Thursday, October 27, 2011

COUNT IT ALL JOY!

This past summer was the first year for strawberries from our very own strawberry patch! Last year I pampered the new crowns with diligent weeding, manure tea application and water. I trained the vines to stay in their proper row and placed hay between each strip for weed control and easier picking. I was so excited when they began to produce blossoms, but…as directed, I painstakingly plucked each one of them! I’ve read that this makes for stronger plants and better production. While, at the time, I would have much rather allowed them to develop into fruit, it was truly worth the wait. Before the season was over this year, I picked more than eleven gallons of berries from only thirty strawberry plants!

Once they were done producing, we mowed the strawberry plants to just above the crowns. Oh my goodness! My flourishing plants were now leafless, ugly stubs! It looked like they’d never bear fruit again! I know it sounds disastrous, but it is my understanding that this stimulates growth and produces hardier plants for next year’s crop. I went out yesterday to make sure that they were weed free and to protect them with more hay for the coming frigid weather. As I had learned, amazingly the foliage is already full and very healthy looking!

As I reflect upon the severe treatment which these strawberry plants endured in order to produce such a “bumper crop” and vibrant looking plants for next year,

I’m reminded of how Father works in the lives of His children,
“He cuts off every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful”

(John 15:2)!

We tend to think that when the Master Gardener prunes, He only cuts off the sinful “deadwood” in our lives. However, according to John 15:12, He also prunes that which is full of life! I’m reminded of times in my life when it was not obvious sin that Father was dealing with, but He was trimming around my prayer and study life and cutting into my ministry to others. Although I was producing fruit, there were still imperfections which needed purification even in those areas. The pruning which Jesus spoke of in John 15 has to do with trimming away weaknesses in order that we might be as fruitful as He desires. While our punishment was completed at the cross, we can rightly consider pruning as discipline from our Father. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

How can we expect pruning to manifest in our lives? The Master Gardener uses physical, emotional, mental and spiritual trials in order to promote fruitfulness. These trials are not only absolutely essential for our spiritual growth, but “This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8). While God chose us for eternal life, there is far more to being a Christian than receiving a ticket into heaven. “I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last...” (John 15:16) and love is the lasting fruit (John15:17)!

When it feels as though every beautiful blossom has been plucked from your life and every life-bearing leaf has been mowed down, “consider it pure joy, my brother… because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James: 1:2-3). While it may feel as though you will never again produce anything worthwhile, remember this, “trials have come so that your faith…may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus is revealed” (1 Peter 1:7). Through these trials you will learn to love like you’ve never loved before!

Sometimes it is disheartening because the older I get, the more sin-filled imperfections I see in myself and with diminishing energy, the pruning seems more wearisome. Yet, I’m assured that the righteous, “will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock…” (Ps 92:14-15).

How should I respond then to the precious pruning from my Father’s hand?
I shall consider it pure joy!




Suffering Is Not A Stepping-Stone

Several time over the past years I’ve had people say that they detect lots of pain in our congregation. With the best of intentions they say that they also sense that this pain will pass and the church will move into its destiny of a great and wonderful future. I used to cling to those kinds of promises because the pain we were experiencing as a congregation is so intense. Like them, I considered the suffering a stepping-stone to a greater and easier life and ministry.

After years and years of this kind of delusional thinking, I’ve come to the conclusion that pain and suffering are a fact of life. They are not things to be avoided, but recognized and understood. We must make peace with this reality. In biblical language, we so desire to wear the crown without the cross. True life actually bears the imprint of the cross. The cross permeates all of life. And the crown is thorny.

Even yesterday, I encouraged the community to begin to discern that meaningful life and true ministry is already happening in the midst of their suffering, that our community is being true and doing the work in the midst of the trials and tribulations. We must rid our minds of the universally pervasive illusion that once the problems and obstacles are past, then we’ll move into our glory. Not so. Our glory is in the cross, not after it.

Yes, their is pain and suffering. We don’t deny it. And we don’t deny it because we believe that it is through our obvious weakness that the truest life and work is being accomplished. To some, this is the aroma of death. To others, to those who can discern, it is the aroma of life.

This painting is one I did years ago and is called “The Narrow Way”.
- David Hayward

Whole-Heartedly,
Bonnie

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Go For It! Show Your Ignorance!

One of my all time favorite T.V. programs is the comedy, Little Rascals! Based upon real life, the majority of the children were poor and the gang was often at odds with snobbish "rich kids" and overbearing adults. The Church can learn a great deal from the adventures that Our Gang faced and how Spanky and Friends responded to their “adversaries.”

