Week Four/Day Three (pt2): “A Fruitful Vine….Olive Shoots Around Your Table”

Yesterday, we began a theme on cultivating oil and wine based on Psalm 128:3.
I shared with all of you some lessons learned from the Olive Tree.
Today, we continue our gardening schooling as we look into lessons from The Vine.

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John 15:1-2 says God is the vinedresser or the gardener. The term “takes away” is the Greek word “airo” literally meaning “to lift up,” which is used to describe pruning). It really means “takes up”. In a vineyard, when a branch is not bearing fruit the gardener picks it up, props it up, supports it. He cleans it, waters it and positions it so that it can get the full sunlight and become able to bear fruit again. God as our gardnerer does this in our lives when we as Christians have reached a place of barrenness.  When you are not in the place you should be in, It is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance and positions us back in place to receive full sunlight and life from the Vine.

John 15:2-3:
He also prunes us, to bear more fruit. If a grape vine is leafing out too much it won’t bloom and develop grapes. The same with us. We bear more fruit if the unnecessary fluff and foliage and dead wood is cut away from our lives. The interesting thing about this verse, is that Jesus is talking to His disciples. He is telling them that they are already pruned or cleaned by what He has already taught them by His Words. This teaches us that even as Christians, we don’t just automatically ‘arrive’. Our pruning and fruitfulness is an ongoing growth process.

What do you do, as a follower of Christ, when hardship hits your life?
What do you and I do when it feels like God is allowing, maybe even causing, pain to come into your life?  In John chapter 15, Jesus is comparing Himself to the vine of a grape plant that connects the branches to their source of strength and nutrients: the roots. Let’s look at the two groups of people that Jesus is talking about here:

  • One group is “in Him” but not bearing fruit – i.e., spiritual fruit. This describes a branch that has grown longer than it’s strength could hold up, and thus was being weighed down by the leaves of the branch. Its got a lot of foliage and big ‘leaves’ but is distinctly absent of fruit.

A “vinedresser” also known as a “vintner”, prunes the branches that have grown away from the vine. These branches may grow long and leafy but because they are growing in a direction away from the root vine (it’s source), they lack the stability and strong connection to the vine to support it’s own weight. A branch that is severed from the vine withers and dies. It may be lying right next to the vine, but it is not obtaining vital life from the vine, because it is not attached.

Its not enough to merely do ‘church things’, we’ve got to be in communion with God for ourselves. If you are not attached to the vine of Christ and you will wither and die. It is a spiritual fact. The vintner must then “take away” or prune the branch back – cutting off length and leaves so that the branch can grow close to the root and its resources are now concentrated into producing fruit rather than exerting energy into strengthening the wayward and fruitless branch.

I love how God so often uses nature to demonstrate what He is doing in our lives.  My husband and I are amateur gardeners.  We have a small landscaped garden in front of our home with delicate willows, pom poms and spiral evergreens. We always feel bad about cutting off growth and trimming the branches.  But the new growth was growing out of control and we saw far too many dead and browning spots in the foliage. We could see that the blooming was poor because of “wild branches and unruly growth.  So, we began pruning back the trees.  Removing some branches completely and others just taking a good bit off of them.  At first the trees seemed a bit bare and small and sparse, but soon, the new growth was visible and greener and flowery and much more abundant.  In addition, the branches were stronger and sturdier. New Life. New Growth, New Fruit.

Pruning is a painful thing. No one likes the pruning. But God’s desire in pruning is not to punish us, but to “lift” us up out of the dirt and barrenness and bring us into fruitfulness. You see, grapes cannot grow where the branches touch the ground. And just like those unruly grape branches, we have to be lifted up, pruned back and reset into our proper position.

  • The other group of people are the ones “doing all the right things.” They’re faithful. They’re fruitful. They’re doing exactly what they were grown to do.

The branches that bear fruit. Well…God prunes those branches too.
The same Greek word (“airo“) is used to describe the vintner’s treatment of the fruitful branch. And the reason? …“That it may bear more fruit.”

