Bearing Up and Bringing Forth

beautiful roseI have discovered something lovely and encouraging that I thought you might enjoy sharing with me. I have been slowly studying through John 14-15 lately, and taking the time to really absorb what Jesus was saying. These are some of my favorite passages, and they have had tremendous influence in my life. I love how favorite Scriptures can jump to life with added dimension and richness. The Holy Spirit takes the Word, which is already living and active, and He causes it to leap into our lives, surrounding, bathing, and filling us with more of His truth and light.

“I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and He prunes the branches that do bear fruit, so that they will produce even more.  You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you.” John 14:1-3 nlt

I have been meditating on this concept of pruning, and my own experience in this long season. I have journaled various thoughts with God, and, on what I believe to be a holy nudge, I looked more closely at the origin of the words. I was surprised and moved by what I saw there. Please allow me to insert the Strong’s definition of the words into the text, so that we might capture the image that Jesus’s disciples would have understood.

“I am the true vine and My Father is the husbandman.  Every branch in Me (this means true believers) that does not [bear up and bring forth]  [works, acts deeds, effects, results] by [enduring the rigor of it], He (the Father) [lifts up forcibly, moving it from its place and carries it off]; and every branch that does [bear up and bring forth] [works, acts, deeds, effects, results] by [enduring the rigor of it], He (the Father) [cleanses it of its impurities, cuts away useless shoots and expiates their guilt], that they may (again) [bear up and bring forth] [works, acts, deeds, effects, results] (by again) [enduring the rigor of it].  Now you have already been [cleansed, purified by fire and so fitted to bear fruit] through the Word I have spoken to you.”

empty roseIt settled upon me that this very instruction explains so much of why we wither away even though we have a true faith in Christ. It’s the challenges that we face… we get worn out, discouraged, and sometimes we opt out; we quit. Perhaps we lay down our burden so that someone else must pick it up. Maybe we shrink back quietly into the shadows of our faith, consoling ourselves with these thoughts: It is just too much for me; I can’t do it.  I’m not strong enough.  I’m not smart enough.  This burden is too much; I’m simply not enough.

And it is; the burden is too much for you to bear.  But that is where we must reach out to the Master Gardener, our loving and always good Father, to lift us up, put support under and around us.  We must choose to stay connected to Jesus by living every day in His Word, the Scriptures, to feed us, fertilize us, and water us.  God’s beautiful sun is always shining down upon us, giving us nutrients that we will need for the challenge that is placed before  us.  But if we do not regularly drink deeply of the living water that moves powerfully (although sometimes invisibly) through the written Word of God, the sun will dry us and exhaust us and we will wilt. When we take the time to drink deeply of the ever-flowing fountain of God’s life, through His carefully recorded Word to us,  the water we soak up balances out the sun that is beaming down upon us, allowing the Holy Spirit to convert those nutrients into energy and strength for us.

But the soil… well, that’s our responsibility.  What are we putting in the soil of our hearts?  Or what are we unwilling to let go of? Jesus taught quite explicitly that the condition of one’s heart (the soil) correlates directly with the outcome of our fruitfulness.  Are we pulling up the weeds that are strangling God’s good life in us?  Are we tilling up the soil so that air can reach our roots?  Are we removing the rocks that block our reach for more life?  Yes, our Father is the Master Gardener, and Jesus is the life that will flow through us, but the maintenance of the soil happens through our looking to see God, listening to hear God, and our cooperating with the Holy Spirit as He reveals the obstacles that are blocking our growth.

Will we endure the rigor of the thing?  If we will, Jesus promises in this passage that our Father will cleanse us of our impurities, cutting away useless growth, and wash away our guilt but only as we endure the rigor, bear up, and bring forthWe have to choose to endure.  If we will not endure, if we turn back and shrink away, our Father will lift us up out of our comfortable hiding place, moving us forcibly from where we feel safe, and will allow us to learn what it feels like to be truly disconnected from the flow of God’s effervescent and blessed life.  Yes, you are still IN JESUS, as He stated in the beginning.  But having chosen to disconnect from the challenge, God then disconnects us from some of the flow, some of the blessing that accompanies being willing to stay right where God has planted us and to bear up and bring forth.  We only live under the fountain of God’s blessing and His amazing life flow when we endure the rigor of the challenge He has placed before us, remaining closely connected to Him by remaining in His presence. We like to think that God’s blessing follows us wherever we want to wander, and it does, but only in small measure.  The good life, the beautiful life, is found by enduring the rigor of the challenge, bearing up and bringing forth works, deeds, acts, effects, and results that further God’s kingdom work in us, through us, and around us.

