577:  Abiding – The Key to Lasting Surrender and Joy

577: Abiding – The Key to Lasting Surrender and Joy

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No More Roller-Coaster Living

When it comes to spiritual disciplines like surrender or yielding our life to the Lord, the hardest part is not the act of initial surrender, but the journey of remaining surrendered to Him in the days and months ahead.  For most believers, this journey can be discouraging, filled with success and failure, ups and downs, and sometimes, you may even feel like giving up.  But that should never be the case.  After all, it is the Holy Spirit living in you that seals you in Him and is the deposit, the guarantee of the promise of your future inheritance to come (Eph. 1:14).  And this is more than going to heaven when you die— far more.  The indwelling Holy Spirit also guarantees your sanctification, which is you becoming more like Christ each and every day (1 Cor. 1:30).

But the one question still remains, how?  How do we experience the process of becoming more like our Lord in the chaos of everyday living?  And how do we make sure, at least on our end, that we remain surrendered and submitted to Him?


To Abide

In Christian circles, we hear much about the word abide or abiding regarding our relationship with Christ.  Jesus actually made that term the centerpiece of His teaching on the nature of our relationship with Him in John 15.  You would do well to study this teaching.  In it, Jesus said:

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” – John 15:4-5.

Abiding in Christ is the key to remaining surrendered and walking in obedience under His authority.  But what does it mean to abide in Him? And how is it done?

The word “abide” in Greek is menó, and means to “remain or stay, live, and dwell with someone in an intimate, close relationship by being united with them, or being made one with them, in heart, mind, and will.”¹  It is more than a casual acquaintance but rather a deep, enduring connection.  And it is only when we remain connected to Him, that we allow His life to flow through us, producing spiritual fruit that brings glory to the Father (John 15:8).

The principle is simple: When we abide, we flourish and live.  When we detach from the vine and try to go it alone, we flounder and die.  And the choice is always ours to make.


Remaining Connected (Surrendered) to the True Vine

Why is abiding so important?  Because it leads to spiritual fruitfulness in our lives.  Jesus said, “He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  As we stay attached or surrendered to the Vine (Christ), His life flows through us, and this supernaturally enables us to bear His good fruit— the fruit of righteousness, godly character, and the expansion of God’s kingdom, all for the glory of the Father.  It is an amazing dependent relationship.  Remember, as a branch, we don’t produce any fruit.  That’s the job of the Vine, Christ.  But as long as we remain attached and surrendered to Him, we get the joy of bearing His fruit since all He is, as the Vine, flows through us and, as His branches, gives our life purpose.  And all we have to do is remain surrendered, attached, and submitted to the source of everything that gives our life value.  He produces all the fruit, and we get to bear His handiwork for the world to see.  Let that sink in for a moment.

The Scriptures reveal we were created for good works (Eph. 2:10), but we can only fulfill these works if we rely wholly on Jesus’ power working in us.  If we detach from the Vine, our best efforts become futile, and we quickly discover we can “do nothing” (John 15:5).  But when we remain connected or surrendered to Him by abiding in Him, we partner with Him as He allows us to bear His lasting spiritual fruit.  Abiding places us in the channel of God’s wonderous grace and enables us to experience the joy of vibrant Christian living.  It is truly the abundant life Jesus promised (John 10:10).


The Fruit of Obedience

Abiding also produces obedience.  Jesus said, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10).  It seems that obedience and love are intrinsically intertwined.  So when we love Christ, obedience to His Word flows naturally.  And as we follow His commands, our love for Him grows deeper still.

Our culture exalts self-will and independence, but Jesus calls us to a life of voluntary surrender and submission— recognizing His wisdom exceeds our own, on every level.  Therefore, as branches abiding in the Vine, obeying Christ’s commands allows His life and power to flow unhindered through us, which is the entire point of being conformed to His image (Rom. 8:29).

Some may view obedience as restrictive, but in reality, it leads to great peace and freedom.  Sin and pride trap us in bitterness, resentment, anxiety, and emptiness.  But obeying Christ frees us from sin’s grip, no matter how strong the grip is.  His commands are given as a blessing, not to stifle, but to protect, guide, and bless.  And as we surrender to the Vine, we find true purpose in bearing His righteous fruit that will last, and not mindlessly spending our life chasing the trinkets and toys of this world that will inevitably perish.

