located him.

Isn’t it amazing that we serve a Savior who searches for us?  It’s like we’re living out the story of the shepherd who left the ninety-nine sheep on the hill and went after the one who was lost.  (Matt 18:12-14)  I can look back and see how Jesus sought me; how he set up situations so I would encounter him.  One of my favorite verses has been, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”  (John 15:8a)

Does he still look for me?  Does he come to me in my whirlwind of “to-dos” and struggles and side roads, and say to me, “You’re getting off track. Come on. Remember. Follow me.”

I need to stop, and look into his eyes and hear his earnest call again, “I believe in you.  I have a purpose for you.  This is the way.”

Yes!  This is the way.  This is it!  That must be what Philip thought when Jesus called him.  Philip went right away and told his brother, Nathanael, “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law, the One the prophets foretold.” (John 1:45)

Philip had the heart to recognize the call, and how momentous it was.  Can we say the same?

This past week the 50 members of our little church gave $14,000 in a special contribution that will enable our ministry to continue.  We were tremendously encouraged.  It is astounding that we were able to give that much.  It says something about the hearts of the members.  They believe in what we’re doing.  It resonates deeply with them.  What they gave was, in a sense, a response to the call of Jesus they heard.

“Follow me.”  When we get it, and do it, it feels glorious!

But many times, we don’t recognize the call.  Many times, we follow imperfectly.

You know, I think the reason Philip responded to the call was because he could see what Jesus was, instead of what Jesus wasn’t.  We know what Nathanael saw at first.  He asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  All Nathanael could think about was how Nazareth was so sketchy.

And we can be the same way.  We’re supposed to look at who Jesus is, but instead we look at all the things that are sketchy — “My marriage is struggling.  I lost my job.  I don’t have the money to pay my bills.  This didn’t turn out like I expected. That person upset me.”

And we feel muddled.  Sigh.  As I think about it, I know the good news is that Jesus still comes to find us.

I can see the evidence of Jesus’s search for me like a breadcrumb trail through this past week.   My friend, Kenonia, and I got together and prayed, and within a minute, the prayer was answered.  Our friends, the Johnsons, sent an email detailing their plans to come and encourage our church in a couple of weeks.  A young woman I studied the Bible with years ago texted me that she’s now studying the Bible again.  My daughter and her husband successfully navigated together the complicated decision of whether to buy a house.  One friend who has had some challenges told me they are now doing better.  Another friend was on the brink of failing nursing school, and told me she passed.  And, of course, our church raised $14,000!  So many prayers were answered!

It’s not that Jesus at one time went after us to save us, or that he occasionally shows up in our lives.  It’s that Jesus is ALWAYS looking for us and leaving evidence of who he is, and how much he cares.

Then, when he finally gets our attention, he says, “Follow me.” 

Will we hear?  Will we respond?

When we remember who he is, and how momentous is the call, we will.

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Stepping into Your Greatness

Andrew brought his brother to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which is translated as Peter).  (John 1:42)

I LOVE that Jesus said this to Peter.  He sees the best in Peter.  He sees him according to his potential.

There’s a term we use in life coaching.  We help our clients to, “step into their greatness.”  We help them to see that they can do the hard thing.  We help them to realize that they have strengths and abilities that will enable them to have wins.  We believe in them.  It’s similar to what Jesus did with Peter.

This is good for me to think about today, because I’m struggling with this need to be on top of everything.  And I have so many balls in the air, that it’s impossible.

What would God say to me?  How would he tell me to step into my greatness?

As I prayed about it, here’s what I felt he said.  Stepping into my greatness isn’t staying on top of every single thing.  I step into my greatness any time I pray.  I do it when I work in the yard and feel close to Him.  I do it when I meet someone, actively care for someone, or just listen to them.  I do it when I use the small talents he gave me by writing a blog or singing a song on the guitar.

Stepping into my greatness is being the person I was created to be.

