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SECRETS OF FRUIT-BEARING BELIEVERS (GOSPEL TRANSFORMATION: LENT 2015)

JESUS PROMISED:

Whoever abides in me and I in him, it is he who bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

(John 15:5)

vineyard

Yet some just can’t seem to find time to be in the Word,

and others, though they are in the Word, are

complaining,

grumpy,

and difficult!

Others are in three Bible studies a week,

but have no time to be in the world with

the lost

the lonely

the poor

the prisoner

or the least of these.

Their grapes are not sweet, but sour!

If this describes us, and if we are honest,

it describes us all in part,

let us discover the secrets of fruit-bearing in the vineyard.

At a recent retreat in Omaha, I had some sharpening conversations with the women at my table that shed light on secrets of bearing fruit. I was speaking on Christ in the Song of Songs, and my conversation with the young and beautiful M. C. helped me see how relevant the Song is to John 15. In the Song, the “bride” keeps being compared to a vineyard. Why? A vineyard represents God’s people, His Bride. In Isaiah 5, God says that despite His love and care, His vineyard yields bad grapes. How disappointing it is for the workers to go in and find such poor fruit!

J. F. Millet  Workers in the Vineyard
J. F. Millet Workers in the Vineyard

In the Song, as the bride grows in her trust and obedience, her vineyard bears good fruit. Like our own Mary E., who is in a battle for her life against cancer, she is open to whatever will most glorify the Lord, even if it is suffering and death. Or our own Joyce, who lives in constant pain and cares for a disabled adult daughter with great needs. Mary and Joyce are bearing sweet fruit and are like the bride in the Song who says:

Awake, north wind,
    and come, south wind!
Blow on my garden,
    that its fragrance may spread everywhere.
Let my beloved come into his garden
    and taste its choice fruits.

(Song of Songs 4:16 NIV)

While the south wind is a warm gentle wind, representing sweet things in life, the north wind is a cold harsh wind, representing the trials of life. But this bride is open to either, and will give thanks for both, trusting that God is in control. With this attitude, the fragrance of her Lord, with whom she is One, with whom she abides, will spread everywhere! And He will be so pleased with this garden, in sharp contrast to the disappointment he felt with His garden in Isaiah 5.

When I sat down this young woman said she had been taught this passage from a very sexual perspective, but had never been able to understand the north and south wind or why the fragrance would spread everywhere. To me it was an affirmation of what we have lost by seeing the Song so exclusively from an earthly sexual perspective.

Then I began to ponder some of the other references to the vineyard in the Song, in reference to John 15. I remembered this warning:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil our vineyards, for our vineyards are in bloom. (Song of Songs 2:15)

 What are the foxes that spoil are fruit?

That’s what we will consider this week and we’ll also listen to a tremendous free message from Paige Benton Brown (Keller called her the best preacher in America) on how we as women can be fruitful in Kingdom work.

SUNDAY ICEBREAKER

1. What stood out to you from the above and why?

MONDAY-WEDNESDAY BIBLE STUDY

Prepare your heart with this:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHr7Z7ZS3GE

2. Read John 15:1-5

A. Who is the true vine and who is the vinedresser?

B. If there is no fruit, what does the vinedresser do, and if there is some fruit, what does the vinedresser do?

C. Pruning can come in the form of suffering. How should we respond to suffering in our life? Give Scriptural support.

D. Pruning can also come through the Word. What does Jesus say in John 15:3?

red-fox23. One of the little foxes that we must be alert to can be discovered through Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:24-27. Here are two groups of people. Both hear the Word. But how are they different?

4. What motivations might a person have other than intimacy and transformation for being in the Word that would stifle fruit-bearing?

5. What startling comments does Jesus make in John 15:4-5?

icebergAt the retreat in Omaha, I talked about identifying the sin beneath the sin so that we might be set free.

At our table discussion one of the women was illumined by this. She said, “I like to be busy, and I have trouble getting into the Word. So I guess my busyness is the tip of the iceberg, and it keeps me from being in the Word. So what I need to figure out is what is the sin beneath the busyness. What do you think?”

6. How would you have answered the above question from the woman in Omaha?

red-fox27. Another fox I must beware of is reading my Bible to “feel good about myself as a Christian,” instead of connecting with the Lord. I’ve been struck lately with Jacob’s words to God, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” I think if I could get my heart in that attitude each time I meet with Him, that I would have more consistent good fruit. Thoughts?

 

red-fox28. A blog Bible study is a wonderful opportunity to sharpen one another, but it has dangers too. We may be writing our answers more for the approval and comments of one another than to connect with the Lord. I wanted to jump up an hug Mary-Canada the day she lost her written prayer in cyberspace and said, “I guess it went straight to the Lord.” How can we guard our hearts on this blog study from the little fox of the idol of approval?

9. Challenge Question: Read The Song of Songs 7:11-12 and comment on it in light of our lesson.

THURSDAY-FRIDAY  BEARING FRUIT IN THE KINGDOM

10. Listen to Kingdom Matters from Paige Benton Brown and share your comments/notes.

http://www.podcasts.com/the_gospel_coalition/episode/kingdom_matters_-_paige_benton_brown

Saturday:

11. What is your take-a-way and why?

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207 comments

  1. 4. What motivations might a person have other than intimacy and transformation for being in the Word that would stifle fruit-bearing?
    Daily duty, intellectual prowess so we can feel superior perhaps, and just to get a Bible study done. I am sure there are more though and more I am guilty of too. 
    I remember in the honeymoon stages I memorized like crazy for I loved Him-the Word, and as time went on..unknowingly I grew entrenched in my approval idol and comfort idols..I was blind to my idolatry. One side of me was so grateful at how God gave me such godly mentors yet my flesh grew proud-approval idol. Paul says in 1 Corinthians you are not of me or of anyone else. I thought it was great that God put the Navigators in my path but I was not Baptized in the name of the Navigators. 🙂  I used to grow weary of no one else in my singles group being that passionate about memorizing and I became impatient and judgmental.
     
     

  2. 5. What startling comments does Jesus make in John 15:4-5?
    That apart from Him I can do nothing. If I don’t abide in Him I CAN’T bear His fruit..i CAN’T. His lovingkindness, patience, His peace, long-suffering..is all Him-the beauty and the taste of beautiful ripe fruit hanging on strong, healthy lively branches is from Him. The only fruit I can bear in my flesh is pasted on fruit and when it falls off-underneath are brittle, dead branches. 
    This is such a beautiful picture to me of His life in me. 
     

    1. so good Rebecca–I hear your passion! “His lovingkindness, patience, His peace, long-suffering..is all Him-the beauty and the taste of beautiful ripe fruit hanging on strong, healthy lively branches is from Him.”

  3. 2. consider it pure joy my brothers when you face trials of many kinds, for the testing of your faith develops perseverance, perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything. James 1:2
     
    this is the vs. I think of when I think of suffering and our response to it. I also find that the longer I live the more proof I have in my own experiences that GOD will get me through things and I have more peace as the pruning is taking place.
     
