Sturdy Branches

Spring ushers in an incredibly full time for my family’s life as our berry farm wakes from winter slumber. Like a ravenous bear waking from hibernation, the farm calls for everything to be done at once. Acres of berries require pruning, fertilizing, irrigation connections, weeding, and more.

Our main goal is to produce as many berries as plants will allow, as we strive towards healthy growth in order to do so. The first couple of years we kept every single blackberry cane, painstakingly tying every little bit of growth to the trellises. Our focus was to keep as many blackberry vines as possible in hopes of having as much fruit as possible. We obsessed over tying up little scraggly twigs, wrestled with 15’ long branches, and dared to prune anything that might produce a yield.

Having and caring for a berry farm is a long-term commitment, and each season brings with it a new set of lessons and tests. We no longer strive to keep every scraggly twig and 15’ vine alive. Our pruners get a workout as cut branches are removed into massive burn piles. While pruning a long row of blackberries one afternoon this season, my thoughts were focused towards nurturing strong branches that could support fruit to come. It required me to be more aggressive in deciding what to prune and what to leave. Every bit of unhealthy growth or weak canes were trustingly pruned and removed.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in fruit production – after all, that is the desired end result. The Bible speaks to fruit and its production quite often. We read in Galatians 5 about the fruit of the Spirit and in John 15 about bearing much fruit. On our farm, and with Christians, it’s easy to get focused on fruit production and lose sight of the health of the plant, or the body of Christ. In general, our culture and some Christians are mainly concerned with fruit production. Energy is often focused on attaining the highest productivity possible, no matter the cost.

As I pruned blackberry canes that warm afternoon, my measuring stick for pruning adjusted from ‘how many fruiting buds were available’ to ‘can this cane support the expected fruit’? The later question took the first into account, but ultimately determined each cut. What would happen in our lives if we evaluated our hearts and minds in regards to this?

As Christians, are we focused on building a platform, a financially successful church, notches in our souls saved salvation belt, or quantity of attendees at ministry events? Or, are we more focused on a healthy, vibrant, and growing body? I can say with confidence that when we put our energy and focus towards growing a healthy body, the fruit will come. With healthy plants, balance in what it going on, fruit is inevitable; they can’t help but to produce a crop.

The gospel has produced some serious fruit over the centuries. Jesus was diligent in discipleship during his time walking in flesh and bone. I believe he was not only living the example, but taught others he came into contact with. He pulled aside twelve, focused his attention, and poured in to them. Jesus’ life touched more than just the twelve, but he knew those twelve would have significant impact on the spread of the gospel message. It’s almost as if Jesus was focused on growing the canes to make sure they would be capable of supporting the fruit they would bear.Just like our blackberry canes, the Twelve would need to be strong and able to weather the storms.

As we move forward, let’s be mindful and honest with our intentions. Are we more interested in producing mass quantities of fruit, or growing our roots deep and our shoots sturdy to support whatever fruit God chooses to produce through us? It begins with our personal and intimate relationship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It takes guts to be honest. Thanks for letting me go there with you, and for going there with me. It’s an honor. Let’s be strong and focus on Him today.

With gratitude,

Amy

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“But let endurance and steadfastness and patience have full play and do a thorough work, so that you may be [people] perfectly and fully developed [with no defects], lacking in nothing.” James 1:4 Photo by Nine Köpfer on Unsplash

 

 

Anointing of Jesus

* In just a few days, Christians will be celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus. This time of year is holy for all who follow the Lord God. It’s a time to reflect and celebrate life, death defeated! This week marks so many pivotal moments in scripture – the betrayal of Jesus, his death on a cross, and his resurrection. This week also holds witness to other accounts in scripture which may seem less obvious such as Joshua and the Israelites crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land and a woman who anointed Jesus in the most honoring of ways.

The account of Jesus being anointed is found among the gospels, tucked into Jesus’ final days walking earth as Son of God clothed with flesh and bone. Just a few days before Jesus’ death on a cross he was in Bethany, seated at a table with his disciples, when a woman approaches Jesus and anoints him with precious oil. This wasn’t just olive oil, found in abundance, but costly and extravagant pure nard.

“So the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” John 12:3

As the fragrance of this costly oil began to permeate the room, it would have permeated our Savior too. Bathing was not a daily habit in the culture, that fragrance very well could have lingered with the Lord several days, all the way to the tomb.

Some responded with indignation as the alabaster jar of expensive perfume was broken and poured out as act of love, adoration, worship, and devotion. With human eyes it was seen as a waste, finances that could have been liquidated and used to feed the poor. Jesus responded with gratitude and honor, while knowing his earthly death was near. She had anointed Jesus in advance for his burial.

I wonder if the fragrance of that anointing lingered on Jesus as he prayed to our Father? And perhaps as he walked into the room before Pilate or the Sanhedrin for judgement. Then, as Jesus carried his cross while being mocked – did that sweet fragrance of anointing linger even then? What about when his glorious light rose up to darken the door of the tomb? An eternal shadow over death. Did that fragrance of anointing linger even then?

Today, I have a two questions for you.

The anointing permeated our Lord Jesus, and the fragrance filled the house. We are called to be temples or homes to the living God, built firmly on the foundation of Christ. Are we allowing his “scent” to permeate us?

Lavish love and adoration was expressed as the jar was broken and poured out on Jesus. In what way might you be allowing yourself to be broken and poured out in worship to him for no other reason than because you love him?

Would you join me in reading the following scriptures this week and dialoging on those questions with the Lord? Let’s praise him in lavish worship this week through His Word as we celebrate His resurrection!

