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

Running Into God’s Presence

It feels so good to be in a rhythm. Our farm has a seasonal rhythm, but it keeps us moving on the fly a good bit. I appreciate little windows of scheduled time for things like regular exercise and school days. One morning, I took a detour from the normal routine and decided to go for a run in a different place and at a different time. It seemed to work a little better given the schedule we were facing for that particular day. Bundling up due to cooler temperatures, I headed out and followed the school bus down the road after making a stop at the neighbor’s.

The air was crisp, the sky holding both the sun and moon simultaneously. Over halfway through my run, I was facing due west with the sun at my back. A long shadow was cast before me, evidence where the source of warm light was coming from.

At some point in time we all find ourselves in a season of uncertainty. Whether it’s with our job, home, finances, school, or relationships with family and friends. Uncertainty has an uncanny ability to disorient us. Evidence of this in my life typically looks like no movement forward, I just stop without a certain direction to go. Stopping is not always a bad thing, it can keep us from getting lost. But for me, it’s easy to get distracted then lose focus and become lazy if I stop for too long. How about you?

Running towards my shadow that morning brought to mind the understanding that in God there is no darkness. Running towards that shadow, it was blatantly obvious where the source of light was located – directly behind me. There was certainty in the direction I was going.

When we are faced with uncertainty in our lives. I’m confident that in those seasons we can do one of two things, open ourselves up to the enemy’s attacks by getting distracted or sidetracked, or we can diligently and patiently seek for a source of light in the darkness. Darkness is simply the absence of light.  We are never absent from the Lord who is light, and in Him there is no darkness.

What would happen if we focused on Him when we felt feelings and seasons of uncertainty rise up in the situations around us? Focusing on the Lord and seeking light may allow us to move forward well. It may be one little bitty step at a time with one faith-filled prayer. Perhaps by doing so, we will not get stuck or tempted to veer off course in an attempt to control or force those uncertainties into certainty.

We serve a God who is mighty and strong, He is in control and we can trust his steadfastness. What if the seasons of uncertainty and shadows in life became evidence of God’s presence rather than enveloping darkness. Let’s fight well by staying focused on the One who was, who is, and is to come – in Him there is no darkness, just pure light and love for his beloved children.

Here are three verses that keep coming to mind. Perhaps they will be good reminders for you too.

“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.” Psalm 119:105

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17

“This is the message that we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in him.” 1 John 1:5 (CSB)

My detour that morning and shifting shadow along the way became a good reminder that God and his light are always present, even in the discomfort of the unknown.

As believers in Christ Jesus, we are promised His presence. How has God reminded you of His presence lately?

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“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.” Psalm 119:105  // Photo by Holly Mandarich on Unsplash

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