The Vine, the Vinedresser, and me

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. ~John 15:5

Have you ever felt worthless in God’s kingdom? You look at your body of work and all you see are errors, mistakes, sins and defeat? You cannot get a handle on your tongue; you are not patient with your family; every time you turn around you are faced with another way you have sinned against another or God.

We have a child who right now is in a crisis of faith. They are in a season of pruning, but they believe they are in a season of failure. They look at the way their sin seems to explode all over the place, and they want to hide it, stuff it back in, cover it up with niceties or retreat. Poke them a little bit about one of these errors, and they may explode in anger. There is apathy, a mask they wear to act as if they don’t care how many areas are in shambles. And when you tread just a little through these first layers of defense, there is profound discouragement and fear. The aching knowledge of their inability to “do it” and concern over being perfect, checking the boxes they have laid out for themselves, creates a huge emotional chasm. And only Jesus Christ Himself with all His grace, His mercy, and His love can fill it. The Gospel must become a lifeline, not just for salvation but for daily, minute to minute life.

Salvation for this child is not in question. They are completely secure in knowing Jesus Christ paid the penalty for their sins, and they would absolutely tell you how vital He is in their life. But just like a Galatian from years ago, they have decided that their walk everyday is theirs to do, to somehow muster up the right combination of fruits either to prove to God how much they love Him or to add to their salvation. The wrecking of their carefully ordered life exposes the limits they have placed on God’s great grace, as if it is merely that little bit more we need to get over the hurdle when added to all the good acts we do.

Many times I too have walked in these ruts of the faith, tripping as I focus not on Him but on what I carry, making sure I don’t drop anything, or dirty these clothes I have placed over my clothes of righteousness. And when I see my life wrecked, I wonder how He could love me. But just like this child, it is an opportunity to once again see the depths of His love for me, the grace that gushes like a tidal wave, and to tightly hold to the One who is at work, refining and changing me more and more into His image.

Pruning is an important part of the walk of faith. Jesus draws the parallel boldly in John 15 – He sets up very clearly that He is the Vine, his Father is the Vinedresser, and we are branches. A vinedresser has one goal with his plants – to maximize the fruit as he shapes its growth. In pruning vines, the goal is to maximize the amount of one year old growth or wood because only in 1 year old branches is fruit made. Older wood produces only leaves and shoots. A vine dense with older wood has little fruiting wood and poor air circulation which leads to fungus and disease. So every year 70-90% of growth needs to be removed in the winter. Also the vinedresser wants to shape the vine’s growth on a structure conducive to the harvesting of the fruit.

God actively prunes the believer, slicing through lies, cleaning off dead or nonproductive areas, shaping our hearts and minds. He uses hardship, suffering, crises of faith, but through all of these events, he uses His living and active Word. Hebrews 4:12 says that his Word discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart. We can trust that God desires us to be completely dependent on Him, not just for salvation, but for everyday walking with Him. He prunes us back, tightly leaving us right up against Jesus the vine, in the position of abiding, clinging to the source of life. And it is the position that is most desirable because in the pruning I learn anew that I don’t have to perform or carry the right things to Him. His love flows through me, His truths become my own, His ways of righteousness grow in me creating fruit for His kingdom and His glory. So my child, welcome the pruning for this is where your intimacy with Jesus will grow, and be glad He cuts away your self sustenance. Let the truth of His love and grace flow through you, filling you with peace as you rest in Him.

Steadfast Love

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” ~Lamentations 3:22-24

His love is steadfast. It is so different from any other love that we cannot wrap our minds around it. It does not waver, it does not dim or fade. Steadfast means resolute, firm, unwavering. Checed in Hebrew is the word for love in this passage and most places you see steadfast love written in the Old Testament. Checed is defined as the “lovingkindness of God to men — in redemption from enemies and troubles, in preservation of life from death, in quickening of spiritual life, in redemption from sin, and in keeping of covenants.”

We view love through earthly eyes. We have all had experiences, some life shattering and deeply painful perhaps, when someone has withdrawn their love. And we have all experienced times when we have had to choose love because we certainly were not naturally feeling loving. This happens often with toddlers and teenagers in my experience! And I know many times I have not loved my people and others well, choosing in those moments to be selfish, prideful, indifferent, or unwilling. So I think that for me there always exists that tiny whisper, that little nudge that challenges the truth that God loves me steadfastly, without end, resolutely. It’s something that God has wanted to emphasize to me these last few years in His Word as we’ve walked together. He has displayed over and over the assurances He places all over scripture that His love is steadfast.

