Pruning–the Cuts that Clean

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.                                                                                                                 John 15

I just discovered that prune in verse 2 and clean in verse 3 are forms of the same word! Somehow to me it was a striking thought.  You are already pruned.  I don’t know if you have ever pruned a tree or vine, but it seems a little violent if you think about it.  After all, you are actually cutting off pieces of a living thing.  It can be a little unnerving to think that God’s version of “clean” involves cutting things away.

It’s not too difficult to cut off dead or diseased limbs, but sometimes pruning involves cutting off a branch that looks quite healthy.  And THAT, my friends, is hard to do.  Why would you ever cut off something that seems good and productive?  Well, according to modernfarmer.com, you need to thin the branches to allow light and air into the canopy, and you don’t want multiple branches competing with one another.

A friend of mine had a couple of apple trees planted in her back yard and decided to consult with a local orchard owner on the best way to prune them in order to bear the most fruit.  As she stood considering her trees, she realized that if she pruned them the way she had been instructed, that they would have a completely different shape.  She eventually decided that the way they looked mattered more to her than their productivity, so she pruned them to make them pleasing to the eye.

God, however, doesn’t handle

apple-tree

Old apple trees sometimes remind me of gnarled arthritic hands.

things that way.  God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Sam 16:7)  When God prunes, He knows exactly what needs to be stripped away in order to bring us to full fruit-bearing.  His pruning may not look the way we expect – we may not like the way it looks at all – but He knows the perfect cuts to make, which branches must go, so that the others can flourish as He intends.  Even when a branch is bearing fruit, sometimes the tree as a whole is better off without it!

 

Sometimes those cuts hurt.  The sap may run for a time before healing over, and you may think that it just doesn’t look right.  But trust that God, the master gardener, knows exactly how to make you bear the very best fruit. His cuts are clean, and produce fruit for His glory!

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The Formula for Healing

In John 9, there is a man who was born blind. The disciples discussed his case in a scholarly fashion, but they didn’t ask about healing. After all, he was BORN blind.   The text doesn’t say, but perhaps he didn’t even have normal eyes–it was a birth defect, after all. Later in the chapter, his neighbors questioned whether this was the same man, so he apparently looked quite different to them.   This was an impossible handicap, one that no one ever expected to be changed.

The disciples were simply curious about the cause of the problem—neither they nor the man himself asked anything more.   But Jesus could see beyond this hopeless case. He saw a man who needed wholeness, and He saw a way to show the glory of God. In this case, he couldn’t restore sight, because it had never been there, but he could create sight where none had existed before, because He is the light of the world.

The Light could enter the utter darkness of this man’s eyes.

After this man was given his sight, the Pharisees became very interested, of course. They especially wanted to know how it happened.   Being told that Jesus made mud, they seized on that. He had made mud on the Sabbath—he couldn’t possibly be from God. The laws that men had established to uphold the Sabbath had been broken, so this man was a lawbreaker. They questioned the man repeatedly about the exact method that Jesus used. They didn’t care that He had accomplished something unheard of—unthought of—by giving sight to one who had never seen…the Pharisees were far more concerned about the method used.   The man Jesus had made mud.

This is the only time that Scripture records Jesus making mud. A few other times, Jesus used His saliva to heal both the blind and the deaf/mute.  Sometimes, though, He only touched them. Once, he restored a man’s sight in two steps—first very vague and limited vision, and a bit later, he could see perfectly. In fact, if you look at all the healings of Jesus, it is amazing how many different methods He used. Many times He simply spoke the word—Be healed. Sometimes He asked, “Do you believe?” or “Do you want to be healed?” but this man who was born blind never asked for healing at all. Several times Jesus healed a person from afar, without ever seeing them—the centurion’s servant, the nobleman’s son; many times he simply touched them—Peter’s mother-in-law, the high priest’s servant.   A number of people were healed simply by touching His clothes, seemingly with no effort on His part at all. But this day, He took some time. He spit on the dirt, made the mud, and put it on the man’s eyes. He also told this man to wash in the pool of Siloam and when he had done that, he regained his sight.   But there was another man at another pool who was simply told to get up and walk. There was no need for the washing in that case. The variety of ways that Jesus healed is really quite surprising.

And the Pharisees wanted to know how. They knew who, or thought they did. An interloper, an intruder, an intractable imposter was swaying the mind of the people, and He needed to be stopped. The only question was how. They fixated on the method and completely disdained the Man.

