Have you ever caught a whiff of a familiar scent, and it instantly transported you back in time? This week at Madison Church, we're joined by a special guest, Rev. Abbie Sawczak, and together we venture into the heart of spiritual growth. We'll reflect on the beauty of abiding in Christ, as she recounts the journey from her transformative campus ministry years in Madison to the present day, diving into how personal stories and biblical narratives intertwine to reveal the fragrant trail we can leave by walking in faith.
Navigating the spiritual realm can be akin to traversing a winding road, but through our discussion, we'll explore how practices like 'dwelling' and 'submitting' provide the seatbelts we need for the ride. Our conversation takes a turn into the garden of our hearts, where we grasp the importance of being pruned by the Gardener's hand, a necessary pain for the blossoming of our souls. Join us as we stitch together the wisdom from the Bible and the lived experiences that teach us the importance of letting go, obedience, and fostering community, vital elements for nurturing a spiritual life that thrives.
As we close our soulful exchange, we draw inspiration from the deep yearning King David expresses in Psalm 27:4 for God's presence. Abbie shares about her aunt's valiant encounter with ALS, demonstrating that while abiding in Christ may not alter our circumstances, it profoundly transforms our prayers and desires. We discuss pragmatic ways to deepen your walk with Jesus, and the peace that stems from a life rooted in God's unwavering presence. Embark with us on this journey toward a more intimate relationship with Christ, where the fruits of his spirit become the harvest of our existence.
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It's an honor to be here with you and Stephen's going to be coming and speaking at my church New Culture in a couple weeks while I'm in Thailand, and so those are the weeks where you're like you got to get your good friends to come. When you know what you're like, I'm not even going to be there, so don't mess it up. But there you go. Here's the kids, right, take care of them. So really excited to be here today. And it's always funny when I come to new places and I'm like oh, what do I share about myself? Because I'm not married and I don't have kids, and so typically guest speakers are like here's a picture of my family. But for me I'm like do I just show you a bunch of selfies, like, what do we do here? So I normally don't, I just tell you about myself. So I moved here seven years ago, originally to the campus ministry, which I did for about seven years, and then I also planted was part of planting New Culture Church about five years ago. So I love this city, I love Madison. I'm always like I'll die here if the Lord lets me. We'll see what happens. But I originally grew up in Indiana and I have three brothers, super close in age, really tight-knit family, super grateful for them. So Christmas we got together a few days before Christmas and it's rare that we're all home. But one of my brothers, he got me a bottle of perfume for Christmas and I opened it and it smelled so good. I was like, wow, that's so kind, thank you. And of course he's like oh, my girlfriend actually picked it out. I didn't pick it up, I was like it's OK, it's a thought that counts. And he's like but is that offensive to get someone perfume? Like, is that? He's like I'm not trying to say you smell bad or anything. And I'm like, I'm not offended, this is nice perfume, I'll take it. And I said, and actually I was like Michael, you kind of owe me. He's like what do you mean? And then I reminded him of one of the things that he did to me as the only girl in the family and that was when we were grocery shopping and it was like all of us were maybe middle school, high school, when I'm starting to be a little more aware of I care about my appearance and what I look like and things like that. And he always had this thing where he would find a way to find the ax body spray in the store and he would find a way to spray me with it before leaving the store. So for the rest of the day I smelled like ax body spray and I don't know if you've smelled some of the strong, strong colognes where you're like. I even thinking about it today. I can smell it and it's still there and I think I have a headache because of it. But there's something about a certain sense and smells and things that's like you're near it for just a second and then now you're drenched in it and everybody knows Like people are going to walk in and they're like oh, what's that? We're talking about abiding in Christ today and I want to talk to you about what does it look like, as followers of Jesus, to live in a type of way that when people encounter us, when they're near us, when they're close to us for even just a moment, they can tell that we were close to Jesus. Now, I don't know what Jesus smelled like, but I'm assuming it's good. So I think it's safe to say we want to talk like Jesus, we want to smell like Jesus, we want people to know we have been close to Jesus by the way that we live our life. And so I'm going to read some scripture here today from John, chapter 15. It's a passage of scripture that often when people talk about abiding, if you've been around in the church for a while you know people talk about this. And if not, I'm going to share with you this scripture about abiding. And in John 15, verse 1, it says I am the true vine and my father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to. You Remain in me and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself. It must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me, you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he's like a branch that is thrown away and withers. Such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given to you. This is to my Father's glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourself to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now, remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends If you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my Father's command Love each other. Let's