This lovingkindness is his character. In Exodus 34:6 He declares who He is – abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for all his people. His love is not rescinded when I am faithless, not does He measure out less or more based on performance.  From one end of the Bible to the other, He declares His steadfast love to his people, of which we, as the justified and redeemed, are a part. His self-sacrificing love displayed on the cross comes out of his steadfast love that from the beginning knew that only His sacrifice would be enough to salvage this wreck of a sinner. And His love extends and extends to me, never failing to reach in and work to transform me more like Him.

He is steadfast in His love in my successes and my failures because His love is not dependent on me. He displayed his love in that while I was still chief among sinners, He died for me. His steadfast love under the covenant of Christ never gets withdrawn. It may walk in conjunction with discipline, but its flow never ceases.

I praise you Lord for you are good. You are steadfast in your love for me, a wayward fickle sinner who you saved by your Son. Thank you for the discipline that walks with your love. Thank you for the assurance that in the hardest moments, despite what seems like terrible circumstances, you never leave or reject. You never turn your back on me because your back was turned on Christ instead. You slog right into my sin, and you redeem my life from the pit. Let me move, minister, engage from this position of understanding your vast love for me and let your love flow out of me into my world.

Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. ~Psalm 63:3-4

 

What not to wear

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace ~Ephesians 4:1-3

Do you remember the tv show What Not To Wear? The premise of the show is observing this poor, slovenly wreck of a woman who cannot dress or does not care what she wears.  They tape her for a few weeks to prove her pathetic state and then surprise her with the news that, while she is living in bad clothes state, someone was planning and desiring to help her. She only has to agree to go to NYC, give up all her clothes and buy new clothes that fit her correctly and flatter her.  A credit card is freely offered with all the money she will need to do this. Does she want to go?  Well of course she does! She cannot wait! So she packs up every piece of her closet and brings them into a room where they are all placed on a rack for scrutiny. Every episode I have ever seen then shows the same phenomena occur – the poor woman begins to defend and long for her old clothes. No matter that she has just heard how ugly they are, seen footage proving this, or felt excited at the prospect of changing and updating. Now that the moment of trashing them (for this is the plan – there is a huge trashcan into which each piece must go after criticism) has come, she cannot let go and even clings to them wanting them for a multitude of reasons. She has to stand in a mirrored room and observe the ugliness of them as outfits, yet her defense continues to mount. Typically the woman is by this time so offended by the hosts she usually vents in private.  

Then she is shown the right clothes to wear to make her look good and sent out to make purchases. Armed with this knowledge she strides into the first store and almost immediately gets confused by what she is used to buying versus what she has learned she needs now for the new self.  So the hosts swoop in and rescue her, reminding her of what she needs and helping her assemble her wardrobe.  Finally the transformation is completed with hair and makeup, and the big reveal of the new self is done both privately for the hosts and then publicly for all her friends/family.  and every one of the recipients attests that this transforming experience was so worth it!

So what does this have to do with Ephesians 4 & 5? I think this show unknowingly displays some aspects of my walk with Jesus. 

I too was a poor wreck of a sinner, dead in the trespasses and sins in which I once walked, But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved me, even when I was dead in my trespasses, made me alive together with Christ – by grace I have been saved (Eph. 2:4-5) Dressed in the rags and torn garments of sin, before I ever sought Him, He sought me. He saw all my ugly clothes, all my inadequate ways to cover myself and make myself look presentable, and He offered new clothes of His righteousness! The cost for these clothes is without measure, and yet he has paid it for me!

And honestly, I jumped at the salvation offered! I knew, looking at my tape of all my horrific, sinful clothes, that I was hopeless to ever clothe myself in a manner worthy of the King and was so grateful that He offered me his salvation. But just like the woman on the show, I often see myself standing there with all my dirty rags on hangers, trying to defend or justify what I see.

But that is not the way you learned Christ! -assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. ~Eph. 4:20-24 

On the day of my salvation, I was given the Holy Spirit who began to sift through the clothes I choose to wear, seeking to purge and reclothe me in His righteousness. Yet I cling to what is familiar, what has worked before, or what I like. There are many moments when the trashing of my sinful nature is the most painful experience, and I’m not sure I can bear the stripping away of it. Then there are the times when I look at myself in His mirror and see the rag for what it is and willingly give it up to the One who clothes so beautifully with grace, compassion, love and kindness.

