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The Vine and the Vinedresser

My “One Word” for 2020 is ABIDE, and one of my planned Bible readings this week was John 15:1-11. As I sat down to read this well known passage, my thought was, “this shouldn’t take long.” I already knew that the passage says Jesus is the true vine, we are the fruit-bearing branches that need to stay attached to the true vine in order to bear fruit, and the process includes pruning. Since this is such a familiar passage, I expected to spend five or ten minutes in this chapter and then get on to something else.

But that’s not at all how it turned out. I read John 15:1, where Jesus says (in ESV) “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” The word “vinedresser” jumped out at me, and I realized I had no idea what a vinedresser did – other than prune the vine, which is mentioned later in this passage. I felt a strong impression that the Lord wanted to use this single verse to teach me some new understandings from this passage I’ve read hundreds of times.

As I did some research, I learned of several of the tasks that a vinedresser does, the first found in the first half of verse 2: “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away…”

As I read this, I decided to look up the meaning of the Greek word using one of my favorite online reference sources, The Blue Letter Bible. The Greek word translated “takes away” is “airo.” While this word can mean “to take away,” this isn’t it’s primary meaning. Instead, the usual meaning is “to lift up, to take upon oneself and carry what has been raised.”

Unlike fruit trees, a grapevine cannot stand upright on its own. As a grapevine grows, the natural growth is downward. Before long, the lower part of the vine is laying on the ground where it gets wet on the bottom. One of the responsibilities of the vinedresser is to take hold of the vine and entwine it on a trellis or wires, to keep air flowing underneath it so it can bear healthy fruit.

Remember, these verses in John 15 are using the illustration of a vine to teach us how to live attached to the vine so we can bear spiritual fruit. Have you ever been in a place where you had become comfortable, only to have God in His wisdom determine it was time for an adjustment, a change in position in order for you to continue bearing spiritual fruit?

Like the wise vinedresser, our heavenly Father has the right to adjust our position in life to help us bear more fruit. Whether it’s an actual move to another location, or simply a change of circumstances, we may find ourselves facing change, moving from a place of comfort and self-assurance to one of uncertainty and even fear. Could it be that God is at work in your circumstances, preparing you for greater productivity for His Kingdom?

Now, let’s look at the rest of verse 2, “…and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

In addition to repositioning us for greater productivity, our heavenly Father like the good vinedresser prunes us so we can bear more fruit. Grapevines, when left untended, will sprawl out and produce leafy canopies. While their green leaves look healthy, they yield very little fruit. Since the purpose of a grapevine is to produce grapes, pruning is needed.

This reminds me of some rose bushes that were in front of a house our family lived in several years ago. When in full bloom, the bushes were beautiful. But I learned quickly that without pruning the beauty didn’t last. As winter began drawing to a close, around the end of February, they needed to be pruned.

When I finished pruning the bushes the first year, they looked almost like they were dead. I was afraid I had ruined our beautiful rose bushes. But by late spring, the bushes were filled with gorgeous blossoms.

Like roses, grapevines should be pruned during their dormancy, usually in late winter. When it comes to pruning grapes, the most common mistake people make is not pruning hard enough. Light pruning doesn’t promote adequate fruiting whereas heavy pruning provides the greatest quality of grapes.

God has the right to prune our lives, removing us from people and situations that are hindering our spiritual growth. When God prunes our lives, it isn’t because He is angry at us. It is because pruning is necessary for maximum productivity.

These aren’t all the works of a vinedresser. He also needs to remove any detached and dried up branches (verse 6: “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”), because disconnected branches don’t bear fruit. He delights in the abundance of fruit, much as God rejoices and receives glory from the spiritual fruit bearing He sees in our lives (verse 8: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”).

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Does your life feel like God has been doing some repositioning for greater productivity through your life? Or has God been doing some painful pruning in your life? Remember you are in the loving hands of your heavenly Father. Let’s not lose sight of the ending verses of this passage. It’s all rooted in the love of our heavenly Vinedresser!

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” ‭‭John‬ ‭15:9-11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

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A Mosaic of Grace

Last week, my husband was in the kitchen getting a slice of birthday cake when the cake container hit the Corelle plate he had planned to use and knocked it to the floor. He said it hit the floor like a hand grenade exploding and glass went everywhere.

In this world, broken things are usually counted as useless and thrown away. And that’s exactly what happened to that plate. It was now unusable so it was discarded. But this is not how God responds to our brokenness. In fact, He uses the breaking as a part of the process of helping us grow into what He created us to be.

On the inside, we all have areas of brokenness. Chronic illness affects our bodies, but that’s not all. Has life with chronic illness left you with broken dreams, broken relationships, even a broken heart? If so, how do we deal with the brokenness in our lives? How do we embrace our brokenness and allow the Lord to put us back together into a vessel that brings Him glory? But first, what exactly do I mean by brokeness?

One of the best definitions I’ve read of brokenness was from Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, in her book ‬‬Brokenness: The Heart God Revives.

“Brokenness is the shattering of my self-will – the absolute surrender of my will to the will of God. It is saying ‘Yes, Lord!’ – no resistance, no chafing, no stubbornness – simply submitting myself to His direction and will in my life.”

She says when you know God, you don’t have to face any difficulty alone. He is there in our time of need, all we need to do is reach out to Him for help. Yet so often we think we can handle it on our own.

“You can try, and God may let you try to handle it on your own. But part of what He is doing with trials and afflictions is He’s trying to strip us of self-reliance and make us utterly dependent upon Him and His grace.”

A spiritually mature life begins with acknowledging our need for help. We are not able to save ourselves. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

Yet many of us think once we have experienced the new birth, it’s up to us to live the Christian life. But that’s not what God’s Word says. Colossians 2:6-7 says we are built up in the faith in the same way we came to Christ. Self-reliance is one of the biggest obstacles to spiritual growth.

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

Do you feel broken today, in any area of your life? If so, the answer is found in Romans 12:1-2.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

When life pulls us down, when we feel like we can’t move forward – when like Humpty Dumpty we are beyond repair – this is the answer. Only God has the power to put us back together and make us useful. We are to present our bodies to God as living sacrifices. Surrendered vessels to do His good, acceptable and perfect will. By His amazing grace, He can then take our shattered pieces and make of them what Ephesians 2:10 in the New Living Translation calls “God’s masterpiece.”

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

We can become what some have called a “Mosaic of Grace.”

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Reclaiming Your Life: The Place of Self-Care in Chronic Illness Management

What do you do when there is no cure? When the doctor says there is nothing more that he can do?

That is what I faced last fall, when an MRI showed complex tearing in the meniscus of my left knee and no remaining cartilage. My orthopedic surgeon said with the severe nerve damage to that knee, knee replacement surgery had a high risk of making the pain even more severe than it already was. He suggested corticosteroid injections in the joint and physical therapy, both of which did nothing to reduce the pain.

Medical science was basically out of options. It was time to accept that the deterioration was most likely permanent. It was time to examine self-care options that would allow me to live the best I could with this new normal.

The February focus for our Reclaiming Your Life Challenge is on self-care. Self-care could be defined as the actions individuals take to lead the healthiest lifestyle possible with their current chronic pain and diseases.

Self-care is important for every part of us, body, soul and spirit. Remember, our heavenly Father cares about our whole being. Let’s start with the most obvious area, our bodies which are so greatly affected by our chronic illnesses.

SELF-CARE FOR THE BODY
God cares about how we care for our physical bodies – which if you are a Christian is the dwelling place of His Holy Spirit. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians‬ ‭6:19-20‬ ‭ESV‬‬‬‬‬‬

What changes do you need to make to take better care of your body? Are you getting enough sleep? Eight or more cups of water daily? Do you need to eat a more healthy diet? Perhaps add more fruits and vegetables to your daily dietd? Do you need to lose weight? One thing I’ve found helpful in this area are keeping a daily log of what I eat using the MyFitness Pal app.

How about exercise? Is there a way you can become more active, in spite of the limitations caused by your chronic illnesses and pain? As 2020 began, this was an area I knew God wanted me to add back to my schedule. I was able to put together two 20-minute routines of exercises physical and occupational therapists have recommended for me over the years, some that I do in bed and others sitting on the side of the bed. Yes, there are days I don’t feel up to exercise, but on days that this is an achievable goal I start my day with some light exercise.

Another area where we can become more active is by doing household responsibilities. As this new year began, I felt the need to take over a little more of the daily and weekly housework our daughter had been doing. I’m washing the breakfast and lunch dishes, a job I can do in less than ten minutes, and one other small job that needs to be done most days. When you live with the limitations of chronic illness, pacing yourself is very important, but for me a small job that takes around ten minutes is doable, and it takes a little of the pressure off of our daughter, who deals with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue.

SELF-CARE FOR THE SOUL
Our souls are made up of our mind, will, and emotions. Romans 12:2 deals with our minds and thoughts. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans‬ ‭12:2‬ ‭ESV‬‬‬‬

Do your thoughts line up with the truth of God’s Word? Or is your thinking “conformed to this world”? Renewing our MIND to see our lives through the lens of God’s Word is an area of self-care many of us need to work on. Lasting changes, even those that mainly affect the body, must start in the mind. That’s because our actions are a direct result of what our thoughts are focused on.

The apostle Paul spoke about our WILL in Philippians 2:13, saying we are to work out the salvation God has worked in us through His Spirit, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” While God won’t violate our self-will and force us to do His will, He will work in our will to help us embrace His will and then to empower us to do it.

The third area of our soul is the EMOTIONS. A passage that has helped me many times when my emotions are out of control is found in Philippians 4. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians‬ ‭4:4-7‬ ‭ESV‬‬‬‬

SELF-CARE FOR THE SPIRIT
1 Corinthians 4:34 encourages us to be holy – set apart for God’s use – in both our spirit and our body. Just as our bodies need physical nourishment, our spirits need spiritual nourishment. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy‬ ‭3:16-17‬ ‭ESV‬‬‬‬

Do you have a daily time in God’s Word? Are you taking time to listen to see if God has some truth that you need to make it through the obstacles before you today? Reading, studying, memorizing and meditating on Scriptures are spiritual disciplines that are essential to spiritual growth.

Prayer is equally important. Prayer is an acknowledge of our need for and dependence upon a God who is bigger than anything we may be facing. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews‬ ‭4:16‬ ‭ESV ‬‬

This is no where near a complete list of all the areas where self-care would help us better deal with the daily challenges of life with chronic illness. But it gives a starting place for choosing some self-care actions that will enable you to better manage the daily challenges of your life. I encourage you to share in the comments an area of self-care that has helped you cope better with the limitations and struggles of living with chronic illness.

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Reclaiming Your Life: The Importance of Prayer & Bible Reading in Setting Personal Goals

The January theme in our RECLAIMING YOUR LIFE focus is on personal growth. So what is personal growth? Personal growth is a transformational process, in which improvements are made in some area of your life. Whether the personal goal you choose to start with is physical, emotional, social, financial or spiritual, the same principles apply.

Our goal for January is to choose one area of our lives where we recognize a need for personal growth. For example, do you need to learn how to control anger? Do you need to overcome procrastination? Would life be better if you changed your negative mindset and began to focused on the good things in your life? Maybe, you want to take some practical steps to improve your health or to better manage your daily responsibilities. Pick one area where you want to become a better version of yourself.

What does the Bible tell us about making plans that result in transformation? How does prayer move us forward in the process of accomplishing our personal growth goals? Answering those questions is the focus of this week’s post.

Proverbs 16:9 (NASB) gives some insight in the area of planning. It says, “The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.” Planning ahead is something that God encourages us to do, but Jehovah is the One directing us and enabling us to accomplish what we have planned.