    There are many little foxes in my vineyard today, trying to steel my joy, my approval idol is showing its ugly head! Its good to be reminded this morning that GOD is in love with me and HE loves me passionately! 

    1. Cyndi, me too..it seems like there is always swarms of foxes around daily!!

  4. 6. How would you have answered the above question from the woman in Omaha?
    I CAN RELATE TO HER!! :/ I would tell her that for me, being too busy to be in the word means I am putting what others demand of me higher than spending time with Him. Why? I am chasing after something because in that season or moment I really don’t believe He Loves me and approves of me..and I think the sin beneath the sin is desiring man’s approval. In that moment I am showing God I am not satisfied with His Love and acceptance-that he is impotent compared to this idol. I am learning that I can easily believe and know He loves me but to rest in His Love is soooo different. 

  5. 7. Another fox I must beware of is reading my Bible to “feel good about myself as a Christian,” instead of connecting with the Lord. I’ve been struck lately with Jacob’s words to God, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” I think if I could get my heart in that attitude each time I meet with Him, that I would have more consistent good fruit. Thoughts?
    Oh yes! You would have more consistent fruit!..me too! “I will not let you go until you bless me.” 

  6. 1.  What stood out to you from the above and why?
    “grapes not sweet, but sour”…oh, how I want my grapes to be sweet, but I know that I fall short each and every day and sourness is bound to be present.  Dee’s words convict…I can fall into the group who lack time to be in the world with the lost, lonely, poor, prison, and least of these, I can be in the group that complains and grumbles (oh Lord, forgive me).  “discover the secrets of fruit-bearing in the vineyard”…yes, please…help me to learn and remember.
     
    “the south wind is a warm gentle wind, representing sweet things in life, the north wind is a cold harsh wind, representing the trials of life…give thanks for both, trusting that God is in control.”
    Would the warmth and fresh of the south wind feel as sweet without the cold and harsh of the north wind?…would I have the sense of appreciation for the sweet without understanding the depth of that not sweet?  Despite the north wind being cold and harsh, it strengthens and helps to establish a greater sense of gratitude.  In a very literal sense, last week when the fresh spring air was present, oh what a joy it was to breath it in, the sweet, fresh air of spring…I’m not sure that my sense of appreciation would have been as great if I had not experienced the brisk, biting north wind of winter.
     
    “What are the foxes the spoil the fruit?”…this will be a wonderful question to delve into…very timely.  If Tim Keller calls Paige Benton Brown “the best preacher in America,” I have no doubt we are in for a very good sermon this week.
     

  7. How do we guard our hearts from the idol of approval as we participate on this blog?  Such a good question to ask.  My trigger for being aware of my approval idol is being more concerned about how someone responded to my post.  When I have this reaction, my practice is to step back from posting and instead, just study the passage of the week.  Another thing struck me as I thought about this.  Am I preparing to come into the blog community having bathed the entry with prayer?  When I meet with a group for Bible Study, we always pray together first.  Since we all enter at different moments, it is my responsibility to pray for the interactions I have on any given day.  I must be more diligent about this.  Perhaps this will keep the idol at bay more successfully.

    1. Woe, Sherryl, this is an incredible point that I had never considered before:   “Am I preparing to come into the blog community having bathed the entry with prayer?  When I meet with a group for Bible Study, we always pray together first.”  Thank you for sharing that insight!

  8. Challenge question:  My initial thought relates to meeting Christ in the morning, much the way described in the Song of Solomon.  My second thought is that the love occurs when you and the Lord relate throughout the day, going about the business of the day, just as the vineyard owner and his spouse walked their fields together, looking to the future growth of the business.  They exchanged their love going about that process.
    My take away on the comparison – we need to relate and nurture our relationship with Christ 24/7.  There is no one magical way that works better.  However you choose to engage in strengthening your relationship with Christ, He will use it to draw closer to you and to draw you closer to Him.

  9. 2C. Pruning can come in the form of suffering. How should we respond to suffering in our life?
    With the realization that the Lord out of His great love for us is using the suffering for our greater good (e.g., instruction, endurance, re-direction)
    (Deuteronomy 8:5; Psalm 94:12; Proverbs 12:1, 13:24; 1 Cor. 11:32; Hebrews 12:6, 12:11; Revelation 3:19; Romans 5:3)
     
    4. What motivations might a person have other than intimacy and transformation for being in the Word that would stifle fruit-bearing?
    Sense of obligation…checking it off the “to do” list…being in the Word, but not really being there.
    quid pro quo…this for that…a sense of earning something by doing something.
    appearances…pharisaic.
     
    6. How would you have answered the above question from the woman in Omaha?
    I would say that the fact that she is aware and questioning busyness as the tip of an iceberg, is a good sign that the Lord is prompting her discovery.  As Renee suggested, Idol Lies would most definitely help in the discovery of what idol(s) might be at play.  There are several Keller sermons that would be helpful…would need to do some investigating for titles.  I have no doubt that if she remains open to the Lord’s teaching, many prompts will be put in her way that will provoke further thought, guidance, etc.  She should continue to pray for her senses, mind, and heart to be open to the Lord’s teaching and take the Lord up on the nudges He provides…follow through knowing that she is being guided by the Lord and kissed by the King…:)

  10. 7. Another fox I must beware of is reading my Bible to “feel good about myself as a Christian,” instead of connecting with the Lord. I’ve been struck lately with Jacob’s words to God, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” I think if I could get my heart in that attitude each time I meet with Him, that I would have more consistent good fruit. Thoughts?     This one confuses me a bit.  I guess reading until he blesses us, does infer receiving an inner joy or peace and not necessarily just a good feeling, but it almost seems the same to me.  I guess the question is getting at ‘what are our motives?’  ‘what drives us (or drags us?) to God’s word.  If it is to become so intimate with God, knowing and adoring Him; then that in itself is the blessing.  This is somewhat different than reading until He says something specifically to us, I guess.  Okay, then I think the little fox is when we just do it out of a sense of obligation or that it makes me a good Christian.  (But the whole passage about Jacob wrestling has never been clear to me, in itself).

    1. Wanda–I like your thoughts “If it is to become so intimate with God, knowing and adoring Him; then that in itself is the blessing.  This is somewhat different than reading until He says something specifically to us,”

  11. 9. Challenge Question: Read The Song of Songs 7:11-12 and comment on it in light of our lesson.     It’s an invitation from the beloved to the lover.   So…from the bride/the church to the Savior.  I can’t help but think it is sort of the reciprocal of His invitation to her in chapter 2: 10-13.  There He invites her to celebrate renewal; a restoration after the dark period of winter, deadness, dormancy has been replaced with rebirth.  Those verses (2:10-13) so much draw me to II Corinthians 5:17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.   The verses in chapter 7 give me the feeling that she ‘gets it!’.  Now, she is inviting Him.  She wants to celebrate the new birth and restoration with Him.  She wants to love Him completely and bask in the love He has given her in restoring all things.  BUT, this is all a guess.  I’m confused about the references to vineyards here, because if she, the beloved is the bride of Christ, what do the vineyards represent???  Need to look up some commentary and I’m anxious to read others’ thoughts!