Stymie was “a slick-tongued con-artist who was always self-assured, nonchalant, and ready with a sly comment as well as clever ideas to solve the problems he faced.” In Bargain Day, Stymie and Wheezer decided that they would be door-to-door salesmen. Prior to hitting the streets, Wheezer warns Stymie, “Now listen, dumbbell; when somebody comes to the door, don't you show your ignorance!” With a sly smile, Stymie replies, “Uh-uhhh, brutha; I ain't gonna show my ignorance to noooo-body!” Stymie and Wheezer eventually end up at the house of a rich but lonely girl, Shirley. The conversation goes something like this:

Shirley: What's your name?
Stymie: My name is Styyyyyyymie.
Shirley: Oh; your daddy's our chauffeur.
Stymie: Nuh-uh; my daddy ain't no chauffeur! My daddy's just a crap-shootiiiin' fool!

Professing believers in Jesus often get nervous when others ask questions about faith and the Bible. Sadly, in all our efforts to not “show our ignorance,” like Stymie, we make a worse impression in our attempts to prove that we have the “right” answers. And, like Wheezer, we tend to stifle those who might blow the pretense that “true” children of God have it all figured out.

I know that I don’t have all the answers; consequently I don’t leave many things unquestioned. Yet, I’ve discovered that others often get real fidgety when I question the status quo in the Church. Sometimes, they even get downright aggressive! It took me a long time to understand why my questions stir such a fuss. I’ve come to understand that asking questions tends to interfere with the comfort zones of those who:

1) believe that they have it all figured out. While they might give lip service to not having all the right answers, in reality they often fear that their “sales pitch” will be ruined if their fa├žade is exposed.
2) are afraid that what they’ve always believed and trusted in may be unfounded. I know a number of people who willingly admit that they are afraid to ask questions because they know that if the answer to the first one is baseless, all else will come crumbling down around it and “that’s just too scary!”

I understand the fear. I’ve been there. And, I’ve discovered that a spirit of questioning and investigation is rarely appreciated and, sadly, too often squelched or thrust out. Who wants that! Yet, I came to a place where I was confronting this reality; if the Product whom I say that I believe in and have been trying to “sell” to others can’t stand on His own, I’d better start looking for a new “Product”! I came to realize that while we must “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15), the answers that I’d always given weren’t working for me any more!



Yes, questions can feel like a very dangerous thing. However, there is freedom for us and others when we are being authentic. Not only do we not have to fumble all over ourselves and others in an effort to hide our ignorance, others are much more comfortable around us if we sincerely admit that we are just as ignorant as the next guy about many things! We must realize that, no less than Spanky and friends, our adversaries are not flesh and blood, rather the spirits of this world, especially pride. We must ask Father to show us our true hearts, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?” Or… am I not Christ’s servant because I’m still trying to please men (Galatians 1:10)?

The Bereans earned their favorable reputation of loyalty because they “received the word with all readiness of the mind, examining the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so.” Because of their noble approach, many others came to the knowledge of the truth and were saved (Acts 17:10-12). “Bereans” love truth so much that they are willing to investigate Scripture to determine what is truly accurate. “Bereans” do not automatically hold to traditions that have been taught nor are they swayed by public opinion. “Bereans” are not afraid to question their presuppositions to receive understanding in light of truth. “Bereans” are willing to change when they’ve been convicted that their views vary from the Truth. In essence, “Bereans” are not afraid to have their ignorance of God’s Word exposed! I admire this approach so much that we named our border collie, “Berea!”

Through the years it hasn’t been uncommon for my son, Jake or I to occasionally look at the other and jokingly say, “I ain't gonna show my ignorance to noooo-body!” However, with all sincerity, I’ve encouraged him as I’m encouraging you. Go for it! Show your ignorance! Ask the questions! Truth has no fear of investigation! Sincerely searching for the whole-hearted life leaves no option!

Whole-Heartedly,
Bonnie

Thursday, October 13, 2011

All For the Master’s Glory

Two weeks ago we spent over a week with my brother, Art. He owns Belgian horses which he uses to work his corn field and huge garden, as well as pulling logs for building and heating purposes. Aside from some finishing touches, he and his horses, Maude and Maggie had just completed a big, well-designed barn to shelter them and some of his other critter friends. I marveled as I considered that one man and two horses could possibly accomplish such a considerable endeavor.