I’m also struggling today because I just took had a big life coaching evaluation.  I had to coach another teacher for my final in my class.   I did my best.  I passed.  But I couldn’t help but feel disappointed, because I didn’t do the job I wanted to do.

Maybe that’s a metaphor for my life.  I do my best, and it’s passable.  But I want to do more.  I want to do better.  I want to be great!  Ugh, I know that can be prideful.  But it’s such a strong desire.

So I prayed, and talked to God about my discouragement, and I heard Him tell me that I did achieve greatness with my test today.  He reminded me of how, a year ago, I stepped out and actually started working towards my dream, and began studying coaching.  I took classes, including this last class, which was sometimes very scary.  I had to coach in front of my classmates and receive criticism.  I had to face my insecurities that I would never be good as a coach, and push past them, and resolve to learn and improve.  I had to try to make my business grow.  I went out and met strangers, and networked.  I developed a workshop and put it on for the women at church, and then made it available to other women.  And finally, I studied and did the assessment today, which made me feel nervous and vulnerable.

All of those things were stepping into my greatness.  It wasn’t that I had to do perfectly on the evaluation.

How will you step into your greatness today?  Will you listen to the voices that tell you that you have to be perfect?  Or will you listen to the loving voice of the one who made you, and be the person you were created to be, and know that the small things are actually big things?

Will you care about someone today?  Will you do something that’s courageous for you?  Will you act for God, and not yourself?  All of these things are stepping into greatness.

Jesus believed in Peter.  He believes in you, and your potential.  What name would he say you will be called?  A name that means compassionate, brave, gentle, faithful, leader, encouraging, resourceful, energetic?

He’s equipped you to be that person.  You might feel like you’re just “passable,” or that you don’t look like you think you “should” look.  But Jesus thinks you’re amazing!  You will light the world with who you are, one step at a time.

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The Counterintuitive Law of Productivity

Then I asked,

“How long, O Lord?”

And He replied,

“Until cities lie in ruins

without an inhabitant,

until the houses are left unoccupied,

and the land is desolate and ravaged,

until the LORD has driven men far away,

and the land is utterly forsaken.

And though a tenth remains in the land,

it will be burned again.

As the terebinth and oak leave stumps when felled,

so the holy seed will be a stump in the land.” (Is 6:11-13)

The thing that catches my attention about this prophesy is that it is focuses on the land, more than the people.  I put the word “land” in bold so you can see the emphasis.

Strange.  Why would God care about something inanimate?

But it’s not so strange if we look at Leviticus.  Check out the warning God gave the Israelites at the time of Moses:

But if in spite of all this you do not obey Me, . . . I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out a sword after you as your land becomes desolate . . . . As long as it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not receive during the Sabbaths when you lived in it.  (Lev. 26:27, 33, 35)

God actually wanted the land to have rest.

This is totally interesting.  It reminds us that God set down very specific laws regarding how his people were to treat the land they received.

Then the LORD said to Moses on Mount Sinai, “Speak to the Israelites and say, ‘When you enter the land I am giving you, the land itself must observe a Sabbath to the LORD.  For six years you may sow your field and prune your vineyard and gather its crops. But in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of complete rest for the land—a Sabbath to the LORD. ” Leviticus 25:2-4

What’s so cool about this is that today we have tons of technology that shows us that soil does indeed need a rest.  Farmers often allow their fields to fallow over a season.  And our government pays over a billion dollars to farmers for letting portions of their land lie dormant.  The USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program website says that doing this improves water quality, reduces soil erosion, and increases habitat for endangered and threatened species.

God knows best.

But the Israelites couldn’t wrap their heads around this.  Evidently, they had to be busy.  They had to produce.  They had to be hands on, in control.  They couldn’t slow down.

Does this remind us of something?  Oh yes, we can be that way!

Isaiah 57 defines the problem well:  “Though you tired yourself out by running after idols, you refused to stop. Your desires were so strong that they kept you going.” Is 57:10

We’re frazzled and worn out, but we can’t get ourselves to stop.   We stay up too late.  We pack out our schedules.  We’re driven by our desires, not our faith.