The sweetest joy that I have ever known is the joy of feeling His presence, seeing Him move, hearing Him speak, and experiencing His good gifts. It is ours… if we endure. 

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Crosstowne Retreat Session 3

Hi All!  Please click here to access the Crosstowne Retreat Session 3. You will be redirected to the Journey Bible Study website (a sister site) where the messages are actually archived. Thank you for joining us!

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Crosstowne Retreat Session 2

Hi All!  Please click here to access the Crosstowne Retreat Session 2. You will be redirected to the Journey Bible Study website (a sister site) where the messages are actually archived. Thank you for joining us!

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Crosstowne Retreat Session 1

Hi All!  Please click here to access the Crosstowne Retreat Session 1. You will be redirected to the Journey Bible Study website (a sister site) where the messages are actually archived. Thank you for joining us!

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Familiar Land, the Untold Story – Chapter One

Hello dear friends, some of you will have read the first little bit of this, but much of this is brand new.  Enjoy!

Chapter One

The little girl sat quietly, her feet tucked under the nightgown she pulled tightly around her. It was dark, only the faintest light inside her little house, and the air was cool and damp. Her tummy rumbled a bit, hungry for a snack. Sleep eluded her that night, as it had many other nights before. And so she retreated into the one place where she always felt safe: her imagination.
beautiful doorwayLife had not always been so quiet for this little girl. Familiar Land was a beautiful land, a land filled with mountains and valleys, cities and farmland, animals and people, work and play. There were people of all shapes and sizes, all colors and languages. Depending upon which group you were born into, the other groups of people could appear quite comical, or perplexing, or even troubling. And while they all had their own ways of relating to one another, they all had one very important thing in common: to survive, they all needed Love.

Unlike our world, Dear Reader, Love wasn’t just something one felt; it was a living substance, something with which they could nourish one another. You see, Love was created by a recipe that had been passed down through the centuries, a recipe with basic requirements that could not be altered; anything less than those primary ingredients would result in a defective batch of Love, a batch that would be unable to work its life-giving miracle inside the one who consumed it. The loaf of Genuine Love could also have some other sweet ingredients added in that could improve the loveliness of its appearance, its taste, and its texture.

Genuine Love was the most sought-after, most prized, and most essential element in that world. No one could live without at least a meager portion of it being given to them, yet no one could actually create it for themselves. They could create a batch of it for others; but their own creation would never be able to nourish their own body. They were completely dependent upon others to feed them this life-giving and life-altering substance.

Dear Reader, there were other differences in Familiar Land that might seem confusing, but I hope that you will allow the story itself to explain. Familiar Land was laid out in various villages, towns, cities, and communities, similar to what we know. Within each community there were families. Some families were made of blood relatives, aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents, children and parents. These could be small or large, depending upon each family’s preference. Some families, however, were made up of groups of people, who desired to live very close to one another, sharing their life space and creating a community of harmony for themselves. In fact, each community created its own sense of harmony, but not all were as happy as others. But I get ahead of myself, Dear Reader; we will learn more about that as we journey together.

Within these smaller communities, there were clusters of houses, like a small neighborhood block. The houses might be closely built to one another or each might have more space around it. The people of Familiar Land lived, much as we do, out in the spaces between the houses, together– relating to one another, going to school, going to work, marketing, and the like. Unlike our world, Dear Reader, each and every citizen in Familiar Land had their own small house, and slept in it at night. This means that a father slept in one house, the mother slept in another, and each child had their own small house to sleep in. Only when a child was very young was it allowed to sleep in the same house with its mother. Once it grew a little bit, that child would sleep in their own house at night. In the daytime, however, the people of Familiar Land lived together.

