Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"Pruning" by Tommy James

Earlier this month the idea kept coming to mind that my friend, Stephen, was not getting around to the laborious task of pruning and training his vineyard and that the swelling of the bud would be upon us in another month. I knew that Stephen had not done this task last year either and that his vineyard of one hundred or so Cynthiana had suffered a fungal infection in late summer which destroyed numerous vines and most of the harvest.

The reader must know that Stephen is not slack in husbandry. He is soon to retire from a long season as an RN in a facility for underdeveloped people who are all most pitiful in mind and body. He works third shift which is a horror in itself. Stephen has been a shepherd to many poor souls for many years, but his own vineyard needed attention. I felt compelled to go and help.

The most striking realization in this brief afternoon is a validation of my own long term calling as a vine dresser for the Lord. There were multiple ideas that have come to mind in this theme, but this one is my take away and I am grateful to the Vine Dresser for allowing me to function with him in his vineyard, the Church.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that bears no fruit he takes away, and every branch that bears fruit, he prunes it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches: He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast into the fire, and they are burned. KJV, John 15:1-6.

The end purposes of pruning are to:
Promote new growth and increase the quality and quantity of fruit,
Bring the branches of the vine to rejoicing,
Keep the vines from interfering with each other,
Identify and remove disease and pests,
Promote healing and health,
Enable the branches to Abide within the Vine, and
Make the vines beautiful for the Owner of the Vineyard.

The vines need to know that:
They need the pruning,
That God will send a personal and assigned vine dresser,
Pruning is an expression of God's love,
A new season of growth is just a month away,
They need not fear the pruning,
The pruning will not go on forever, and
Unhappiness and tragedy is reserved for the wild and unpruned vines.

The vine dresser must:
Precede the vines in the cuttings of the Lord,
Become very skilled in this work of art,
Clearly see the model of the Perfect Vine,
Use a sharp blade and keep it sharp,
Serve the Lord beyond the norms of church society, family, and friendships,
Overcome the enemies of the vineyard, and
Be faithful to the calling above all else.

(Tommy has been my loving and faithful husband for 46 years now. We have served the Lord together in the Lord's vineyard known as Tree of Life Ministries.)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

"Deep Calls to Deep", part 3

3. The Spirit of God calls to our hearts for the “deepest” work of sanctification to be done; a dying to self so resurrection life can be manifest in us.

Deep calling” is a personification of the Holy Spirit speaking to men's hearts to bring conviction, healing or deliverance in order that total sanctification and transformation can occur. The Spirit of God above is speaking to our spirit deep within our core being. This is Spirit-to-spirit communication on a heart level which convicts us of sin and our desperate need for Christ to be manifest in us. However, there is more. The Spirit of God above wants to come live deep within us and become the transforming power we need to be changed into the image of God's son and to accomplish the works of God.

When we receive the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, the eyes of our understanding are opened to receive the deepest work of God in our soul. We are no longer focused on just making it through this life, or leaving this life behind and going to heaven. We are focused on being transformed into the image of God's dear Son now-- here on earth, as much as is possible while we still live in these earthly bodies. We come to understand that eternal salvation is not all there is, but our focus is on becoming Christ here on earth helping others to experience His salvation, healing and deliverance. The deepest work of the Holy Spirit results in a holier life and service to God. After all has not God said, “Be holy as I am holy?”

When deep calls to deep our heart and character is transformed, we become people who truly worship “in spirit and truth.” We have a longing to spend time in God's presence and to be "changed from glory to glory." As the deer runs through the woodlands and pants for water, so our soul and spirit pants for God. According to Ps. 42:2-3, our inner being thirsts for the Living God. Once we have experienced God's living presence, His sweet love and mercy, His protection and provision, nothing else satisfies us now. Having tasted of His new wine, we can not go back to the old way of life. Communion with the living God becomes our new way of life and the things of this world fade away.

The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel ceiling

Sanctification is the process whereby we move from a shallow relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit-- to the deepest, most intimate experience available to us here on earth. We grow from being children of God, to being sons and daughters of the King. We leave behind the cares of this world, the old carnal nature, the false identities, the strongholds of the enemy and run the race to win the crown of glory waiting for us. We become over comers in Christ and joint heirs with Him. We will enter into the plans and purpose God has for us. We will fulfill our destiny in the kingdom of God. Our heart and soul hungers for God and we will not be content until we are complete IN HIM. 

As His beloved children, we long to look into the face of our Father God. We desperately long to appropriate Aaron's blessing. "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace." Num. 6:24-26.

Much more could be said about attaining this deepest, most intimate walk with God. Whole books have been written on the subject. You might try reading some of Andrew Murphy's classics like Absolute Surrender, Abiding in Christ or The Deeper Christian Life. 

"Deep Calls to Deep", part 2

2. “Deeper” hidden principles or truth in the Word of God lie beneath the surface understanding of the casual reader and require revelation by the Holy Spirit.

I Cor. 2:10 tells us that only the Holy Spirit can reveal “the deep things of God.”
I Tim. 3:9 speaks to deacons and ministers understanding “the deep truths of the faith.”

Jeremiah 33:3- “Call to me and I will show you unsearchable things you do not know.” This passage refers to going deeper into the scriptures to discover hidden truths and revelation given to the reader by the Holy Spirit. This Christian is a serious student of the Word, a more mature believer and is not satisfied with just a casual, surface understanding. There is a desire to gain deeper insight into what God is saying to us which only the Spirit of God can reveal. The reader moves from a surface level of natural understanding to a deeper level of spiritual or prophetic understanding into the ways of God. We move from feeding on the sincere milk of the Word to feasting on the meat God has to offer.