      1. Thank you Dee.   I will do some exploring.  I’ve not been to her website before.  Appreciate the resource!

  12. I am listening to the sermon and WOW!!! in a nutshell….. Just do SOMETHING anything, get out of your comfort zone and find someone to bless. stop looking at people as “them” and US. start seeing ALL people as GODS people and get out of the walls of the church and BE the church…wherever you are. Use whatever talents you have for HIM. dont use all your resources for yourself but look at them as assets to use to share HIS love.
    the following is more my personal struggle and not Bible study related….just FYI
     
    This is the 4th time in a week that this message has come into my life! I have been praying for direction for the last year and have been feeling more and more directed to give this message to women. I feel like I am in school, learning what I will need when GOD shows me what HE wants me to do…Ever since my friend asked me to lead a workshop at Great Lakes Christian College this summer I have been hearing the same message over and over again!  HE just keeps giving more and and more resources to use as I teach and encourage other women to DO SOMETHING, anything, just look around and FIND someone to pour into.
     
    I cant wait to share this message with my small group of college girls tonight! Im always afraid when I get this pumped about anything, im always afraid its just me and not HIM, its me wanting to be special and not me wanting to be a blessing. I want to have a pure, humble heart that is fully open to do ANYTHING for him…I dont want to NEED to speak or be up front. If HE wants me to teach english and parenting to small groups of international women, if he wants me to wash dishes after a pot luck if HE wants me to work behind the scenes at the missions conference, that is where I want to be! But I feel that HE may be wanting me to equip, empower and encourage women to get out there and DO something….Its so scary to take a risk of failing! Its so easy to stay safe where I am. What if Im boring! what if I come across like a know it all, what if people don’t like what I have to say, or worse, what if they dont like me! Im scared to death right now.

    1. cyndi–LOVE this “get out of your comfort zone and find someone to bless”–that sounds like your life in a nutshell 🙂

    2. Cyndi-LOVE THIS! Love your response to Paige’s sermon. I agree with Elizabeth-this sounds like your life already! 

  13. 7. Another fox I must beware of is reading my Bible to “feel good about myself as a Christian,” instead of connecting with the Lord. I’ve been struck lately with Jacob’s words to God, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” I think if I could get my heart in that attitude each time I meet with Him, that I would have more consistent good fruit. Thoughts?
    I have had a few times like this in my life.  I can’t recall if I have ever shared this on the blog before but, 5 years ago, long before I truly had recurrent breast cancer, I was MISdiagnosed with it! I found what felt like a rock-hard lymph node above my left clavicle (and it was just that) and I had an excisional biopsy of it (meaning they took the whole thing, not just a tiny piece) and the pathologist declared it to be a recurrence of my breast cancer.  At that time (5 years ago) I did not have the grace I needed to deal with a terminal diagnosis because I did not have a terminal diagnosis then (God gives us what we need WHEN we need it.)  So, I was in total distress, crying all the time, even mad at God, doubting His love for me, etc…  I got in with the breast oncologist that I now see (at OSU) and asked her if there was any way possible that this could be anything else.  She said, “it is unlikely, but we will get your tissue and have our breast pathologist look at it.”  (the other pathologist was just a general pathologist at a small hospital.)  Meanwhile, she set me up to start chemo in one month.  I spent that entire month crying every day, in total distress.  Finally, the day before I was due to return and start chemo I took off from work and I got up that morning and said to God, “Lord, I have zero peace about this.  I’m going to read this little devotional (Jesus Calling, someone had sent me) and look up all the Scripture references, and continue reading and praying until You give me a peace about this.  If it takes an hour or 10 hours, or whatever, I am not going to stop until You give me a peace about this.  Well, I began reading around 8am and after about three hours into it, peace was beginning to come.  I read verses in psalm about how the same God who lead me through life will continue to hold me by the hand through death (and many others, but sadly I can’t site those references off hand!)  Finally after about 4 hours I was able to say, “Okay, Lord, if this is it, then I am okay with that.”  Within minutes of arriving at that place of peace,  my oncologist called and said, “Mary, this is NOT recurrent breast cancer, it’s thyroid cancer and it is a very curable type of thyroid cancer.”  (yes, I have had cancer three times now!)  That was such relief.  I called my parents and we went out to celebrate that I had thyroid cancer! (It’s all about perspective.)  Who would have thought that 5 years later the news truly would be “recurrent, stage 4, breast cancer?”  But, I can honestly say that, because I did the major “wrestling with God” back then, I have experienced much more peace this time around.  This might not really be the wrestling that you were referring to, Dee, but it is what came to my mind with this question.  My wrestling was more generated from a lack of understanding of God’s deep love for me (and thankfully, in the couple years following that, I grew in the understanding) 
     
     
     
    I have had a few times like this in my life.  I can’t recall if I have ever shared this on the blog before but, 5 years ago, long before I truly had recurrent breast cancer, I was MISdiagnosed with it! I found what felt like a hard as a rock lymph node above my left clavicle (and it was just that) and I had an excisional biopsy of it (meaning they took the whole thing, not just a tiny piece) and the pathologist declared it to be a recurrence of my breast cancer.  At that time (5 years ago) I did not have the grace I needed to deal with a terminal diagnosis because I did not have a terminal diagnosis then (God gives us what we need WHEN we need it.)  So, I was in total distress, crying all the time, even mad at God, doubting His love for me, etc…  I got in with the breast oncologist that I now see (at OSU) and asked her if there was any way possible that this could be anything else.  She said, “it is unlikely, but we will get your tissue and have our breast pathologist look at it.”  (the other pathologist was just a general pathologist at a small hospital.)  Meanwhile, she set me up to start chemo in one month.  I spent that entire month crying every day, just in total distress.  Finally, the day before I was due to return and start chemo I took off from work and I got up that morning and said to God, “Lord, I have zero peace about this.  I’m going to read this little devotional and look up all the scripture reference and read not only the reference but the verses around them also and continue reading and praying until You give me a peace about this.  If it takes an hour or 10 hours, or whatever, I am not going to stop until You give me a peace about this.  Well, I began reading around 8am and after about three hours into it peace was beginning to come.  I read verses in psalm about how the same God who lead me through life will continue to hold me by the hand through death (and many others, but sadly I can’t site those references off hand!)  Finally after about 4 hours I was able to say, “Okay, Lord, if this is it then I am okay with that.”  Within minutes of arriving at that place my oncologist called and said, “Mary, this is NOT recurrent breast cancer, it’s thyroid cancer and it is a very curable type of thyroid cancer.”  (yes, I have had cancer three times now!)  That was such relief.  I called my parents and we went out to celebrate that I had thyroid cancer! (It’s all about perspective.)  Who would have thought that 5 years later the news truly would be “recurrent, stage 4 breast cancer?”  But, I can honestly say that, because I did the major “wrestling with God” then I have experienced much more peace this time around.  This might not really be the wrestling that you were referring to, Dee, but it is what came to my mind with this question.  It was more generated from a lack of understanding of God’s deep love for me (and the couple years following that were when I grew in that way.)  But this is what came to mind when I read this question. 
     