Coming up higher

“God prunes us when He is about to take us into a new season of growth and expansion”. – Christine Caine

“Why would God prune the people who are doing the right things? It doesn’t seem fair does it?  But it’s not a question of fair. It’s a question of fruit.

God’s desire for us is that we bear fruit, and then that we bear more fruit. His intentions for us are good! And sometimes God has to take good from us in order to give us best. 

Maybe you’re not being pruned because you’re doing something wrong, but because you’re doing something right. Maybe you’re suppose to go through this pruning for your continued growth, and not because you’re being corrected. Many times, God prunes us when He is about to take us into a new season of growth and expansion. We’ve got to pull in closer and go down deeper before we can come up higher.

The pruning in my life has proven to be painful. There were many tears…a roller coaster of emotions as I’ve had to say goodbye to certain branches that had been in my life for years.  Painful areas where brothers and sisters in Christ slandered our names…not even knowing the whole truth.  Painful moments of loss.

But we have also experienced the beauty of seeing the pruned branches begin to grow. New life shooting forth.  Plans unfolding that God has for us that are bigger and better in the eyes of our Maker.  New roads and new ministry opportunities that I am seeing God open up.  Really, it’s not two separate entities, but two opportunities that are connected and help support each other.  I have seen love and kindness from new brothers and sisters in Christ who have reached out to walk with me on this journey.  Some whom I have never met face to face. Some through prayer and words of encouragement. Some through hugs.  Some who have remained steadfast through it all.

Our family, too, has drawn closer than ever before.  Our children have seen my husband and I lose so much and yet draw nearer to God and nearer to each other more than any other time in our lives. And it has spoken volumes to them. They have grown their own faith through this process. Seeing us weather the storms this way has done more for their own personal faith than anything that had been preached (but never practiced) by those in the pulpit. They have learned to weed out certain things (and people) in their own lives.  Questioning the things they are involved in and whether or not it pulls them away from God or towards God.  Learning to seek God in all areas of their lives.

It has definitely been a season of heavy pruning.  But I truly believe that this new season coming in, we will see the bigger picture of all that God has before us!  I trust my Lord and Savior.  And I know that all that He does, He does with an intent and purpose to draw us closer to Him.  My faith has grown in leaps and bounds.  GOD IS GOOD!

When difficulty hits, when hard times come, when you feel the pruning – regardless of the source or reason – abide in Him. Remain in Christ. Maintain your faith. Draw near to the “Root” where the strength and nutrients are. Don’t leave God and don’t abandon your faith – “For apart from Me, you can do nothing.”

Stay strong. Endure the pruning. Allow God’s strength to be made perfect in your weakness. Abide in Him.

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The following is a actual list of instructions for growing grapes and tending a grapevine. I believe you’ll see the spiritual parallels as you read them through.

• Do prune your grape vines. As you train your vine to grow, cut shoots that will grow perpendicular to the stem of the vine. The more little branches and buds, the more the vine will be able to sustain the nutrients needed.
• Do provide a support system. Vines by nature are not capable of supporting its own body mass. Having a good support structure and a reliable system for it will help in training the grape vine at the same time protecting them from animals and other weeds that grows.
• Do make good measures in preventing pest in infesting your grapes and grape vines. it is important to have pest-control spray in your vines that will drive away bacteria and fungus. Also during late summer grape buds starts to swell and ripen and birds and insects dwells. Have your vine covered with net to prevent this from happening.
• Do study more about your soil when you are growing grapes, the attributes and the kind of grape vine that will best benefit them.

Abide with your Lord. Learn to follow him & obey him. Fall in love with Him. You will never be disappointed.

Week Three/Day Four: “Great Things for Us…Sowing the Seed”

Welcome to Week Three/Day Four!