But how can we grow in abiding obedience?

It starts by cultivating a heart that longs to honor Christ.  Before rushing into any activity, we must take a moment to stop and listen to Jesus, focusing on His voice among the fray.  Remember what He said, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7).  This is a promise and a condition.  If we rest in Him and allow His words to permeate our hearts, He will give us the power and, most importantly, the desire to obey.  Abiding flows out of a satisfied heart resting in Christ’s love.

Finally, understand that abiding obedience is a journey.  We will make missteps, count on it, but the Father graciously prunes us to grow sweeter fruit within each season of our lives (John 15:2).  So do not let past failures, no matter how many or how often, sever you from the Vine.  Repent and rely on Christ’s forgiveness and power to help you take the next step in faith and obedience to Him.


The Fruit of Dependent Surrender

Abiding in Christ requires full dependence on Him. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  We must recognize that apart from Him, we are helpless and fruitless.

When we try to live the Christian life in our own effort and strength, we end up exhausted, frustrated, and often burned out.  You’ve probably experienced that at some point in your life.  But when we fully surrender control to Jesus, trusting in His inner working more than our striving, then His divine life, power, and joy flow through us.  Surrender means ceasing from our labors and completely relying on Him (which is a great definition of abiding).

This surrender is not passive or apathetic, but rather one of active dependence.  As we abide in Christ, we gain wisdom to know what He desires us to do each step of the way.  We then act in alignment with His will but rely, not on our own meager and finite resources, but on His inner strength to accomplish it.  As Paul said, “To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily” (Col. 1:29).  The life of Christ within empowers us beyond human capability.  The joy of experiencing being complete in Him (Col. 2:10), comes from abiding as His branch and letting the Vine do all the stuff only the Vine can do.  And then we do what we can do, which is simply to remain connected to Him.


The Fruit of a Life That Matters

Jesus promised that abiding in Him would produce spiritual fruit that remains.  He said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain” (John 15:16).  When we minister in human strength and wisdom, the impact is often limited and temporary.  But drawing life from the Vine produces eternal fruit that matters and remains.

This fruit comes from our conscious effort to remain surrendered to Him in everything.  As we listen to the Spirit’s promptings through an abiding relationship, He leads us to act in ways that bless others.  It may involve speaking a word of encouragement, showing compassion, serving a practical need, or doing something that moves us out of what feels comfortable and stretches our faith.  When we follow His lead rather than our own agenda, the fruit always brings glory to the Father.  And since the fruit is from the Spirit and not our own human efforts, it will always remain.

Scripture describes the fruit that naturally grows from abiding in Him as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).  These fruits of the Spirit emerge in our character as we stay connected to the Vine and become more like Jesus.


The Overflow of Joy

One primary fruit Jesus mentions is fullness of joy.  He said, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).  As we abide in God’s love, His joy naturally overflows in our hearts.  And the joy of Christ, the joy He experiences Himself, will remain in us.  It really doesn’t get any better than that.

This joy is much deeper than temporary human happiness based on circumstances.  This kind of joy flows from a surrendered relationship in Christ, trusting Him amidst any situation, good or bad.  Even in great trials and heartwrenching tribulations, we can experience His supernatural joy as we rely on His presence by remaining surrendered to Him.  And, as Paul and Silas discovered when chained in a dungeon in Philippi, we can now view all troubles as opportunities to experience more of Him (Acts 16:25).

This abiding joy comes from recognizing and embracing that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:38-39).  So now, life’s pressures only drive us closer to the God who sustains us.  And when we abide in the Vine, joy remains even in the midst of suffering, because we now know that pain, with purpose, produces great joy.


Launching into Jesus’ Harvest

Finally, abiding readies us for Kingdom impact.  Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.  I have said these things to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:16, 11).  Abiding fills us with contagious joy and propels us into Jesus’ harvest fields.

When our roots grow deep into the Vine, we gain a passion to share Christ’s love with the world.  We yearn for others to know this soul-satisfying relationship we have in Him, and therefore, we long to see others grafted into the True Vine with us as fellow branches.