     
     
     
     

    1. Okay, sorry about the above!  I did the copy and paste thing (which I rarely do for this very reason) and I screwed it up and copied my answer in twice!  

      1. mary – i think your words merit reading twice!  your wrestling through with the Lord is of enormous help to me today.  🙂

        1. Jackie, That’s what I was thinking too — as I looked at Mary’s post again now.  I’m glad she posted it twice 🙂

    2. oh mary!–this illustration is SO powerful! These words struck me deep: “God gives us what we need WHEN we need it.” And then your model of fervent prayer “I am not going to stop until You give me a peace about this.” Wow. This really spoke to me right where I am. Thank you for sharing

      1. Agreed…
        I’m not quite sure what my thoughts are regarding “Jacob’s words to God…I will not let you go until you bless me” in relation to my time with the Lord.  The Lord blesses me continuously, it is my awareness that is askew.  I was listening to a podcast recently, I think it was Keller’s sermon on Esther, it struck me how God is in the ordinariness of each day working things out for our good, yet so many of these things of His work go unnoticed.  I think for me, having an attitude of open my eyes…my ears…my mind…open my heart…etc. is a better route; to be aware of His presence and His working around me that I might engage with Him.  I think the bottom-line is that our desire is for the Lord…there are no other motives involved but Him. 

    3. Mary, thanks for this. So helpful for me right now. Still awake because of lack of peace…& a stomach ache

      1. Oh Renee, I did not see this till just now but praying for His peace for your right now, sweet friend.

      2. Renee–just happened to see this and I am so sorry–praying now for peace, that today you would sense His new mercies and His peace surround you. Love you sister~

      3. Yes, Renee. Praying!

      4. First time I’ve been on the blog all day and it’s almost 20 hours later, but I am so hoping you have had some resolve today.  More peace and less (or no) ache.   And I am praying that you will sleep tonight, Renee  

    4. Mary,
      Thank you for your meaningful, helpful post.  

    5. Such a beautiful picture of intimacy with Christ.  Mary, I am convinced that God allows our experiences so we touch people’s lives.  Thank you for your willingness to share the details.  I am confident someone will better understand Jesus as a result.

    6. Mary E., what a beautiful thing you have done in sharing your struggle in the past! Yes, I think you are right that, because you had already wrestled through with God over recurring breast cancer 5 years ago and heard God’s answer giving you peace, this time when it is real recurring breast cancer, you are much more at peace. That battle has already been fought and won. You simply breathe hope and peace to me in your sharing here, reflecting Christ in a way that so draws me to Christ! Thank you!

    7. Mary,  This answer is SO good and SO helpful.  I am not in a place of crisis right now, but as I have seen in the lives of two different families near us, in the last two weeks with different tragedies,  I am not so naive that I don’t realize that for any one of us, life can all be 100 percent changed in an instant.   I really hope (and pray) that when the next crisis knocks on my door, that I will be willing to sit with God, as you did, until you were completely resigned to his will.  Hard to express my whole reply without audible long sighs and pauses. What a real life application you have shared.

    8. Mary It is all about perspective isn’t it? what a journey for you. Walking thru suffering. Growing in His Grace.

  14. 8. 
    When I first found this study, over 4 years ago, I wanted something I could do from home with my youngest not yet in school. I never thought about “meeting” other people, so I was shocked that it turned out to be such a beautiful place of fellowship, that quickly became a huge part of my heart. But soon I did struggle with responses to answers–the high of approval, the fear of disapproval—seemed to battle in me, but even more, the desire to be understood and the fear of being misunderstood. I’ve had various seasons of asking God to keep my heart free from my approval idol and focus me on the reason I came here– to know Him more, love Him deeper. He has used Dee’s teaching to draw me deeper into Him, more than than any other tool in my life, and I am so thankful. But I’m also aware the enemy would love to steer me away from that intimacy I’m gaining with the Lord, and focus my eyes on self and approval, etc…or have me “quit” altogether, and I don’t want the enemy to win that battle! So it has helped me to do the study on Word doc., on my own, just before the Lord. This Lent especially, I have consciously been posting less answers, and been so surprised I’ve actually kept up with the lessons without the accountability of posting! I never want to pull away from this fellowship, but I do want this place to always first be about my time of growing closer to my Lord. 
     

    1. Same Elizabeth,for a long time the first thing I would do with scroll own and see if anyone commented on my answers. NowI try to just do the bible study and then skm all the answers.
       
      try to only post the things that are unique to me….if I see others have said it already I don’t repeat then, but I do the study on my own before reading others posts. 

    2. I can totally relate to this whole answer, except that I started 2 years ago on the blog, not 4. =)  I think most of us, as Believers have struggles that are “common.”  (in this life)  But, as you mentioned, I also don’t want the enemy to have a victory in me totally pulling away either!

    3.  I never thought about “meeting” other people, so I was shocked that it turned out to be such a beautiful place of fellowship, that quickly became a huge part of my heart. 

       
      This is so very true for me too., Elizabeth.   In fact, when I first saw a prayer request here, my thought was,  ‘Oh….I don’t know if I can get so involved with these online friends that I can share their hurts and needs in prayer.”  I really did think that.  It had not dawned on me that these ‘online friends’ would become so close and dear to me.  And now, the sisters here are usually the first people on my mind when I go to God in prayer.   When I’ve tried to describe this blog fellowship to others,  I can see that it’s very hard for people to understand how much unity and closeness there is here.  I do think that this unity keeps the approval aspect more at bay.  We really care about each other.  It’s not a peer pressure competition.  It’s real life and honest support.  

    4. Such honesty here Elizabeth. Love hearing how long people have been here.

  15. 8. A blog Bible study is a wonderful opportunity to sharpen one another, but it has dangers too. We may be writing our answers more for the approval and comments of one another than to connect with the Lord. I wanted to jump up an hug Mary-Canada the day she lost her written prayer in cyberspace and said, “I guess it went straight to the Lord.” How can we guard our hearts on this blog study from the little fox of the idol of approval?
     
    This is difficult….sometimes I feel like I need to say something profound, but can’t. I get upset that I don’t have something to “contribute.” I try to keep in mind that I am here to learn and so many of the bloggers have very good teachings with very different perspectives. I appreciate that. I remind myself that being here is to keep focused on Him (it’s the reason I joined the blog many years ago; my summer focal point), not win some favor with others. 

