Category: Devotional

a branch cannot bear fruit by itself

Expecting Results

Some of you may not know this, but my day job is designing websites for small businesses. I get to work with my parents in our family-owned marketing business, and it can be really rewarding at times when we get to love people well and help them thrive in their work.

Bear with me as I draw this back to Jesus…

Because of my background in marketing, I know the typical recommendations for using social media and email lists and websites to increase sales. I often make excuses rather than applying that knowledge to this side business of mine because it’s easier not to put in the work.

I was getting ready for bed last night and thinking through possible ways to share my greeting cards with people so I don’t end up with a pile of them after the holiday season this year. I wished sales would just happen without having to post consistently all year to build up a following. Then, something dawned on me.

I’m expecting results without putting in the work.

People buy when they trust you and know you provide them with good information or nice free things. If I don’t give away helpful stuff throughout the year and then announce a product out of the blue, the odds are low that people will purchase that new product.

Here’s where things got real.

The same is true with Jesus.

When we go every day without pursuing Him, without giving Him all we are, without loving Him and others, we have no good reason to expect to be close to Him.

I deeply long for a close relationship with Christ, but I am rarely diligent in setting aside prayer time.
I wholeheartedly want to align my heart to His, but I forget to ask.
I want to see the world changed through the Holy Spirit’s work in my, yet I choose to waste my energy worrying instead of praising Him.

Do you see the pattern?

Whether it’s my business or my faith, I need to put in the work, the energy, the heart, to actually see results.

Yes, grace covers a multitude of sins, but it can’t provide that day-to-day intimacy you get from spending every moment for and with Jesus. James made a good point that faith without works is dead. In addition, Jesus plainly stated this principle, “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself…neither can you, unless you abide in Me” (John 15:4).

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”

John 15:4

So, it’s time I got on my knees and interceded for the people I minister to at church.It’s time I fell on my face in gratitude for all God has provided me.It’s time I lift up my hands in praise and wonder at the fact that He sees me as immeasurably valuable—worth dying for.

Here’s the tough question: Are you with me?
Or are you going to expect results without putting in the work?

“For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”

James‬ ‭2:26‬

Oar What?

Have you ever been kayaking? Have you sat still while the current ebbed around you, carried you gently, and released you further along?

Did you stop to admire where the trees met the water? That place mimicking a horizon but nearly indistinguishable. Instead of shouting its existence, the line seeps into a reflection on the glass-like surface.

I find such a scene breathtaking. Its serenity encompasses you and invites you to rest, to pause, to exhale.

And you know what else? It speaks its life over us as a reminder of God knitting us into being. When He made us, He made us to reflect Him.

Then God said, “Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” ~ Genesis 1:26 (ESV)

Just last month, as I kayaked for the second time in my life, Jesus showed me something beautiful about where the water meets land. Just as we were created in His image, we have been called to reflect Him in our lives.

Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (ESV).

You see, our lives are like water—crafted with grace, influence, the capacity to move quickly or sit still, with strength, peace, and a beckoning to all who gaze on our beauty. Even more than these is our purpose to reflect the Creator, or in this case, the trees and all-encompassing shore.

As the person in the kayak, we choose to control our lives by rowing one stroke of the oar at a time. Here is where God struck my heart… Just as rowing generates ripples in water, when we take control of our lives, we disturb the reflection of Christ in us. It becomes skewed and difficult to discern.

Before I get carried away with this word picture, bear with me. This does not mean we have a free pass to take a backseat and do nothing. We are called to pursue Him which requires action on our part. Sitting idly by is not always God’s intention for our obedience. So, the comparison to any stroke causing ripples and thus disturbing the reflection may be too broad. The point is this: we are meant to surrender our lives—including control—to Christ. We need to give up our oars.

We can still take action. We are still called to exemplify Love to those around us. These are necessary things. But, at the forefront of each step (or stroke) is Jesus. He steers, He writes the story, He nudges us in the right direction or brings us back on track after we fall astray.