pray again today. Heavenly Father, we just thank you so much for your word. We thank you, lord, for the ways that you continue to speak to us, the ways that you continue to draw us closer to you. I just pray that you, as you have been and you constantly are, that you would just be so present with us in these moments that you would speak, that we would have hearts to receive and respond to, whatever it is that you are inviting us into today. We ask this in your name, amen. I want to talk about this idea of abiding in this deeply formed life. How do we become people that are so deeply formed into the image and the likeness of Jesus? How do we become people that represent Him? Well, I want to talk about it in a few ways, of what abiding is, but before I get into that, I want to share this word with you. The word remain or abiding comes from the same root word in Scripture and it's mentioned over 60 times in the book of John and several times in that passage that I just read to you. Something that tells us right away is we should probably pay attention to what is being said about this. Now. It translates back to the word Meno, m-e-n-o, and I want to read this to you today because, depending on where your background is and how you grew up, when you hear a bite. You may think or remain a bunch of different things. Today. You might think of spending time with Jesus, and what that looks like could be reading the Bible, it could be showing up to church, it could be praying, it could be worship, it could be all these different things. But here's what this word means and as I read this to you, I want you to start to pay attention to how you feel about some of these definitions. What words put you at ease and what words caused tension? To dwell, to abide, to remain, to stay, to continue to be present, to continue in relationship, to tolerate, to endure, to wait, to accept, to suffer for, to submit to, to act in accord with, to be faithful to. When you read that and you think about that, what things are you like? Easy, that makes me feel real good when I think this is what I'm supposed to do in Jesus, this is what it means for me to remain. If I'm thinking like, yeah, just be present with Jesus, great, awesome, I feel good about that. I can think of a lot of ways I can be present with him. I can read my Bible, and some of it makes me feel good. Some of it causes a little tension, I think, about praying and same thing. You're like, yeah, there's pieces of it where it's like, oh, yeah, that's easy. Then there's other times when yeah, we mentioned already today when prayers don't get answered and things are complicated, and you're like, oh, there's some tension there. Well, you can move on to words like endure, suffer, submit to. I don't feel so good about those words. Abiding and remaining in Jesus is about presence, it's about practice, it's about pruning, it's about obedience. It's so much more sometimes than just sitting and reading our Bibles and praying. But this definition continues to give us a deeper understanding of how we can be deeply formed into the likeness of who Jesus is and who he's inviting us to be as his followers, as his children. We're gonna talk a little bit today about some of the different things that can help us become deeply formed, and one of the main things that can do that is spiritual practices or disciplines or rhythms, however you like to phrase that, and I always think it depends. That will tell me a lot about your personality if you like to call things spiritual disciplines or spiritual rhythms or just ways of life or things like that. I'm a hardcore rule follower sometimes and so I'm like, I like discipline, I want order, like, yes, give me the challenge, I'm ready for it. But then if it's like, here's a spiritual rhythm Read your Bible, pray. That's a little nicer to say, but either way, I wanna talk about it in this way that maybe will help you understand, because sometimes, when we start to think of ways that we can remain in Christ and we talk about things about praying and reading our Bibles and fasting and all these different practices that help us become like Jesus, we can start to feel a little legalistic. Even sometimes, with coming to church, it's one of those things where, like, do I have to go every Sunday? Is that legalistic to say, like we have to be together and all of these things? But I want you to think about it this way there's things that you do every single day and the things that you do, they do something to you. They are forming you into the likeness and into the image of someone or something. Now, this is not a new concept, probably for most people this idea that the things that we behold, that we start to pay attention to, we start to become like that, that the things that are right in front of us, that we fixate on, we start to illuminate and all of a sudden, those things form us and we wake up one day and we're like how did I get here? Who am I, this person? And it's because of the things that we do every single day. They are forming us into the likeness of someone or something. You're doing things every single day that are forming you. Another way that I wanna talk about this, when it comes to spiritual disciplines and practices and why they're so important for us in our life, is in that formation process. Is this One of the things that you hopefully do every day, if you are someone that rides in any type of vehicle or a car, is that you put a seatbelt on. Now, I hope that every day, you're not getting in car crashes or accidents where you are feeling how important that seatbelt is to have, but if you ever were to need it, it's something that protects you. It's something that draws you back in close and keeps you safe to where you need to be. That's what spiritual disciplines, practices, rhythms do to us. That's why it's important for us to be in community, to be showing up to things like alpha or small groups or praying and reading our Bibles and spending time just with each other in community. Those are all rhythms and things in our lives that if you just say like, well, I have to do these and I'm obligated, it can start to feel super legalistic and rigid and not fun. But when you start to think of it as things that you do every single day, that are forming you into the likeness and ways of Jesus and are there to protect you and keep you safe when you need them, it can change the way that we see remaining in Christ. But I wanna talk about really specifically one of the things that abiding requires that is laid out here in the scripture I read in John 15 and that's this idea of pruning. Now I was gonna be really vulnerable and bring one of my dead plants here today, but I forgot. So just bear with me here, okay, so we'll look at. Can I grab this plant here today just for the sake of my? It's not dead. This is because it's what it's not real, so it can't be dead. Maybe it's technically dead, okay. So you think of plants. Now I recently bought a home and so I've been really into the whole gardening thing and I'm like, yes, I'm gonna grow everything I eat, and some things went really well and some things just did not go at all. But one of the things that I learned a lot about is my house. Plants that had been in my old home for many years were thriving and then, in a new environment, all of a sudden I'm looking, I was like, why is that dead? Like what's happening? Well, the environment changed and they're struggling to survive a little bit in this new environment. And so what happens to several of my plants? Also? Because, confession, I left for two weeks over the holidays and did not ask anyone to water check on them, so I had a lot of dead plants when I came home. So I come home and, just for you know, for the illustration here, right, it's like half of the things around here are dead. But if I take it off, the plant's so much smaller and it doesn't look as nice anymore and it looks a little bare, it looks a little exposed and I'm like I don't wanna do that, like I don't wanna take the dead off, because then it's gonna look smaller and it's like I have to start over again. But scripture is talking so clearly here about the process of pruning, the necessity of us taking things and cutting it out in order for better fruit to be produced in our lives. I'll take this off so it's not like covering my face the whole time. But I wanna talk about this idea of pruning too, because I think sometimes we struggle to prune because of many different reasons. We don't want to go through the pruning process because we fear being exposed. We fear well, if I cut some of this stuff out around my life, these things have also become a part of my identity. So if I start to take them out now, all of a sudden I'm standing there bare and exposed and people can start to see parts of me that maybe they could not see before. And so I ask you today, when you think about things in your life that maybe you need to cut out and remove, what are you afraid of people seeing? And who told you that you need to be afraid of those things? You see, sometimes we try to keep the dead things alive to help hide and to help cover things that we don't want anyone to see. But I want to read another scripture to you in Ephesians 5, 8 through 13. It says for you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light For fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth and find out what pleases the Lord, have nothing to do with fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It's shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret, but everything exposed by the light becomes visible. Everything exposed by the light becomes visible. Can I encourage you today that sometimes the very things that we are afraid of cutting out are actually the things that, once we expose them, we can be victorious and we can overcome. But with that, with the pruning although we yes, we need to come in and we need to cut the things out of our lives and, in a way, kill it before it kills us also be aware that when you're pruning, you're changing, and when you're changing into something new, you're leaving something else behind. And what happens in that process? Often we experience a lot of grief, and that's when I read that definition to you of remaining consistent with and it's more than just sitting still, but it's also suffering and it's enduring. This is part of the process is that, as we continue to be formed and who Jesus is inviting us to be and to become like him, as we continue that process of change and growth, we're also leaving other things behind, and we can experience pain, in that Pruning can be a painful process. When you cut something, it stings and it hurts and it's not always fun. And I say this today because I think if we don't acknowledge some of those things and we don't acknowledge those points of pain, then when it happens it surprises us and we're like wait a second. But Jesus said there's going to be joy as I continue to remain in him, and we forget that remaining is also suffering sometimes, and enduring some hard things and experiencing some pain and having to cut things off. That hurts, and so we also have to take time to grieve the change so that we can make room for the new life that is taking place. Obedience, though, is a key part of pruning. Obedience is a key part of pruning. I want to read to you some more verses here in Isaiah, and I was reading the other day. I was looking for another verse, and I stumbled upon this, and I stumbled upon Isaiah 43, 18, where it says Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up. Do not perceive it. I read this last week. It was maybe Saturday or Sunday. Then it was if you have the U version Bible app, it was like the verse of the day. I was like, oh, that's perfect, it's a great verse for the new year. You're like, yeah, forget the past, I'm done with 2023. Like bring on 2024, new things ahead. But wait, as you keep reading here, there's more. It says do not so forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See them doing a new thing. Says I'm making a way in the desert and streams, in the wasteland, the wild animals honor me the jackals and the owls because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I form for myself, and they may proclaim my praise. Yet verse 22, isaiah 43, 22 says yet you have