    1. Laura – “I remind myself that being here is to keep focused on Him…..”  Amen.  Laura, that mindset/heartset IS profound.  Very meaningful to me today.   

    2. Laura–I just have to add that you really DO contribute SO much. You ask those questions that are often lurking in my mind but I won’t ask…so many times you bring a totally different dimension to things and challenge me to go deeper. so thankful you are here

    3. I also love having you here, Laura!  Your faithfulness to be on the blog, doing the study very early every morning, says so much to me.  When I know of your busy life and see how faithful you are to persevere here, I have many times been spurred on to keep going.   You bring a day to day ‘real ness’ to our discussions.  Helps me, because I can tend toward being too academic and not experiential enough in my approach to some questions and studies.

      1. You guys are all awesome! Thanks for lifting me up this morning when I have been in the pit for a couple of weeks….went to see Chris Tomlin last night; my first Christian concert!!! It was AMAZING in so many ways. My daughter Sarah went with BG (my young dancer friend with anorexia). Long story about Sarah that I will end up putting on th FB page eventually, just too raw (and loonngggg) to talk about now. I was just thinking how I haven’t been very faithful to the blog this last week…..felt bad. But, you guys lift me so! Getting ready to listen to the sermon now. Thank you sisters!

        1. We will be waiting to hear the story.  I think Chris Tomlin is in Minnesota soon too, been hearing about him coming.  Glad you were able to go!

  16. 7. Another fox I must beware of is reading my Bible to “feel good about myself as a Christian,” instead of connecting with the Lord. I’ve been struck lately with Jacob’s words to God, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” I think if I could get my heart in that attitude each time I meet with Him, that I would have more consistent good fruit. Thoughts? At first this seems somewhat contradictory to me. Keller gave a sermon on this that is one of my absolute favorites (I’ll try to post it below….). Jacob tried to manipulate everything in his life for his vision, but when he wrestled with God he was handicapped and realized He needed God in a way he hadn’t realized it before. He was holding on to God for God at that point, not for what God could give him, but because he wanted and needed Him and was relying on Him. So I think that the attitude of “I will not let you go until you bless me” can be a danger if you are looking at it as manipulating God to “get something” (which I do NOT think Dee is trying to do) but if you are holding to God knowing He is a blessing and He loves you then you can have confidence that He will bless you just by being with you. ??
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEkNqeKEE5c

  17. 8. How can we guard our hearts on this blog study from the little fox of the idol of approval? I used to struggle with this a lot. When I first came on this study is was Song of Songs and that was a special time and a time in my life when the Lord was working deep. I came here each day because God was teaching me. After that study when things got busy I struggled with approval and had to ‘come and go’ in order to sort it out in my heart. Then I had an incident with a friend which really opened my eyes to how deep my approval idol went and I struggled more! Now, after much prayer and the realization that God keeps taking things from me (friends, husband, homes, etc) so that my identity will be in Him and not anything else. Now I can say that I post for the Lord. Most weeks I feel fairly invisible here, and that is good. Something about typing it down where other eyes can see it keeps me accountable to, yes, do the study, but also to be honest and run my theology through a filter that makes sure I am not self-sympathizing but rather opening my heart and allowing God to refine me and draw me close. There is indeed a blessing when encouragement or sharpening comes, and it need not be a direct comment to me for it to come, and that is sweet, but it is secondary…not the ultimate thing.
     
    How I find it best to guard my heart is not come to the blog first as I used to, not read others’ words first. I try praise first, then pray, then read till God ‘speaks’ to me, then come and answer questions, lingering in the reading, then if there is time focus on being a blessing to others in comments (which I am sad that, since the time change, I do not get the opportunity often).

    1. I  like this pattern, Jill.  This seems like it would be very helpful. “How I find it best to guard my heart is not come to the blog first as I used to, not read others’ words first. I try praise first, then pray, then read till God ‘speaks’ to me, then come and answer questions, lingering in the reading, then if there is time focus on being a blessing to others in comments…”

    2. Jill, Thank you for your good encouragement regarding the approval idol.   I’ve wrestled too.

    3. Yes, Nanci. Thanks for sharing this. I try to follow this pattern as well.

    4. Jill I love your order of priority:)

  18. 9. Challenge Question: Read The Song of Songs 7:11-12 and comment on it in light of our lesson. The bride is a vineyard. This verse is at the end of the Song, they are looking for the fruit of the vine. For her fruit that has opened and is in bloom. She has struggled with loving Him through the book, being a reluctant bride, loosing Him, etc. Now they are going out in to the vineyards looking at (and smelling) the blossoms and fruit and she says, “there I will give you my love.” Perhaps a meaning could be that in the morning I come to Him and see what He has done (There can be no fruit apart from Him) and give Him my love, not to get more, but because I am in awe of Him and His work in my vineyard.
     

  19. 8. A blog Bible study is a wonderful opportunity to sharpen one another, but it has dangers too. We may be writing our answers more for the approval and comments of one another than to connect with the Lord. I wanted to jump up and hug Mary-Canada the day she lost her written prayer in cyberspace and said, “I guess it went straight to the Lord.” How can we guard our hearts on this blog study from the little fox of the idol of approval?
     
     
    This is a great question and I think there have already been really helpful answers offered by others.  I have to say… I struggle with motives all the time, whether on this blog or just in life, and also with in-person Bible studies.  Some might recall when the blog was mentioning Dietrich Bonhoeffer as part of our study?  I recall how he AGONIZED over motives and whether certain things were sin or not.  I have prayed for years now (since I was in my early twenties) “Lord, please give me a pure heart, as pure as a human heart can possibly be, this side of heaven.”  Well, I know that He has given me a new heart (replaced the heart of stone with a heart of flesh) but of course even with our new hearts we can still operate from wrong motives.  So, here is what I’ve come to conclude over recent years (but it’s a work in progress!)…at one point in my life (late twenties or early thirties) I was so worried about motives that I virtually stopped all of the following:  answering questions in Bible studies, praying out loud, and bowing my head to pray in a restaurant (what if a tiny bit of my motive was to be noticed, like the Pharisees?)  In my self-effort to avoid wrong motives I just shutdown!  I now know THAT was the enemy.  He would love to have us so worried about motives that we are literally paralyzed from doing anything that might move us along in our walk with the Lord.  God knows that our hearts will never be fully free of self until we are finally set free, once and for all, in heaven.  I don’t believe He wants us to withdraw from life in order to avoid every hint of wrong motive.  So…this is how this issue has begun to shape up in my mind…when the Holy Spirit brings correction and/or conviction with regard to something I’m doing (or have done) it seems/feels/looks a little different than constant self-analysis.  It seems specific, rather than general, vague, or all encompassing.  Thankfully, God is a kind and gentle teacher so it dose not sound as much accusatory (we know how the accuser is) as it does gentle correction.  I have come to conclude that there is much benefit (eternal benefit!) in learning to follow (and it is a learning process) the Holy Spirit’s lead in these issues, but very little benefit in constant self-analysis.   I guess the operative word for me in the past 4 years or so (which I keep hearing the Lord whisper in my hear, though loudly ☺) is: REST.  The Pharisees tied up heavy loads on men’s backs…they took the law and added to it… and if we are not careful we can do that to ourselves.  Jesus said, “Come to Me all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”  (Matt 11:28)  That verse has become very dear to me. 😀 I’m not there yet (I still self-analyze and worry over motives, even on the blog) but I’m moving along.  
    Twila Paris has this song entitled “I Choose Grace”  In the interlude she says, “I am growing weary of this foolish independence (which self-analysis can be) I reach out for grace and I will reach out to extend it” (parenthesis mine)  GRACE ALL AROUND! 
    here is the link if anyone wants to listen:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vCtC6b1RRY
     
