A Fruit Called Love

Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. … 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. … If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. … As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. … You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you.

– John 15: 2, 4-5, 7, 9, 16 (OSB)

The words “love” and “fruits” are repeated so many times in this one conversation Christ had with His disciples. Coincidence? I think not.

We get it wrong so often. We think that God wants something from us other than our love, but He doesn’t. Literally everything that should come from our discipleship, our friendship with Christ stems from this one thing: LOVE. It’s so simple, and yet we insist on complicating it!

God = love. So when we abide in God we abide in love. Every fruit, every action and word, every outcome should be a direct result of love. Out of His love are we able to love – Him, others, ourselves. And that is why He says, “you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” When we truly dwell in God and His love, His desires become our desires – we no longer desire and seek silly or selfish things, but what God desires we will desire, and when we ask they will be done.

The deeper we delve into our relationship with God, the deeper in love we become and the closer to God we become – in our desires, our thoughts, our words, our appearance. It takes time and it takes effort: we are pruned just as a plant must be pruned to ensure it continues to produce good fruit, but the more time and effort we put into becoming more like Him, in abiding in His love, the more we become love. This is what we have been chosen to be.

And really, that’s what the world needs now more than ever, right? Love.

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For I Am Yours And You Are Mine

Blessed is he whom You have chosen and adopted; he shall dwell in Your courts.

– Psalm 64:4 (Orthodox Study Bible)

I definitely forget that I have been adopted, that I have been chosen. Think about the difference – with a biological child, there is always a chance that this child was unplanned, unexpected, or what have you. But when a child is adopted, is chosen, the process is long and sometimes grueling, and yet the parents are dying to be with and to have this child, no matter what it takes.

God chose me. He went through a long, hard, arduous, life-taking process just to have me for Himself, just to be my Papa. As much as an adoptive parent puts into getting a new child, God literally gave His life so I could be His daughter.

Why then do I act as if He wants to hold back from me what is best? What parent would go through all that to have a child only to hold anything back from her? When I feel like I am begging Him for what is best for me why do I think He hasn’t been right here with it in hand just waiting for me to be done with my childish tantrum to give it to me?

…we shall find Him ready as the morning, and He will come to us as the early and latter rain to the earth.

– Hosea 6:3 (OSB)

I am chosen.

I am adopted.

I am loved.

I am the daughter of the King.

Man Oh Man, It’s Time For The New One

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;  bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

— Colossians 3:12-17

This passage really could not have come at a better time. The preparation week of Lent is coming to an end, and fully-fledged Lent is upon us. It is now the time to put our proverbial money where our mouths are and make a real change in how we are living our lives. I decided to take this passage and break it down, virtue by virtue and self-reflect, and I would encourage you to do the same. Here we go:

  • Tender mercies: not just mercy, but tender mercy; that’s a whole other level of mercy. Have I been merciful to those around me? Or do I get frustrated with others, refusing to let go of their faults and refusing to give the benefit of the doubt?
  • Kindness: do I show kindness to others around me? And when I do where is it coming from? Is it coming from the little that I have or does it stem from the kindness that I am receiving from God?
  • Humility: this is a biggie. What am I focusing my life around? Is it all about me or is it about those around me? Am I doing or saying things to keep attention focused on me? What are the intentions behind my actions and words?
  • Meekness: I don’t think we always know what being meek means, but it goes along with the theme of the rest of this passage. Am I gentle with those around me? Am I soft and calm? Or am I boisterous and loud and saying whatever pops in my head without regard for the consequences?
  • Longsuffering: Am I patient with the people in my life? How about with God? Do I allow Him time to work in my life or do I decide to take matters in my own hands? Do I live my life in the “my way or the highway” mentality or do I leave room for God to do His work on His time?
  • Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another: similar to the attributes above, how am I dealing with people I interact with? Do I forgive or do I insist on holding onto grudges and what I think is owed to me? Do I bear with those who feel like a thorn in my side?

I will be honest with those of you out there reading this, I have not been the best at basically any of these things lately. I haven’t been putting on love like Paul calls for us to do.

But that’s the beauty of this season! It’s another opportunity for a fresh start, to put on love, to be ruled by the peace of God, to be filled with the word of God.

Instead of being ruled by our passions and pride and selfishness and insecurities, let’s choose to be ruled by the peace of God.

Take Me Off This Roller Coaster

Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward.
For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise

— Hebrews 10:35-36

So I’ve been struggling quite a bit the last few months. The last few months have been filled with doubts and insecurities and disappointments…basically the opposite of confidence and endurance. I have depended so much on myself and on the hope I tried placing in others. So naturally I was let down. Repeatedly.

To be honest, things have really stunk lately. I have been riding an emotional roller coaster — no stability, nauseating, and filled with a lot more downs that ups. And for what? For nothing. I cast away my confidence in God and in His love and care for me, and I tried to depend on myself instead. What did I gain from that? Nothing but heartache. Nothing but misery.

I lost my confidence. I lost my endurance. If I’m really being honest, I lost my faith in God’s grace. No reward. No promise. Only bitterness and hurt. That’s what resulted.

Can anyone else relate to this? Lord, I hope not, but also kind of hope so.

But you know what? I’m done. I’m done trying to do things on my own. I’m done seeking after things that mean nothing if I’m not rooted in Christ to begin with. No more running after nonsense. It’s time to get back to where I need to be, where my soul will finally be at peace once more, where self-doubt will turn into love for who God created me to be.

I hope if you are struggling with self-worth, if you are struggling to find meaning or are just filled with hurt and doubts, that you will join me this Lenten season to throw all that out so we can fill ourselves with the thirst-quenching Living Water.

