By Mary Spence
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “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. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. - John 15:1-8 NIV
I love this time of year! The plentiful harvest. The beautiful sunflowers, and round brightly colored pumpkins. The picking, preparing, canning and freezing to prepare for the coming winter. I am a gardener, so by September my friends and neighbors run when they see me coming because I'm giving everyone I know zucchini squash and tomatoes.
Yesterday I was thinking about how similar gardening is to our spiritual growth...
How planting the seed of his word is like gardening.We first till the soil (prepare our mind) making it fresh and new to receive the seed. We turn it and fertilize it and make sure it's ready. Next you plant the seed (His word) carefully covering it with soil. Then it needs sun, water and TIME to sprout. And just like our growth in the Lord, the more devotion we give to it the better it grows. Sometimes we have to get in there and remove the weeds that are encroaching on what we are trying to grow... threatening to choke off our beautiful fruit. Sometimes the weeds are the world, our business, our desire to chase things that are not what God desires for us. Sometimes it's my own stinkin' thinkin'. Hurts habits and hangups.
JOHN 15 1-2
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
Then it's time to prune! Ouch! To cut back the branches that are not fruitful. This will give our plant more energy for the parts that will produce fruit. Sometimes it hurts when he prunes us but it's always for a better plan or purpose. When our pride gets in our way and we need to be humbled. When I let fear stand between me and His plan for me. It's always about breaking our heart for the next better thing He has for us or to prepare us for our next journey or growth. But in the season.. ow!
John 15 goes on to say:
You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “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. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Then finally the harvest! The sweet product of our hours of labor, broken nails, dirty knees and aching back. We become fruitful in Him! Ready to give to others and share the knowledge(our fruit). Not the zucchini though.
In that day— “Sing about a fruitful vineyard: I, the Lord, watch over it; I water it continually. I guard it day and night so that no one may harm it. I am not angry. If only there were briers and thorns confronting me! I would march against them in battle; I would set them all on fire. Or else let them come to me for refuge; let them make peace with me, yes, let them make peace with me.” In days to come Jacob will take root, Israel will bud and blossom and fill all the world with fruit. - Isaiah 27:2-6
That's our harvest. When we can go out and be used for His will. So go ask!
Please open up my heart to the growth and change you wish to make in my life. I pray that you would grow the gifts and talents in me that you intend to use for your good and fruitful plans for my life. Give me the strength to prune in the areas that are not producing fruit and where my will is in conflict with your will help me to submit and be still. Waiting is the hardest part, Lord, so help me to be patient when it's quiet. So that your plan for my life can blossom.
By Joyce Pelletier
Hebrews 5:7-9 ‘During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission. Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered and once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.’
Wait a minute now! Did you ever stop to think that Jesus “had” to learn obedience. Well, what am I saying? In this reading, it says “Son, though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered.”
This reading really helped me to see that…
He is without sin, He is perfect, and He created all things.
Let’s look at the definition of the word - Obedience – compliance with an order, request or law of submission to another’s authority.
In this time of 2023 – does this word exist anymore? We live in a time of do your own thing, do what is good for you, to thine own self be true, and so on. It is difficult to wrap yourself around this nine-letter word. Obedience seems like we are slaves, yet being obedient to where God calls us to be, is one of the most important responses we can make to God.
When I think of this concept, I know beyond anything, that I’m the one needing to learn obedience, not Jesus. I pondered what it really means. I am far from perfection, thus a better candidate to learn about Obedient Submission.
He was born of a virgin. Fathered by God himself. If you consider, ‘He was made perfect.’ You just wonder why did He have to learn obedience?
I’m thinking that He did this to be like us in all ways so that He could relate to His creation. When He was twelve, He went to be with the elders, the leaders of the church in His Father’s House. He longed to hear for himself what they believed. His parents, headed for home. Along the way they realized Jesus wasn’t with them on the return trip home. They went back to find them. His mother said to him in Luke 2:47-50 “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your Father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” “Why were you searching for me?” He asked. “Didn‘t you know I had to be in my Father’s house? But they did not understand what He was saying to them.
