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

 

 

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

Who Do You See?

Do you ever want to get to the bottom of something? Knowing all the details? While studying the book of Joshua for the Bible study Courageous Faith, I wanted to get to fully explore all there was to Joshua. But as I continued through the study process there was the constant reminder I would never get to the end of God’s Word – it’s alive and active! It’s a text that contains mysteries meant to keep us coming back for more.

As Christ-followers, we are called to continually seek God in order to know Him and reflect his likeness. God’s word is an invitation to see and hear who he is, not just what he does. What he does is perfectly reflected in who he is. Much like our spouse, parents, children, friends, and even ourselves, we are always learning facets of our character. The minute we stop discovering, we put them or ourself into a false box of being fully known and discovered; we put God’s creation in a box. Neither God nor his creations belong in a box.

We are called in a relationship of constant discovery and curiosity, with ourselves, others, and our Creator. When we begin to see and understand, in part, who God is, we can begin to see and understand who we are created to be. We can then begin to walk in a deeper relationship with the Lord, and with others. As image bearers of our Creator, surrendering to God’s refining allows us to more clearly reflect God’s creation.

God reveals characteristics of himself throughout his word. We find God to be El-roi, God who sees, in Genesis 16:1-15. During Hagar’s encounter with the angel of the LORD, she proclaims she has seen the God who sees her. There in the wilderness, Hagar names the nearby well Beer-lahai-roi, which means well of the Living One who sees me. This encounter of being seen changed her perspective.

You are seen. Not one day that goes by where you have not seen by our Creator. You are seen in the wilderness just as clearly as you are seen in the fruit-filled fields. When you feel invisible and unimportant, the truth is – you are seen. When the world seems to be falling apart, your legs knocked out from underneath you – you are seen. You may not understand what’s going on, but you can trust that you are seen. There is not one atom of a detail that sneaks past our Father’s eyes. When you feel as though you are sneaking through life – you are seen. Or perhaps you are sneaking around in the darkness. Guess what – you are seen. We are seen, and known.

What does the knowledge of being seen provide? Our relationship with God can be positively enhanced as we grow and mature in our understanding of El-roi. We are created with a deep desire to be seen and known; it provides a structure for trust and connection. Being seen may lead us to feeling vulnerable at times, but when we understand we are seen by a loving Father it can become a source of comfort.

Freedom occurs when we openly present ourselves to be seen by El-roi. Walking in freedom, we are positioned to reflect more clearly God’s character to others. Seeing others becomes opportunity for ministry. God ministered to Hagar in the wilderness; El-roi ministers to us as well. As Christ followers, we too can minister to others when we learn to be God’s servants-who-see.

Understanding God’s character is vital to fully trust God and walk in deeper faith. He sees our pain and suffering, mourning with those who mourn. El-roi sees our earthly victories, rejoicing with those who rejoice. We can trust we are always seen by El-roi; therefore, always known. Another part of being known, besides being seen, is to be heard. (We’ll explore this revealed character of God next week.) Let’s rest and take comfort in knowing that we are clearly seen by the Creator of the universe.

The following questions are not meant to condemn by any means. I’m asking myself these same questions, desiring to grow deeper in relationship with El-roi. Let’s not take on any condemnation, but rather allow God’s light to shine into any darkness we may have in our hearts and minds. Let’s use the understanding of God being El-roi to be a deep well of life with the Living One.

Is there anything you might be attempting to hide from El-roi?

What would it take for you to bring it into the light before him?

What do you risk by doing so? More importantly, what might you gain?

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Abba, help us to see you clearly and know without the shadow of doubt that you see us. Unveil and give us eyes to see your activity around us. Help us to see ourselves and others as you intend. Help us to cast aside judgement, partiality, pride, and anything else that may be clouding how we see you and others. Speak to our hearts, letting us know how you see us. Refine and clarify our vision so that we would walk more closely with you, serving others and giving you glory. In Jesus name, amen.

With Gratitude,

Amy

 

Where is your focus?

What do you do with a story that leaves you slack-jawed?

I was faced with this very circumstance while reading Numbers 16 as the earth opened its mouth and swallowed Korah and all of his people from the tribe of Levi. I was shocked with the dramatic and traumatic events of scripture, and wide-eyed to the reasoning behind such an event.

In brief, let me set the stage of Numbers 16 for you. Korah, joined with three others, assembled a co-hort of 250 prominent Israelite men for the purpose of coming against Moses and Aaron. Their accusation? Moses and Aaron were exalting themselves above the assembly of LORD. It seems as though Korah and friends were seeking to not only demean Moses and Aaron, but sought something higher – the priesthood and leadership.

I believe Korah, the ring leader, lost sight of God’s words to his people. “Speak to the entire Israelites community and tell them: Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2) Korah seems to have forgotten that he too was holy, not because of what he did but because he was part of Israel, called to lead a holy and blameless life.

Korah lived during the Israelite wilderness travels and building of the tabernacle. Korah was in the tribe of Levi, from lineage of Levi’s son Kohath. This lineage is important because the Kohathites, Korah’s people, were entrusted with transporting the most holy objects as the tabernacle was moved from place to place. (Numbers 4:1-20) Korah would have been among the few Israelites granted access to come near the holy objects for purpose of transport. Perhaps this opened a door of temptation to priesthood. It seems as though Korah became blinded by the discontented and prideful desire of more.

Pride and discontentment are desires that can grow like a dangerous reef under the surface of our mind and soul. Our unfocused eyes gradually becoming clouded, as our attention turns toward being elevated in power and prestige. Scripture is clear, we are to seek God above all else. According to Colossians 3:1-4, that looks like keeping our minds set on Christ.

With our minds focused and set fully on Christ, we can experience a contentedness that is not lazy but one that is secure and at peace resting in the Lord. As a Christ-follower, how are we able to be content with Him rather than chasing power? How can we hold our gaze on Jesus?

Perhaps a couple of ways we can be contently focused on Christ is with a heart full of gratitude. “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and bless his name.” (Psalm 100:4) Am I praising God for my own good, or because He is good? Praise can help to check our focus.

We can seek to serve, rather than to be served. If you are a woman, serving others may be or seem to be your full-time job. That being said, why are you serving? Is it out of obligation? Or, is it from a sincere desire to serve the Lord through serving others? As Jesus spoke to a crowd in Matthew 23, he said, “The greatest among you will be your servant.” (Matt. 23:11) In going to the cross, Jesus modeled servanthood to the highest form.

Let us not seek to satisfy our own pride, but rather to be satisfied by God. Over the coming days, would you join me in memorizing Colossians 3:2 as a way to guard our hearts for God and be satisfied by him? Also, perhaps you would share below how you guard yourself against those temptations Korah faced.

For further reflection, read through Numbers 16. But, let us stay focused on Jesus, keeping our minds set on the eternal.

With gratitude,

Amy

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Background photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash