Grafted, Nourished, and Set Apart

“I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

Planting a vineyard requires significant thought, care and dedication. Grafting and cultivating abundant fruit is not an accidental process. Grapevines need much hands-on care to produce the best fruit possible. It is a careful, patient process that takes years.

Before planting new grapevines in the vineyard, the ground is prepared by a process known as “ripping” the soil. Using a thick steel tool, tractors rip five feet deep trenches in one direction, crisscrossed by three-feet deep trenches in the other direction.

The tractor then uses various tools to smooth the rough surface. After carefully considering where the vine rows will be planted, irrigation lines are dug and installed, followed by the posts that hold the wire on which the grapevine grows. Adding compost to the prepared soil is the final step before planting the new grapevines.

These necessary steps are crucial to provide the right environment for the tender new grapevines to grow, mature, and flourish.

As God prepares us for His holy purposes in His vineyard, sometimes it feels like our life has been ripped open.

We are busy, juggle a full schedule, and have plenty on our plate, right? We like the routine of life and the comforts that make our days a little smoother, thank you very much. Because ripping doesn’t feel good.

But God never called us to a routine of comfortable surroundings. He calls us to bear good fruit that lasts.

A grapevine’s life begins as two separate vines in a nursery. The first vine is called the rootstock, which does not produce good fruit. The other vine is called the varietal, which determines the variety or type of grape that will be grown (Concord, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.).

The nursery’s expert grafters slice a deep V-cut into the rootstock, then meticulously cut a matching slice in the varietal’s bud. The bud is then inserted into the rootstock’s cut and a special tape is placed over the cut (like a Band-Aid over a wound) to bind them together.

The root and varietal bleed into one another at the wound, thus bonding to form a single grapevine.

Isaiah 53:5 tells us: “…by His wounds we are healed.” Jesus, the Vine, is our rootstock into which we (the varietal) were grafted into His life—His vineyard.

God, our Expert Grafter, cut away our old life and bonded us to a new life in Christ. Through Christ’s life and sacrifice, we become a branch in the Vine from the point of grafting into His wounds, receiving life from Him.

Although we face attacks and disease, we will not be defeated as long as we remain connected to the Vine through faith.

His roots never falter. 

You are not an accidental afterthought in God’s vineyard. God is intentional about you! He is careful and patient with you to produce the highest quality fruit ─ however long it takes. Before the creation of the world or time began, God carefully planned every day of your life:

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Psalm 139:16

Preparing for a bountiful grape harvest begins long before vines are planted. Some vineyards may wait decades for their highest quality fruit.

As God matures our faith, the wisdom and discernment that He works in us (pruning and training His grapevines) strengthens us for the struggles that we inevitably face in this life. And the process will take our entire life.

The connection Jesus makes in John 15:5  is clear: true life only comes when we are connected to the true Vine. During this season of life, how are you remaining connected to the Vine in meaningful ways?

Ask God to open opportunities in neglected areas in which you can participate more fully. Even if it only means five minutes in His Word each day, those are vital, nourishing minutes.

God faithfully promises that when we seek Him, we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13).

God has grafted, nourished, and set us apart in His vineyard to produce fruit. Apart from Him we can do nothing.

The question is ─ do we bear wild grapes, unfit for consumption, or do we bear good fruit that will be used by God to bring Him glory?

 

Coming July 5, 2018, a brand new DVD Bible study series:

New Wine Out of This Old Wine Skin

In September 2017, I visited a vineyard in upstate New York at the height of harvest season. My eyes feasted on the lush, green canopy under which large, juicy bunches of purple grapes hung from sturdy vines. Every slight breeze that ruffled the green oasis carried a sweet smell of ripe, luscious goodness.

I wanted to settle in and stay a while.

It was night and day compared to the last time I visited Gage Farm Vineyards during winter. The pruned vines appeared as lifeless sticks — old and unusable.

The harvest season offered a vision of lush abundance that caused a deep sense of peace and contentment. The winter season looked harsh and felt like hope had been pruned away with the canopy.

I walked down many rows in that vineyard during both seasons, Bible in my hand, reading John 15. Jesus tells His disciples: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser” (John 15:1). Those words made sense amidst the harvest, but seemed out of place in winter.

God brought to mind the parable in Matthew 9:17: “No one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.”

Winter looked and felt like an old wine skin.

Settling in and staying a while in winter never crossed my mind. I kept thinking, “How can these cold, lifeless sticks produce new wine?” My eyes desperately scanned each row for signs of life.

That’s how spiritual winter seasons feel. Sometimes it seems that God prunes so much out of our life it leaves us wondering, “How in the world is there anything left to prune, God?” We feel like a bloody, useless stump looking around a barren winter stick yard.

Maybe you are there right now. Maybe you feel the blood frozen on the stump of your dreams. You may be tempted to believe that the spring thaw is never coming. After all, what use is an old wine skin?