Let us return once again to this matter of the Genuine Love they all needed. As we have discussed, Love was a substance that could be consumed, like a batch of sweet bread. Do you enjoy pumpkin bread with walnuts and chocolate chips, with a confectioner’s glaze drizzled on its top and sides? Perhaps you prefer a loaf of banana bread, still warm and steaming from the oven, or a loaf of apple bread, fragrant from cinnamon and buttery in its tenderness? Perhaps you prefer a loaf of carrot bread, with pineapple and walnuts in its mix? Or lemony blueberry bread, or moist strawberry bread? Genuine Love was created by a recipe set down before the foundation of their world, a recipe that was as unalterable as the vast galaxies and stretches of outer space. Any substitution of its basic ingredients, even one of them, would render the creation powerless to strengthen and nourish those who would partake of it. Those feasting on the Love Loaf might not realize its failure, for it might still be very sweet to the taste. But their bodies and lives would soon show the neglect, for without those basic ingredients, life would not continue to grow in a healthy manner for those who were unfortunate enough to consume it.

A steady supply of Genuine Love did even more, however, than strengthen a person’s body; it could also clothe them quite mysteriously. This isn’t something we can easily explain, because the mysteries of life are just that- mysteries that we try to unravel and understand and explain away. But true mysteries, and the workings of so many things in life, cannot be neatly deduced and broken down. Instead, we look at their results and do the best we can to describe that to one another. We may postulate guesses as to the parts we cannot see, but in the end, a wise person is willing to acknowledge that there are just some things that we will never fully understand. And that is very, very good, for it keeps us moving forward in hope to a life that is greater and more powerful than we are.

So a steady supply of Genuine Love clothed a person in more substantial, more attractive clothing. This happened over time. Small changes might appear in the garments they put on each morning. Some days, an entirely new garment would appear and that lucky person felt very special and very secure as they went out into the world on that day. And at very crucial times in life, usually after a very difficult season of struggle and exhaustion in life, there might appear an entirely new outfit for that person. What a relief to awake one day, the tattered clothes worn through that difficult time finally gone, with a new outfit prepared especially for them and for their new season of life.

Love also provided a warm fire in the home of the one who fed on it. This, too, was a mystery, yet it was true, nonetheless. A person whose tummy was satisfied with a meal of Love found a fire in their little house that night to warm them. And that brings us to another difference about Familiar Land. Their climate was a little different from most of ours, in that nights were always cool, and in the winter they were very, very cold. While they enjoyed the seasons, much as we do, and there was even summer warmth to enjoy, every evening the air cooled sweetly. Every night required at least a small fire to warm the air so that the sleeper could sleep well. In fact, the best sleep was found by snuggling under a warm blanket, feet toasty warm because of the heat, yet air cool enough to sweeten the air.

Love also created a type of currency for the good folks of Familiar Land. Some families came from a long line of excellent Love Bakers. Their Exceptional Love starter was similar to what we might think of as a yeast starter. The same line of superior starter was then enriched and fed so that it could continue to grow and be useful to those who inherited it. These families seemed to have a sense of contentment about them that was almost startling to other citizens of Familiar Land. Dear Reader, as is true for you and I, not all families were able to maintain a healthy, thriving, growing starter mix, and thus their Love was a little more, well, shall we say, rough around the edges. But those whose inheritance included great Love Bakers were always filled to the brim with Love, varied in its tasty ingredients, yet always thoroughly satisfying. The more vibrant the Love meal, the sweeter the sleep.

These wealthier families, rich in Love, often shared their valuable starter with others. This nutritious mix was so beneficial to those who were fortunate enough to receive it, that they often gave great gifts of gratitude to the Exceptional Love Bakers. A family who crafted furniture might bestow a gift of furniture to the Exceptional Love Bakers. A family who were great farmers might be sure that the Exceptional Love Bakers had a steady supply of only the best produce for their Love baking. They might graciously donate this simply out of gratitude and joy for how the Expert Love Bakers had added to their own supply of Love, and how it had enriched their lives. With each gift, however, the giver always (and often shyly) included an offering of their freshly baked Love. The Expert Love Bakers were then fed by others, in a way, the Love which they had given away. In this way, the great Love was shared by many, distributed freely, and enriching many lives.