Jesus taught spiritual principles using parables which were stories expressed on a natural, surface level, but needed to be understood on a deeper, spiritual level. This way he could bring messages to a large crowd of people at the same time. People with hardened hearts heard the parables, but left without understanding the true meaning of what Jesus was saying. Some left feeling frustrated and confused by what they heard. Others left feeling angry and determined to put a stop to this imposter. At several of Jesus' large, public meetings some Jews heard the message on a shallow, intellectual level and rejected Jesus Christ as the Messiah that the scriptures prophesied would come. They viewed him as a false prophet and a threat to their way of life.

At the same time and in the same place, the Holy Spirit gave enlightened understanding to people that were being drawn into the kingdom of God. The difference was God's chosen and elect had humble hearts and spirits. They were not running away from God, but running after Him. They were ripe to receive truth and desired to be transformed by it. Thousands of Jews and Gentiles alike, experienced revelatory truth all at once and became born again believers. They heard and received Christ's messages on a deeper, heart level, a Spirit-to-spirit level of communication. Multitudes through the centuries have received Christ as their Savior in just this way.

Since shallow is the opposite of deep let's look at many believers today who stop right there satisfied with thinking their eternal salvation has been secured. They believe and confess that they are sinners and that Christ died for their sins and now they believe on that basis alone they will go to heaven. Many modern-day, evangelical Christians hear the gospel message and make an intellectual decision to call Jesus Christ Savior, because that is the logical and safe decision to make in order to have some fire insurance. “Better safe, than sorry.” However, they never go on to experience the deeper life In Christ where they call Him-- Lord of all their attitudes, emotions and behaviors. They give mere lip service to the King, but their heart is far from Him. A shallow commitment means a shallow walk with the Lord. Unfortunately, one day when they get to heaven, if they do maintain their salvation and don't fall away, they will hear Jesus say, “I never knew you.” They never took the opportunity to develop a deeper, intimate relationship with the Son of God, therefore, they have no place in the kingdom.

"Deep Calls to Deep", part 1

There are various understandings associated with the Biblical phrase “deep calls to deep.” The word deep can have different connotations depending on the way it is used in scripture and the context of the word. In my walk with the Lord, I have discovered over a life time that there is deep, there is deeper and then there is the deepest of all profound revelations and communion with the Spirit of God. For the greatest understanding of these three types of experiences, one will need to look up the scriptures referenced here and read them in context. These spiritual encounters can be experienced by any believer at various times in their life and do not represent progressive stages, just different experiences with God.

1. “Deep” is where one experiences great distress and feelings of being abandoned and rejected by God.

*Ps. 42 provides a literary allusion to the waterfalls by which the waters from God's storehouse above (the deep above) pour down into the streams and rivers that empty into the seas (the deep below). This is a picture of great distress by the author and refers to God's waves and breakers sweeping over him. God is involved in our suffering to the extent that he allows catastrophes, sickness, and death, but promises to go through these times with us. Also see Gen. 1:2, SS 7:11.

Ps. 42 and 43 actually go together as one prayer of deliverance from being oppressed by the enemy and for restoration back into God's presence. *The author of this prayer is not known, but it is believed to be written by someone exiled outside the boundaries of Israel and Judah, perhaps living near Mt. Herman on the headwaters of the Jordan River. Certainly he was exiled away from God's temple (His Presence) where he used to go worship on a regular basis.

Ps. 44 goes with 42 and 43 and tells us the Israelites were delivered into the hands of the enemy and were slaughtered like sheep (vs. 22). *This psalm is Israel's cry for help after suffering defeat at the hands of the enemy, perhaps during the reign of Jehoshaphat or Hezekiah. There are times in life when our enemies overwhelm us and we feel helpless and destroyed. We feel cut off from God and abandoned. The deep cry of our heart is to once again enter into His Presence and experience His loving care and protection. 

 *All three psalms are concerned with the same two common ideas. First. Why-- God? Why have you forgotten us and rejected us? Why did this have to happen? Why did you not prevent this from happening? But the "why" questions may not ever get answered to our satisfaction. Secondly. Faith responds with- even so put your hope in God, because His love will not fail. This same perplexity and resolution was seen in Job's story. He saw great disaster come upon his family and he lost all his wealth and his children. Yet Job responded with, even though He slay me, yet will I put my trust in God. The crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ is another example.

Ps. 18:16 says God “drew me out of deep waters.” Ps. 30:1 tells us “you lifted me out of the depths, spared me from the pit” meaning God brought him up from a near death experience and the grave. The terms depths and the pit are associated with death, the grave, darkness, deep depression, destruction, corruption, or even chronic and critical illness. These situations make us feel all alone and abandoned by God when He doesn't appear to be answering our prayers. New converts to Christ often express this feeling that God spared their life when they were on the road to destruction.

Ps. 30:11 tells us, however, that when the crisis was turned, the author said, “you turned my wailing into dancing, clothed me with joy and my heart sings.” So the psalm ultimately turns out to be a song of praise for the Lord's deliverance from illness and death. We are brought up from the depths of our despair and once again experience God's joy and peace. As the hymn reads, “All is well with our soul.”

 *Notes taken from the NIV Study Bible, 2005, Zondervon Publishing.