Forward and Free in the New Year!

“How the Lord takes by its corners
This old world and shakes us forward and shakes us free…” Rich Mullins

New Years is almost here! That lovely time when we can all do a “mental reset” and reorient ourselves a bit to wherever it is we think we are going. I saw no less that three articles today alone that laid out numerated steps for keeping New Years goals intact. We Americans really do love when things are given to us in bullet points. So convenient!

Goals keep us going. Big or small, we need them. Mine include training for a 120 mile race through the Colorado mountains next July. I’d also like to stop buying so many Lunchables and make my kids an actual lunch when they go to school. Baby steps.

So come January, we’re ready to move the proverbial football down the field. Maybe we get a new journal. I like doing that. We get out the new workout clothes. Those are fun too.
But by February, the journal is empty and the workout shirt still has its tags on. Because, life.

So here’s my New Years thing: I’m going to remember that while the year is new for a little while, I am living in a New Covenant every single day. A covenant of grace that never gets old, whether it’s January first or July fourth. We are redeemed from the law (Galatians 3:13) and we are a new creation.

After years of living the Christian life, Paul stated that his main goal was to know Christ and the power of His resurrection (Philippians 3:10).

That should be our goal! To know Him. To know His power. Let the rest fall into place, because it will. We all have our own little roadmap of goals and things we want to see come to pass. When we set ourselves to knowing Him, we can relax and let it be. We’ll accomplish more than we ever thought possible. And even if we don’t, He can get us back on track.

So here are my two bullet points I shall preach to myself:
– Be flexible
– Be sensitive

Flexible to let Him lead, able to change course if He asks me to.
Sensitive to His voice, not that of the world or of others.

That’s it! Be in the Word, get to know Him more and more because His love is without end. His plans for us are more than any goal we could ever set. Go into the new year with hope set high that He is ready to shake us forward and free!

A Teachable Spirit

From Andrew Murray, Daily Experience With God

“Why is it that, with Christ as our teacher, there is so much failure and so little real growth in spiritual knowledge? Why is there so much hearing and reading of the Bible, so much profession of faith in it as our only rule of life, and yet such a lack of manifestation of its spirit and its power?
“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart and you shall find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29) Many have taken Christ as savior, but not as teacher. They have put their trust in Him as the Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep, but they know little about following the Lamb or receiving from Him the lamb nature.
This teachable spirit that refuses to know or do anything on its own wisdom is to be the spirit of our whole life, every day and all day long. It is said of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, “He shall teach you all things” (John 14:26). If His whole life and work in us is a divine teaching, then we must have this teachable spirit within us.”

Sometimes we need to unlearn the wrong things in order to learn the right ones. His yoke is so easy once we humble ourselves and submit to His way of teaching us. May we listen in the morning to the voice that calls us saying “learn of Me and find rest for your souls.”

Fruit that Remains

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Continuing a bit in John 15 because I love it so…

“Abide in Me, andI in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” (v.4)

A branch isn’t a branch if it isn’t abiding. It’s a dead stick. The nature of a branch is that is is a living, producing thing. The word “abide” is used more than any other word in this passage. The very nature of the word implies a consistent, constant action. A branch isn’t sometimes connected to the Vine, it either is or isn’t. Abiding allows the branch to draw all the nutrients it needs from the Vine, and over time the result is fruit.

Christ tells us to abide, not to bear fruit. He takes on the responsibility for the fruit – it is a natural result of an abiding branch! Trying to make it on our own is like a branch striving to develop grapes, it just isn’t natural. Our whole job is to respond to His ability to do it. Hebrews 4:11 tells us to “make every effort to enter into that rest.” Jesus is telling us, “relax, I’ve got this!” We never need to worry about the fruit our lives produce, we need to abide and let it happen. He wants fruit that remains. The word talks of fruits of the spirit, fruits of righteousness and holiness as examples of this. How amazing that our entire job is just to make sure we have entered into His rest, through our abiding. What a great way to live!

