Pruning

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. ~John 15:1-2

Something that had been a weak open hand of offering to the Lord has become the cry of my heart over the last 2 years. A begging almost for deliverance, for the answer to come. In the beginning, the act of obedience was not a desire of my heart but merely an acknowledgment that He is the One I will follow. Throughout this time, my outstretched hand has grown weary and trembles under the strain of maintaining the sacrifice. My heart desperately longs to be relieved of it, for the submitted to be removed from my hand, for me to be free, and for God to receive what I have given. Yet still I stand with my hands offering, weighted down and waiting. Has this ever happened to you?

I had imagined the removal would come quickly, I would be relieved, and my obedience would be a short-lived exercise. Almost flippant in the initial contribution, denying the power this thing possessed over my heart, I willingly said I would lay it down and walk away.

But sometimes growth only comes through pruning.

My heart has been the recipient of the exercise.

His hand has pruned and worked in me, changing the landscape there, moving me from reticent to bold. Slowly He reveals the ways that He desires to make me more like Him, the truths He wants to be sown into my heart, and the idols I have worshipped. My offering becomes more about submitting all of me to Him than about obedience in one space. He tenderly unpacks the beautiful depths of following Him and emboldens me.

Still, in moments of fatigue and doubt, I will take this offering and pull it back tightly against my chest, hoping that there is another way, longing to see another path for obedience that does not include relinquishing this. He patiently reminds me He is trustworthy and His way is right.

One of my favorite passages of scripture says, Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit (Jeremiah 17:7-8). Heat comes, and drought happens. I feel as if this has been a season of both. But my trust is in Him, and He keeps me green, full of His life, abundant in fruit and growth. The truth is weather cannot impact the life and growth He governs.

His goal for me in the pruning is more fruit. A part of me in this process has wanted to simply shed the offering, drop it off, be done with it. If I could have finished this years ago, I would have. But the fruit would not have grown. Fruit takes time, it takes being rooted in rich soil, attached to a strong parent plant so that the branch can be supported and receive the nutrients it needs.  Fruit grows because the DNA of the plant determines the growth; abiding in Christ, understanding my identity ~ Christ is in me, determines the growth pattern of my fruit.  As I surrender to the work of the Spirit, He is free to tend and grow within me fruit that glorifies Himself.

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. ~John 15:8

Holy Moments

Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! ~Psalm 46:10

Mothering is full of holy moments. I have become convinced of this fact over the past twenty years. Moments of His glory displayed, His hope conveyed to a little one, His truth declared by a little voice. Sometimes I miss the holy moments. I miss their weight and significance, I miss His truth in that moment, and I miss my growth that He desires to foster. I overlook His imprint at all on the situation and instead want to make my own imprint, my own mark. I look wildly about, clutching at any hope or advice that is offered, desperate to do the “right thing.” And He calls to me, “Be still.”

Stillness before Him is not an inactive state of passivity. The command means to cease striving, relax. In the anxiety of the moment, the absolute best posture for me is open hands, upturned face seeking Him. I try to remember to take just a few minutes with Him (often hiding in my closet or pantry!) before I walk into the turmoil of the moment. The truth is the crazy of whatever is happening can continue for a few minutes while I ask Him for help. And in those quiet moments, He begins to work, reminding me of His deep love, His sacrifice for all my sin, and His grace.  He will give me insight to hear the hurt, see with His compassion, understand the driving forces that are beneath the anxiety, anger, or misbehavior. Scriptures come to mind. My heart stills. I can walk into the time with my child able to connect and then correct because I am connected to the One who sustains.

He redefines the moment in light of eternity.

There is holy learning as I choose service and humility to clean up a toddler. The trust I see in my infant’s face echoes the trust God calls me to have in Him. The quiet voice of the heavenly Father encouraging me on a hard, tantrum filled day speaks words of life and calm over me, dispelling my anger and hopelessness. His rays of truth slice through the justification and confusion of teenage angst. His peace in moments of worry and fear is unmistakable.

The steadiness of God’s faithfulness and love thrum in the panic and uncertainty of parenting.  The holy moments are for me. The sanctifying is for me, not for my child most of the time. He will bring glory to His name.