not called upon me, you have not wearied yourselves for me, oh Israel, you have not brought me sheep for burnt offerings, nor honored me with your sacrifices. I have not burdened you with the grain offerings, nor wearied you with demands for incense. You have not bought any fragrant calamus for me or lavished on me the fat of your sacrifices, but you have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offenses. I, even I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake and remembers your sins. No more, review the past for me. Let us argue the matter together. State the case for your innocence. Your first father sinned. Your spokesman rebelled against me, so I will disgrace the dignitaries of your temple and I will consign Jacob to destruction and Israel to scorn. The first part of that starts out really excited, it's like forget the past, come into these new things. But really what it's saying here is God is speaking to the people and he's saying I'm about to do some really amazing new things and this is what's gonna happen. He's like, but wait, and he's going back and he's referencing all of these things that he already told them to be obedient to. But they were not listening, they were not being obedient to the basic things that he had asked of them at that time. Now, don't worry. Like, we don't have to do all these burnt offerings and things like they're talking about today. Right, it's not the same. But then you see that in John 15, that he says if you don't remain for me, like I'm gonna throw you out, I'm gonna cut you out. Right, there is some serious consequence of saying like, if you want to experience that joy, if you wanna experience that life, if you wanna experience that in my presence, then you have to remain in me, you have to endure, you have to abide, you have to be obedient to the things that I'm asking you to do if you want to be experienced this fullness of this life that I'm giving you Now. That still can seem really harsh, though, and really hard when you're like but how do I do that? Okay, well, we keep reading. If you turn the page to the next chapter and I say I have 44, and I won't get super spiritual here, but I'm like it's kinda cool that it's like 23 to 24, and then here it's like 43 to 44. But it says now listen, israel, who I'm chosen. This is what the Lord says. He who made you, who formed you in the womb, will help you. He who made you and formed you in the womb will help you. I wanna go back to John here, and if you read, after John 15 comes John 16. And one of the things that we find here then, in the same way, is God saying don't worry like, I'm not leaving you alone, I'm going to help you. You move to John 16, where Jesus is now speaking to his disciples, to his people, and he's saying now I'm going to give him who sent me? Yet none of you who ask me where are you going Because I have said these things. You are filled with grief, but I tell you the truth it is for your good that I'm going away. Unless I go away, the counselor other translations will say the helper will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment. I have so much more to say to you, more than you can bear now, but when he, the spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own, he will speak only what he hears and he will tell you what is yet to come. The helper, the counselor, is the Holy Spirit that Jesus left with us when he ascended into heaven after his death and resurrection. You see, God wasn't going to leave his people alone without help, without guidance, and Jesus, he did not leave us alone without help or without guidance. And so, when we look to say, what does it look like for us to abide in Christ. How do we learn how to be people that can endure the process of the pruning and the grief and the change of what was in the past and start to live in the new identity that Jesus is inviting us into? Know that you are not alone in the process, but you have the Holy Spirit. You have a helper to guide you, to be present with you, to continue to lead you closer to Christ. I've told you these things so that you would be filled with joy. Yes, your joy will overflow. Your joy will overflow. There's no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn't confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I've told you everything the father has told me. This is my command love each other. I want to talk about a bright biding and pruning, but also want to point out here that, although abiding in Christ and Jesus is deeply personal and he wants a personal relationship with you, it's not meant to be private, it's not meant to be isolated, but it's meant to be done in the context of community. Do you notice how, in this passage in John 15, that he continues to come back like remain and me remain, and each other Remain and me remain, and each other Endure in your relationship with me. Also endure in your relationship with each other. This is my command love one another. It's to my father's glory, this is how you're going to show people that you're my disciples, is how you love one another, how you not only love and remain in me, but remain in relationship and community with one another. I love that. Even in Isaiah we read that, and in some of those stories where it was talking about a people journeying together, jesus had his disciples journeying together. This is why Sundays like this are so important. When you come together and recognize I'm not alone in this. It's not just me and Jesus, but we are in this together as a community of believers, you as Madison Church, and then I am grateful that when I get to be here and say we're part of a greater family here in Madison and in this world that gets to come together and recognize we are remaining and abiding in Christ together. The final thing I want to talk to on is that abiding does produce fruit. It produces fruit. The things that you do remain in are producing fruit in your life. It's just a matter of who are you remaining in, who are you becoming and what fruit are you producing? The things that you do do something to you. It says I'm the vine, you're the branches. If you remain in me, you'll produce