With gratitude,

Amy

Matt 26:6-13 | Mark 14:3-9 | John 12: 1-8

*A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to attend a friend’s church and listen to a visiting pastor, Joh Nelson from Soma Community Church in Jefferson City, MO. I tell you this because the original idea behind this post is not mine, but another. The general thought of the fragrance of anointing oil lingering with Jesus through his crucifixion was so compelling that it lingered with me and wanted to share it with you.

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“Then Mary took a pound of perfume, pure and expensive nard, anointed Jesus’s feet, and wiped his feet with her hair. So the house was filled with the fragrance of perfume.” John 12:3 (CSB) Photo by Roberta Sorge on Unsplash

Fit Faith

About a year ago, I began attending a class at our local YMCA called Body Combat. In my quest of better health and with the encouragement of some friends, I joined one Wednesday morning. The name should have been my clue; it was brutal, in a good way.

Being right-hand-dominate was no news to me. However, until that class I never realized how dominate my entire right side was! We did punches, jabs and kicks on the right then switched to our left. As we switched to the left side, all control left my body and my brain struggled to make semblance of what was taking place. I laughed out loud! My friend, and teacher, began calling extra instructions, trying to clarify what my body was supposed to be doing. She provided encouraging smiles between hefty breaths, but the struggle was clear. My left side, was my weak side.

I had no idea how much the right side of my body dominated everything. It was uncomfortable as I focused hard with each step. However, I appreciated the challenge and new awareness. My lop-sidedness was not prominent until I needed to use my left side, then it became blaringly obvious.

This experience lead me to a question. Can we get lop-sided in our faith?

Jesus’ brother writes in James 2:26, “faith without works is dead.” We can be wrapped up, studying scripture and worshiping God all day; that is honorable. However, faith is an action word. Our faith has feet when we put it into action with works for Him, and guided by Him. Likewise, always ‘doing’ for the Lord, without faith, is just checking a box. It’s like my left side being faith, my right side being works – they must work together. Exercising our faith through works is key.

There are a million ways to “workout” our spiritual muscles – prayer, scripture, worship, thanksgiving and serving to name a few. It’s important we don’t get stuck using the same muscles. I recently learned this exercise class teaches new movements every three months so that we don’t get cemented into a routine and neglect portions of our body.

Would you take some time today and reflect with God, on your spiritual ‘body’. Are there areas that need to be exercised a little more? Are you cemented into a religious routine that’s keeping you from experiencing God in a real and intimate relationship? It takes being intentional and in-tune with Him.

For further study, James 2:14-26.

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“You see that faith was active together with his works, and by works, faith was perfected.” James 2:22 
Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

With gratitude,

Amy

God’s Blacksmith Shop

As believers in Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit, we are instructed to take up the full armor of God in Ephesians 6. We are to take a stand with the belt of truth around our waist and feet sandaled ready with the gospel of peace. We’re instructed to pick up the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s Word. A fruitful walk with the Lord requires us to do this, it is obedience sourced in Love.

Some believe the Old Testament is just full of irrelevant stories, but those bits of history are packed with lessons which can be applied to our life today. While reading 1 Samuel 13 I learned that at that time in Israel’s history they would have to take their swords, spears, axes, sickles, and other agricultural implements to the Philistines to be sharpened. This meant Israel would have to take their weapons to their opponent in order to have sharp weapons for battle. How would you like to venture in to enemy territory in order to have your sword sharpened? Or what about your pitchfork for the coming harvest season?

This dynamic is interesting and we learn a lot from what takes place. Despite a probable lack in sharp weaponry, the Israelites prevail over the Philistines because God fights for them. That being said, it got me thinking about today and our culture. I wonder how often we walk through the doors of our church or into a Bible study and asking someone else to sharpen the spiritual sword we carry. It’s tempting to allow others to do the work, but it’s not sustainable. While fellowship is necessary in the sharpening process, everyone’s spiritual sword is unique. God does fight for us, but we are called to join him.

Sharpening our spiritual swords takes time, skill, and commitment. Stepping into the blacksmith shop of God’s Word is intimidating when we don’t know where to start. It’s easy to go to church, Bible study, or a small group to be spoon fed God’s Word. Please don’t misunderstand me, these things are vital to our walk with the Lord! Proverbs is a good reminder, “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17 As iron sharpens iron. That means I need to have others around me who are sharp iron tools, willing to step into the blacksmith shop and do some work both on their own and together.

My family enjoyed watching the first season of Forged in Fire via Netflix this winter. The show covers different types of weaponry and the processes of how each are made. My favorite part was the final round where contestants were sent home to their own forge. It was interesting to see each man’s tools, unique shop, and approach in working the metal. After a period of time, both contestants brought their forged weapon for testing before the judges.

In this particular show the process of fire, pressure, and other factors were the same but forging was unique. Each bladesmith faced unique challenges, just as each person does. We are all tested and face trials, we each carry a spiritual sword for a unique purpose. My question is this – Are you willing to step into the blacksmith shop of God’s Word to allow transformation and sharpening to occur? How can you become that sharp iron who helps to sharpen another brother or sister in Christ?

If you’re new to the Bible it’s easy to be intimidated by God’s Word, not knowing where to start. We’ve all been there at some point, so no judgement. But can I recommend starting somewhere in the New Testament gospels like the book of Luke?

If you are a little more seasoned in God’s Word – where would you start? And, how are you being sharpened right now?

God is so faithful to those who pursue him. Let’s be brave together as we step in. We will not be forsaken stepping into the blacksmith shop of God’s Word. We need the specialized gifts God has equipped you with for battle, and we need you sharp in order to help sharpen others.

Further study: 1 Samuel 13:16 – 14:23

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“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12 {Photo by Malcolm Lightbody on Unsplash}