“The great teacher” or “Life God’s way”

Tonight we wrapped up year one of our small group. We started last fall with few expectations other than a God-instilled longing to help others desire intimate Christian fellowship. Clark, Scott and I tasted and saw the goodness God offers in community with others; we wanted others to experience the same. I feel it’s safe to say that expectation was fulfilled.

But it’s been so much more than that. It’s funny how the Lord will prompt us in a particular direction, if for no other reason than to get the ball rolling… to create some movement in our lives… some momentum. Once motion is established, however, anything goes. It’s like a sail boat: the wind will take it wherever… but it first has to leave dock. We stepped out… and a year later, here we are.

God has been faithful. He’s led us. There has been very tangible growth in people’s lives. The Spirit has broken through and changed people’s mindsets and understandings of who Jesus is and what He desires for them. We, as a fellowship, are pursuing the abundant life Christ offers… and it’s better and more exciting than we understood it to be a year ago.

We’ve made mistakes, for sure. As leaders, we’ve found ourselves pushing our own agenda on occasion. There have been evenings that we’ve been unprepared, that we’ve abused the responsibility God’s given us, that we’ve tapped into our own wisdom and understanding rather than the Spirit’s. But we’ve learned a lot along the way.

We finished off the year with a straight-up study of Galatians. For the majority of the year, we had done studies developed by us as leaders, a study of Waking the Dead by John Eldredge, topical studies of God’s promises, the fear of the Lord, the Holy Spirit… lots of stuff. But we finished out the year with seven weeks of simple Word study: Colossians and Galatians. People in the group were hungry for just the Word. And that’s exciting.

And it seemed to work perfect. What better way to transition into a 4-week break than to look at the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 and grasp the concept that it’s not up to us as disciples of Christ to grow fruit ourselves? We aren’t shuffling off with the agenda of being more loving or joyful or gentle or patient. We’re going to engage God with a new understanding that he is our source… and that intimate fellowship with him spurs new growth. And that growth typically tastes like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Our source… He’s our source. Do we realize that? Do we comprehend what it’s like to be tapped into our power source? Romans 8:11 says: “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” That’s quite the source.

God’s the vine-dresser, Jesus is the vine, and we’re the branches. And though the Bible doesn’t include this in the analogy, I’m pretty sure the Holy Spirit is the sap (or whatever the stuff is called in vines)… the nutrients that flow from Jesus into our lives to produce fruit. The sole purpose of the vine is to produce fruit…and good fruit at that. Not just any old fruit, but nutrient-rich, ripe, appealing, desirable fruit–the type of fruit people will enjoy eating.

But the branch can’t be fixated on producing fruit, because it doesn’t control the process; the vine does. The branch much simply abide in the vine. It’s up to the vine to channel correct nourishment into the branches to produce good fruit.

Miles J. Stanford probes this concept beautifully in chapter 19 of The Complete Green Letters.

In the natural realm, the life that is already complete in the vine is increasingly supplied to the growing branches. The healthy condition of the branches is contingent on their abiding in their position in the vine. The branch is not only a product and a living part of the vine, but that which is produced in the branch is also the fruit of the vine. Actually, the branch produces nothing, either for the vine, for others or for itself. The vine, the positional source, has everything to do with the development and fruitfulness of all its branches. The chief responsibility of the branch is to rest just where it was born, to abide in its living source.

As the believer rests in his position, the life of the Vine (the “fruit of the Spirit”) is manifested in his condition. The life of the Vine is the life of the branch.

It’s great, because I’m becoming increasingly OK with trying less. It relieves so much pressure off me. I don’t have to go about trying to bear fruit. Alleluia! Amen. So be it. Praise the Lord and pass the potatoes. I simply have to invest above all else in my relationship with the Creator of the Universe (not a bad thing), and he’ll take care of the rest (also not a bad thing).

It’s like Bill Gates calling me up and saying, “You know what Joel, I’d like to get to know you. I’d like to spend some time with you and share my heart with you… and just be your friend. And then I’d like to give you one billion dollars. How does that sound?”

Anyway… a little tangent there… All this to say: I’m happy with the first year of our small group. I feel God was welcomed in and freed to work in people’s hearts and lives. And I’m excited with what he has in store next.

Joel Maust

Joel Maust is a blogger, marketer and photographer living in the beautiful Flathead Valley of northwest Montana.

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