12 Bright Morning Star

I Jesus have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star. ~Revelation 22:18

There is a “star” that precedes the sun in rising in the morning sky. The planet Venus has long been called morning star because it can be seen brightly shining in the sky hours before the sunrise. Fifteen times brighter than the brightest star Sirius, Venus can even cast shadows.  I love to wake before sunrise to have some quiet time, and my chair faces the window with eastern exposure. I love watching how one tiny spot of light begins to break over the horizon. Suddenly the sky is no longer black as night but instead a glimmer of light gives way to beautiful sunrise.

We have the Bright Morning Star who lights up our darkness, our night. He rises higher than any other light and earlier than all other lights.

He comes earlier than the dawn, hope rising in the night, bursting forth light. His light qualifies us to share in the inheritance of the saints. We have been walking in darkness without Christ, a world filled with hopelessness and doubt. He rescues us from darkness and brings us into His kingdom with redemption and forgiveness of sin (Colossians 1:12-14).  For in the abject darkness of sin and death, in the hopelessness of a world lost and dying, He is the first spark of light. He catches the eye starving for light, restlessly seeking across the horizon for a glimmer of hope. We have hope for salvation and joy in our days because despite the darkness that surrounds, Jesus shines brightly. He becomes our focal point because His glory, the sun of righteousness, pushes back the hopelessness and confusion of the dark.

Triumphantly He returns for His bride. He will burst forth with a shout and a trumpet blast, and He will be the only light needed in the new Jerusalem. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever (Revelation 22:3). 

the back porch – the Gospel Hunt

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. ~2 Corinthians 5:21

If you missed the introduction to the back porch and want to read that, you can find it here at the back porch.

What does the Gospel mean? How do you define it? Is there a good working definition or does it feel just a little undefined? I have spoken with many women over the years who stumble on this idea. They know that they know what the Gospel is, yet when asked to define it, they pause and struggle to wrap words around the essence of the term that feels vast. One of my goals for sitting on the back porch with you is to lay out the basic tenets of faith so that you can teach them confidently to your children or friends, not from a theological position of intellect but from a confident position of faith. So this may be an easy one for you. But what is the Gospel? The way I learned to define and so I teach it to my children is with 4 parts:

Who God is

Who we are on our own

Who Jesus is and what He has done

How am I changed because of Jesus

All of Scripture is within one or more of these parts. So as we begin to study the Word or lead our children in studying the Word, we can ask ourselves, “Which portion of the Gospel does this passage of scripture address?” Does this tell me more about who God is, His attributes, His character, and expand my picture of Him? Does this relate to who we are apart from Jesus, does it point out the consistent pull of sin and flesh and the hopelessness of depravity? Do these verses teach us about Jesus Christ, his life, His death, His walk with the Father, or His teachings? Do these scriptures talk about my identity and life with Jesus, the change that comes, the calling for the redeemed?

Why is it so important to be on a Gospel hunt? Because all of the Word of God points to the good news of salvation and redemption. God lays out moment after moment in the Old Testament pointing to the coming Savior and illuminates His redemption in the New Testament. In the Old Testament He introduces us to Himself – His holiness, righteousness, steadfast love, and faithfulness to name a few. He gives us pictures of the “great rescue” that will come because of man’s sinfulness. In the New Testament redemption comes, Christ atones for our sin. We can be changed with His help alone. The truth of the gospel radically changes our understanding of our identity. God has issued an invitation to be His child, a new creation in Christ.

When I walk with my children, this becomes the pivot piece of conversation. Everything hangs on the gospel. So how we perceive and engage in life has everything to do with how we understand God, our sin, Jesus Christ, and walking with Him. Their need for Jesus as Savior can be seen in any passage. Morning times in the Word are discussions about which parts of the gospel does this verse or passage speak to. Noah’s ark comes alive when we realize the depth of the Gospel on display. David and Goliath is more than just a story because the character of God is seen and explored. Paul’s writings are rich with what Jesus through the Holy Spirit is doing in you and me as we walk with Him rather than a demanding laundry list of how a person should behave. The gospel is central to discipline, not my opinions or personal desire for good behavior.

