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Archive for July, 2017

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.

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