fruit. Apart from me, you can do nothing. Now you actually can do probably a lot of things, but nothing that's going to lead you to where you actually want to go. Anyone who does not remain in me this again that harshness like you're going to be thrown out. But I want to go back now to Isaiah and talk more about this idea that he's going to help us. In Isaiah 44, 3, god is speaking to his people and he's saying I'm going to pour out water on the thirsty and I will pour out my spirit on your offspring. My blessing will be on your descendants. Notice, the key here is he's saying I will, I will. Then, in Isaiah 44, 4, says they will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees, by flowing streams. We're saying this is what's going to happen. They will, I will. Then they will do this. Why Isaiah 44, 6. I am the first and I am the last. Apart from me, there is no God. We can have faith and confidence today that when we remain in him, we will produce fruit, not based on anything that we can do, that we can just keep trying harder to get to happen in our lives. You can't just keep trying to have joy and trying to have peace and trying to have patience. But there is a promise that God. He says I will do this and this is the result of that. Why? Because I am. I am who I said I am. I am the constant one. I'm the one that's never left you or forsaken you. I'm the one that you can trust. I'm the one that you can rely on. I am the one that, if you abide in me, you will bear much fruit. So often in life we can just look and say, okay, this is who I want to become, like Lord, let it be. But there is a strategy here that's given to us that the more that we remain in Christ, that we spend time present with him, that we spend time practicing and creating rhythms in our life that are forming us into his likeness, the more that we're obedient to the things that he's already asked us to, we remain in community together, that we will produce fruit that brings the Father glory. And there's just one more thing I want to share here today that struck me in this passage. There's a part of here in the scripture where it says well, then you can ask whatever you want and it will be given to you. Now I really wrestled with this and I struggled with this especially this past year. I experienced a lot of change and a lot of grief in my life. One of the things that I walked through was a very quick, fast diagnosis with my aunt who is like a second mother to me of ALS, to which she lost her battle in April. Now, walking so closely to someone who had great faith, who walked with the Lord so closely and never received that answer of the healing that she wanted in her timing, I struggled with that of saying, well, god, like what happens under these promises when you say, well, if we abide in you, we can ask whatever we want, and like it's gonna be given to you. But what I noticed in her life was something so significant and so special is that, as she continued to remain in Jesus, it wasn't that she was getting everything she asked, but the question she was asking started to shift and change. See, she was no longer asking just like God, like, would you heal me? But she was saying, lord, like man, I just want more of your presence, I want more of you, god, because she recognized that nothing in this world, not even her physical health, was going to satisfy the longing that she had to be with Jesus. I think we also see this in with the life of King David, where he has the scripture, where in Psalms, where he says there's one thing I ask that I may dwell in the house of the Lord forever. The one thing that he asked was that he would dwell in the house of the Lord forever. And I think about David he's someone that experienced lack. He experienced all the luxuries of this world, yet at the end of it he still said one thing I ask is that I may dwell in the house of the Lord forever, and that's Psalms 27.4. What does that show us again? Is that maybe it's not that, as we abide in Christ now, we get whatever we ask, but the fruit truly is produced in our life, that we recognize that the thing that we're after is God, the thing that we're after is his presence, the thing that we want to remain in is him more than anything else, and so that really is my hope and my prayer for all of us today as we enter into this new year that, as we look at what does it mean to abide in Christ, that we would recognize that there's pieces of it that are gonna be so easy and so great. There's some of you that you're like I can sit and like I can just pray and talk to the Lord for hours and hours and hours. I'm never distracted, and you're like that's great. And then there's others of you that you're like I can serve and I can give and I can do these things. Abiding looks so many different things, so many different places and so many different ways, in the same way that all seeds produce different types of fruit and that it's ready to be harvested at different times. It's going to look different, but the reality is that we need to remain in Jesus. If we are going to produce fruit, if we are going to be his disciples that make disciples of him, we're going to need to remain in him, and so I wanna leave you with this before I pray. Is just some things to maybe process this week Is to think of. Are there areas in my life that I need to prune. Maybe there's things that you need to remove and you need to kill before it starts to kill the goodness that's green grown in you. And ask the Lord what needs to be removed in my life, if anything, to make room for you and, with that, give yourself space to grieve, give yourself space to acknowledge the change that is taking place and then to think about where in your life do you need to be more present with Jesus. Is it as simple as saying, okay, I need to sign up for one of these groups, like, I need to commit to a community of people? Is it saying, like, I need to pray? What is that? What are ways that you can be more present with God, so that it can be said of us as well that the one thing that we ask is that we would dwell in the house of the Lord forever, that his presence is what we are after more than anything else?