Today’s Treasure:
“They who sow in tears shall reap in joy and singing. He who goes forth bearing seed and weeping [at needing his precious supply of grain for sowing] shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” – Psalm 126:5-6

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When this psalm was written the Israelites were totally surrounded by their enemy. They were “shut up” —- there was no way out whatsoever. There was no way for any kind of life sustaining supplies to be brought in. There was also a famine in the land and people were dying every day from starvation. There was no hope for tomorrow being any better, only worse.
All looked hopeless and filled with despair. In any direction they turned all they could see was opposition. The enemy had not yet attacked them, yet his presence was continually camped about them, causing the Israelites to daily be reminded of their evil plans.

Have any of you ever been there? Your enemy has attacked you with full force and wherever you turn you are reminded of his presence and of his plans against you?

The Israelites were in a deep predicament. They couldn’t gett out and get food supplies and bring them back into the campsite. No one was allowed entrance within to bring any supplies. They surely couldn’t ask the enemy for any help; he wanted them to suffer and die. They had but one thing. They had a hand full of seeds. But—what good is a little bit of seed?This was all the seed they had. The psalmist describes the seed in their hands as “PRECIOUS” seed.

Every seed they would plant would represent their lives and their hopes for the future. It represented the meals for their little children — It represented LIFE or DEATH. I imagine every act of precaution was made by them as they planted. If this seed failed to come forth and bring about a good harvest they would not have to worry about the enemy that was surrounding them, they would die of starvation.

And so, the question became:
Should we cook the seed and then sit by and wait to die or, should we plant the seeds and then pray and trust in God that:

1:) God will deliver us from this drought and give us some RAIN.
2:) God will keep the enemy from attacking us and defeating us
3:) God will let us live to see what we have sown to come into harvest so we can share in it.

And they needed more than just a natural harvest. They needed an abundant harvest that would provide them with enough seeds to plant the following year as well. They needed a BOUNTIFUL HARVEST, in a time when it looked like nothing would stem forth from the dry ground.

Realizing the preciousness of their seed, they bend over dropping the seeds in the dry dirt, sowing with tears in the midst of their pain and despair. They sowed with desperate faith. The enemy gave them no hope and the natural man offered them no hope but they planted trusting in God. Why? Because God had given them this assurance, If they would sow in tears believing in Him they would gather their harvest rejoicing. Because they chose to trust in God, El Shaddai, the God of more than enough.

Psalm 56:8 says, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”What a mind-blowing thought that the Creator of all heaven and earth cares about every single tear we cry!

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“Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired and success achieved.” – Hellen Keller

He not only takes the time to collect them, but ‘records’ each one! What a thought! We don’t have to ‘bottle up’ our own tears because the Lord is doing the job for us. He gathers them close to His heart and desires to use those tears to bring healing relief to our souls and to water a great harvest!

In Matthew 13, Jesus tell us, in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:) that the seed is the Word of God. This precious eternal, life-giving Word is what we want to plant into our lives during times of great distress. This Word is what will produce the harvest of peace and righteousness – a harvest of eternal fruit that will last forever to the glory of God!

So many times, I am tempted to repay evil with evil, but then I am challenged by God to plant the good seed of His Word, even though I feel like weeping. Every seed I sow today is the harvest my children and my children’s children will reap tomorrow. I cannot afford to forget why I do what I do nor the promise God has given me; if I plant good seeds, even with tears, I will reap a good harvest.
That is His promise–to you and to me!!

Sowing God’s Word in a terribly difficult situation is not easy. But God promises that if you do, you will surely receive a harvest–and not just any harvest, but a harvest of shout hallelujah joy!

Principal Question:

A harvest is never instant; it demands time. How does Galatians 6:9 convey the element of time in the process of harvest?

Personal Question:
What part do you think faith and patience play in our wait as we obey God and look for the first sprouts of harvest?

Week Three/Day Three: “Great Things for Us…To Laugh Again”

Welcome to Week Three/Day Three!

Psalm 126
Zion’s Restoration

“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
Our mouths were filled with laughter then, and our tongues with shouts of joy.
Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord had done great things for us; we were joyful.
Restore our fortunes,[b] Lord, like watercourses in the Negev.
Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy.
Though one goes along weeping, carrying the bag of seed,he will surely come back with shouts of joy, carrying his sheaves.”