Often I will be like the women as they go out, resolutely armed with a list of what to purchase for their new wardrobe. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love (Eph. 5:1-2) Oh! I want to dress like the daughter of the King that I am! And yet I can quickly be overwhelmed with obstacles, confusion, the pull towards the familiar clothes I used to wear. I have a tendency then to run to what I know despite having been told by Him that those clothes are binding, ill fitted, and worthless.

And I forget who walks with me, who has been given to me as my Counselor. The Holy Spirit has been given to me as my teacher, my guide, to lead gently and convict lovingly that I may slowly accumulate the wardrobe of righteous living. My righteousness is not in question; His death was payment or ransom for all my dirty rags. But there is a daily clothing that either reflects my position as redeemed or hearkens back to my natural choices.  Putting off of the old sin nature and a putting on of the new sanctified nature bought and paid for by Jesus Christ by his death and resurrection happens as I walk with the Spirit.

But the difference between the show and my true life is who is central. In the show, it’s all about the woman and her change. But in my life, true change occurs when it’s all about Jesus Christ. He is the One who begins our transformation and He is the One who will carry it out to completion. I will stand before Him dressed in his robes of righteousness washed white because of his blood. For now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. (Eph. 5:8-10)

 

 

True Refreshment

For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.” ~Philemon 7

Are the hearts of others refreshed through me? Are my children’s hearts refreshed through me or wearied, discouraged, or left feeling dry? Is there joy and comfort in my love to my husband or friends?

Do you ever feel used up, weary and dry yourself? I do. I read this passage and am convicted. When I am weary, where do I turn? I am quick to turn to activities that feed or fill up my flesh, that are easy and what I deem restful. So instead of running to the banks of the only river that satisfies, the only stream that quenches thirst and brings strength, I will turn to the dribbles of entertainment, sleep, or solitude. They will never satisfy like He does; they will never strengthen, calm, teach, or reveal truth the way He does. And as a result of sipping the drips of this world, I have nothing to pour out on my little ones or anyone else. Because I know enough Sunday school answers, I may be able to fake it awhile, but I am dry. And I know it.

But the truth of the Gospel is this: we are given the Holy Spirit who is the essence of living water, flowing in us and through us. In John 7:38-39, Jesus shows us that these Spirit driven rivers of living water are available to us as believers. Water runs with power to move things in its path and transform landscapes. It brings life because very little can grow in drought-like conditions. It soaks through hard ground and softens soil for new growth.

Acts 3:20 That times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.  Refreshment only comes through time with Him. So until I purpose to pursue the one drink that satisfies, my love will be shallow. Until I choose like Mary in Luke 10:39 to sit with Jesus and learn from His word, then I am simply operating on fumes and flesh. I have found that I need to sit at his feet early in the morning. For the last 18 years of raising babies, I have wished that I could sleep at least as long as my little ones. I have tried to place my time with Him inside of nap time or room time. I have whined about the fatigue of sleepless nights and early morning wake up calls, but for me Psalm 90:14 rings true. “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” I am so easily taken off course in the craziness of the toddler/teenager drama, schedules that require herculean effort, or emergencies. All of which have been known to hit before 7am. But sitting with Him before anything happens allows me to return to Him quickly when all chaos erupts. And find His love to give, His grace to extend, His wisdom to apply. And the Spirit flows through me to others. Most people are running on empty. They are tired, fearful, wounded, and desperate for peace. We hold the Gospel. We hold hope. We hold true refreshment.

On the prowl

Be sober minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. ~1 Peter 5:8-9

We are at war. We are in the spiritual battle of our lives, not with each other or our husband or children. No, we are at war with an enemy so skilled at combat, so determined to defeat, divide, or discourage us. And many days I forget this. I am offended and furious that so many women are battling, and the enemy is using the same tactics with each one of us. Peter compares our enemy to a roaring lion, so let’s study how a lion behaves and draw parallels.

