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Our driveway is ¼ mile long leading up to our house out in the Santa Fe area. What starts as a natural canopied drive opens up after crossing a cattle guard to our east pasture on the right followed by a large metal shop that houses everything from farm equipment, to tools, to memories tucked neatly away in plastic tubs that cannot be accessed by spiders or dirt dobbers. Behind that shop just up the hill a little bit lays my blackberry patch I planted several years ago. Like the wild version, they could grow in concrete. They’ve done well.

A few weeks ago I looked up at them one morning to see the bushes ablaze in the promise of red. The rains of this summer helped produce a good crop of berries. So I scheduled a time shortly thereafter to do an inspection of the canes and to remove the weeds I knew had grown around the blackberries.

Upon inspection, I realized I needed to do some pruning of the canes too. So after clearing away a good bit of the weeds I shifted gears to prune. I took some knee pads with me, knowing I would be down on my knees for a portion of the time. And I took my bypass pruners.

There’s something fun about pruning. Though not obsessed, I like to see something looking ragged and turn it into something with more order. Pruning does that for me. What begins as a jumbled odd collection of unordered canes begins to transform. A snip here, a snip there. Tuck this cane over that one then down into the center to hold it in place. Little by little order begins to appear, and that encourages me to keep going.

Some of the canes stood tall above my head while others had become so tall they had bent over and were both above my head and touching the ground. Most of them were covered in berries. But a good number of them didn’t have berries the last two to three feet on the cane. With my pruning shears I began to snip away all the cane portions that were not going to bear any fruit this year. All the blossoms that were going to be produced had already blossomed, been pollinated, and were bearing fruit.

I realized that by removing these portions of the canes that never had blossomed it would allow the fruited portions to receive the added nutrients from the soil and produce better quality fruit. The entire cane started out with promise but a portion never achieved their intended result.

It didn’t take me long before I found myself walking right through the middle of John 15. “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener,” Jesus said. “He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.”

The more I studied the canes and pruned, the more I wandered among the vineyards of John 15.  Every cut included looking at the portion covered in fruit, then looking at the portion bearing nothing, then deciding the best place to cut to remove the portion bearing nothing.

“What about me,?” I said to myself in a quiet prayer to God. “What about my heart?” What are the parts of my life that aren’t bearing fruit that God needs to prune away? I want Him to prune my heart and soul and life, but do I need to ask Him to do so? Or would He just do it anyway knowing what I need more than I do? No matter, I prayed anyway. “Please, Father, do to me what I’m doing to these blackberry canes. Remove all the meaningless branches and endless rabbit trails where I can take my heart and life that will never produce the fruit You desire to see in me. Amen.”

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Recently reconnected with my own blog site only to realize I’ve been away from this for a long, long time!! Hopefully this posting will be followed up with more regularity, even if for no one’s benefit but my own. I enjoy writing; it has always helped me be more precise in thinking through my own thoughts. There’s something about getting the words out in front of me, looking at them, and then realizing that what I wrote isn’t exactly what I’m trying to say. Then I begin to tweak words or phrases until I’ve communicated more clearly, even if it’s to myself!! So here goes…

My Bible reading this morning was in Matthew 18, probably the best known passage in the New Testament regarding what is commonly referred to as church discipline. It’s supposed to be the words of Jesus, so it might be printed in red in your Bible.

What do you do if someone sins against you? The steps are, briefly, go to them in private first. If they don’t repent, take two or three witnesses back with you to confirm what all is being said. If they don’t repent then, take it before the church. Nothing is said about what all is being done with this in the church. But if after bringing it before the church there is still no repentance, Mt. 18:17 says to “treat them like a pagan or a tax collector.”

For years I saw this passage as a right to view certain people with disdain. With disgust and disappointment. Oh, not outwardly so others could see my attitude. But in my heart, I was the judge!! It seemed to give me the right to don a black robe, step behind a bench and bring down the gavel. Until one day while reading this passage, the Holy Spirit asked me (via illumination … no voices here), “How did Jesus treat the lost?” Heck, even this book was written by Matthew!! One of those tax collectors who encountered Jesus!!