The Israelites were in captivity to Babylon for 70 years. The prophets had already foretold that their day of ‘release’ would come. Jeremiah prophesied, “For thus saith the Lord, that after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place” (Jer. 29:10). 

And so it was. To the letter.
Seventy years later, in the very first year of his reign, King Cyrus decreed that the Jews could return to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple. This fulfilled not only Jeremiah’s prophecy, but also Isaiah’s: “Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid” (Isa. 44:28).

“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed.Our mouths were filled with laughter then, and our tongues with shouts of joy. Then they said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them'”.
– Psalm 126:1-2

Ever had something happen that seemed almost ‘too good to be true’? It’s not that you’re not happy. Of course you are. It’s just that the hurt/pain/desert place has been so long and deep that you’re actually in a bit of a shock. Just as the psalmist describes, you ask yourself, “Am I dreaming? Is it true? Could it be?
Then…like a dam bursting, shouts of joy burst forth! YES! O Thank You LORD!

As I read the opening of this psalm, I envision how the Israelites must have felt and my heart rejoices right along with them.

I can only imagine the joy of, not only the release from captivity and the return to their precious homeland, but at the very Goodness and Faithfulness of a GOD who is not man that He should lie. At the realization that GOD’s Word is true, down  to the very minute. What GOD said He would do, He did. (Isaiah 55)

How about you? Has God ever answered a promise/prayer that you had long awaited? Have you ever been held captive to someone/something for years and have a “WORD” and a “PROMISE” come to pass after enduring so much? How was the depth of your joy? Oh, how good it feels to laugh and rejoice after weeping for so long!

Yet, even as we read the entire psalm we hear the psalmist say in verse 4:
“…and now God, do it again—bring rains to our drought-stricken lives.”psalm-126-4-2

The psalm opened with rejoicing over what God has done. It moves in verse 3, to what God had done and then in verse 4 finds them asking God to, once again, bring rains to their drought-stricken lives.

The Israelites were in “The Land Between”.

A while back, I led a small group study on Pastor Jeff Minion’s book “The Land Between”. In his book, Pastor Jeff uses the biblical story of the Israelite’s exodus from Egypt by Moses, God’s chosen servant who was sent to deliver the people. He describes their journey through Sinai desert as the Land between. The place between having witnessed the mighty works of God and the future of the promised place of God….a place. of. ‘transition’.
A place where we have seen God’s goodness and great works in the past and know His future hope, but are in the place of ‘in between’.

Beth Moore quotes James Limburg’s commentary who describes this transitional time as ‘people who were living between the times…between a good time remembered and another good time hoped for.”

A good time remembered and another good time hoped for.
How often can we ourselves, describe our lives, our moments as such?
Living in a desert moment. Going through a silent time, a difficult time, a waiting time. Waiting for another good time hoped for.

Verse 4 is pivotal then, in that it is the ‘hinge’ on which we see the decision of the psalmist.
I imagine that, this time around, being delivered out of captivity once again, the Israelites thought back on their ancestors who didn’t make it through the desert because of their unbelief and the hardness of heart that came from going through such a hard time for so long. I imagine that this time, they wanted to ‘get it right’.

And there then, is where you may find yourself. A place of transition. So vulnerable, yet so necessary.
A place of change. A place of ‘turning’ over and getting into position. Just as a baby begins to move and turn and position in the birth canal. Transition. Unless the baby ‘transitions’ from having its feet by the birth canal to having its head toward the birth canal, the birthing can become, not only difficult but dangerous. Transition is a ‘place’ of not being where you were but not quite where you’re supposed to be. The in between. No longer fitting where you came from and not fully in the place where you’re going. So vulnerable, yet so necessary. Th in between is a place of preparation.

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And as we continue through this journey in the Psalms, God prepares us for our ascension to Mount Zion, ascending into a higher place in God, moving from one level to the next. Going higher in God. Taking the next step up in our journey.