Let me tell you, fellow branch in God’s vineyard, God never prunes for the sake of pruning. He’s not trying to make an ornamental bonsai tree out of your life. God prunes to make us abundantly fruitful for His glory.

He promises: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) You and I may have some years under our belt and feel like an old wine skin.

But hold on a minute.

The Lord promises that His mercies arrive new every day (in every season) — even in winter. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:22-23) He creates in us a clean heart — a heart transplant at our baptism.

We’re going to be spending some time in John 15:1-17 over the summer because there are beautiful truths we need to understand if we are to survive and thrive as a branch in God’s vineyard.

Whatever season you are experiencing, take heart. We may long to settle into the lush canopy full of ripe goodness, but harvest does not appear without winter pruning.

Only the Vinedresser sees the future of the branch. When God prunes us, He holds us safely in His mighty hands as He clears away the extraneous thoughts, words, and deeds from our life.

Sometimes when the winter is severe, you may think that He is absent.

Just remember, beloved, He is holding you TIGHT.

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear … for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

 

Coming July 5, 2018, a brand new DVD Bible study series:

 

Your Messy Bravery Makes This Mess Brave

You have gathered close and invited me across state lines and beyond our country’s borders for one simple, profound privilege: to huddle our hearts together around God’s Word. 

And I’ve seen you come from all over — bags packed, faith intact, and prayers offered with the desire to go deeper with God. You did it again just a few weeks ago as we gathered at my home church to tape a new DVD Bible study series in partnership with the LWML.

And I have to tell you:

You are brave. 

Every. 
Single. 
One. 
Of. 
You.

You have come regardless of insecurities and difficulties, not knowing if you would belong. Hoping to fit in somewhere. And it’s as if I’m looking in a mirror. 

We come with our stories searching to see how they fit into His bigger story — because that is what we have. Stories. God’s Word shining light on our lives to write stories that bleed, heal, and bless.

The lines of our stories become life-lines we share with each other when life’s storms blow hard.

Jesus often taught through stories called parables. Because people can relate to stories.

In the midst of our brave story-sharing, we discover there are a whole lot of other women out there who are a bit of a mess just like us. Messy because of those days we have to fight for joy when the enemy pulls out his arsenal. Messy because we long for eternity while living in a fallen world.

We are a mess — you and I — saved by grace. A brave mess. Brave because each day you get out of bed despite wanting to pull the covers over your head until the aches and disappointments subside.

We brave the harsh world to share our messy stories because other women need to know perfection this side of heaven is an illusion.

And as we gather around His Word, sharing our messy stories, the Spirit of God can bind our wounds. He can take away the sting of loneliness and restore joy despite the laundry heap, crying kids, bruised marriages, and frayed dreams.

Please keep getting out of bed.

We need your messy, real, authentic, unmasked stories trusting that in the hands of the Spirit, the stories become salve to the battered souls. Because as we gather in community around God’s story, the Word is made flesh in our own lives.

I need your messy story… and you need your messy story. We need people who will tell us their story, not their sermons — their thrashing, not their theology. Because we need to know that we aren’t the only messy ones. 

You are BRAVE.

Your bravery makes me brave.

And together we bravely face this world armed with the Sword of the Spirit that reveals the life-altering story of a Resurrection Easter love written for all. So we suit up.

Not because we, the messy, are perfect.

But because of the perfect One who wasn’t afraid of our messes and risked it ALL to write the perfect ending to our stories.

Thank you for being brave.

WWW.LWML.ORG/BIBLE-STUDIES

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For the Love of Bible Study {plus free downloads}

When it comes to Bible study, I admit that it used to scare my freckles white. As a new Christian 25 years ago, my Bible’s table of contents was a lifeline to find my way around Scripture.

How do you view Bible study? Frustrating, fulfilling or downright frightening?

Much like a car’s GPS, effective Bible study tools often spare us the discomfort of getting lost in Scripture.

Because who likes getting lost?

Study Bibles and other resources are helpful tools, but when it comes to studying God’s Word for personal growth (rather than preparing to speak or teach from it), I’d like to suggest a method from personal experience that works well:

(1) Shelve your study Bible.

Don’t discard it, just shelve it initially. Get a Bible that contains only Scripture cross-references. Look up the cross-references to help you interpret and navigate through Scripture. Comparing Scripture with Scripture lets the Bible explain itself, allowing God’s context to speak.

Treat study Bible notes as what they are: commentary, and a brief one at that. Remember they are man’s words, subject to bias and error. Read them respectfully but critically.

(2) Take your time.

Ask God for insight as you begin studying His Word. Humbly ask God to reveal truth to your heart and mind as you read for understanding on your own. Ask again as you compare your discoveries to those of trusted commentators.

Even if you discover that you may have drawn an inaccurate conclusion from a passage, your diligence to discover the correct interpretation will cause you to remember more readily.