WHAT?!!! Are you kidding me?!!! He showed them compassion and kindness!!! He saw them as disconnected from the Father and acting out a set of values that demonstrated the same. He spoke truth to them, but He always did it in love. The only people Jesus approached with disdain were the religious leaders of His day who had distorted the people’s understanding of the true nature of God!!

And so I repented. I realized I had this passage all wrong. Jesus wasn’t giving me a license to judge people. He was saying to simply treat them as if they really don’t have that personal relationship with God that I thought they had. And that changed everything for me. It helped me see some folks in my life over the years with greater compassion and less judgment. At times I can still slip on that robe, but I do my best with His help to put on a servant’s robe instead.

It also reminded me of my own journey as a believer. I came to Jesus at age nine. During my high school years I let my heart move away from God, fell in with the wrong crowd, and was acting like … well … a pagan. Part of my journey back to my faith happened at a Baptist revival service with a girl I was dating at the time during high school. I didn’t want to go to this service but she did, so I went only for that. One of the guys in high school I secretly admired for his consistent faith on campus was in the choir at this church. As a public invitation was given as they used to do years ago, a lot of folks responded that night. It was not a typical kind of service. People were milling about everywhere during the invitation. And Mike Poley saw me out in the pew, felt compassion for me, and came over to witness to me with the gospel. I thanked him and assured him I was a Christian. But afterwards it truly was convicting to realize others saw me as totally void of the presence of God in my life. That was one of the things God used to begin drawing me back to Himself. I think if Mike had come to me with that black robe thing, it would have had the opposite effect.

So now when I read Matthew 18, it reminds me to set aside a robe I can so easily put on, and instead become more like Jesus and offer people compassion and kindness when speaking the truth of God to them.

Now my only other question about this passage is, why would Jesus be talking about “the church” when it hadn’t come into existence yet? That didn’t happen until Acts 2. But this if for another blog.

I have come to realize as of late that I have been searching in vain for God in places I cannot find Him. I’ve known for some time of His absence which I found discouraging.

As a Christian I believe in God. I believe He is FOR me and not against me. I believe He wants to guide me by providence or through the gaining of wisdom or the advice of counselors or through Holy Spirit. (Yes, the “the” was omitted on purpose … we don’t say “the Jesus” because we perceive of him as a person, not an entity. So isn’t Holy Spirit the third “person” of the Trinity?).

If only God would meet me in my future. I have spent so much time looking for Him there. In my planning, my hopes and dreams, my anticipation of how my life will play out over time I pray and seek for God to show me His plan only to hear nothing.

The silence has at times caused fear, anger, doubt, confusion, condemnation, and a host of other elements not conducive for healthy growth. A darkness unexplainable. Has he abandoned me? Have I sinned against Him and He has turned His face away? Is He punishing me for something of what I know not of?

Then yesterday I realized what was amiss. It was my perception of God, companioned with my expectations of Him. i keep looking for God “out there” along my timeline of life. I keep listening for and looking for some grand plan or design that shows me the path He has chosen for me to follow into the future.

His response to all my efforts for His input? Silence.

And my response to His silence? Why?

Yet why have I been so surprised at His silence? How have I let this silence define me? How could I have overlooked one of the most basic tenets of our understanding about the nature of God? When God described Himself to Moses, did He not call Himself “I AM?” He did not describe Himself as someone from the past nor someone from the future. He described Himself as the eternal present.

I AM

God is the eternal present … not the future. He dwells in the present. He lives in the present. He speaks to me in the present. His concern for me is not what am I going to do tomorrow, it is rather what am I doing today, in the present.