There were more families, however, that did not inherit such high quality Love. This was true for the vast majority of Familiar Land people. This left the citizens of Familiar Land in various conditions of weakened health. For some, they received just enough Love to keep their belly from rumbling, but not enough to really fill full. Others dined on Love that had grown stale and lifeless. The ingredient that should have allowed the Love Loaf to rise in the warm darkness of waiting had died from lack of sugar and warm water. It had grown cold and not been fed. The starter still looked like starter, but it did not contain the life and nutrients needed to become a wholesome meal. This left these families with hard loaves of bread, crusty and heavy, filling their mouths but souring their bellies. These folks developed a dull, lifeless quality. Their minds were not strong and their hearts grew thick and crusty, just like their loaves. When they offered their Love Loaves to others outside their family, they were surprised and hurt, and later often angry, that their gifts were not welcomed and appreciated. In the beginning, new friends received them with gratitude, but over time, the others didn’t seem to want to continue to trade Love Loaves with them. These Dissatisfied Love people did not fully understand why their Love was rejected. And they did not understand why others did not freely share their Love Loaves with them. They did not realize that the Dissatisfied Love Loaves actually made these other families sick when they ate it, and that sometimes it could take quite a while to recover from that sickness.

A different kind of Love Loaf was baked by families whose Love starter lacked the oil of gladness. Their starter, and their family’s recipe, had lost this essential ingredient along the way. The oil of gladness added suppleness, joy, and important fuel for living. Somewhere along the way, a family baker had begun to substitute a different liquid for the oil of gladness, thinking they might save a few dollars in the process. This exchange was devastating to the Love Loaf. But the family had eaten it for so long without the oil of gladness that they did not know what they were missing. Sometimes, if they were fortunate enough to dine on some great quality Love, they might recognize a difference in the texture, without understanding what might solve the problem. They might attribute it to the added raisins or dates, or to a little more sugar. They could not know exactly what was missing until somewhere along the way, they were taught more deeply the true recipe for Love.

Dear Reader, I want to introduce you to the young girl you read about as we first began this tale. This young girl was an ordinary girl, born to ordinary parents, living a very ordinary existence. There was nothing remarkable about her arrival or about her appearance. But deep inside, this young girl felt that she might not be ordinary at all… but instead, that she might be, well…. Quite extraordinary!

This young girl was full of thoughts, full of curious questions, and full of dreams. As she twirled about in the sunshine, under the trees and then out into the grassy yards, she dreamed of wonderful things. In fact, there was rarely a time when this young girl was not thinking, and most of her thoughts were full of wonder and possibilities. And so it came to be, that this young girl was known as Possibilities.

You see in Familiar Land, dear Reader, unlike what is most likely your own experience, the citizens were not officially named until their personality had emerged. When there became some understanding of the qualities of that person, the name was bestowed upon them with great purpose and significance. In some ways, it also opened doors of dreams and hopes for them. It allowed their true self to shine forth and grow in their own special strengths. Until the child was known, and accordingly named, they were simply called by their family’s last name– Baby Girl Jones, or Toddler Son Smith.

And so it was that our young friend, filled with hopes and dreams and an imagination vast enough to write books of ideas, became known as Possibilities. Everywhere she looked, she saw what was… and what was not; at least not yet. You see, she could see the potential in so many things. What might look like a barren patch of ground to you or I grabbed Possibilities’ attention like a magnet. In that barren ground, she immediately saw bushels of flowers overflowing a small, lush garden. She knew exactly which flowers and shrubs should be in the back of the patch and which ones should spill out the front border. She could see things that others could not see… and in that seeing, she found a way to make it possible. Always but always, Possibilities saw the possibilities in anything that captured her attention.

In those early years, Possibilities was filled with the rich Love Loaves her family fed her. There were uncles and aunts, three sets of doting grandparents nearby, and of course the Love of her mother and father. Of all the Love that Possibilities was fed, there were some loaves that filled her even more joyfully than others. She had a special young uncle who had never been good at school, yet he was as gentle and attentive as a young father might be. And this Uncle cared for young Possibilities when she was still a wee girl. His Love Loaf was so sweet and so satisfying that young Possibilities slept soundly every night, filled to the brim with nourishing goodness.

And so life seemed sunny and happy to the very young girl, long brown hair streaming behind her as she ran and danced and jumped and flopped. She loved crafts or anything she could create, and she loved her music, her stuffed bunnies, and the story books she discovered in the library. Stories intrigued her the very most, because they took her on adventures in foreign lands, in deep dark woods, or in flight across a fairy’s land. Stories could take her anywhere, and one never knew for sure where one would end up. But almost always, she was so very glad for the journey she explored in the stories she was read and the stories she heard. Possibilities’ mind was further filled with all sorts of imagery, and new things to know, and, well…. possibilities.