The next time you see a reflection in water grow hazy through ripples, think about the ways God is calling each of us to relinquish our control to Him. It will not be easy… As someone who desires control of circumstances, I know I battle this all the time. If that’s you, know you are not alone. Still, no matter where you find yourself, I pray Jesus will use these words to bring freedom and peace in Him.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Sometimes progress looks like two steps forward and one step back.

I am choosing healthier foods more now, but I still splurge on sweet treats often. Progress.

I’m stopping to listen now and again to God’s heart rather than simply follow my desires. Still, I return to the easy option of hollow entertainment. Progress.

Setting aside my selfishness to serve others may happen in greater frequency, but I continue to say, “Nah, I would rather do something else.” Progress.

No, I’m not encouraging being self-centered, gluttonous, or undisciplined. We need to challenge ourselves, but we need to stop hating ourselves.

It’s a two-fold process. Move onward with your eyes fixed on Jesus, yes. Then when you inevitably fail, know He still loves you.

Learn God’s love for you so you can show His love for others. Respond to Jesus with a heart aimed toward holiness. Let Him pick you up when your arrow goes astray.

We need to challenge ourselves, but we need to stop hating ourselves.

What does it look like to accept God’s justification of us through faith? What does it look like to know how rotten we are but start grasping how loved we are?

Run to Him. Cling to Him. Don’t turn when you fail, but stop and rest knowing it is an opportunity to glorify Him in His unconditional love. Then, get back up and continue pursuing His best.

Let’s learn grace and love and righteousness and failure and joy and peace as we take steps forward (and back).

~ Progress towards God’s heart is progress indeed. ~


Psalm 24

“The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness,
The world and those who dwell therein.
For He has founded it upon the seas,
And established it upon the waters.

Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?
Or who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol,
Nor sworn deceitfully.
He shall receive blessing from the Lord,
And righteousness from the God of his salvation.
This is Jacob, the generation of those who seek Him,
Who seek Your face. Selah

Lift up your heads, O you gates!
And be lifted up, you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
The Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O you gates!
Lift up, you everlasting doors!
And the King of glory shall come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
He is the King of glory.”

As I read this chapter today, I realized that there are a number of areas in which I fall short. Do I have clean hands? A pure heart? While I’d like to think so, the answer is most definitely “no.”

Do I treat God as my only god? I’d like to resolutely agree, but sometimes I let the show I’m binge-watching or my Instagram feed take over my day-to-day devotion.

These realizations aren’t new to me, but they’re still as disheartening as ever. What am I to do when the world around me swirls me through the funnel of media and distraction? How am I supposed to join Jesus one day?

That’s where this turns around and becomes a triumphant anecdote.

Romans 3:22-26 says, “…For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

God already knows we fail at nearly every turn. He sees us, knows us, hears our cries, and welcomes us with open arms. Salvation is available to us through His righteousness as we cannot fully attain it on our own. Jesus paid the price. And the gift is freedom from eternal separation from God. We get life, and life with Him.

So, the next time you’re noticing your weaknesses or failures, remember that Jesus is not only a cool guy who lived a long time ago but also the King of glory who died a terrible death and rose again so we could have relationship with Him forever.

Search My Heart

Learning to pursue God as He pursues me — relentlessly.

How Productive Is Worrying?

Not productive at all, if you were wondering. “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 6:27

Treat Every Day

…Like it’s the first.
As I was driving along the other day, Matthew West’s “Day One” began to play, and the lyrics really sank in.


The other day, I was filling out a form for an organization I’m a part of, and I had the opportunity to be dishonest.

Where’s the light?

I’m going to be honest with you right now — I have had a rough week. Not because anything went particularly wrong but because of an overwhelming workload.

The Fruits of Follow-Through

“Find your passion.” “Do what you love.” “Know your calling.” These are a few of the phrases you get used to hearing when you attend a Lutheran, liberal arts college.