Remembering that He is The Great I AM immediately impacts both time and location. He is forever now. And He is forever here in the now. When I jump into my future to look for God, I leave Him behind because He is the I AM living in the present. And when I ask Him to speak to me regarding the future I am met with silence. And when I look for him out there He cannot be found.

When I am looking forward in search of God down the road, He is standing behind me.

So rather than expecting God to meet me out there, I will choose to meet with God here … now … in the present. And if I listen to His guidance or words of truth to me today … tomorrow will take care of itself. Indeed, all the tomorrows will be erased in this life one day at a time.

And herein is the life of faith. A belief in the goodness of God coupled with an assurance that He will guide my paths for the future … one day at a time.

And He can be stubborn … theologians like to call Him immutable, meaning He does not change. If I choose to persist in demanding He meet me in my future, He will simply wait me out. And He has much more time to wait than I do. He has all the time in the world. Eventually I am going to die; He never will. I cannot win to change His mind. He is and always will be I AM. Nothing I can do or say can change that.

So if there is any changing to do, it needs to come from my end. I need to settle in my heart and mind that if I want to meet with God, it has to be today, not tomorrow. One step at a time. Step by step. Day by day. Meet with God. Listen to what He says. Then follow through.

Tomorrow? It doesn’t exist. All that exists now is today. And since God only deals with reality, this is where He is. This is where I find Him. And where He seeks to find me.

I realize it is my nature (as is most of us) to make plans for the future. Relationships and occupations and finances all call out from beyond today telling me I better be prepared. And while there certainly is some element of truth to that, this must be tempered with the only reality I have which is each “today” as I am given one.

Today. Only here will I hear from God telling me which way to go … for that day. Some of my todays will have more far reaching impact than others. Some of His words to me one day will effect many more todays in the future. But each and every day the goal is the same … Listen today for what He says, then follow through … today.

Help me O God to reign in my desire to set my own course in life. To determine my own fate and ask You to bless it. Give me the wisdom to follow You today, and trust You for tomorrow. You will speak to me for what I need to hear today; I cannot find You in all the tomorrows You have for me.

 

We don’t usually think of ascribing sin to an animal. We reserve such classifications to the human race. But one day, on the way to our old 1840’s era wooden barn, I looked at Jax our duck and realized he was in sin.

Originally we had two ducks; Quacker and Jax. Quacker was our female and was one loud little duckling. Jax the male was the quiet one. Alas, in time some predator took Quacker away and we were left only with Jax and about one hundred chickens.

In time, Jax began to hang out with the chickens. The only time he would leave them would be towards dark. When the chickens would go to roost he would finally leave to spend the night in our small pond. But at first light he was back with the chickens until dark returned.

In time, I began to realize that Jax was no longer foraging for food along the banks of our small creek that flowed out of the pond and past the old barn. He wasn’t splashing himself in the pond as if taking a bath in the middle of the day. He wasn’t burying his head in the pond shoveling his bill along he bottom like a little motorized bug filtering machine. He was acting more like … well … a chicken!!

It was after some time that I made the discovery of Jax’ sin. Jax had set aside his internal nature of a duck, choosing instead to walk around on the ground all day like the chickens. Jax was missing his calling in life.

And that was how I was led that fateful morning to believe Jax was living in sin. In the Greek language of the New Testament, to sin meant literally to, “miss the mark.” It was the image of someone shooting an arrow and the arrow missing its intended target. Jax was certainly not hitting the target of what God intended for him. Jax was in sin. Perhaps due to confusion, possibly for lonliness. But whatever the reason, Jax was missing his mark.

I wonder how much in my life is like that? What are the areas God intended for one thing but I’m living like something else? How many of my values have come from our culture instead of from Him? What are the gifts He has given me that I never use? Jax never flies anymore. After all, chickens don’t fly. He used to fly a lot.

God, may you so orchestrate the events of my life or people in my life to help me see those areas where I have abandoned or overlooked gifts You have given me for a purpose to which I am blind. Help me know how to show Jax he is a duck; and help me see what You would have me be as well.