     

    1. Mary,   I love your chronic prayer for a pure heart!   From all I can see,  I am pretty sure the Lord has answered that prayer in you!   🙂

    2. wow Mary–I hope all see this. I so identify with the over-analyzing every motive to the point that it can squelch the Spirit–and that is not how He works when He convicts. The enemy “would love to have us so worried about motives that we are literally paralyzed from doing anything that might move us along in our walk with the Lord.  God knows that our hearts will never be fully free of self until we are finally set free, once and for all, in heaven”. Yes, REST. GRACE. Your words are echoing what He seems to be saying to me at every turn…to rest in His love and stop making everything so hard! :0

    3.   Thankfully, God is a kind and gentle teacher so it dose not sound as much accusatory (we know how the accuser is) as it does gentle correction.  I have come to conclude that there is much benefit (eternal benefit!) in learning to follow (and it is a learning process) the Holy Spirit’s lead in these issues, but very little benefit in constant self-analysis. 
       
      Mary, these words (and the whole post) is profound.  I also feel that the Holy Spirit will nudge and correct so that we don’t need to feel like it us all on our shoulders to check and double and triple check every move we make.  Thanks for sharing your journey and the freedom you have come to.   I also just love how you contrasted the ‘load’ that the Pharisees put on the backs of others with Jesus call to rest.  Going to save ‘I Choose Grace’ to listen to soon!  

    4. Mary Yes being set free from constant self analysis. I relate:) Your sharing has blessed me. 

  20. 9. Challenge Question: Read The Song of Songs 7:11-12 and comment on it in light of our lesson.
     
    I’m not sure if this will make any sense “out loud”, and I don’t think this is what Dee is getting at, but what strikes me is the number of times “let us” is used. Our life with Christ is based on relationship. That is what makes Christianity unlike any other. In Romans, Paul tells us we are bound in marriage until death (Romans 7:2). So when we die to our sinful nature, the “marriage” of self to sinful nature is dead. We have a new Husband, Christ. And as our Husband, we are joined to Him, we engage in ongoing relationship with Him (you can’t call in marriage if you never spend time with your spouse!). So I think here, it is emphasizing this joined union we share with Christ—engaging in life, in ministry, always WITH Him. 
     

    1. “So when we die to our sinful nature, the “marriage” of self to sinful nature is dead. We have a new Husband, Christ. And as our Husband, we are joined to Him, we engage in ongoing relationship with Him (you can’t call in marriage if you never spend time with your spouse!). So I think here, it is emphasizing this joined union we share with Christ—engaging in life, in ministry, always WITH Him.”  Just love the concepts here, Elizabeth!  Especially love the marriage to “self” being over!!  =)  

    2. Elizabeth-great insight in this passage. I think you got it with ‘let us’..because that is what this passage shows… she is one with Him and dying to her sin nature-he is making her beautiful-more like him and her fruit is in bloom. 🙂

  21. mary–thanks for tracking with me–the more I think on it, the death to our marriage to self, was Christ’s death–that is what killed our relationship to the Law, and brought us in union with Him. And since marriage is only separated by death, our marriage to Christ is never over because in Him we have eternal life! OH AMAZING LOVE how can it be?! Meant to tell you too, I love the Twila song you referenced…love all of hers really-especially the old 80’s ones 🙂

    1. That’s even better. 😀  AND…Love Twila’s old 80’s stuff too. 😀 

      1. Ditto 🙂   Going to listen to “I choose Grace” right now.
         
        Mary, your posts are connecting deeply.  What you wrote about motives reminds me of my Dad.  He grew up with some hellfire and brimstone, I think.  At least, it was pounded into him that everything had better be “okay,” nothing between him and anyone else, in order to take communion.  That whole motive-questioning-thing-to-the-extreme kept him from taking communion, although I either remember or heard that he did start taking communion before he died.
         
        Life is such a burden when I judge myself rather than know Grace.

        1. Renee,  I always appreciate your insights from your growing up years and hearing more about your dad especially.  I have often seen things in your experiences that mirror some of mine.  

      2. Mary and Elizabeth-oh the 80’s! 🙂 I love Twila Paris, Kim Hill, and the 80’s stuff too…some good stuff back then!

        1. 😀  

        2. Rebecca,I’m glad you mentioned Kim Hill.  I broke (unintentionally!) and threw away one of her CDs during the past year…Have been trying to think of a song & artist recently.  Now I have the artist part 🙂

        3. Renee, one of the things I love about old songs by artists like we mentioned is they usually always bring back sweet memories of how He kissed me through them back then..I don’t know if you are too young but Wendy and Mary, and John Michael Talbott are other groups I have fond memories of. 

  22. 8. A blog Bible study is a wonderful opportunity to sharpen one another, but it has dangers too. We may be writing our answers more for the approval and comments of one another than to connect with the Lord. I wanted to jump up an hug Mary-Canada the day she lost her written prayer in cyberspace and said, “I guess it went straight to the Lord.” How can we guard our hearts on this blog study from the little fox of the idol of approval?
     
    Dee, I want to thank you for the hug.  Even though you are thousands of miles away, when I read this I felt that hug at a time when it was so needed.  The Lord knows when I need hugs and he always finds a way to send one.  Thank you so much for being part of the hug. 
     
     
    I like others have to be watchful of my reactions on the blog.  I do find myself at times looking to see if anyone has responded to my posts.  I did realize that this was an issue for me and try to be careful to catch myself when I am paying attention to the posts more than the bible study itself.  There are times when I feel that I have to step back and not post and just do the study off line.  Although I want to say that I also enjoy being part of the community.  I am uncomfortable in groups of people and have a tendency to retreat into the background in larger groups.  Here it is easier to feel part of the group. While I do the study I also enjoy the relationships among the ladies, reading the questions and responses.  I have learned so much and feel that I have grown more with this group than in the past.  The studies themselves and the comments of everyone have helped me in so many ways that I could not have imagined when I started, even though my participation has been sporadic at times. I know that the Lord has been involved and I am so grateful that He led me here when He did.  I know there is the approval issue at times, but I also see the blessing of community.  