The lion closely observes its prey long before it attacks. Interestingly, it hunts most often in cover of darkness where it can easily observe and stalk without threat of detection with a final burst of speed at the end. It is incredibly adept at hiding and phenomenally patient.  Lions have been observed  to return again or remain in the same spot where they have had success with a certain herd, and interestingly (or not) the herd of prey does not seem to make adjustments to prevent loss. They will circle the herd and slowly begin driving the prey in a direction with the effect of separating or isolating one or a few from the herd. Finally the straight-line roaring pounce or a paw that swats and knocks the prey off balance allows the lion to suffocate the animal.

We have an enemy who is very real. He is at work, and his chief desire is to destroy. In the life of a believer, he cannot destroy for eternity, but he can sideline. The implication in these verses is that satan as this roaring lion is functioning in a full frontal attack, coming in for the kill. That kill may be persecution like we see in many areas in the world that would push believers to compromise their faith for safety, but here where true persecution is rare, the compromising of our faith happens because of hard life circumstances, doubts, fears, mental anguish, illnesses, isolation, etc. Faith is the only lifeline, and in case you forget, faith too is Spirit given. (Gal. 5:5)

I need the power of Gospel-based community. I need the body corporately and individually pouring into me the truth of the Gospel. So that when I am slammed with doubt, fear, discouragement, or shame, the truth of Jesus’ redeeming work at the cross covers those lies with His victory.

Discipleship is essential to mature the believer as well as heal the believer. The importance of discipleship becomes apparent when we apply these hunting tactics to our enemy. He delights in separating and isolating us. He studies us and has studied mankind for centuries to really know our patterns of thinking. While he cannot read our thoughts, he watches our pattern of behavior and is keenly aware of our insecurities, doubts, and fears. So the desperate need we have to hide ourselves within the Gospel must be understood to be exactly that – a paramount need. On my own I simply cannot navigate the waters of my life. A key component in discipleship is living life in community with other believers.

We need to stop the isolation. Culturally we are isolated – behind screens, within schedules so filled there is no time to sit and share, in distance,  and in belief. We have been sidetracked with issues and left the pursuit of the gospel so that now we are distracted. Titus 3:9 warns us to “avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” But the truth of the Gospel is this: when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7) I am so convicted that I don’t create enough space in my own life for engaging my friends purposefully in light of the Gospel, encouraging them in their Kingdom work here with their family and other areas of influence, and rejoicing or praying with them over the places God may be refining. I know it is hard to create that space. My calendar is always full. But there are things, good things, and then there are eternal things. And I cannot allow the fleeting things of this age to usurp the eternal.

As I have studied this truth for the last few months, God began to really convict me of my busyness. I had very little margin and very little active pursuit of other women for the sole sake of the Gospel – to encourage them, hear what God is doing, pray for them and with them, or challenge them. He began to germinate an idea of women dining together with the express purpose of encouraging one another in our personal walks with the Lord. Rarely do I get to enjoy a slow, relaxed dinner with girlfriends in which we cut to the chase of God’s activity in our lives, confessing our sins or praising His works. We are often interrupted by children or hurried by schedules, or we just don’t get past the layers of small talk about the work we do and the craziness that is life. So my daughters blessed us with a wonderful meal, slowly served so that we could talk around a beautiful candlelit table. Some women had to meet other women first, but the rules were set from the beginning. All conversation needed to center around what God is doing in your life. Purposeful from the outset, meant for encouragement, it felt a little scary, I must admit. Often God is working on the ugly in my life and so it looks ugly in the journey. But the time was beautiful, hearts were encouraged, and I will be purposefully doing this again.

We need to fight with and for each other. We have all seen the Youtube video of the Battle of Kruger – The buffalo are walking to the water and spot the lions near the water. The baby calf is attacked and rolled into the water by the lions, a crocodile tries to steal the kill, and then the amazing begins! The herd returns to protect its own. We watch rooting for the calf, desperately wanting to see the 4-5 lions defeated. The buffalo at first slowly approach as if unsure what to do for their struggling one. Then 1-2 begin to sling and chase – it’s a clear strategy – sling them off and chase them away. Finally the last 2 lions are removed as other buffalo pull the baby back into the middle of the herd. Twice the lion starts to return for the injured baby, and one large buffalo turns fearlessly back to stand and face the predator before returning to the herd.

