THE NEW EWE

"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'"  

Luke 15:4-6

June 4, 2008

LIFE IN THE FOLD:

In John 15:1-10, Jesus is teaching about what it means to abide in Him. He gives the picture of Him being the vine, and us being the branches.

Verses 1-2 says, "I am the true vine, and My Father (God) is the Vinedresser (or Gardener). Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit."

The past three years, my husband and I have done a lot of work in our yard, which has given me a better understanding of what Jesus was talking about. We've had to cut down, prune, and replant.

A year ago we received a really heavy frost, late in the spring. Some of our plants survived, and some didn't. We had a peach tree that Jon had planted in 2004, which looked healthy and was probably about 8 feet tall. We had gotten a few peaches off from it the previous year (the squirrels got most of them!), and it looked like a strong tree. But when we got the late frost, the tree was just starting to bud out, and it wasn't able to withstand the cold. We kept hoping that perhaps it just didn't bloom last year and wasn't completely dead, but this spring we knew that there was no life left in the tree. Jon had to cut it down and we get rid of it. It no longer bore fruit, nor did it leaf out. It served absolutely no purpose anymore, other than something for the squirrels to climb or the birds to sit in. Jon had pruned it in prior years, but it was past the point where pruning would doing any good.

There are many people who at one time had a relationship with Jesus. They were drawing strength and life from Him, but something happened where that relationship was severed. Over the years, they stopped bearing spiritual fruit; they no longer read the Bible, prayed (except for those occasions when they were desperate), and stopped depending on God to be their source of help and joy. Many people exist, just as our peach tree still did, but they are no longer depending on God and abiding in Him.

The thing is, as long as there is breath in our body, God will never give up on us. He is consistently present, wanting us to draw life and strength from Him. But if we resist and choose to sever ourself from the Vine, then when our time on earth has ended, we will permanently and for eternity be separated from God. Once eternity begins for each of us, there are no second chances or do-overs. This may sound harsh, but God will take the branch that no longer is bearing fruit or connected to Him, and cast it into the fire.

Verse 6 says, "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned."

I am not very brave when it comes to pruning. I'm always afraid that I will cut too much off and destroy the plant. But I also realize that for the health and good of the plant, it's a necessity.

We have some azalea bushes in front of our house. Last year I decided that the biggest one needed to be pruned. It had some limbs getting out of hand, and growing over the sidewalk and onto the front porch. So I cut it back to make it look better and more uniform. After the fact, something was mentioned to Jon's parents about pruning the azaleas. My father-in-law told us, "Oh, you're not supposed to cut them back or prune them, or they'll die!" Too late! I'd already pruned. But I didn't confess, and thought we'd just wait until this year to see what happened. This spring, it was absolutely beautiful. Every inch of it was covered with bright flowers. I was telling my in-laws how beautiful it was, and the subject of pruning was mentioned again. I confessed that I had already pruned the bush back last year.

My sister told me that when they lived in Arkansas several years ago, their next door neighbor had the most gorgeous row of azalea bushes she had ever seen. Each year he would take the hedge trimmer and cut them all way back. I'm not sure I'm brave enough for that.

There are times when pruning seems painful. But it's necessary for the health of the plant. The azalea would have still lived, but it had all these wild limbs going off in every direction. Getting rid of all of those brought it back to its full potential.

Sometimes when God starts pruning us, it doesn't feel very good. But He knows that if He lets us go, we have the tendency to go off in all sorts of directions. God has to periodically reign us in so that we can grow and reach our full potential. The fact that He doesn't want us to go off on all these tangents or to have all these "sucker branches" shooting off in all directions, shows the depth of love that He has for us. All sucker branches do is sap energy out of the plant without producing any fruit. God doesn't want us to be reaching out to other things, and become en-grafted into areas that aren't good for us. It is the will of God that we draw our life from Him, the vine.

Why are parents so concerned over who their child's friends are? Or what activities or habits they may be picking up? If you let a small child get away with throwing temper tantrums and talking back without ever discipling them, they will only grow worse as they mature. Many times, the words and actions that may be cute on a little kid are not so funny or cute when they get bigger. A rebellious, argumentative, selfish person is not going to just wake up one morning and say, "Okay, I think I'll change how I act today." It is a parent's responsibility to mold and direct and shape and teach their children. They are responsible for training them right from wrong. A child may not always obey, nor may they always adhere to their parent's teachings. There may come a time when they grow up and choose a different path from how they were taught. But yet inside, they will still know the difference.