The only hope I have is Jesus. The only hope my child has is Jesus. He or she will never be able to move away from the depravity of sin without Jesus Christ, so discipline becomes an opportunity to display his need for Christ and then the necessity to submit to the Spirit’s work in his life as he begins a walk of faith.

So I encourage you this week to sit down with just your Bible and a journal. Put a heading on the top of each page titling one part of the Gospel on each. And begin to read your Word, asking the Great Counselor to show you His Gospel in all parts. Some great books to begin this with include Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians or 1 Peter. The reason these books are on my recommended list is simply I think if you are new to studying the Word without a help book, a short book allows success. You can certainly tackle any other book God leads you to in this manner. But just begin to dwell with Him in His Word, looking for how His gospel is displayed. Ask Him to increase your hunger for His Word and for time with Him. And let me know what you begin to find either by leaving a comment below or through my email!

The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. ~Psalm 119:130 

the back porch intro

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. ~2 Corinthians 2:14-16

Where do I think God wants me more? in the busy, frenetic, getting things done mode of motherhood and life or sitting quietly before Him, face upturned, listening raptly to His truth? The true answer is obviously the second, but the answer of my life indicates I believe the first may be more important. So I came to this season knowing He wanted more quiet, restful time with Him than He wanted achievements. I have been blessed in this season of life with a back porch that allows the sounds of life to quiet as the sounds of a waterfall swell. There is something very restful to me in the sounds of water trickling, cresting, or splashing that give space for my mind to rest and stop running through to do lists. And in the quiet to begin to dwell again on the basic truths of the Gospel and who I am as I walk with Him.

So in the quiet God pressed me to consolidate some truths and invite other women to walk with me in exploring and learning His basic truths that are critical in walking victoriously with Jesus. We are called to mentor or teach younger women (in the faith) the truths of God’s word, and I strongly believe it is of the most importance. I also think many women feel inadequate to walk with another woman in this way unless they are the learner and not the teacher.

But there is a shortage of older women. Not because of inadequacy but because of the bondage of the lie that I am not smart enough, wise enough, Godly enough – the lie is full of not enoughs.

Can I just plead with you? You need to learn to walk with Him in this walk of discipleship. In the relationships in your home, discipleship is key. In relationships with other women, discipleship is key. If we are to be a triumphal procession for Jesus spreading His aroma everywhere, we must understand that we are with sincerity commissioned by God to speak in Christ (verse 17). If you have a good idea of the basic concepts, then with boldness speak the truth of Gospel to your friends, your husbands, your family and your children. But if you aren’t sure how to go about this or you worry because you’re not sure you’ve ever been discipled, then maybe this is for you. It’s certainly not the completely comprehensive textbook on all things theological, but instead this will be a good beginning, a framework of scripture in which to place life. But you can do this! You can walk these truths out with the Holy Spirit who resides in your life as a saved child of the King, and you can and must speak these truths to others.

So if you want to join me on my back porch for awhile, we can walk together through some of the basics of walking with Jesus so that His eyes become your lens, His Word becomes your filter and your sword, and your aroma is decidedly Jesus. I believe there will be 8 entries with the title “back porch,” and I plan to link them all weekly.  These concepts do go in an order, not so much of importance, but more like building on a foundation. We want to lay a foundation that will never tilt, crack, or cause buckling as we hang windows, doors, etc. But our foundation is the Gospel. We need to know it first.

So I’m inviting you to come, lay down the sin that so easily entangles, and rest as you begin (maybe again) to learn the basic truths of the Gospel and our faith. May He lead you in triumphal procession!

 

Reveal and Refine

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  ~ 2 Corinthians 4:7

God reveals, and then He refines. Increasingly God keeps reminding me that He calls me to submission in areas He reveals that He might work to refine and change me. The submission is hard for me. There is a desire in me to protect, deny or reject the revelation thus blunting His refining.  Only when I welcome the reveal in light of the Gospel will my heart be ready for refining.