So we follow the Spirit’s leading to invest in the work of His kingdom.  We freely leverage our gifts and resources to make disciples, meet needs, and proclaim the Gospel in any way possible.  We spend and are spent for the cause of Christ, fueled by our joy in Him.  This is what an overflowing life looks like abiding in the True Vine.  And it fills us with overabounding gratitude for His choice of us in Him (Eph. 1:4).


His Final Plea: Remain in Me

On the night of His betrayal, Jesus pleaded with His disciples to remain in close fellowship with Him when He said, “Stay here and watch with Me” (Matt. 26:38).  He knew great trials would soon come that would shake their faith to the core.  But He also knew that if they clung to the Vine, drawing life and strength from Him that day and daily thereafter, they would bear eternal fruit, and their lives would have a lasting impact on others.

Centuries later, His same plea echoes in our own hearts.  Jesus says, “Abide in Me.  Stay vitally connected to Me.  For apart from Me, you can do nothing.  A branch detached withers quickly.  But if you stay united to Me in abiding surrender, My life will flow through you with supernatural power.  Abide in My love and joy.  Seek My heart above all else.  Remain in Me, and your life will overflow with righteous fruit that endures forever.”

This is the way to live fully surrendered to the Lord, no matter what— come what may.  Are you ready to live a life abiding in Him?  Good.  Then let’s get started today.


Notes:

1. Zodhiates, S. (2000). In The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). AMG Publishers.


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575:  Why Did Jesus Pray for His Church to be One?

575: Why Did Jesus Pray for His Church to be One?

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Church:  The Hatfields and McCoys

We live in a world that is totally at war with itself.  Our nation is being torn apart by division – racial, socioeconomic, political – you name it, and we’ve experienced it.  But that’s not how Christ designed His church to be.  In fact, Jesus said in John 17 that when we love each other more than we love ourselves, the lost world will come to believe God sent Jesus and He is truly the Son of God.  In other words, our unity and oneness with each other will be the strongest evangelical draw we have to bring others to Christ.

But if you look around, all we see within the church is division.  Some churches believe in the sovereignty of God, while others deify man and his free will choices.  Some churches see homosexuality as a sin, while others have drag queens teaching the children on Sunday mornings.  The church has a history of dividing on trivial matters such as the mode of baptism or our posture in prayer rather than uniting around the “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).

But what did the Lord have in mind when He created His church?  And does it look anything like what we’ve turned it into today?  Let’s take a few moments and do a brief survey on what the Lord said about His church.


It’s Unity Above Almost Everything Else

As we’ve shared already, the early church was built on devoting themselves to the four disciplines found in Acts 2:42.  And as you can see, two of the four deal with building our family relationships with each other in unity (fellowship and the Love Feast, or the breaking of bread).

And they continued steadfastly in (were devoted to) (1) the apostles’ doctrine and (2) fellowship, in the (3) breaking of bread, and (4) in prayers – Acts 2:42.

Then we have the prayer of Jesus before His death on the cross.  And what was the content of His prayer?  Our unity in Him and each other.

“That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us (why) that the world may believe that You sent Me” – John 17:21.

Notice how many times Paul encouraged the church (and the individual believers) to humble themselves in unity with others like our Lord did.  It seems that being one together in Him was continually on Paul’s mind.

Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be (what) like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, (why) that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – Romans 15:5-6.

Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that (what) you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment – 1 Corinthians 1:10.

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to (what) walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, (how) with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all – Ephesians 4:1-6.

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.  Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others – Philippians 2:1-4.


Ugh, Enough Already

I know, too many passages all saying the same thing lose their power over time.  Maybe.  Or maybe several passages all saying the same thing might convict us of our sins and move us to make the changes internally we need to in order to become one with other believers.   Maybe we will realize Jesus was serious about unity in His church, and Paul just piled it on even more after Him.

And maybe, just maybe, this will move us to change how we view church and each other in order to make His name known to those who live in sin, skepticism, and denial.  And maybe when we are one in Him, our loved ones will see the incredible power of Christ and come to faith in Him.

And if so, all He is waiting for is us to obey His commands.  Are you ready?  I sure hope so.