God doesn't want us to go our own direction and be selfish, sinful, disobedient children. That is why He prunes and shapes us and gives us the direction and guidance that we need. But since we are created to have our own will, there comes a point where we are responsible for our own choices and actions. He will not force Himself upon us. Isn't it much better when a child obeys because they love their parents and want to please them and do what's right? God wants us to obey Him because we love Him and desire to please Him.

Not only did we have to cut down our peach tree, but last December when we were hit with an ice storm, a huge limb fell off one of our big pecans and hit our redbud. It knocked the redbud over, pulling it's roots out of the ground. We had to cut it up and remove it.

There will be storms and circumstances in life that will try to knock us over and uproot us. The thing is, the redbud probably wouldn't have been uprooted had it been strong. When Jon was cutting it up, he realized that the tree was already dead. By looking at it, we couldn't tell, but once we were able to see what was inside, we saw the rotting wood.

People may look good and talk right for a long time, convincing others that they are good, upright, Christians. But it doesn't really matter what's on the outside, it's the heart that matters. If they are not sincere in their relationship with God, eventually the "rot" that is in their heart will be revealed.

We had some holly shrubs along the front of our house. Apparently they had been there for years and years. I decided this spring that we needed to replace them. One reason I didn't care for them was because the leaves had really sharp edges on them, making it hard to trim. There were bare spots in them, and they didn't look very good anymore. I was dreading asking my in-laws (whom we rent from) if we could cut them out. Surprisingly, when I did, I found out that my father-in-law had wanted to get rid of them years ago, but just had never gotten around to it.

I had some hand clippers, and cut off all the branches, so that Jon could then get in there with a chainsaw and cut out the stumps. By looking at the tops of the holly leaves, they looked bright and green. But once I began cutting the branches off, I noticed that there was some kind of white fungus on the underside of all the leaves. It wasn't just isolated to one spot, but the whole hedge was like that. Had I not decided to cut down the hedges, I would never had known that, unless it started spreading to the leaf tops. The disease those holly had was kept secret and not revealed, until I started cutting them down.

There are many who may or may not attend church, when asked, will whole heartedly say yes, they love God. And yes, they want to go to Heaven. And yes, they want God to be there to answer their prayers when they have a need. They expect God to always be there for them, but they never want to put forth any effort to do anything for God.

Do I believe that there will be those who can have a strong, abiding relationship with God, but never attend church? Yes, I do. But if you never have fellowship with other believers, and only scarcely have devotions where you read the Bible, meditate upon what it says, and spend time in prayer; it's very difficult to abide in Christ and bear fruit. You will eventually become like the holly bushes. You may thrive and serve a good purpose for a while, but then something happens or someone says something that hurts your feelings or offends you. Bitterness, unforgiveness, jealousy, hurt, etc. will take root in your life. It may start out as just one tiny spot, but if it's not dealt with and taken care of, it will eventually spread until your whole being is filled with it. You may smile and act like everything is okay on the outside, but your heart and mind are eaten up.

John 15:9-11 says, "As the Father [God] loved Me [Jesus], I also have 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 have I spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full."

How do we abide in Jesus and bear fruit? By keeping His commandments. And the reason that He wants us to abide in Him is so that the joy of the Lord will remain (stay) in us, and that our joy will be full.

The joy of the Lord is our strength. If we lose our joy, we lose our strength. May we all remain attached to the vine, Jesus; draw our strength and life from Him; and truly abide in Him. Therefore, may each and every one of us have fullness of joy.

JON'S PERSPECTIVE:

There is a lot to pruning that the average American doesn't know these days. In a few minutes of searching, I discovered more information than I'd ever known about pruning. But the Jews that Jesus was speaking to knew it. And they understood better than I ever will.

I had always heard that when you prune a plant, you strengthen its roots. I wasn't able to find any research to back that up except for a quote from an old Texan saying about how pruning poison ivy is no good because you only strengthen its roots. It's a shame because I thought it would be a great analogy. Whenever we experience pruning, it is just the time we need to focus on our roots. We need to quit getting all wrapped up in odd branches and details, and go back to our relationship with God. It's a time to remember that God is our Heavenly Father, that he loves us, and we are His creation. In other words, we need to strengthen our roots.