You can—as so many of the Israelites did in the Sinai desert, get bitter and hard and crave for the things back in Egypt and blame God for bringing you to such a ‘hard place’.  Or…you can do as the Israelites did on their release from ‘this captivity’…rest your heart on the Hope that He is the same, yesterday today and forever more.

You can, as the psalmist say, “Do it again God!”


Personal Question:

Describe a time when God did something that you could hardly believe and knew you didn’t deserve.

 

Week One/Day One: Where Does My Help Come From?…”Worship on the Way”

Week One: Where Does My Help Come From?
Day One: “Worship along the Way”

Today’s Treasure: “In my distress, I cried unto the LORD and He heard my cry.” ~ Psalm 120:1

As we dive into the Psalm of Ascents, we find a collection of fifteen Psalms.  Many believe that that the ascent has to do with the steps leading up to the temple, that they were to be used in a literal procession up the stairs.  Many others also refer it to the religious pilgrimages to Jerusalem which brought worshipers singing to Mount Zion.

The original pilgrims along this journey were returning from the Babylonian captivity, coming out of exile and returning to their beloved land. Others would embark on this pilgrimage as they made their way to Jerusalem for the Holy Days, the Feasts of the Lord. The people at this time were traveling together down a long arduous road. The roads were hard, the days were long.  I’m sure they were tired, dusty, weary, hungry and thirsty as they journeyed.

I do not know about you, but sometimes I get tired, weary and dusty along this journey. Life can be hard, unfair and oh, how many times have I just wanted to throw in the towel and ‘quit’! My granddaughter told me just the other day, “Granma, when life hands you lemons, just SQUEEZE till all the juice comes out! And I have…believe me.

It’s just that, sometimes, I’d rather drink a nice tall pina colada than lemonade. Can anyone relate?

I think about their group, walking along and singing songs together.  They were heading to the same place, the mountain of God. The dirt road was hard. The path was long.  The journey long and not as easy as they might have liked.

But together they went.

They had the same destination in focus, one thought. one mind. one heart.  And what did they do?

They worshipped.

Doesn’t that make it just a little bit easier to face things in life, when we know we’re not alone and when we’re able to walk the path worshipfully?

Sometimes, in life, we can feel so all alone. We tend to think that we are the only one going through something.

“I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answers me.  Save me O Lord from lying lips and from deceitful tongues,”  – Psalm 120:1-2

Someone was slandering him.  Someone was saying false things and trying to rip his character and reputation to pieces.   Injustice was being done.  Have you ever ‘been there’? I have.  In distress…emotionally, physically, mentally and physically.

But here is what I learned.  I could not refute and fight it, meet it or prevent it, because it was evil and it had an agenda.
All I could do was this: commit it to the Lord.  

“I will lift my eyes up to the hills where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and Earth,”  (Psalm 121:1-2).

Picture with me if you will, the sojourners traveling to Jerusalem for the feast, as they went, they would see the mountain tops in the horizon.  I am sure the majestic beauty of them peaking made them gasp with awe, much like we do when one travels out west and sees the Rocky Mountains for the first time against the great blue skyline.  The sight is breathtaking.  I have to wonder if, as the worshippers walked towards the mountains, their soul burst out with this song, “Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord.”  

See sometimes when we face problems,  we look to see the resources that we have around us and deal with ‘the thing’ right then and there.  That’s the flesh part in us. But, then the Spirit says, “Wait, look, go up a few degrees, ascend and see what the Lord has in store. Where does your help come from?  Do not look for help right around you, but look to Him!”

So…are you ready to be challenged friends?  In order for us to persevere, we need to lock arms so that we can stand and face all that we face, even as we lift our eyes to the hills.

As you read this, would you consider these questions below? I would love to hear your heart as you journey with us!

1. Principal Question:
What five tones or words would you choose to describe the psalmist’s state as he approached God?

2. Personal Reflection Question:
Based on all you’ve experienced with God, what excites you most about your next adventure with Him?
What scares you most about your next adventure with Him?