When our son was about 6 or 7 years old, we had friends visiting us for supper one night. Joe left the table, got on his rickety bike and took off. He had a pillowcase in his hand. His intent was to run away. I saw him leave and thought he’d be back in 15 minutes. A while later a neighbor found him several miles from home and picked him up and brought him home. She called to see if we knew where he was. You see, we were preparing to talk with a priest in our parish about putting on a Marriage Encounter. We thought he went back home after we left. Maurice went to get him at our neighbor’s and brought him home to where the sitter was, then came to get me.
It was a frightening time. We had just started with a new relationship with Jesus and we got so involved with way too many things. Our experience with accepting Jesus as Lord of our lives, caught on a ship of a new exciting live and we lost focus on being with our kids.
We were so fortunate that our story didn’t turn out in a horrible manner. God knew we were trying to serve Him, but He also knew we weren’t prepared for the overinvolvement parents can do and how it effects our kids. It was a new chance to refocus.
Obedience to God is the most important thing. Asking Him what He desires is far more vital than just doing whatever anyone asks of us. It’s really ok to say no sometimes. Learning how to weigh the effects of so many activities is a means of discipline that is the most crucial.
The over activity could have turned out pretty ugly, but God is merciful. I saw him leave, but didn’t think he’d go far. This gave us a chance to regroup and grow from these challenges of over involvement.
I’m not promoting no involvement, just asking that you take the time to see what is better for your family situation. If it’s too much, don’t be afraid to admit it. We have our children under our wings such a short time, then they grow up and we become empty-nesters and that’s the time to get involved. This discipline was a major lesson for us. We learned to not be afraid to take time to evaluate what God wanted from us. We learned how to be a family again. We also learned how to say “no” in some cases.
Think – are there things in your life that put so much demand on you that you are more stressed than you should be? How is it bouncing off our kids? Is there something God might want our attention regarding our activities? We were very fortunate in our situation, and God’s mercy spared us deep heartache, had it turned out differently.
By Peggie Potter
In the of the new nation of Israel, though the people were not faithful & repeatedly sinned against God, He maintained His faithfulness & covenant to them. When they finally cried out to Him to deliver them from their Philistine oppressors, God sent word by His angel to a barren woman & her husband Manoah that she would bear a son. Manoah refused to believe until he saw the angel ascend with the fire back to God, & then panicked thinking he & his wife would die because they beheld God's Glory. His wife assured him that if God made this promise, then he would bring it to fruition. So, Samson was born & grew to deliver Israel from their oppressors.
From Genesis 3:15, we have the promise of our ultimate deliverer Savior. In His time God sent His promised Son, the Seed of the woman & the crusher of the serpent’s head. Despite our own
tendency to sinfulness, weakness, & imperfection, God is there, lovingly keeping His covenants with humankind & doing it in ways that would seem impossible, but possible only through Him !
His promises throughout history have always been yes & Amen!
by Doug Merchant
Recently my family was hit with a HUGE emotional hurt. We got a call at 2:30, letting us know that the 2 babies that we have been fostering since before Halloween, were being given back to their bio-mother, and we had to meet her at 5 to give the babies back to her.
Long story short, we knew that there was a hearing that day, but did not expect that the judge would award custody to the mother in this case, and especially not in such an abrupt manner. This is NOT how foster care is supposed to go.
As you can imagine, this has devastated our family emotionally, as we were not ready to let go of these beautiful little girls that God had allowed us to care for, at least for a season. There have been many tears shed since then and emotional roller coasters.... with only 1 hour or so to pack what the girls needed to take, you can imagine how much of their things are still at the house. So when I opened the fridge, and broke into tears over a cookie, that was a sign of the wounding that came from this.
I thought that this morning, it was interesting to see how God spoke to both Judy and I through our devotions. We are reading completely different devotional plans, that don't tie together as a whole, yet we both ended up reading Acts 16 this morning-
16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most-High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. 20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. 21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas . 30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe I the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the Word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 The he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
For me, there were 3 points that I felt like God was reminding me of while reading this:
1. God can use us, when we are annoyed, and being annoyed is OK.
The fact that the Bible lets us know that Paul cast the spirit out of the girl because he was annoyed is not stated as a negative. It was OK that he was annoyed at her then. It is OK for us to be annoyed at the court system making what we feel is a bad choice, and two of the people that were at court that we had very little, or no contact with making decisions on what was best for the girls.