May we remember that the Holy Spirit is He who is in us. May we remember that we are the Father’s royal children. May we remember that we are the beloved of the Son.

Now is not the time to give up on hope. Now is the time to renew our confidence, to increase our endurance, and to prepare to receive the promises we have been given.

I Am Great

 

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
– James 4:10

I don’t think I’ve ever stopped to think about the meaning of this verse. I’ve been singing it for years in churches, at conventions, in my cousins’ basement (ah, memories). But not once have I taken the time to think about what it is I’m singing.

“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord…” The definition of humble means “to lower (someone) in dignity or importance.” This means I am to lower myself. This is what James is telling us to do: in the presence of God (which, with Him being present inside me should be all the time), I am to lower myself in importance. It’s like in the movies when one guy is trying to be the hero, the hotshot, but then the true hero or the “big boss” shows up. What does the hotshot do? He quiets down; he realizes his place, and he offers the respect and importance the boss man deserves.

I am perpetually trying to be a hotshot, but do I really offer God, the true Hero, the honor and importance and dignity He deserves?

It isn’t always easy stepping back and giving someone else the glory, but it’s not like that’s the end of it. Look at what God does when I finally give Him the glory: “…and He will lift you up.”

That is not nothing. That is a big deal! It’s one thing for me to talk a big game and toot my own horn, but when God, Creator of all things, King of kings, Lord of lords, lifts me up in His glory, that’s a whole other ball game. Take Joseph for example. If he just decided one day, in his position as a servant or a prisoner, to start talking up how he was this awesome guy who could interpret dreams and should be Pharaoh’s right hand man, would that count for anything? No! Because he was a servant and later a prisoner. But when Pharaoh lifted him up to be his second hand, everyone respected Joseph, and it meant everything.

Illustration-of-Pharaoh-giving-kneeling-OCI0000374

So it is with me. When I lift myself up and puff myself up, it means nothing, and in fact it leads to my destruction because “God resists the proud” (James 4:6). But when I humble myself before God, and let the glory be to Him, He will lift me up, and I will share in His glory which is far greater than anything I could have done for myself!

I Am Rich

“Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.”‭- 1 Timothy‬ ‭6:17‬

It’s amazing how I act as if God is holding out on me, how I decide to take matters into my own hands as if God isn’t already doing things in my life, as if He isn’t giving richly.

We talk about the parable of the prodigal son, but in that story it is the father who is prodigal. He gives and gives and gives to his lost son despite the fact that the son was young and reckless. And when the son returned, the father threw an extravagant, lavish party celebrating his return. We know that this parable is about God the Father and us, His children, who wish to take what we think is rightfully ours and leave the safety of His house. God truly is the prodigal Father. He gives far more than I could ever hope to deserve. And yet I act as if He is trying to keep me from having the things that will make me happy.

> But He gives me richly.

> He gives me all things.

> He gives me so that I may enjoy.

So he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”
– 1 Kings 19:10

Walking this road, living this life, I am meant to be set apart from others in this world. I am not meant to be like everybody else. And sometimes this path will be filled with loneliness. Even Elijah – Elijah! – felt lonely. The man who raised a young man from the dead, the man who brought fire down from heaven, felt lonely, and scared. It’s clearly not unusual, clearly not something I alone struggle with. Being in a land where it seems that “I alone am left”, I find myself feeling lonely. I feel like no one is here to support me or protect me or at least be here for me. But what I sometimes fail to realize is that God is aware. And He is near.

And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
– v. 9

God was there. God knew that Elijah was going into the cave and was about to let the self-pity settle in, and instead of leaving Elijah to mope God’s word came to him, offered an ear to listen, offered comfort where he could find none.

Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice [a delicate whispering voice].
– vv. 11-12

And so God took Elijah out of his cave of self-pity and woke the man up. Nothing wakes a person up quite like tearing winds, earthquakes, and fires. But then after all of that, He came quietly, delicately, speaking to Elijah.

Is this not so typical? How many times has God done this in my life? He takes me out of my slump, wakes me up, and just when I think I may fling myself from the proverbial mountain because of the quakes and fires, He speaks ever so delicately to my heart. I never noticed this translation before: “a delicate whispering voice”, but it makes perfect sense when you think of who God is and how He works.

I am about to give you a little insight to my past here in hopes that it will help make this message more tangible.

When I was in high school, I had a very teenage heartbreak. There were winds blowing and quakes shaking inside of me. I will never forget how hard I took it. I will never forget how I could not make myself stop crying even though I had been sobbing nonstop for hours, curled up on my bedroom floor. And then God asked me, “What are you doing here, Marina?” And I begged, I pleaded for Him to make it stop, to hold me and making the crying stop because I was just so tired. Then instantly, the winds quieted, the quaking stopped, the fire extinguished, and my crying finally ceased. He held me, and I could actually feel it. He spoke delicately to my heart and quieted the storm in my soul.
This is a night that I will never forget, even when I am 75 and the Alzheimer’s has kicked in.

brokenheart

More recently than that, God set me back up on that mountain. There was fighting, crying, hurting, all winds, quakes, and fires. I was experiencing weeks of unbearable tempests. And again, God spoke to me, this time through Abouna Bishoy, saying, “What are you doing here, Marina?” Things became clear. The storm quieted. And a delicate whisper eased my heart for the first time in a month.

God will not leave us to wallow in self-pity. He will not leave us to die of loneliness in a cave somewhere, but instead He will wake us up. He will shake us. Then He will delicately whisper words of comfort to us.

Sometimes we need to be woken up by blasting winds in order to be ready to hear the still small delicate whisper.