Do we tend to focus more on the method than we do on the Man? Are we looking for a formula—the foolproof way to achieve healing or happiness or wholeness—rather than simply trusting in the Man? I believe that Jesus’ use of so many different methods of healing was a reminder to us that there is no formula. He works in so many different ways, and just as He created each human being unique, He also has a unique plan for each of us. His shaping, His healing for me will look different than what He has planned for you. God gives each of us our own challenges, and the way we walk them out will be different than any other person’s way. The formula is not a process.

The Formula is a Person.

Give up trying to find the bullet points—the six steps to wholeness, the perfect plan for healing, the one-size-fits-all cure for your pain. Jesus had a slightly different agenda for each person He encountered, and He has a personal and individual plan for you. The only way to discover it is to follow Him, to pay attention, do what He says, and trust that His way for you is perfect. It probably won’t look like anyone else’s path. It may not look like you expect. It may not even be what you think you want, but it is the perfect route, the one God has prepared in advance, for your feet to walk.

Jesus is your Way to Wholeness.

Follow Him.

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Rise Up and Walk

 

Whatsoever things are true…think on these things. Phil 4:8

My latest Bible study is so full of good thoughts.  It has been a life-changing idea to me that the past is not a True thing. While we do learn from the past and remember it, we cannot re-live it. It is not my reality today.   When I continue to be defeated by past events or keep bringing up a bevy of what-if’s, I am not paying proper attention to Today.

Today is completely new. When we live in the past, and only think of the things that we have known in the past, we may miss the new and better thing that is right in front of us.   In John 5, the crippled man at Bethesda pool looked for healing, but the only kind of healing he knew was to enter the pool. While he was lamenting his inability to claim that healing, he couldn’t see the Healer who stood before him.

Do we do the same?   Do we spend years trying to rid ourselves of bad experiences, spending a fortune on therapists or doctors, but never seeing that in front of us, there is a Healer who is encouraging us to simply walk away from all of that? In Phil 3:13 we are encouraged to forget what lies behind.

Jesus told the man at Bethesda to get up and walk. The other gospels tell of a similar event that happened in Capernaum. All those accounts say that Jesus told the men he had healed to get up, pick up their beds, and walk. They were instructed to move on, not to examine the beds they had been confined to for so long, or to wash and redecorate them, but to get up and move along!

The time of crippling was over when those men met Jesus. They were able to get up and walk, even though under normal circumstances their muscles would not have carried them! And when they picked up their beds, they were able to bear them, and they no longer had to be carried by others.

I believe that Jesus wants us to do the same with our past hurts. Move on, walk forward. I have been given a new life.

What happened in the past is no longer my reality.   It is now my testimony!

I now have the strength to bear my own weight, carry my own burden, and like the man who met Peter at the temple gate, to walk and leap and praise God!

 

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When You Choose, You Lose

Today I have been listening to an interview on Michael Hyatt’s #FreetoFocus productivity summit. Don’t ask how it happened that someone so very non-business-oriented as I am becomes involved in such a very businesslike event, because I have no idea.

I was captivated by two separate things shared by the guest Greg McKeown. Both of them have to do with word origins and how words change over time so, word nerd that I am, I found them fascinating.

#1 The word Vanity, in a very old dictionary, is defined as something that is futile and worthless– in essence, something that is not even real. I had to think of the way it is used in the King James version of Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” In another translation, it is rendered, “Pointless! Utterly meaningless! Nothing matters!”

McKeown made the point that when we try very hard to stay on top of everything, be super-successful, accomplish more than everyone else, it may be simply about vanity. Not only the vanity of wanting people to see our amazing achievements, but also the vanity of being at the top.   At some point, we discover that everything in life has a trade-off and we have traded some very real, very vital things (such as relationships, for instance) for fleeting triumphs that we later realize are worthless.

#2 The word Decide is even more interesting. It comes from a Latin root meaning “To cut off.”   Yes….cut off. Has it ever occurred to you that when you are faced with an array of choices, you not only choose one but you also reject all the others?   I somehow had never thought of it quite that way.

That goes along with the idea of trade-offs. You can’t possibly choose everything. When you decide to do one thing, you are also deciding NOT to do something else.   When we decide, we are setting limits.   We are turning away from one path in order to explore another.

Words are so interesting.   And they teach us things.