Here are some more things we learned about life in the vineyard;

  • Vineyards aren’t natural. There are things in nature that flower and bear fruit naturally, without our help, but a vineyard isn’t one of them! A well organized, productive vineyard is one of the most unnatural things that could ever exist. Left to itself, will bear virtually no fruit and go totally wild. Grapevines put their energy into making leaves, not fruit. They need much guidance and care in order to produce. Too many leaves block the sun and air. Our lives can become very “leafy” if we’re not careful. From the outside, things look green and flourishing, but underneath, we aren’t experiencing any real fruit. We aren’t commanded to go forth and be leafy – our job is to bear fruit! All the extra stuff has to be taken away if we are to have quality fruit.
  • A struggling vine makes the best wine. Natural instinct would be to take the very best care of the vines, water them and tend to them so they grow strong. In reality, a vine that feels thirsty once in awhile sends it’s roots deeper in search of water and grows stronger. A vine can be very dry in a drought year and produce very little. But because it’s forced to go deeper, the next years harvest is better than ever. Artificially watering whenever dryness comes leads to lazy roots that don’t ever get strong. Vines that struggle learn to go deeper. When drought comes, it’s not a problem. It may look dry on the outside, but deep down it is secure! God is more concerned with our growth than our comfort.
  • Fruit Is Different. Vines mature with time, and so does fruit. The kind of fruit produced depends on many things, and no vine will turn out the same. Thats the great thing about our Vinedresser. He knows when we need straightening out, watered, directed, cut back, etc. Soils are different. Climates are different. But if we abide, the end result is healthy fruit that He is proud to put His name on. One of our biggest mistakes is to compare our fruit with others. We forget the Vinedresser is customizing each one of us. He takes great pride in the vineyard as a whole, but He loves the individual branches and knows just what each one needs.

ABIDE. It simply means to remain, stay, dwell, and hold on. It’s a fact that the healthiest grapes are the ones that grow closest to the vine.

Fruitfulness glorifies God. His will is done when we abide and allow Him to work on us. We have a Vinedresser that is concerned with every aspect of our growth and maturity.

I’m so thankful He lets us develop deep roots that strengthen us.

I’m thankful He doesn’t allow us to go wild and leafy.

That we would enjoy the special place we are planted and bear the exact kind of fruit the Vinedresser has in mind!

Welcome The Vinedresser

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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 bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. John 15:1-4

Years ago when we lived in Germany, one of our favorite things to do was to go spend time at the vineyards on the Rhine. Watching the vines change and grow as the seasons came and went was fascinating. Barren branches of winter gave way to leafy shoots in the spring. The summer brought ever growing fruit, which lead into the harvest of the fall. The whole process was amazing. We always joked that in some other life we’d own a beautiful vineyard and just hang out with the grapes all day.

This passage in John is a favorite of mine. Although most of my life I didn’t really understand it. After spending time in the vineyards and reading up on how good wine is made, I realized there is so much more to it than meets the eye. The process and science behind the scenes is fascinating. As I learned more, this passage became more personal and more meaningful.

Before anything else, Jesus establishes the relationship in the vineyard. Christ the Vine points us to God the Husbandman. We must remember we are branches – planted by Him in a specific place, cared for by Him and protected by Him.

He then addresses branches that aren’t bearing fruit. “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away” (v.2). This verse has been taken totally out of context by most believers because of the wording. We think if we aren’t bearing fruit or performing, we’ve struck out. God is going to toss us out of His vineyard. But God the Vinedresser does not just throw out His branches! Jesus is speaking here to believers. We don’t get tossed aside. Where our translations say “takes away”, the real meaning of the words is “lifts up”. When vines trail on the ground and get covered in dirt, they can’t bear fruit. He doesn’t throw us out, He lifts us up out of the dirt!

Now for the branches that are bearing fruit: “and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” If we read this out of context, it seems like either way we are in trouble! We assume pruning/purging to be a painful, punishing process. We are bearing fruit, doing all right when all of the sudden we get whacked and lose half our leaves. We think when tragedy strikes we must be under God’s pruning knife. But here again, we have the meaning wrong. The word “prune/purge” doesn’t imply our Vinedresser runs around willy-nilly whacking at us poor branches. It actually means “to clean or cleanse us”. In a real vineyard, this is an important thing. Leaves and branches must be kept clean from insects and parasites that would kill it. That changes everything! It makes even more sense when you read the next verse:

“You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” (v.3) The WORD has made us clean! We see in 2 Timothy chapter 3 that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (v. 16-17). So it is through God’s WORD that we are corrected, lifted up, and instructed.

God’s type of pruning, like in a real vineyard, leads to mature vines. There is a process to it and thought put into it. The Word is His pruning knife. His Word is clear that He doesn’t need to use affliction to get us to bear fruit. Too often we embrace afflictions as His work in our lives when they are not. Those things can and should drive us to Him and they can teach us. But He has a BETTER way. Through His Word. He lifts us up, shakes us off and cleanses us so we may bear fruit.