Jesus also spoke of the importance of planning ahead. He said, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke‬ ‭14:28‬ ‭ESV‬‬) When we are planning goals for this year, we need to realistically count the cost of completing our plans so we don’t end up discouraged when the year comes to an end and our goals have not be accomplished.

THE IMPORTANCE OF PRAYER IN SETTING GOALS
Before you actually begin choosing a personal growth goal to work on, spend some time in prayer. Ask God to give you wisdom in setting realistic goals and to take away any roadblocks that will hinder you from accomplishing your goals. Recognize there will be times when you want to quit and feel like you can’t go on, and ask the Lord for strength and perseverance to not give up.

An important part of setting goals that we will be able to complete is making sure our goals meet five characteristics. SMART has been used as an acronym for setting effective goals. A SMART goal is one that is:

  • Specific: Well defined, clear, and unambiguous
  • Measurable: With specific criteria that measure your progress towards the accomplishment of the goal
  • Achievable: Attainable and possible to achieve
  • Realistic: Within reach, realistic, and relevant to your life purpose
  • Timely: With a clearly defined timeline, including a starting date, short term goals along the way, and a finish date

Transformation is a process that is addressed in 2 Corinthians 3:18.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

This verse makes it clear that transformation is a work of the Holy Spirit, also known as the Spirit of Christ Jesus, who lives within us. It is a part of working out the salvation Jesus provided for us, of working out what is within us by the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear an trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing,” Philippians 2:12-14

Notice these verses say God will work in us both to make us willing to change and also empowering us to work out the needed changes. Our attitude toward change is important. Do what you believe God wants you to do with an attitude of gratitude and contentment.

As these last few weeks I’ve begun this process of transforming an area of my life where personal growth is needed, one Scripture has come up over and over in my study. When that happens I recognize God is showing me a principle I need to take hold of the succeed in accomplishing my goal.

The verses God has brought to mind over and over again are found in Ephesians 4. It is a passage that speaks to believers in Christ, saying they are no longer to walk in “the futility of their minds.” The word translated “futility” (or “vanity” in other translations) means “devoid of truth and appropriateness.” What we need is truth that is appropriate to our goal. This is found in verses 20 – 24, which show us a better way to live.

But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Put off your old self. Your former way of life, in the area you are asking God to help you change. Put off your beliefs and behaviors that do not line up with the truth of God’s Word.

Be renewed in your mind. Another verse that speaks about renewing our minds is Romans 12:2, which says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

We renew our minds by learning the will of God, which is revealed in the Bible. The best way to do this is by reading and meditating on Bible verses that apply to the area you believe God wants you to change, memorizing one or two that deal with the problem area.

Put on the new self. ‭‭Having recognized the negative pattern that we need to change, and then learning God’s will in the area we’re hoping to change, we are ready to “put on” the new behavior. ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

This is the process of transformation in whatever area you choose to focus on during January. The biblical name for this process is sanctification, and it is an ongoing work the indwelling Holy Spirit does in our lives as we learn to hear His voice and respond in obedience. Yes, we have a part. But the power to change comes from the Holy Spirit who lives in the heart of everyone who has surrendered their life to Jesus as Lord and Savior.

We may feel weak in the area where we are hoping to see change. But God spoke through the apostle Paul that our weakness does not keep God from working. When he struggled with what he called a thorn in the flesh, God spoke to him.

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians‬ ‭12:9-10‬ ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

One thing that has helped me change habits that I’d felt powerless to change is turning the truths of God’s Word into a prayer. For example, James 1:22 teaches us the importance of being a doer of the Word. Let’s turn this into a prayer.

Lord, please help me not to merely listen to Your Word, and so deceive myself. Please help me to do what it says. God’s Word works, but if I am to experience it personally, I must be obedient. I need Your help, Lord.

Remember, sanctification is a work the Holy Spirit does within us. My prayer for you as you choose to cooperate with His work within you is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”
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