Like the fact that not only do I need to really evaluate priorities—what is valuable and what is vanity—but I also need to think seriously about what I am excluding (cutting off) whenever I make a decision.

When I choose one thing, I lose another.

Because life only has room for a certain number of things.

Make them the things that count.

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Pour Me, Lord

I’ve always loved this little song. So much truth, so much purpose, so much beauty in just a few words!

It always reminds me of 2 Samuel 23:15-17, when David was hiding out in a cave while the Philistines controlled Bethlehem. Three of his faithful men came to check on him.

And David said longingly, “Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!”

Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and carried and brought it to David. But he would not drink of it. He poured it out to the LORD and said, “Far be it from me, O Lord, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?” Therefore he would not drink it.

I remember reading that years ago and being indignant. After all the effort and danger those men went through, David didn’t even drink the water! I mean, really? It seems like such a waste! I expected David to receive a gift like that with thanksgiving and savor each sip of the water because of the sacrifice made for it.

But in God’s economy, something poured out is never wasted.

David poured out that beautiful offering before the Lord. God surely was pleased with the deep love expressed by each of those men.   As the song says, being “poured out” is an offering to God.

This past week, however, Jeremiah 48:11 has shown me a new meaning in being poured.

Moab has been at ease since his youth;
He has also been undisturbed, like wine on its dregs,
And he has not been emptied from vessel to vessel,
Nor has he gone into exile.
Therefore he retains his flavor,
And his aroma has not changed.

Moab had not been emptied; he was “undisturbed, like wine on its dregs.” If you have ever made wine, you know that wine is decanted, or carefully poured out, after the dregs have settled to the bottom of the container. That sediment, which has a bitter flavor, is left behind, making the wine clearer and better tasting. The pouring also introduces oxygen into the wine, which gives it new life and aroma.

Do I tend to be like Moab? Do I ever just rest on my dregs, undisturbed, complacent and settled? Am I shocked and affronted when God decides to pour me from vessel to vessel? Yet God in His omniscient wisdom knows exactly when I need to be poured. He loves me and His ways are perfect.

Yes, Lord, I am willing to be poured out, to be disturbed, to become unsettled, because I know that it is not about me and my comfort. It is about You perfecting me, making me more fit for Your purpose. Purify me, Lord. Remove the bitter sediment, give me clarity and new life.  Use me for Your glory.  Empty me.

Lord, just help me to be pourable. I trust You.

 

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Random Thoughts on Job

Job…such an amazing man.   Can it be said of me that I am “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil”? Not exactly always, I’m afraid. Of course, his very amazingness led to some pretty horrible things. Losing all your children and all your wealth in one day is really beyond comprehension, and yet Job never blamed God for his troubles. And that is even more beyond comprehension… How did he not just get MAD at God? God could stop it—we all know that—and yet, for His own reasons, He didn’t. Am I ever “mad at God” in situations far less intense than that? Help me to remember that “the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.   Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Reading this first chapter, and then reading the last chapter of Job show some interesting things.   Eventually, Job is cleared of any guilt, but notice that only after Job prays for his misguided, sinful friends, God restores his wealth. (42:10)   That’s curious, isn’t it? Kind of reminds me how we are supposed to pray for our enemies… After doing their best to pile guilt onto Job—those men needed more than just their own prayers. It turned out that God would only accept the prayer of *Job* for those men. (42:8)   And only when that is accomplished does God bring restoration of what was taken away.

Another thing that interests me in that last chapter is that when God did restore Job’s fortune, he doubled the number of all his livestock, but not the children. Job was given, at the last, the exact same number of each gender—seven sons and three daughters.

Ironically, I first became aware of this during a discussion of family planning. One person who was staunchly defending the use of birth control used this as an argument, saying that if children were an unmitigated blessing, never to be limited in any way, then surely God would have also doubled the number of children that Job was given. I remember the clinching sentence in this argument was, “Rain is a blessing, but too much rain is not a blessing!”

Looking back, I have to wonder if this person would agree that too many cattle, too much worldly riches, could ever be a problem rather than a blessing. I really think they would, because we all know what Jesus said about how difficult it is for a rich man to enter heaven! I have to assume that they didn’t consider that argument very carefully. 🙂

If you think about it, the fact that Job was given the exact same number of children actually means that Job DID have twenty children. Because unlike our cattle or other possessions, when we lose a child to death, that child is still ours. A child who dies doesn’t cease to exist—he or she is still very much a part of our hearts and God’s heart.  So I believe that God did indeed double Job’s children, just as He did the cattle.

