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

Am I deluded?

“that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.” ~ Col. 2:2-4

Walking with Jesus is hard. The onslaughts from the world, the enemy, and my own mind press in on me, blinding me from the One who holds all truth.

But I want to be the woman, the wife, the mother like Paul says – my heart encouraged in the tough stuff of life, because I have the assurance of the Gospel – that Christ died for me, to save me, redeem me, change me and make me like Him. He is committed to that process in me. He offers Himself fully to me – all His power, all His love, all His fruit working in me and through me. Scripture is replete with who we are as His redeemed, and we need to KNOW these truths because full assurance of understanding and knowledge of God’s mystery (Jesus Christ) is the only way to combat sin and flesh.

I confess, sometimes I am easily deluded with plausible arguments. If they weren’t plausible, they wouldn’t work. I would be able to spot them. The enemy is crafty. He knows the lies I can identify as lies and therefore reject and the ones I will embrace as truth. Other translations refer to plausible arguments as smooth rhetoric, enticing words, fancy talk, or persuasive speech. The concern Paul had for the believers at Colosse centered on listening to people teach about culturally “good” and popular things, not gospel truths.

While I may not relate to the specifics of Paul’s day, the same lies are still at the root today. There is still the draw for religion and asceticism for comparison’s sake – the need to measure holiness on behavior and not the heart. In a book my kids and I have been reading for ancient history, the author Genevieve Foster presents the word RELIGIO in Latin which means to bind fast. She defines religion in ancient times as “Man’s desire and effort to bind himself fast and secure to the Great Spirit of the Universe.”  As I read this, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I don’t have to bind myself. My efforts are not required. For while I was a sinner, Christ died for me. I have been brought near by the blood of Christ and now am in Christ Jesus, sealed with the Spirit until His return. He is my Peace – no strivings, no performance needed.

The power of self, of believing that I can solve my own problems apart from God, continues to dominate cultural conversations. Self improvement books abound with concepts of self love and self care, but God calls me to Himself, not to my own self awareness. In a posture of rest and abiding in His truth, I receive His strength and power in order to walk out all that He has laid before me for each day. In Christ I can rest. His rest will tend my soul and calm my anxious thoughts. His peace goes beyond my understanding, beyond my circumstances, and becomes the bedrock of my heart.

When my feelings are elevated to wisdom and outrank what the Bible says, then truth can be different for you and for me. It can flex depending on my circumstances, the attitudes of the time, or what seems most important. Christ therefore can be a part of my belief system but not be preeminent. The depreciation of Christ from central in my relationship with God to one of many options and thus irrelevant has been one of the enemy’s chief tactics since the beginning.

Open my eyes, that I may see. Give me discernment to see where I embrace self actualization, performance, or compromise truth with humanistic thought.  Show me the idols that capture my attention and bind my heart. Help me to see the lies that surround me, and equip me to stand in the truth instead. And as I walk with You, let me rest in the security of  redemption.

More than anything, I want to grow as a woman rescued from the darkness of sin to know His wisdom and understanding; and from that growth, life will spring, walking with the Spirit rich in fruit, constantly weighing everything against the Gospel and scripture.

 He is the way, and the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father any other way. In Christ is every spiritual blessing, redemption and forgiveness lavished with grace, and an inheritance sealed. Grow me deeper in understanding and knowing You, Jesus.

Girded

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.        ~1 Peter 1:13

More and more as I parent my children and in my own walk as a believer, I am convinced the battle is in our minds. And my mind can so easily wander off track and be half a mile down the road of worry, doubt, or fear without me really noticing the change in landscape. In this passage Peter has just listed out significant blessings as a child of God because of Jesus Christ. I was struck this morning by the action points in verse 13: preparing your minds for action and being sober minded. These are choices I make in the moments of life. They are distinct and worthy of understanding as I walk with Jesus and as I walk with my children in discipleship.

To prepare your mind for action – in the Greek, the phrase really means to gird up the mind. The word gird in the Greek means to remove the slack or pull the belt. In this case the prefix before gird signifies an upward pull. In the days of Peter, the tunic hung down to the ground for rest at home. But for any movement including merely walking outside of the home, the long flowing garments would be tied closely to the body with either a leather or linen girdle that would allow quick movement and ease in a journey. The imagery is of gathering one’s tunic between the legs so that one can run/be nimble/able to defend or flee. Preparatory girding in anticipation of action is the mandate from Peter. Paul in Ephesians 6:14 uses the same root word with a different prefix that signifies a tightening around; a covering of all bases. When I gather all the thoughts that rage and swirl around me and tie them together with the truth of Jesus Christ as my redeemer, I can walk this day with a confidence that is not rooted in me. My confidence for moving forward is in the One who clears my path as well as holds me together. Thoughts must come under the submission of the truth of God’s Word – who He is and how He relates to me as His child because of Jesus Christ’s payment for my sin. My future is assured and my today is secure because He is walking with me. The belt of truth must be in place in our spiritual armor as an anchor that holds our weapons as well as readying us for battle.

Being sober minded simply means having a presence of mind and clear judgment. We see the same idea in 1 Thessalonians 5:6, “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for the helmet the hope of salvation.” Also in 1 Peter 5:8 the instruction is, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

Emotions can flood my mind, causing panic or discouragement. Frantic thoughts or worries block the truth of my identity in Christ as well as cause me to forget the power God offers me as his child. The racing of my thoughts hurtles me through a wasteland of doubt, but I can choose to tie myself up in the truth of the Gospel by proactively setting my mind on His Word.

Set your hope fully ~ Again hope is not a wish or desire but rather my active waiting with assurance, confidence, and expectation without wavering. And for what? what am I binding myself to? What is the anchor for my mind? The grace brought through Jesus Christ. God extends His favor to me, freely offering Himself (the imagery is of bending or inclining down towards another) because He is disposed to make us His children through His Son Jesus Christ.

Tie me to the truth, anchor my mind and my soul to this assurance that You, Almighty God, bent down in your holiness to offer redemption to me through your Son that I may walk with You in all the wonder and blessings of being your child. Only then will walking righteously, faithfully and obediently be possible.

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.