  23. 8. How can we guard our hearts on this blog study from the little fox of the idol of approval?
    The Idol of approval is one of my nemesis whether here on the blog or just daily, anyway it is a fox of sly and sneaky proportions  🙁 So for me it seems as Brennan Manning says in his chapter on imposters..that it beckons me to not be me because of what others might think if they knew me. It is an insidious idol. Fixing my eyes on Him in his word helps me to guard my heart-first thing is prayer!  

  24. 9. Challenge Question: Read The Song of Songs 7:11-12 and comment on it in light of our lesson.
    This totally contrasts earlier when she tells him not to look at her for she is dark, and when she stays in bed when he knocks on her door. In this passage she isn’t hiding from him in the cleft anymore-it is totally the opposite. She has been abiding in him- her love for him is deeper and her fruit is in bloom. His desires have become hers for she is like him. 

    1. “His desires have become hers for she is like him. ”  -love this, Rebecca…Oh to be so like Him that all of His desires would be mine. 

  25. 8. How can we guard our hearts on this blog study from the little fox of the idol of approval?
    Such a good question, Dee…many wonderful answers have been given thus far. 
    When I began the bible study blog, I would do the study in my journal; each Sunday I would print off the study for the week and have at it in my journal throughout the week, reading and posting comments when I could.  This was when we only had one computer which my husband has the tendency of being on early morning.  Since getting my laptop, I have strayed from this practice.  I think it is time to go back; I think there is something lost for me in not writing all of the questions out prior to looking at others’ posts/comments.  There is great richness in reading the posts/comments after completing the study questions on my own, it adds to my study and produces additional food for thought.  Sherryl, I love the idea of praying prior to posting or even getting on to the site.  It is important for me to inquire of my heart what the motive is for what I am saying (this applies not only to text but to speaking as well)…whether it is for and/or about me (e.g., to make me feel better, to make me look smarter,to get the “last word”) or is the motive really what is in the best interest of the other and giving glory to the Lord?  I wish I did this better…sometimes those root motives are pretty self motivated.  Thankfully I do see progress that the Lord is making in me…:)
     

    1. Nanci – amen and amen.  great post.  i can’t tell you how often i reflect on Dee’s gentle suggestion to us all that we ponder more off line and post only the “gold”!  i remember my immediate heart’s response being pressure to come up with something gold every week – but as time went on i’ve been SO grateful for her nudge.  The Lord put his finger on a whole passel of things in my heart through her words.  this season of stepping back has been critical for me – so very rich and freeing.  also…..i’ve found that i can come back to the blog and i now read the comments of others with so much more appreciation – perhaps it’s a bit like being in conversation.  if we’re TRULY listening to another, we’re not thinking about OUR response, but savoring their words.  the Lord is teaching me so much through the precious gems of all of you ladies on this study blog!  

    2. Nanci, what a great idea to print it out!  I actually have been writing the questions out by hand and I put them in a binder after I get them written.  I end up hand writing most of my answers first too, because I have an afternoon nanny job, where the kids are usually doing their own reading or homework (or are generally very independent) so I have time to do some of my study.  It is time consuming to write things out first, but it works for me.  We’ve had so many computer issues lately, but I think I can get a printer to work!  🙂

    3. Nanci I too am wanting to print off the study and do it on my own. Loved some of your thoughts here. The approval idol came up relatively quickly when I started participating and I knew I had to do something different as it was not where I wanted to go. However more than that I felt drawn away from my time with the Lord. Praying and wanting to find the right balance as this community here has also been a blessing to me as well in so many ways. I know the Lord is helping me:)

  26. i listened to the first half of Paige Brown last night and I am already blown away and liberated in some sense…looking forward to listening to the second half today! Though, I admit after 5 minutes I had to google an image to see who this powerful speaker was and she looks completely different than I was envisioning! Haha =)
    Blessings to you all! 

  27. Okay, I usually listen to the “prepare your heart with this” early on in the week but for some reason I missed it this week and just now listened and WOW…pretty much 100% Scripture and 100% of it spoke to me.  That is one I will be re-listening to probably several times!  So beautifully composed.

  28. notes on first 40 min. of Paige Brown
    what are we saved FOR.
    He did not come to give us peace, HE came to USE us to make a new world where peace and justice are cosmic realities.
    HE SAVES US TO USE US
    where the light gets brighter the shadows get darker.
     
    Church vs Kingdom
    church=people=God given limitations…. the Church works according to the word FAMILY FOR MEMBERS OF THE KINGDOM
    Kingdom=reign=no boundries THE PERMIATION OF EVERY AREA OF THE WORLD FOR THE LORDS SAKE.
    there is not one inch of the universe that the Lord Jesus does not say “that is mine”
    women are limited within the church…we are NOT limited within the Kingdom. 
    What is kingdom work…beauty, truth and rightousness going forth to claim this world for the Lord.
    If you come from a background that teaches that anything that does not have a Jesus label on it can not be good you are denying the gifts that God has given HIS creation.
    Purpose of the kingdom=new heavens and new earth…the renewal of ALL things.
    gospel= Gods coming in to make ALL things right.
    fallenness is bigger then just sinfulness / redemption is bigger then forgiveness 
    if your wondering where you can make a difference in the world ask yourself if falleness as reached that place.
    how do we assess our day?? we do not “eat” to eat we eat to do something else! we do not study the word to study the word we do it TO DO SOMETHING ELSE!!!!! you do it to serve the lord,you do it to build the kingdom.
    do not define your relationship with Jesus by what you dont do
    DO HIS WORK IN HIS WORLD….PUSH THE LINE OUT FOR HIS KINGSHIP.
    LORD MAKE ME USEFULL
    how do i know what to do??? FIND OUT WHERE THE KINGDOM IS WEAK AND HELP MAKE IT STRONG
    what are you doing in the world that is making a difference for the kingdom??
     
     

  29. it has taken me 3 hours to get through this lesson!!! “divine interuptions” have been crazy this morning!!!
    where am I playing the song of HIS love and glory….Is there anything in my life that is not in realtionship with HIM.
    what does HE mean for MY neighborhood, work, ect…
    WHAT DO YOU PRAY FOR
    We need to have HIS perspective on the world/we need to be an INSTRUMENT of GOD
    we are to be about transformation
    The Lord Jesus gave you what you have and HE loves to see you use it…no matter how little or how much
    Why do we have different “resources”? thats the way God wanted it!!! we are given according to our ablility
    Whatever we have is only as valuable as what we do with it for the kingdom.
    I LOVE the illustration of her with her granddad 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
    We need the work to know how much HE loves us/to know our significance in HIS kingdom
    we need to be cheerleaders instead of critics of each other!!!!!!!
    We grow fatter instead of stronger.
    whooo! that is a LOT! my 2nd time listening to this lesson! 6th time i have heard a lesson that said to GO OUT AND DO SOMETHING this month..think HE may want me to hear it. Its so encouraging for me. When we start about kingdom work there will be push back, there will be people in our lives that think we are getting too “radical” with this Christian thing…that is OK 🙂  