Turning the fresh earth in our vegetable garden, I met a new  teacher today. On my knees with a small hand spade, digging up weeds that were trying to get a head start in the garden, I began to notice a pattern. Dig around some plants and the roots, those shallow and broad-spread came willingly and allowed themselves to be tossed to the side with little effort.  But others were determined to hold on to life and would fight hard to not let go. In time, pulling those pernicious plants out of the ground, I would find one last tiny root dangling with one hard lump of clay surrounding it’s white sliver. Left alone even in that abnormal state, that plant would survive for days. For inside that hard clay is the moisture the plant could survive on if necessary until the rains came again.

The next time I find myself wondering why God allows me to live through some tough times and endure some hard days, I’m going to remember that root that had dug into the hard soil knowing that the hardness is exactly what would allow it to survive hard times. Plants growing in hard soil must grow some deep roots to survive. And so too with my own soul.  Loose soil will quickly fall away when shaken; but the hard soil, once embedded with roots of persistence, can sustain life through some difficult times. These days, I find even the soil has something to teach me about life. May it keep me humble to know how simple a teacher I only require.

Resurrection

It was barely past six this morning when I walked down our quarter-mile driveway toward our barn closer to the road. I had some hens out on pasture to feed in this early light. Stopping in front of the large sliding door that opened the barn, I looked back south out over our orchards as the sun, just barely over the horizon, was climbing down the tree tops toward the lightly frosted grasses. The grapes and apples, pears and peaches all seemed to be stretching to find the sunlight. The morning air was crisp like newly washed sheets hung out to dry in the sun. And my thoughts turned toward resurrection. Just last Sunday we gathered with friends and strangers to celebrate the pinnacle of the Christian faith, the miracle of Jesus, the hope of our faith, the only reason why our faith is not in vain.

But this morning was different. All week long, memorizing John 11:23-25 about the resurrection, I am struck this day with a new reality. Jesus said to Martha as they stood beyond Lazarus’ grave, “I AM the resurrection.” He didn’t say He had resurrection power, or that He could call it down from heaven. He said He WAS the resurrection. Looking at those budding fruit trees, and the greening of all the surrounding hills as life was returning to the woods and valleys, I saw a resurrection right before my eyes. A resurrection that occurs about this time every year, possible only because of it’s Creator … the Resurrection. And just as all creation goes into an annual death only to return with the warming air and lengthening days, so to do some things in my life necessarily die, trusting that my Creator, my Resurrection, will renew life into those things that I must let go of if they are ever to live again. Hopes, plans, aspirations must all be held lightly enough to grasp, but strong enough to bury when the time comes. But because I have a faith in the Resurrection, the One who brings life into what dies, I can let things go in my life and live the days that follow by faith. But not a faith that is an assurance that I will in some way receive what I desire, but rather a faith that He will bring all things Good back into my life. So it is not my need to make some things happen; it is my need to trust.

Resurrection goes far beyond the grave. It is something to be lived out regularly in our lives.

Well, it’s taken us 15 months, but on July 21st Danika and the kids will be moving to Tennessee. I’ll be flying down to help load the truck, then driving them back up in the van. (The truck will be driven by ABS, the company we’ve contracted with). My but what a long ordeal this has been for us all. We are all excited about finally being together and being able to have a single focus regarding our future. It has been very difficult not only emotionally and psychologically, but also financially. Imagine these days having to maintain expenses for two separate homes, and then add to that that we’re doing all this in the midst of a complete shift (on my part) to some new paths career-wise! It has been difficult.

But we are glad to see the lights at the end of the tunnel, and look forward to the new adjustments we’ll be making. Meanwhile, we have a home in FL to rent out (won’t sell in this current market). We pray it will rent soon.

Life on the farm is going well, just not as quickly as we would like. Some of that though is due to the uncertainty of our own future. But we look forward to working together on the farm to make it all we dream it can become.

May the Lord guide us in the days ahead.