Another little tidbit that fascinates me in the last chapter is the description of Job’s children.   The bare facts: He had seven sons and three daughters. But then it continues with the names of the daughters—Jemimah, Keziah, and Keren-happuch—and the fact that they were the most beautiful women in the land, and that they received an inheritance along with their brothers. We hear nothing further about the sons, but all this about the daughters! In most early genealogies, only the sons are listed.   It is rare to see a woman’s name at all, yet somehow Job’s daughters are important enough to rate naming and description even when their brothers don’t.

I have no idea why this is, although I have read several theories. Some of them seem fairly far-fetched to me, but the fact that both this passage and the one about Zelophehad’s daughters in Numbers 27 tell of daughters receiving an inheritance is a nice reminder that God cares about women, too.   Even though men are the ones commissioned to lead, God provides perfectly for His daughters as well as His sons. He never leaves us or forsakes us.

And there is a nice footnote embedded in the meanings of the names of those daughters, too—they all have to do with peace and beauty. Perhaps there is a sweet lesson in that. After remaining faithful to God through the storm, He then adds to our lives peace and beauty.

 

 

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Prodigal vs. Satisfied

I listened to a podcast yesterday that talked about the prodigal son, and it set me musing (again) on that word prodigal. Jesus told the story first, but the word prodigal never appears in the text—at least not in any translation I’ve seen. I have no idea who assigned that title to the parable, but that person ended up virtually changing the meaning of the word prodigal.

The speaker used the word, as is so very common, to mean wayward or rebellious. That bothers me, since I am a wee bit obsessive about words.   Prodigal actually means wasteful—spending recklessly or extravagantly—but hardly anyone uses it that way any more. In fact, no one seems to really use the word much at all except in reference to this particular story. We have several other words for wasteful, and somehow the word prodigal has gradually changed to a more specific usage.

Wastin’ Away Again…

That is interesting to me because it also shows that the emphasis of the story has changed over time.   Our main lesson from it today seems to be that the young man went away—went his own way. Rather than living with his father, he wanted to live the wild life. The person who assigned the title, however, obviously focused on the fact that he was profligate, a spendthrift. Not only did he go his own way, but he used up the resources that should have supported him all his life. Rather than investing and building his own business, he drank and partied until the money was gone.

There are aspects of the Prodigal story that I have never heard discussed. For instance, there is the fact that the father actually gave his son his inheritance early. Have you ever considered what an enormous thing that was? If the man had only two sons, that means that he sold half of the family farm in order to satisfy his youngest son’s whims! As a child, when I first heard the story, I had no comprehension of what a huge amount of money this young man must have squandered.

Come on, Take the Money and Run

If we put ourselves in the father’s place now, we suddenly become aware that not only does he have a wayward, sinful child, but he has reduced his holdings by half—the family is suddenly not nearly as wealthy as it once was. This father had great possessions and had apparently taught at least his older son to work and care for them. The younger son, though, had no appreciation for the wealth that was his.   We tend to focus on the young man’s wandering off to a distant country, but think for a moment about his incredible contempt and disregard for his father’s hard work and provision.  How sad that must have been for the father.

Which leads to another facet of the story…this young man’s dissatisfaction.

I Can’t Get No…Sat-is-fac-tion

Humans tend to appreciate more the things that they work to achieve. Over and over, we watch as people who acquire wealth without effort spend it in foolish ways and amazingly quickly. Why is it that something freely given is so often under-appreciated? The younger son in the parable had probably never lacked for anything in his life, but in his eyes life on the farm was boring, and he wanted to experience more.

Maybe that is really one of the most important parts of the story. How often do we just get bored and dissatisfied? And rather than dwelling on how grateful we are for all that God has given, we wish for …more! We don’t realize that the nebulous more…out there…somewhere…may actually lead to the loss of everything we treasure.

I think I need to focus more on being satisfied in Christ.  Much to think about there.

 

Keep your lives free from the love of money; and be satisfied with what you have;
for God himself has said, “I will never fail you or abandon you.”
Hebrews 13:5 Complete Jewish Bible

 

Disclaimer:  Bits of songs ramble through my mind on a regular basis, and today I just decided to include them.   So if you now have some random old song stuck in your head…you’re welcome. 😉

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