We have many weak and weary women, struggling on the edge of either drowning by the crocodile or being consumed by the lion. And when we all stay separated, we strengthen the destruction the enemy can bring. Instead we need to function as encircling buffalo, battling with and for our weaker members, standing firm against the enemy in prayer and encouragement, and willing to be at risk, soberminded and alert. The promise at the end of this passage is amazing! God does the work, He provides the faith, He does the healing and restoration needed because of His Gospel truth that Jesus Christ in grace redeemed you. To all of us who have been the baby buffalo or who are walking with a baby buffalo right now – And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. ~1 Peter 5:10-11. 

 

Walking through Ephesians, 9

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. ~Ephesians 6:10-13

The armor of God – I remember as a little girl being told in church and Bible classes to say it/pray it every day before I went to school. The implication was that if I “put it on” by saying it, I would have a much better day, things would go better, I wouldn’t have the tough times against these evil spiritual forces (and who wants that?!!). In fact I still hear people talking about praying the armor on as if it is some mantra you can recite and boom, you’re covered and safe. I have heard people say they pray it over their kids for their school days as they are leaving them in car line. But I really wonder if I understand what Paul is teaching?

The first time I really studied Ephesians, the whole passage about the armor of God caught my attention. Now I may be the only one who has walked through childhood into adulthood with the idea that I could just pray the armor over myself, in recitation, and I would be safe from the scheming devil and all his terrible arrows. But sitting with you at coffee, I feel compelled to make sure that you see just a glimpse of what Paul is really talking about because you may be like me. It may just make your heart race, your spirit sing, and your mind rest to understand this is no mantra or chant to put on some dress up clothes. This is what it means to truly be a warrior for the Lord on the battlefield of this life. Paul has walked us through great theology in Ephesians as to who we were and who we are now as redeemed:

  • we were chosen, made holy and blameless, redeemed and forgiven to the praise of His glory
  • we are walking in good works prepared for us
  • identity – in Christ Jesus- brought near, reconciled, a dwelling place for the Spirit of God who is our seal for salvation
  • we are granted boldness and confident access to Him because of the faith He’s given to us
  • out of our new redeemed, forgiven, renewed selves we live out the Gospel with those around us- dependent on the Gospel – it’s not a behavior checklist – it’s a constant return to the truth of the Gospel for me in order to renew my mind and therefore live out in the details my reverence for Christ

The list could continue, but you should be the one to make the list. God will teach you much! But here at the close of Ephesians, Paul has been teaching about the importance of understanding what Christ did in love for us and responding to this Gospel with our lives and relationships. So we have just read the passages about submission and obedience/leadership.

And now he emerges into a “Finally”- Finally be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Seems a little repetitive at first glance, but surprise! it’s very purposeful. The first phrase “be strong” means to receive strength, be strengthened or increase in strength, but it is passive and internal, meaning I am not mustering up the strength, I am receiving the strength. This strength is contingent on union with the Lord, and He is empowering or imparting ability to me. And then the second phrase “and in the strength of his might” – the power of his strength or the dominion of His combative strength over external things — His ability to dominate in His strength over all things. My strengthening is from Him as well as my deepening knowledge of how strong He is. In order to walk out any of the relationships in love the way Paul has just discussed, I need to be empowered by the Holy Spirit and understand the vast power that is for me in His might.

Back in Ephesians 4:20-24, Paul says that because we learned Christ, we are renewed in the spirit of our mind and put on the new self. We enduo (in the Greek) which means to clothe ourselves in His likeness in both righteousness and holiness. Then here in Ephesians 6:10-11 I need to know the strength pouring into me because of salvation and the strength that stands behind me in God Himself, and so I enduo or clothe myself with the armor of God – the new self. The armor is the essence of what has been given to me as a believer to walk here on this earth in newness and salvation until I stand in His presence.

My life isn’t about hard things with kids, others, circumstances. My battle is with an enemy who will throw everything at me to make me forget who I am, whose I am, who strengthens me, and who is in me.

My standing and withstanding depend on whether I use that which I have been clothed in. I need to know my armor, all that I have been given, and take up these truths. I am perpetually entering, leaving, or engaging in a fierce battle.