As branches, our only job is to rely on the Vinedresser to do His work so we may bear fruit.  Before anything else, Jesus assures us that we are taken care of. He assures us that we are loved and made clean. When we understand that “taking away and pruning” are actually “lifting up and cleansing”, it changes everything! It should make us welcome the Vinedresser into our lives. We can be open to His work because He knows exactly what He is doing!

 

By Invitation Only

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“Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by… For they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” Mark 6:48,50

He would have passed them by?! We all know this story about Jesus calming the wind and the waves, but I had never before noticed that little phrase. It cross-references to another instance of Jesus doing the same thing:

“Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther. But they constrained Him, saying “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And He went to stay with them. Luke 28:29

He would have gone farther?! Reading these verses, it looks like Jesus was being was being kind of insensitive to His disciples. We know that can’t be the case. I think He was trying to show His disciples (and us) how to really recognize and honor Him.

In the first instance, the disciples were fighting for their lives in a little boat – battling with the oars against the wind. They had just witnessed the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, but were completely freaked out to see Jesus walking over to them on the water. “For they had not understood about the loaves because their heart was hardened.” (Mark 6:52) Jesus’ intention was never to pass them by on the water. When they cried out, He heard and stopped. He understood their cries of terror as a plea for help, and He came on board with them.

In the second example, the resurrected Jesus was walking with His disciples to their village. He would have continued on had they not asked Him to remain with them there. They did not yet recognize Him. He sat with them and broke bread and their eyes were opened to the truth. But what if they never had invited Him in? The Word is clear that He would have gone on.

He responds to our invitation. He answers our cries.

When we have the wind against us and we’re rowing and getting nowhere – do we call on Him? Specifically call on Him to enter our situation and calm the storm? Or do we just keep rowing and allow Him to pass by?

When we’re walking our walk through life, do we stop and invite Him into our house to break bread and show us more? Or do we say goodbye at the door and let Him be on His way?

In both cases, the disciples failed to recognize Jesus. They thought He was a ghost or a stranger. Their hearts had been hardened, even after seeing great miracles. Jesus is always with us, ready to step into our lives in every way, but He never forces His way in. We have to cry out, call on Him and cooperate. I don’t ever want Him to pass by just because I didn’t recognize Him. He longs to be with us more than we know!

As the disciples said, “Abide with us” Jesus. May we recognize Him and invite Him to stay!

A Tale of Two (cartoon) Shepherds…

I wrote this last Christmas season, and I have to say, I need to remind myself of this once again! God uses the humble. We all have a role to play!

Into the Foolishness of God

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I absolutely adore watching ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ on TV each year. We have the DVD of course, but there’s just something about watching it in real time with commercials and all that really gets to me. I force, I mean ‘gather’ my boys to the TV with Christmas snacks and hot chocolate – they enjoy it, but I wonder for how long. I ask them if they’ll still watch this with me when they are teenagers, they promise they will.

It’s refreshing to see that after years of editing out the ‘overtly religious’ parts of the show, the network is now showing it (gasp!) in it’s original, unedited format.

My kids laugh their way through the same parts every year, my husband (though he may not admit it) sits down on the couch and joins us. I look on Twitter and see that “Charlie Brown Christmas” is trending –…

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Everyday Supernatural

“The secret of a Christians life is that the supernatural becomes natural in him as a result of the grace of God, and the experience of this becomes evident in the practical everyday details of life.” Oswald Chambers

The SUPER natural becomes natural to us. God’s very best becomes the norm. What an amazing idea!

The truth is though, life teaches us something different. We don’t experience this at all. Sometimes, yes, amazing miracles or provision occur and we are shocked and thankful. Often, we put our faith into something half hoping it will work and half expecting it not to. We make excuses for why this or that happened and we move on. Well-meaning teachings or people combined with our experiences lead us down a path of resignation. We want to see supernatural things, but we certainly aren’t bold enough to expect them.

Certain false beliefs have crept their way into our hearts and minds. They’re comfortable beliefs that allow us to explain away our disappointment or confusion. We fall back on them when things don’t really work out. They are also barriers to experiencing more. Here are some that I know I have believed:

  • God is capable of (insert prayer, need, desire here) but I don’t think He’s willing to do it for me.
  • God is sovereign, if He wanted to (            ), He would just do it. He doesn’t need me.
  • I must not have prayed hard enough. My faith must not have been strong enough.
  • All things work out in the end, que sera sera!