And God wants us to rest, just like he wants the land to rest.

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”  Isa 30:15

It’s so counterintuitive to us.  Doesn’t God want us to work hard, be productive and fruitful, and do the most with what he has given us?

So what is this rest thing?  Busier is better!  Let’s get things accomplished!

We have to get it through our heads that God structured his creation to require both work and a time of replenishment.

We can’t keep depleting ourselves, like Israelites depleted the land.

If we continue to do so, God may take steps to put us in the proper order.

He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, and every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes to make it even more fruitful. . .  Just as no branch can bear fruit by itself unless it remains in the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.”

God wants us to find the source of true replenishment, which is him and Christ.  We have to learn to connect, and stay connected to him.

Rest in God alone, O my soul, for my hope comes from Him. Ps 62:5 

Again, we find this counterintuitive principle.  In pruning, a farmer limits productivity to create productivity.  God limits our productivity at times, so a productivity in him can be achieved.

God teaches us to be still, and drink from the spring that will truly quench our thirst.  (John 4:14)

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul .  . . Ps 23:2-3a

The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.  Ex 14:14

Will we still our efforts, and find rest and replenishment in the Lord?

Will we still not only our constant striving, but our constant fretting?

I’m totally guilty of this.  My thoughts can be as busy as my schedule.  My mind whirls with fears and “shoulds.”   I micromanage.  I spin.  I edit.  I keep devising ways for everything to work out.

And the irony is that the only thing that’s going to work out is the thing I put in God’s hands. Because he is the source.

I’m so afraid of a lack of productivity.  I need to work and plan, so things will go right!

Yet I come back to this passage.  God made the land desolate. It seemed like the end.  But he left a “holy seed” that would be a  “stump in the land.”  This is how he achieved his purpose.

You know, growth is so crazy.  I have plants in my yard that look dead all winter, but with the spring, they are leafy and blooming again.  I have trees I’ve cut down, and you would think that would be the end of them.  But before long, shoots grow out of the cut wood.

And the last verse of Isaiah 6 foretells this kind of growth — a seed planted in a ravaged land, a hewn tree that still has life in it.

God specializes in the circle of life.  The season of inactivity leads to a season of abundance.  It isn’t the end.  It is, in fact, necessary.

God wants the land to rest, so it will be more productive.  God wants us to rest in him, so we will be more productive.

Will we listen to him, or will we be like the Israelites, endlessly toiling?

It’s counterintuitive.  Everything in us screams to stay in control, to make things happen.

But the efforts that are fruitful spring from the seed that sits quietly in the soil and connects to the nutrients.

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Praising Like Breathing

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted; and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him stood seraphim, each having six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they called out to one another:

Holy, holy, holy

is the LORD of Hosts;

His glory fills all the earth. 

The doorposts and thresholds shook at the sound of their voices, and the temple was filled with smoke.  (Isaiah 6:1-4)

Last week, Ken and I listened to a sermon by a dear friend, Jameson Sofge.

Jameson was one of the founding members of our church 11 years ago.  For over five years we were on the leadership team of the church together with him and his wife, Danielle.  We have some wonderful memories of being in the trenches together and of fighting battles for our beloved church, and celebrating victories.

Jameson started his sermon by talking about the Lord’s prayer.  He told us how it can be a model for our prayers, and that the first line, “Our Father in heaven, holy is your name,” teaches us that an important part of prayer is praising God.  Jameson said that he wonders sometimes why he should praise God, because when he does, he often says the same as the last time he prayed.  But then he realized that our God is so awesome that we can never praise him enough. 