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574:  Turning Church from an Institution into a Family

574: Turning Church from an Institution into a Family

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Fellowship is More Than a Pot-Luck Dinner

If you look at the book of Acts, you’ll find the amazing story of how the church was born and grew to 3,000 people after one 297-word sermon preached by an impetuous, former fisherman named Peter.  It’s one of the most transforming passages in all the New Testament.  But what we fail to look at is the fact that now the church had a serious logistic issue.  Like, “What are we going to do with all these people?  How are we going to feed them?  Many of them don’t even speak the same language we speak.  We don’t have training materials, a church structure, or places for them to sleep.  And we don’t even know if we like them?  All we know is they have now received the same Spirit we received, and they consider us family, and we should start acting like family.”

This was a difficult problem for the infant church, which was only hours old.  I can imagine Peter and the rest of the disciples fretting over the fact this problem was way above their pay grade.  This was something Jesus needed to figure out before He ascended into heaven just ten days ago.  But He didn’t.  He just left them His Spirit and trusted them to follow His will.

I can imagine their prayers went something like, “Lord, show us what to do.  These are Your people, called by Your name, and filled with Your Spirit, just like we are.  So please, show us what to do.”

And that is exactly what the Lord did.


They Continued Steadfastly in Four Things

As you can see from Scripture, they “continued steadfastly” or “endured to the point of devotion” to four vital disciplines that allowed them to grow from a gang of strangers into His church (Acts 4:42).  Not three.  And not five.  Just four.  But these four were essential to their growth and devotion to the Lord and to each other.

And they continued steadfastly in (1) the apostles’ doctrine and (2) fellowship, in (3) the breaking of bread, and (4) in prayers – Acts 2:42.

Note what they were devoted to and the order they are listed.

And they continued steadfastly in
(1)  the apostles’ doctrineor preaching and the study of the Word of God.
(2)  and fellowshipwhich is koinōnía and means a partnership, communion, or joint participation.  This is something more than sharing a chicken dinner on Sunday.
(3) in the breaking of breadthis is more than communion or the Lord’s Supper.  It is a shared communal meal, much like a family reunion, that was part of their worship service.
(4) and in prayersboth corporate and individual.

As you can see, there is much we are missing today that the early church deemed essential when they came together as the family of God to worship the Father.  I believe there is much we can learn from them.  But the key discipline that changes them, and can change us, from an institution to a family is in the “breaking of bread” or the Love Feast.  And it is this forgotten love feast we will explore in this message.


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What Did the Agape or Love Feast Look Like?

What Did the Agape or Love Feast Look Like?

The Lost Discipline of the Love Feast – Part 2

As with most of life, all good things must come to an end.  Some by natural design and others by more sinister means.  We can say the same for the “love feast,” which was a foundational aspect of worship during the church’s first three centuries that met its demise in the most nefarious way.  And as we dig into this further, you might conclude, as I have, that the forces of darkness conspired to rid the early church of a powerful, God-ordained way of forging a group of individual believers into a single voice, a single body, into the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12).  And that way was the “love feast.”

Oh, and the results of that conspiracy?  Well, just look around at the fractured and scattered church today.  I think the fruits are evident, don’t you?


What Is or Was the Love Feast?

As we have shared earlier, the early church was a group of Spirit-filled and committed strangers who were brought together by God’s effectual calling to form more than an organization or religious institution, but a family— the family of God or the body of Christ.  And the Lord gave them the discipline of sharing a common meal together as part of their corporate worship time (Acts 2:42) to facilitate the intimacy and fellowship (koinōnía) needed to become the light of the world (Matt. 5:14).

But the “love” or “agape” feast was more than a simple meal.  It was a time of bonding together, much like a family does after a tragedy.  It was a time to embrace new believers, encourage those struggling in their faith, and rejoice with those with whom God was doing mighty things.  The agape, or love feast, was an opportunity for the church to share the highs and lows of the Christian life as one, while building itself up on the “most holy faith” (Jude 1:20).

During the feast, the older, more mature Believers would share wisdom and what they had learned from walking with Christ longer than the new believers just learning how to crawl spiritually.  It was a picture of what a Christian worship service should look like.  Everyone had a part, and everyone was encouraged to participate.

How is it then, brethren?  Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation.  Let all things be done for edification – 1 Corinthians 14:26.

When was the last time you saw congregation members encouraged to share a teaching, tongue, revelation, or interpretation during a Sunday worship time without that first being cleared by those in charge?  Exactly.  But what a fantastic time that would have been, not constrained by the rules or traditions of men, but singing spontaneous songs and hymns, offering prayers without being asked, and praising God continually for all He had done in the lives of those with you, all prompted and empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit moving in everyone, and not just a few.  Amazing.