Instead, I found many other pearls of wisdom. For example, grape vines must be pruned very carefully. Two sources says that only the one-year-old branches produce grapes. New growth doesn't, and neither does old growth. Too much one-year old branches, and there will be too many grapes for the roots and foliage to support. Too many older branches, and the roots won't support new growth for the following year. It takes a wise Vinedresser to take good care of them.

Just as the older, unpruned vines stop producing, Christians often stop producing fruit. It could be that we loose the excitement we once had to tell everyone around us about Christ. Or, we can finish telling everyone around us. Then, we need to move around and find a new crowd to share with. Either way, it usually takes some pruning.

The wise Vinedresser will plan one to two years ahead. Without seeing the master plan, it can be impossible to understand why He might prune one branch and leave another. He is wise, and knows what He's doing.

ON THE MENEWE:

Easy Chicken

1 chicken, cut up (can use just chicken breasts or boneless)

2 Tbsp. Paprika

1 cup Bisquick

2 tsp. Salt

1 stick butter

1 tsp. Pepper

Mix Bisquick, paprika, salt and pepper together. Melt 1 stick of butter in baking pan. Roll the chicken in the Bisquick mixture, then put in pan. Bake at 425 fro 45 minutes to 1 hour (if using boneless, may require less cooking time).

LAUGHING LAMBS:

On Memorial Day, some of my family got together at our family home in Missouri, that we are trying to repair and get fixed up. A couple of my brothers-in-law have 4-wheelers that they brought. The house is located out in the country, down a dirt road. We were having fun riding the 4-wheelers on the dirt road, and also down an old road that goes down into the holler. The road going to the holler is little more than a wide path, and has huge ruts where it's washed out over the years. One of nieces and a nephew had both taken me on a ride on the dirt road. Jon had been down into the holler, and wanted to give me a ride down there and show me the spring that runs through the woods. I wasn't too excited about it, knowing how rough the ride would be to get there. But finally, I consented!

The road is not only rutted and rough, it's also pretty steep. I was hanging on for dear life, trying not to bounce off the back of the 4-wheeler. Knowing that I wasn't too crazy about the ride, Jon was being very careful. We almost made it to the bottom and was trying to get around the last huge rut. The wheels on the right side were on the very edge of the rut. Suddenly, the 4-wheeler started sliding sideways towards the rut. Once we started sliding, we couldn't stop. Then the 4-wheeler started tipping sideways. My first instinct was to let out a scream. Then I clamped my mouth shut, not wanting to make it worse for Jon. Thankfully, he was able to get his foot down and stabilize it while I climbed off. Then he got off and walked it back to solid ground. We rode on down to the spring, and it was really pretty down there.

And yes, I did let him take me back up the rough, rutted road to the house on the four-wheeler. I figured that was better than walking out! The road is not only steep and rough, but weed covered and very snaky looking!! I'd much rather take my chances on the back of a 4-wheeler than on the possibility of stepping on a snake.

Later that afternoon (after we had already left for home), my brother-in-law was going to ride up the dirt road to turn off the main water valve, due to a leak at the house. He put his 2-year old grandson in front of him. He has some kind of zipped bag in front of the seat, and he put Winston's legs down inside the bag. They were sitting there, waiting on Winston's dad to get a tool and climb on back. Just as Brian got on and sat down, Winston (apparently grandpa wasn't watching too well) gassed the 4-wheeler and it popped a wheelie. It scared all three of them and they were caught off guard, but they were safe. They just had a fleeting moment of excitement!

And no, I'm not put off or scared of riding a 4-wheeler now! Jon and I would really like to get one to keep on the property there, so we'd have it to ride whenever we go up.

[Jon: Loretta originally wrote "I did let him ride me back up the rough, rutted road to the house." Yes, she does almost anything to help me, but No, we took the four-wheeler. She was born and raised in Missouri.]

THOUGHT TO PONDER:

As water reflects a face, so a man's heart reflects the man. Proverbs 27:19

OUR HEARTFELT THANKS TO YOU:

Thank you so very much for reading our weekly newsletter.

May the blessings of God rest upon your life.

We love you!

Loretta & Jon

E-Mail: shepherd@grayengineers.com

http://www.graysheep.org