We timed our visit so that we could help Art and his wife, Marcia, get ready for an annual fall event. The Spoon River Scenic drive in Lewistown, Illinois comes around every first and second weekend in October. Art demonstrates using his draft horses and saw mill, while in a log cabin; Marcia sells pies which she bakes on a wood-burning cook stove. This historical reenacting takes place on their property, Marigold Meadow, and more activity from times gone by is added to the event each year. Visitors come from miles away throughout the day not only to enjoy the demonstrations and eat delicious pie, but also to visit their petting zoo and photograph all the old farming equipment, horse buggy and log cabin. On Saturday evening many return for a knee slappin’ Bluegrass show while sitting around a cozy fire.

While the entire event is enjoyable, my heart is drawn to the draft horses and their master. Art seems to know everything about Maude and Maggie and it is obvious that they want to do everything within their power to please him. They know and listen to his voice for direction. In response to his commands, their massive muscles strain and their harnesses clatter as they plow their way through the rich Illinois soil. Art’s body bounces and sways to the rhythm of Maude and Maggie’s labor while he closely monitors them for any signs of distress. I could watch and listen for hours! The power they generate as they work in unison is majestically astounding! And….it’s all for their master’s glory!

Art Jones with Maude & Maggie


Although I’ve observed this splendor before, this time it was inspirational! As I considered the near perfect union between two horses and their master, the power that is generated as they lovingly respond to one another and the incredible work that is accomplished through their laboring together, the Spirit of God filled my heart with a deeper awareness that Father desires such relationships with and among His children.

While appreciating the beauty of Art, Maude and Maggie working together, I was reminded that Father:
• knows the number of hairs on my head!
• watches my every move!
• never asks me to do more than I can endure!
• longs for me to be able to identify His voice and to respond out of loving obedience.
• desires that I labor together with my spiritual brothers and sisters in love.
• determines to accomplish the incomprehensible using His power through His children.

All for the Master’s glory!

Whole-Heartedly,
Bonnie

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Why We Left the Institutional Church and What Are We Seeking Now? (Part2)

This is part two of last week’s article regarding why the Holy Spirit is leading people out of the institutional church and what it is that He is leading them to.



Why would the Spirit be driving them out?



2. Relationships!



According to the results of Barna’s survey,




those being led out “are seeking an authentic encounter with the living God and a deep and fulfilling relationship with His people,”
neither of which is often experienced in a weekly gathering of believers.




It was never Father’s intention for His people to live in isolation from one another, going busily about their worldly activities only to unite in an artificial ceremonial setting on a weekly basis to “worship” Him and shake hands with one another!



What is it that Father is leading His people to?



It is Father’s desire that His people:


• live a community life according to the values of His Kingdom through supernatural power.

• live by the conviction that they experience Jesus and His Spirit in the midst of daily living.

• would offer their bodies as living sacrifices to Him as their spiritual act of worship [Romans 12:1].

• live with the understanding that “religion that God accepts as pure and fautless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distrees and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” [James 1:27].

• live out the reality that community life is not centered on one man but that each member is a functioning "priest" (1 Peter 2: 5, 9) under the headship of Christ, directed by His Spirit.

• recognize and encourage the gifts and abilities that each member of the community has to offer.

• realize that His spiritual family is relational, spontaneous and organic which does not need a higher level of organization, bureaucracy, programs and rituals to express itself.

• live a mainly communal life of transparency and accountability, rather than a purely private and individualistic lifestyle.

• face the joys and trials of life together, as family, rejoicing, encouraging, supporting and rebuking one another in love.

• share their resources with others, rather than seeking to store up treasures for oneself.



Gary & I believe that Father is preparing us for a spiritual family that is willing to live out Kingdom life according to that mentioned above. We desire to participate in a community of believers who are free from the deceptive trap of trying to maintain buildings and pay wages. We seek to participate in a community of believers who are willing to sacrifice their time, energy, and resources in order to bring those in need into their community (as Father directs) to be a part of their family, trusting that Father will provide just the right resources, at just the right time, for just the right growth, at just the right speed as He has perfectly planned. We do not seek to be a part of an organization that is recognized for its captivating logo, skill to legally beg for money, prestigious board members or perfect mission statement and bylaws. Instead, we long to be a part of a close-knit “family” which would be recognized by those around them as followers of Jesus simply by their deep love for one another. Rather than participating in an organization which has knowingly or unknowingly committed its actions and words to the conspiracy of the governments of this world through non-profit incorporations, it is our desire to be a part of a community that freely expresses itself as the Spirit of our Father leads, even in the face of poverty and persecution!



If the Lord has placed a similar vision on your heart, please let us know. If you have questions or would like to hear more, we’d love to visit with you.


Whole-Heartedly,

Bonnie