It’s like a line from one of my favorite songs, “If we had 10,000 tongues.  We would praise you with every one.”  And that is the picture we get in Isaiah — constant praise of the Lord, over and over again, because he is holy in an epic way. There’s a similar picture in Revelations 4: “Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.” (Rev. 4:8)

So the fact that God is holy makes it even more amazing that God answers prayers. Jameson went on to read verses 5-13,  ending with, “So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”  He marveled that the glorious, all-powerful God actually cares, and responds to us when we petition him.  

But the reason God cares and responds is actually because of his holiness.  Love and faithfulness are a part of God’s holiness.  In Exodus 34, the Lord was with Moses in a the form of a cloud, and it says, “the LORD passed in front of Moses and called out: ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining loving devotion to a thousand generations.'”  (Ex 34:6, 7a)

God’s very character is to have our back.  Although we may not be able to trust in the love of our fellow-man, God’s love is completely trustworthy.  That’s why we have verses like Romans 8:38-9 which say that nothing can separate us from God’s love.

This staunch devotion is like a family tie.  And I have to point out that, as God’s “family,” we are expected to be holy as well.  God proclaimed to the Israelites, “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.”  The parallel passage for us today  is, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (I Peter 2:9)

But getting back to the sermon, Jameson concluded by sharing three immensely moving stories of how God showed staunch devotion to him.  He told how, when he was in college, he and some friends prayed a very intentional prayer for great wives and their prayers were answered.  He shared with tears how he and his wife prayed fervently for a long time for a baby, and God gave them a their son, Mason.  He related the summer he and interns here at Auburn prayed like they had never prayed before, and the Lord blessed the church with new members as never before.  

And now, as I reflect on all of this, I see how much these stories are just the tip of the iceberg.  All of us have our tales of the ways God has answered our prayers. Some of these answers are massive, and some are small day-to-day matters,  But if we enumerate them, our hearts want to lift up and praise the Lord over and over again. 

And then, if we look around at the world God has made, praise bursts out even more.  And if we think of his character of compassion, righteousness, love and faithfulness, still more praises overflow from our lips. 

God pours his glorious essence into the world, and into our lives, and our praise of acknowledgement becomes like constant breathing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord. His glory fills the whole earth.”  

And maybe breathing is an apt metaphor.  God gives to us.  We give to God.  He blesses us.  We bless his name.  He is holy.  So we are holy. 

Like respiration, it’s an ongoing cycle that sustains life.  

 

 

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On Cleaning, and Staying Centered

house-cleaning

Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem. Isa 4:3

A week ago my company left.  It’s taken me days to get my house back in order.  I mopped the sun porch where the cat stayed, washed the sheets, cleaned the bathroom, and vacuumed up a ton of debris.  When I was done, it was like my head was clean, too.  Looking around at the spotless floor and furniture gave me a sense of clarity and peace.

There’s something about getting things in order that strikes a chord with me, and I think it dovetails nicely with today’s devotional.

Isiaiah 4:3 says that God’s people left in Jerusaelm would be called holy.  It was always the Lord’s intention for his people to be holy.  He said in Exodus 19:5-6, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

Of course, through history, Gods’s people were often anything but holy.  So God instituted a plan to shake his people up and refine them. That’s what Isaiah 4:3 is about.  Earlier, in Isaiah 3 we read about the destruction that would overtake the Hebrews.  “They parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! They have brought disaster upon themselves.” Isa 3:9

But then in Isaiah 4, God promised a restoration.  A remnant would remain, and this remnant would be purified.  The cool thing is this action was only a part of God’s amazing master plan to enable everyone to be his holy people.  Look at these later verses of Isaiah:

  • And there will be a highway called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not travel it, only those who walk in that Way–and fools will not stray onto it. Isa 35:8
  • Behold, the LORD has proclaimed to the ends of the earth, “Say to Daughter Zion: See, your Savior comes! Look, His reward is with Him, and His recompense goes before Him.” And they will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of The LORD; and you will be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken. Isa 62:12

God intended to make his people holy through a divine removal of their unholiness. Isaiah 4 goes on to read, “The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem.”