  30. Wanted to share this–I only heard a tiny bit of it in the car just now, but SO good–Sinclair Ferguson on “Abiding in the Vine” 

     http://renewingyourmind.org/broadcasts/2015/03/20/abiding-in-the-vine

  31. What do you see in the above and why?
    The introduction for this week’s study is a beautiful imagery of the grapes on the vine as well as the foxes that steal the grapes.
    I have been thinking of the story of my home -returning (after giving up my dream of living in Vermont in my Mother’s home, where I
    had cared for her for some time.) Our home in Massachusetts is in the country and I never appreciated some of its treasures. My husband had always had an affinity for the wild grapevines, that I thought were a nuisance. This past summer he picked some of
    the wildgrapes that are Very sour, and said, ” I want to make grape jelly!.” Well, I thought of the mess and the time and so on, but I cooperated and looked up a recipe. All I could think of was all the work and time, for what? Well, I got out cheesecloth and said, “This is the most difficult part, squeezing out all the juice.”  He accomplished this and I worked on the cooking, adding the sugar and so on.
    At the conclusion we had about 8 jars of the sweetest, most delicious grape jelly I have ever tasted!
    Now this experience has taught me so much. I am like sour grapes, and must be squeezed and changed into the form that is usable.
    Experiences in my life have caused me to draw in close to the Lord, to desire to know the Word and to pray for His direction in my life.
    All of these are like the pot of that juice on the stove simmering away and thickening with the cups of sugar.
    The skins and seeds had to be removed from the grapes and so the sins and idols in my life have had to be discarded. This is an
    ongoing process so necessary. There are times of Bible reading that were like a challenge, as I worked toward a goal to finish a book or a Testament, but it has all been worthwhile, sometimes much more than others when I allowed the word to penetrate my stone heart.
    This lesson is such a valuable lesson on abiding in the vine. The lesson is a gift, the sharing of each of you are gifts and the fellowship we share is very special. I find myself challenged and I am thankful for that.
    Mary e, I am so thankful for your beautiful transparent sharing. As I reflect on God’s grace, and (I love that song-I Choose Grace)
    I looked up in my study room at a small poster, with clusters of grapes, and this inscription, Thank the Lord for the gift of His rich abundance.
    My prayer will also be, Lord, make me usable. There is much work to do and I want to grow the fruit of the Spirit to give Him the glory and honor.

    1. Shirley, your illustration is so very beautiful.  And I must say, so sweet.  That vivid imagery is so apt for this whole week’s study.  

    2. Great (and “sweet”) practical illustration from your life, Shirley. Thanks for sharing.

  32. I am posting this just in case someone else had the experience I had when I tried to access the the audio tape of Paige Benton Brown, which was to be told my browser would not support the audio.    I scratched my head and wondered what all that was about, as my broswer supports the audio on anything else I want to do.   So at first I was going to skip doing that part of this week’s lesson, as I didn’t want to confess to a problem.   However,   tonight I got to searching (Googling) and discovered another way to get the same message by Paige Benton Brown.   So I offer it here as an alternative:  

    http://resources.thegospelcoalition.org/library/kingdom-matters
    Then you have to click on “download the audio”.   
     
    I found her message to make such good sense, and like Cyndi I heard a message to “Get out there and do something useful!”     Tomorrow I will spend the bulk of day at a Changed Life Seminar, so I don’t know if I am going to get notes posted.  I only listened this first time, and did not take notes.   Usually I wait until the second time to take notes.     Too bad I didn’t Google earlier!   I heartily recommend everyone listening to her.     
     

    1. Good for you Deanna! Thanks for the info 🙂

  33. I loved Paige Brown’s sermon and I have lots of notes but this is what comes to mind!
     
    1. God can build his kingdom without us by just one stroke of his hand..he brought us in because He delights to build it with us, encouraging!.
     
    2. Being used vs. being ‘useful’…I liked that she encouraged us to get everything out, pictures of our kids, our pay stub from the job we work at, etc..and just with our husbands lay it out on the bed and ask God-this is all yours how can I be useful with what you have given me? And I had this thought to extend it a bit-for me it is, “help me be useful in what YOU have called me to.”.I don’t want to be useful to merely fill a void but to be sure it is Your calling. 
     
    3. I also LOVED how she brought out to take a risk with our talents-be bold instead of being conservative afraid to lose it so we bury it. Spirituality is like exercising..if we don’t use our muscles they will atrophy..same with our spiritual gifts and our talents. 
     
    4. I loved the whole point of living in the kingdom now and in the future. I like how she said it could be changing diapers at home, working at a job, helping the poor, giving to the poor and oppressed, etc..Go where the kingdom is the weakest!! :)))) That could be going somewhere else or it could right now be where God has us and we need to be content where He has us using our gifts and talents. 

  34. The question of the woman in Omaha is such a good one for we all struggle with this. We want all of the things that God is in our lives, like beauty, truth and righteousness but to try to get them ourselves is impossible. It makes us busy but never really gets us where we want to be. And even when He does bring them, we are often too busy to see or enjoy them. We must first seek God so that all of these things may come to us from Him and in His time. When we rest in Him we are at peace in our trust and can watch these things unfold in our lives.
     
    How can we guard our hearts on this blog study from the little fox of the idol of approval? It is a spiritual battle and so we must use spiritual weapons. If we begin with prayer we have the greatest success in chasing this fox away. Remember why we are here. We want to grow closer to the Lord and bear fruit in Him. Look for sharpening rather than approval. It can look very much the same because we encourage one another when we recognize growth and fruit bearing.
    9. Challenge Question: Read The Song of Songs 7:11-12 and comment on it in light of our lesson. To look for human approval is poverty when we can have this kind of fellowship with the Lord. Not only is it the poorest of substitutes, it keeps us from bearing fruit for the Lord taking us deeper into poverty of soul.

    1. I like this: Look for sharpening rather than approval. It can look very much the same… I must say that having a really good discussion of spiritual things; sharpening, is very fulfilling because I enjoy that kind of discussion – talking about things that really matter!

  35. 8. All of you have shared such good thoughts about guarding against the approval idol here on the blog. I was thinking also of the face-to-face study I’m in at church. I really do enjoy participating in the group’s discussion and answering questions, but I also notice that some of the ladies are a little more quiet. Then I remind myself that I can choose to be quieter one week and let other women speak, that it might encourage one who is a bit shy or hesitant. It is nice to see ladies who are usually more quiet start to come out of their shell and speak more. Here, like this week, I’m behind, so I write out the questions and answer them myself. On one hand, I kind of feel this compulsion that I need to post all of my answers; on the other hand, it’s a bit freeing not to. It’s okay to let others do more of the “talking” while I stay quiet and just read comments as able. I admit that I’ve posted things and then come back to see if someone has replied, meaning they’ve read my post and liked what I said.