So just like the soldier knows his armor, I need to know what I have been given – in part and in whole. Just as a soldier becomes more valiant and wiser the more he battles and trusts his armor and weaponry – so do I. The more I walk in the Gospel, the more ready I am. The more I read, know and wear Truth, the easier it becomes to recognize it and prefer it. Truth will become the belt that holds all my armor securely in place. The more I understand His righteousness imparted to me, the more my emotions are guarded from the wicked raging of this world. The more my feet are firmly rooted in the Gospel, the more sure footed I am when anything that opposes His gospel tries to topple me. My shield of faith is always protecting me – in all circumstances. The shield is not the small hand held piece of armor that we see superheroes use in movies. Paul is referencing something larger than my body, behind which I stand, fully guarded and protected. Throughout the Old Testament God call Himself my Shield, and He is the source of faith, of dependence for strength in battle. The ability of condemning, evil, or discouraging thoughts to pierce through to my mind becomes less as I understand all that was granted me with His salvation. And the sword of the Spirit – His word, my only weapon. Praying at all times again is sourced in the Holy Spirit who is our guarantee for eternity.

So my role with myself and with my kids isn’t to recite pieces of armor but to walk through what these pieces actually represent and how they are THE sustaining requirements for the battlefield of this life. We are all doing battle everyday, little ones included. So to speak words of gospel truth and remind them of the strength, power, and protection freely given to them through Jesus Christ is paramount.

As we walk out of Ephesians, I want my walk with my children to be reflective of Ephesians 6:19-20, “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

 

 

Walking through Ephesians, 8

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. .. now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. ~Ephesians 5:1-2, 8-10

Imitation. The thought of it fills me with longing on the one hand and dread on the other.

When I see it with my children, it often delights me because for my child to imitate, they have studied, observed, internalized and then pulled back out that desirable action. My 10 year old yelled my name yesterday in such a tone of voice that my eldest son and I thought he was very hurt. We both rushed to him, expecting to see blood/tears, something. Instead there stood a grinning, eyes sparkling, proud young man holding a fly up as a trophy, “Look! I killed my first fly just like Daddy does!” And he proceeded to explain how he took every step his daddy ever does in order to kill this fly with only a flick of his hand. Gross but a somehow a manly achievement!

My almost 2 year old studies everything his daddy does to get ready in the morning. We have to now hide all of Troy’s things because he will try to act out what he has seen (dangerous with qtips and razors!) He loves to tromp through the house in Troy’s shoes and daily seeks to wear Daddy’s socks all day long. Hats are a special trophy but only Daddy’s favorite one.

I admit when I realize how much observation I am under in any given day, it is bone wearying. Someone is always asking me why I am doing something or just watching the way I do something to make sure I do it the same way I have before. I am always amazed at the “you always” and “you never” comments that are attributed to actions/things that I didn’t know I had set patterns for. But my children do, because they observe and study.

God does not possess undesirable attributes, there is nothing in Him I should avoid imitating as there is in me. And He never tires of displaying Himself, teaching me more and more deeply about His attributes. But do I study Him, experience time with Him that I know His way, His actions, His love? or do I do it my way?

In our “use it quickly, buy a lot” culture, imitation often has a cheap, inferior connotation. The object is knowingly inferior and lacking something but affordable so as to make it mass marketable. It’s easily produced. We can carry this false copying concept into Christianity with a list of behaviors that everyone would agree makes a “good Christian,” and don’t get me started on the list for a good mom. Kindness, goodness, grace giver, patience, forgiving, and then the unwritten list for motherhood. The list can be endless and paralyzing. And I think we can see this false or cheap copying of a list of behaviors for what it is – hypocritical and self promoting.

But when I look at Jesus Christ, the list falls away.

My childlike toddling after Jesus increases my understanding of His Gospel to me and will fuel my imitation of Him. But my imitation can’t be sourced by me, my abilities or temperament. As we walk as children of light, we are light in the Lord. When Paul tells me to walk as a child of light with fruit, he is not leaving all that he has presented before this passage in Ephesians. But sometimes I will read these verses and forget this. I will see an imperative sentence and immediately add it to my list of cheap, me driven imitation. But I am in Christ Jesus, with access to the Father through the Spirit, and my true imitation will be Spirit driven. It will be the Holy Spirit in me replacing my old self with His new self, day by day, little by little, a laying down of me spurred on by my growing love of Him that comes through time with Him.

When I begin to follow Him around, observe Him, watch His interactions, experience His love and forgiveness, my heart will long and yearn to be more like Him. My little man didn’t claim an original fly killing technique, yet he was thrilled to have done it just the way he had seen it done countless times before. Imitation is really a reflection of the original. And in the case of us in the world as His dearly loved children, we are to be the clear reflection of God’s love.  There is no claim of originality; imitation points to the Original.