2. We can still praise God, even when circumstances are NOT what we want.
Paul and Silas managed to sing, and praise God even in prison. If they could praise God then, it gives perspective that we can praise God now. Praising God is not easy, when you don't see how he can use a negative experience like this for his glory, but we are trying to do so.
3. God is STILL in control, even when Paul was in prison, and even when we are fighting to see his plan right now.
Seeing that God used the praise of Paul and Silas to save the jailer, shows that God may have some way to use this time in our life to help someone else, and to grow our faith.
There is a song that I heard again recently, that keeps coming back to me as an encouragement. I will close out with the lyrics of that song.
Life is easy, when you're up on the mountain
And you've got peace of mind, like you've never known
But things change, when you're down in the valley
Don't lose faith, for you're never alone
For the God on the mountain, is still God in the valley
When things go wrong, He'll make them right
And the God of the good times, is still God in the bad times
The God of the day is still God in the night
You talk of faith, when you're up on the mountain
But talk comes so easy, when life's at it's best
Now it's down in the valleys, of trials and temptations
That's where your faith, is really put to the test
For the God on the mountain is still God in the valley
When things go wrong, He'll make them right
And the God of the good times, is still God in the bad times
The God of the day, is still God in the night
By Rebecca Vickery
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:23-25
I didn’t want to go to Church today. My joints were stiff and painful. Sitting in a hard chair was the opposite of appealing. Besides, what would I say if someone asked how I was? I was not alright. And sharing as much would likely be met with tears. Would they want to know?
Too little sleep. Too much pain. The obstacles felt bigger than the solutions, and I couldn’t see past them. I planned to stay in and my husband tried to convince me that I would be better off going. I created a list I couldn’t see past and wept at my bedside. I love our Church. But even moreso, God was worthy of my worship, even though I was in pain.
I went in spite of my obstacles. It was not easy. Yet, I was greeted so beautifully by one, then another, then another. I did end up crying. More than once. But something interesting happened. My husband set up a chair for me in the back. A beautiful friend of mine who happens to also struggle with pain and mobility hobbled over to where I was.
“You’re not doing so great,” she said, not asked. My tears were confirmation, she held me tight and said, “I look forward to the day when both of us are pain free.” I knew from that moment that I had made the right choice to go.
From the sermons, to the worship music, to the fellowship, I felt my focus being reestablished. Had I stayed home, I would have missed out on many wonderful blessings that the Lord gave me through all the people of Daybreak.
I would have also missed out on a great reminder. Our lives are designed to be spent in relationship with our Creator. My biggest reason for going to Church had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with Him. My pain doesn’t diminish His faithfulness, but it sure does a good job to distract me from my relationship with Him.
That is exactly why we need others around us to point us back to God. Walking alongside others puts us in a position to point them back to their relationship with God, but it puts us in a position to be encouraged by others as well. We are not always going to be the encourager, nor will we always need the encouragement.
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17
And let us consider how we might spur one another on towards love and good deeds.
Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16
Singing has a way of reminding our hearts of what our heads sometimes forget.
“All creation groans as we await - What our eyes have longed to see
Every pain and evil we've long endured - Will be crushed by Christ our King” All Glory Be Forever (Sovereign Grace Music)
Pain is not the final outcome. Even constant, it is not forever. In the end of the book of Revelation, it says that there will come a day that He will wipe away every tear from our eyes. There will be no more grief or pain. Worship song lyrics should point us to the promises of God. They should, in the same way as the Word of God, incline our hearts back to our Creator.
We are prone to wander in the best of circumstances. We are driven easily to distraction. Growing in community sometimes forces us to lower the façade and allows us to be vulnerable. We don’t have to be perfect. Sometimes we just need to show up and let God move through His people.