This journey is vitally necessary for spiritual growth.

(3) Consult multiple sources.

Study notes serve as a starting point, not a terminus. Once you have read the passages for personal understanding in a note-free Bible, consult several study Bibles and commentaries from trusted sources. Look for consensus and disagreement among them.

And keep those prayer lines open with God as you go.

There are many resources, so where do we start? Here are some of my indispensable research mainstays:

The Lutheran Study Bible by Concordia Publishing House
Logos Bible Software
www.blueletterbible.com
ESV Bible Atlas
The New Strong’s Expanded and Exhaustive Concordance
Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words
NIV Archaeological Study Bible: An Illustrated Walk Through Biblical History and Culture

There are others, but I usually use the above resources each time regardless. Just remember, those study tools serve as a reference point for your conclusions, but not as a substitute for them.

And don’t be afraid to get a little lost in Scripture.

Allow yourself to feel the extent of what you don’t understand. It’s a humbling feeling.

If wisdom and understanding define your destination, humility makes an excellent starting point for the journey.

After all, God faithfully promises: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

How do you view and/or approach Bible study?

Comment below and let’s learn from each other’s tips and study methods. We’re on this journey together!

FREE DOWNLOADS:
Here are four different Bible Reading Checklists to choose from. Tuck one (or all) neatly in your Bible for marking your study journey. Please feel free to share them.

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Extinguishing the Flames of Anger

When Demi Lovato’s album Unbroken released six years ago, the album title intrigued me.

At the time, I was struggling with anger following my divorce.

I don’t know much about Demi’s history or music, other than her incredible vocal range. I listened to the songs carefully to find out how she developed the album’s theme.

She wrote one of the songs to her dad, pleading for him to put down the alcohol and keep his selfish hands off his daughter. It broke my heart. How awful.

Suddenly the stories that circulated on the Internet over the years about Demi entering rehab for cutting and bulimia made sense. The powerless trying to regain control.

So what does this have to do with anger?

In the music video for that particular song, Demi demonstrates that she is using the power of success to overcome her painful past.

Paraphrased, Demi’s lyrics basically say, “Go ahead and try to tear me down, but I will rise from the ground like a skyscraper.”

It’s a popular mind-set in our culture that says, “If you hurt me, I don’t get angry and take revenge; I become successful to prove that you can’t hurt me anymore.”

However, such a mind-set is commonly driven by unresolved anger. We resolve to become indestructible skyscrapers, but have we dealt with what happened at the foundation?

God set the example by being slow to anger (Exodus 34:6, Psalm 30:5). Anger is a volatile emotion that must be handled with kid gloves.

One day during my divorce process, I telephoned my television cable provider to switch the service from both of our names to mine only.

The customer service representative could not seem to understand that my husband was unavailable to approve my request, even after telling her that my husband no longer lived in our home and would not be returning.

I reached the breaking point.

I shouted something about her being too deaf to hear and too dense to understand, slammed down the phone’s receiver, yanked the whole thing out of the wall, and threw it across the bedroom with all my might. It left a perfect, telephone-shaped hole in the sheet rock.

That was not a proud moment on many levels.

My over-the-top anger vividly taught me that anger can cause damage—literally. That day I asked God to remove those sharp, angry edges and begin the process of mending my heart.

I prayed for that poor customer service rep whose hair I set aflame and asked God’s forgiveness.

If you struggle with anger, it takes intentional time in prayer and God’s Word to remove it.

At one point during her video, Demi looks defiantly into the camera as if to say, “You tried to rip me down, but my sweetest revenge will be in-your-face success.”

That mind-set likely resonates with us at some level because all of us have been hurt. Whether someone betrayed a trust, shared a secret, or physically hurt us, we get it.

Sometimes we feel the need to prove that we can rise like a skyscraper above painful adversity.

But we will not find resurrection apart from Jesus.

Anger is appropriate if we’ve been hurt, but many of us take it further. Sometimes, we add coals of bitterness and resentment and stoke our anger with dreams of vengeance.

But the truth is that we never master the flame.

Fire doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t just scorch those who hurt you—it scorches you. Eventually, it will consume your life (Psalm 37:8).

Anger itself is not a sin. However, it may become sinful when excessive or prolonged.

When we hold on to anger and bitterness, the conflagration eventually destroys us from the inside out. Evil wins.

So how do we properly respond to our wounds when we are surrounded by an outrage-obsession culture?

We don’t resolve to throw telephones across the room or build skyscrapers.

We choose to forgive.

And only God gives us the strength for that hard task.

Forgiveness is the only way to extinguish the flames of anger and once again put your feet on the path toward joy.

Surrender your anger to God.

Let Him build a skyscraper of grace in your life, built on the foundation of forgiveness.

 

*This post is an excerpt from my new book, Forgiveness: Received from God, Extended to Others, available now.

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