Of course, we know this was untimately fulfilled with Jesus, and the incredible salvation we have through him!   “But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  I Cor 6:11

Wow.  Do we remember that we are holy? That’s how the early Christians saw themselves.  They were even called “saints,” which is the Greek word, “hagios,” that can also be translated, “holy.”

  • To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” (I Cor 1:2)  (You can find other instances of Christians being called saints in Acts 9:32, 9:41, 26:10, Romans 1:7, 8:27, 12:13, 15:25, and the list goes on.)

So back to my analogy about cleaning.  I’m not like a German house frau.  My home isn’t always spotless.  But when my house goes on the market, that’s a different story.  Then I am wiping things down and vacumming every day!  My goal is not as much to clean, but to maintain the cleanliness.

So the way this all ties in is that we repent, and God makes us clean and holy, like when we do a deep cleaning on our house.  But just like I maintain the domestic tidiness when my house is for sale, it’s also up to us to maintain the holiness of our heart.  (Okay, it’s not a perfect metaphor, but work with me.)

And the verse that is powerful for me and I’ve been using lately is, “Remain in me, and I also will remain in you.” (John 15:4)  If I stay centered in God, it keeps me from cluttering up my heart with all kinds of other things.  It keeps me dealing with my sin.  It reminds me of what is important.

Here is a video I got from my life coaching studies that actually helps me with this.  It’s an exercise in staying focused.  When I do it, I think of being focused on God, not this guy’s face!  I think of myself choosing to think of God instead of the million other things that distract me. I picture myself settling into Jesus and staying in him.

Oh, how troubled and distracted we can be!  Our insides can feel like our house after a toddler play date!

God has made us holy, and when we center in him, we can maintain this holiness and feel clarity and peace.

Ahhh.  Do some belly breaths, and inhale God’s goodness.  It’s going to be okay.

 

 

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Destined to Bear Beautiful Fruit!

branch fruitIn that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel.  Isa 4:2

What is the Branch of the Lord?  Isaiah 11:1 gives us insight, “A shoot will spring up from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.”

The Branch of the Lord is the Messiah, who will come from the line of Jesse, David’s father.  So the prophesy of Isaiah 4:2 says that the Messiah will be beautiful and glorious, and that he will be associated with fruit.

Although we could take “the fruit” literally, and believe that it refers to a time of crops and prosperity for the Hebrews, I think it also has to refer to the progeny of the Messiah.  Look at Isaiah 26:7, “In the days to come, Jacob will take root. Israel will bud and blossom and fill the whole world with fruit.”

Doesn’t this remind you of the Great Commission?  Jesus told his disciples to go into all the world so that all could become worshippers and children of the Most High.

We get such a picture of God’s plan to bring vitality and abundance.

Look at how other prophesies speak to this.

They say that the Messiah would establish an ever increasing kingdom.  “Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from that time and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of Hosts will accomplish this.” ( Isa 9:7)

They say that he would bring salvation.  “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. . . by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.” (Isa 53:2, 11)

There’s just one caveat for the production of fruit. “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” John 12:24

For the Messiah to bear fruit, he would have to die.  The rest of Isaiah 53 makes this clear. “because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.” (From Isa 53:12)

For there to be beauty and glory, there must first be death.

And the same is true for us.  If we want to be effective, if we want the life we long for, we have to die to self.

It’s a good thing to remember.  We just had a friend and his dad and cat stay with us for a week after Hurricane Michael. The time was a blessing.  I think in the way my husband and I served our friend, we planted a seed of faith.   But I also think I can learn from this how to die to self more completely, how to be more willing and wholeheartedly, and to do better next time.

I long for our church to grow.  It hits me like never before that this will only be accomplished as each of us dies to self.

And what other beauty do I long to see?  How does my heart yearn to see God work?

His work starts with my death.  It could be an action.  It could be surrendering the matter to him in prayer.

But I am the progeny of the Branch of the Lord.  It is my destiny to bear fruit as he did.

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. John 15:5

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