First things first: God is no respecter of persons. (Romans 2:11). The same grace has been extended to all mankind. He doesn’t hold back blessing from some and give it to others. He extended His grace to all. We must believe and know that He loves us and is willing to do great things for us. God isn’t wishy-washy toward us!

Oswald Chambers said this supernatural life becomes natural to us “as a result of the grace of God.” Ten thousand AMENS to that truth! His grace was and is totally independent of us. It is a gift. Nothing we did. So… if all these supernatural blessings, healings and provisions are the result of His grace toward us… why don’t we experience more? Why don’t they happen more often?

We Have A Role To Play!

If His grace alone made all these things happen, the world would be problem-free. Everyone would be saved. There would be no need to pray about anything. We know that isn’t true. The Bible says that Israel limited God (Psalm 78:41). Even Jesus was limited in what He could do because of the unbelief in His home town (Mark 6:5). We humans limit what God can do through our unbelief. He does need us. Our faith is a conductor that directs the supernatural power of God and makes it work! It is what moves things from the spirit world to the physical world. Faith is just our response to His grace! When the two meet up, amazing things happen! The idea that “God will just work everything out” while we sit by and hope for the best is dangerous.

I often see many well-meaning Christian-isms that promote this kind of thinking: “Let go and let God!” “Nothing can stop God!” “What is meant to be will be!”… Not true.

So we have a part to play. Our faith is important. But oh the pressure of having enough faith! Now we swing in the other direction. “I have to have big faith! I have to get better faith!” What does that even mean? I don’t know, but I know we tell ourselves things like this all the time. If something doesn’t work out – and if we know that God isn’t the variable in all this – we blame ourselves. My faith must have been weak. God is disappointed in me. Maybe next time.

Our faith is a gift. It isn’t wishful thinking and it isn’t false hope. Solid faith doesn’t create something out of nothing. It’s just coming into agreement with what God has already done. In the same way He provided forgiveness for our sins, He provided for supernatural things. Faith is just our acceptance of what He has done and our releasing it into being. The pressure is off! We aren’t failing God or disappointing Him, we are sometimes just ignorant of how His kingdom works.

We Give Up Too Easily

In Daniel chapter 9, the Lord showed up with an answer as Daniel was still in prayer. The angel Gabriel assured him that “at the beginning of your supplications the command went out, and I have come to tell you, for you are greatly beloved” (v. 22-23).  How encouraging! The minute he set out to pray, the heavens heard and responded! But in the next chapter, things didn’t go as well. Daniel prayed for three weeks with no result. Verses 2-3 show us that he was a mess. He was mourning. Not eating. Finally, something happened. A visitor showed up with a message. “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days.” (Daniel 10:12-13)

Twenty one days between the time Daniel prayed to when the answer manifested. It’s clear that the Lord heard both of his prayers immediately. He sent out His answer immediately. But there are things going on that we are unaware of. Spiritual battles in the heavens. What if Daniel had compared this prayer with the previous one and said “well, the answer isn’t coming, I give up.” Yikes! The answer was coming, it just needed to be prayed through! So praying once and throwing up our arms if things don’t work out isn’t a good idea. It isn’t wrong to keep praying about a matter. This reveals that our prayers can be answered but not necessarily manifested. It is so important that we do not get discouraged if the answer doesn’t come immediately! People often get disappointed and say “oh well, sometimes God just says no.” More often, we have given up and resigned ourselves that the answer isn’t coming.

The Bible is clear, God is for us and has fantastic, supernatural provision for those who are in Christ. His arms aren’t crossed and He isn’t mad. We don’t have to convince Him of our needs. He already knows and is ready to move on our behalf! Most Christians don’t really believe that though. We live with a kind of fatalistic attitude that “it is what it is” and we hope for the best while preparing for the worst. But New Testament believers have the very power and authority of Christ at our disposal. He commanded us to use it! Instead of spending our time begging God and trying to make Him answer us, we need to join Him and receive from Him. We should be expecting supernatural things in our lives. We should be operating in the very power that Jesus used. We are not beggars any longer. The supernatural isn’t for super-saints, it’s for everyone. Jesus said true believers would operate in this way and that messages would be confirmed with signs and wonders. (Mark 16:17-20). It’s for everyday life. What amazing things would happen if us Christians really believed what the Word says about us???

It’s not the what the world teaches. It isn’t even what most churches teach. But it is what God Himself desires for us!