Couldn’t Things Go Wrong?

Now, it is true that this type of freedom in worship has its inherent dangers.  We see that in Jude 1:12, where Jude says non-believers, satanic plants, had infiltrated the church, just like they have today, and became “spots in your feast, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves.”  The word translated spots is spilás and means “a rock by the sea or submerged in the sea by which ships are shipwrecked.”  In essence, these people became a hidden reef that could cause great damage to the church due to their selfishness, “serving only themselves.”  It looks like not much has changed in 2,000 years.  But is the fear of abuse or selfishness a reason to scrap something God established for such good?  I don’t think so.

Then, we see the problem with pride in the church.  In Corinth, the people had strayed into factions and groups, favoring those who “have” and rejecting those who “have not.”  In giving his instruction for the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Paul first chastised those who had turned the agape or love feast into something dishonoring to Christ.  And it was this rebuke that gave rise to his instructions (1 Cor. 11:17-22).  You might want to read it yourself.  It kinda stings.

But again, is this a reason to reject the plan of God entirely because some in the church have abused it?  Notice that Paul did not cancel the love feast.  He only regulated it and the Lord’s Supper.  So yes, as with anything, there are inherent dangers.  And this is true of the love feast.  But do you think that when God instituted it along with Bible teaching, fellowship, and prayer, He was unaware of the dangers?  Like maybe they caught Him by surprise?  Or perhaps He made a mistake?  Again, I think not.


So What Did the Love (Agape) Feast Look Like?

According to the New Testament and the writings of the early church fathers, the agape or love feast was celebrated by the early church this way:

The church would gather on the first day of the week to celebrate the Lord and praise Him.  This time, what we would call our Sunday Worship Service, would begin with a common, shared meal— with those who had much sharing with those who had little.

The agape feast and the Lord’s Supper were closely connected, with the feast first followed by the Supper.  Ignatius of Antioch (35-108 AD) wrote: “It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize, or to offer, or to present sacrifice, or to celebrate a love-feast.”¹  This indicates the love feast and the Lord’s Supper were not separate practices for the early church.  They were two sides of the same coin.

During the love feast, those present were encouraged to share, for the edification of the body, what the Lord had shown them or what He had done in their lives, much like our time of testimonies.  There was freedom within the church.  No clergy, laity divide.  Everyone had direct access to the Lord and, therefore, everyone had the opportunity and right to share their relationship with Him.  It was the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers on steroids.

According to church historians, their time began with prayer, followed by a communal meal (love feast) and time of sharing, singing, testimonies, Scripture, and worship.  This was followed by a teaching from the Scripture and ended with the Lord’s Supper.  An offering was also received for the needs of others.  Tertullian (160-225 AD) explains the offering in his Apology, “Our feast explains itself by its name. The Greeks call it agape, i.e., affection. Whatever it costs, our outlay in the name of piety is gain, since with the good things of the feast we benefit the needy.”²

Remember, when the church came together, they were “devoted to” or “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).  These were not four separate activities that took place on different days.  These four God-ordained practices of His church made up their worship service and were sum parts of the whole that were vital in turning the persecuted early church into the men and women of God who “turned the world upside down” for Christ (Acts 17:6).


But What Happened to the Love Feast?

Great question.  And the answer may surprise you.  Remember, whenever God provides His children with something to benefit them, as He did with the four practices in Acts 2:42, the enemy and the flesh work overtime to destroy all God has created.  We see this in every area of life, and especially in His church.

So next time, we will look at the sinister compromise the church made with the secular world for the sake of acceptance and wealth and how the agape feast proved too powerful to be allowed to stand.  So, like most things God gives us for our good, it was set aside for something we want more.  And the unintended consequences for the church (or maybe they were intended) have been severe.

We can learn much about how God intended His church to function rather than how we have decided we want it to be today.  And who knows, maybe God is moving His church from its dependence on repurposed pagan temples back into the homes where it first began.  Perhaps He will reinstitute His love feast among believers and how we worship Him in the future.  Who knows?

But if that is what He is doing, I, for one, am ready for it. Are you?


Notes:

1.  Letter to the Smyrneans 8.2
2.  Apology, 39.16


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