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Bringing back Familiar Land

Hello dear friends,

I am sorry it has been so long since I last sat down with you. I have been going through my own struggles, and deep valleys, but I believe that God is bringing me out into fresher air and a higher view. I had a very heavy load this year providing all that my mother’s illness and transfer to Summerville abandoned old styled house with tile roofingrequired.  I am grateful to all of you who prayed for her, and for me, in this time. She is stable, and in long-term care here in Summerville.  I am so thankful to God for all that He provided. He has also been doing some very deep work in my heart, which means that many very, very deep places have been excavated and His healing is ministering to those areas even as we speak. Meanwhile, I was still homeschooling all Spring and again now- Algebra II, Chemistry, U.S. History, American Literature, etc. I have a very full and busy life, but I am thankful for the renewal and calming sense the fall brings to me.  I also developed a herniated disc (L5) in June and was on bedrest as much as possible until sometime in August.  I am still wearing a back brace full time and resting when possible, but thankfully, through decompression therapy, my disc is no longer as inflamed or troubling as it once was.  This addition made for a tough summer!

Enough about me, though, how are you? I wonder what burdens are in your heart today? Can I pray for you? Father God, I call upon you in the mighty name of Jesus Christ, knowing that you hear every word and every thought, you catch every tear and feel every pain with us, and that every single detail of our lives matter to you! I bring my sweet sister before you now, both of us bowing first at your feet in humble reverence, and then joyfully throwing ourselves into your loving arms, asking for your very specific attention and very specific intervention in the matters we lay before you. Sweet Sister, tell Him now exactly what your burden is, and then tell Him what you would ask that He might do. Jesus asked blind Bart, “What do you want me to do for you?” Sweet Sister, what do you want your heavenly Father to do for you?  Tell Him now, pour it out. And Father God, we gratefully accept whatever is your perfect will in this matter, but may we never hold back asking in honesty, for James, the brother of Jesus, said that we do not have because we do not ask. If, dear Father, you will something towards our lives that is somehow hindered by disobedience in our lives, or by some delaying work of the enemy, please break through that work now.  Convict us powerfully that we may repent and be free before you. Send your mighty angels to fight for us against those unseen realms that are so very real.  And Father God, may we never leave behind any answer or gift that You will from heaven, with heaven’s door opened towards earth, that we must first open in specific prayer and genuine love with you. Earth’s door opens through our asking and joining our will with yours.  Heaven’s door opens in your perfect will. May these channels be opened today and may your goodness flow unhindered into our lives in these and other matters.  Thank you, Father, for who you are, and how you love us. May we love you completely, without reservation. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

For those of you who once read portions of Familiar Land, through the Journey Bible Study I wrote a few years ago, I am rewriting this story even now. I feel that I am to share it with you all, as I write.  This is the story in a completely rough, completely unedited version. It is not in its final form. But if you would enjoy reading along as it unfolds, then here it is. Enjoy!  Familiar Land 2015

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Your Prayers Moved Mountains!

20150127_104031I have wonderful news! Our God has moved mountains for my mother’s care and for His own great name’s sake!  Praise Him for graciously demonstrating His goodness in this way!  My mother (Linda) is being cared for in an establishment that has had similar issues with other patients over the past several months. Until now, the situation has remained bleak for the residents. To preserve a spirit of praise and not blaming, I will limit what I share. But to summarize the situation, the staff was considering moving my mother to inpatient care at the MUSC Psychiatric Hospital as of late on Tuesday afternoon. I did not even know how dire it had become when I first asked you for prayer last week. (She could have lost her medicaid bed, had she gone.)

You prayed, and God reversed the situation.  What had not been being done, was now done. On Wednesday morning, the staff granted Mom their permission to travel to the upstate to see her own Psychiatrist of almost 20 years, with the complete agreement to fill and dispense whatever medications he prescribed. This was a complete miracle of God!  If you knew the details that I know, you would better understand! As a result of this wonderful news, we made a crisis call to her Psychiatrist and later Wednesday evening, I drove her to the upstate.  It was a long, difficult journey, but her doctor was able to start her back down a path towards balance and stability, and we are forever grateful to our God for taking care of this.  She and I returned late on Thursday, much encouraged.  God also granted us some special time on that long journey, and I am grateful for that, as well.

Again, thank YOU for stepping out in faith for a woman you have never met and for petitioning for her with compassion.  I am so thankful for you, for your prayers, and for your loving encouragement.  His name be lifted – He has performed miraculous deeds for us!

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