In the end of 2 Corinthians 3 moving into chapter 4, Paul discusses the change in someone’s life when he turns to the Lord. Without Jesus, Satan has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Cor. 4:4) The light of the gospel is Jesus Christ who came as a man to display God to a world full of sinners and to redeem us through his death on a cross and resurrection. Only through Christ is it (veil) taken away. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:16, 18) Salvation occurs followed by a lifetime of transformation. The fullness of faith was given with salvation but a deepening awareness occurs in my faith walk as I experience again and again the love of a Father who sent His Son to pay for every bit of sin that occupies my heart. And while I want to bend my head to the transformation, often I forget the truths of the Gospel. God loved me as fiercely and fully at the moment of my salvation as He does now four decades later. There is no gradient of love from Him based on my actions. He is committed to me, calling me to imitate Him and to walk in love as Christ loved us. He is faithful to finish the work He has begun in me.

So in my current season God has been revealing layers of doubt that coat places in my heart I thought were laden with faith. It has been painful and at times discouraging to realize. But He has whispered over and over to me to choose. In the revealing of my doubt, do I stay there, filled with doubt and say if God does something different, then I will believe? or, do I choose to believe and allow Him to refine my faith? and how does that really play out? Easy to say but harder to walk out. So I need to look at the heart of God and place trust and hope in the truth of WHO He is, His grace, His goal to bring glory to Himself and walk with Him there, trusting the result no matter how long it may take.

I am in this process of change – reveal and refine – and often I want to fix things myself. I’m embarrassed or ashamed to see areas in need, so I scramble to change myself. Like Eustace in CS Lewis’ book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, I seek to pull off my own dragon skin. But the call of the Gospel, the work of the Holy Spirit, declares that the change is the work of the Spirit.

His timing, His way, my submission, my jar of clay.

Although I want to make this about me, whether in resisting or in self fixing, this is about Him ~ His love for me that will not desert me. He is faithful TO me, to reveal my heart and refine it, and then His commitment displays His great love and affection and glorifies Himself. And this jar of clay bursts forth with the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. All Glory to God Alone.

what’s my name again

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it. ~Revelation 2:17

We invent superheroes in our family. It’s part of our family culture I guess. My boys have a vault of at least a hundred superheroes unique to their imagination with skills and powers. They have been drawn and immortalized with colored pencils and markers, featured in battles that rage around the house, and placed within plot lines in which they interact and care for one another. Our littlest one is entranced with these warriors and villains that his older brothers have invented. And often he desires to be one of them. The problem is their names are difficult to remember. Just this morning he was bounding around the house as one of these carefully crafted heroes, yet he kept returning to me, asking me to repeat his name. The attributes that flow from his name had to then be discussed anew.

Often we forget our new identity as a follower of Jesus Christ. While I was a sinner, Christ died for me (Romans 5:8). He redeemed me from the curse of the law so that I might receive the promised Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:13-14). I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20). And since I am in Christ, I am a new creation. The old person condemned under the law is gone, and instead I am His righteous ambassador to this world, being changed and made more like Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). I can lose sight of all the promises and blessings that are mine as a result of who I am.

But sitting this morning with my little man reminds me once again, He delights in reminding me of my new name. I didn’t mind being asked over and over for his “superhero” name. I was happy to discuss what it meant to be Lightening Storm with powers that shoot lightening out when he runs, help him fly through the air, and jump huge jumps. Just like in the imaginative world for my three year old, being reminded of my identity in Jesus Christ is vitally important in my walk with Him. 1 Peter 2:9-10, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” The life I live here I live by faith in Jesus Christ because He loves me and gave His life for me (Galatians 2:20). My son didn’t hesitate about asking repeatedly for his name and powers. He never once apologized for forgetting or seemed reticent to ask yet again. He boldly approached me with eagerness to hear once again. How much more will our Father in heaven graciously teach us about walking with Him?! His Word speaks abundantly about our position as His child. His Spirit lives within each believer to teach and guide. He welcomes us into His throne room.

Christ will return for you and me. And on that day a stone will be given to each of us with our true name inscribed on it that is unique to you and me, chosen by Him. The wonder of the thought swells my heart in worship. He knows us each intimately, personally and has given us new identity in Him.