Monday, November 22, 2021

My Vinedresser

"My Father is the Vinedresser." 

-John 15:1

Life on the Farm

Never have I appreciated farm life more than I do now.

I have lived most of my life in large cities, including Atlanta and Houston, and my husband lived in New York and Miami before we met. I like big cities. I like the hustle and diversity of cultures and cuisines, the convenience and the variety. Also, as a more introverted sort of person...I enjoy the anonymity they provide at times too. 

So you can imagine what a complete shock to the system I experienced when God moved our family out of "big city life" to a literal village in Southwest Louisiana...smack in the middle of a huge rice and crawfish farm, no less. 

For the record, while it might appear to some that it's my farm because of how it's positioned, I do not work the land that surrounds me. In fact, and this will prove more humorous and ironic later, I have a black thumb. As in...succulents may be able to survive in my care. Maybe. 

So over the last two years, I've watched my new neighbors with great interest and admiration as they just do life. You wouldn't believe the huge machinery. The technology. The process. The dilligence. The patience. They probably chuckle at how this city-girl stares, wide-eyed, from my porch with my coffee in hand, as they check crawfish traps on cold misty mornings. Or how I excitedly run with bare feet out to the yard, calling to my family to "get out here and come see this!" when they start to harvest the rice. Or how I beam with community pride when I pick up a bag of rice in the store that boasts that was harvested in Morse, Louisiana. I have become a total, shameless, farm fan-girl. 

Since living here, so much of the Bible has come alive for me in new ways. I've seen the difference between the fruit-heavy, bowed down wheat and the tall-standing empty tares. I've thought differently about sowing seeds on fertile ground, and the Parable of the Sower. But most often, I think about God, who throughout Scripture is identified as a farmer. 

From what I can see, farming is an all encompassing lifestyle. It takes vision and a plan, that much I can tell. There's an intentionality, and an appropriate time for every action. Someone who takes it on must possess a brave, entrepreneurial spirit. It requires a huge investment of time and finances. It takes artistry and technical skill and creativity. You need physical endurance, problem solving skills, amazing work ethic, and discipline. And so, so much knowledge, patience and planning. So, with that in mind, as I zoom out from the acres surrounding my house to the entirety of the world that comprises God's garden, His authority, capacity and care just press into my heart differently. 

The Great Replanting

When we moved here, we had to start over in many regards. I'll never forget the shock I felt when I was told it would take a whopping two weeks to get my internet hooked up. I'm pretty sure I actually started to sweat I was so upset. And getting used to businesses closing for several hours in the early afternoons for lunch, or my water and power and phone calls just randomly going out at some point each day. I felt like I was in a constant state of agitated waiting there at the beginning. In my defense, I left a very fast-paced, work-focused life, in which time spent with friends was a luxury. The expectation for me was that things happen yesterday. It seemed no one in my new home had the sense of urgency I had been living in for a decade. 

Also, small town, small church ministry is vastly different from mega-church life. Especially for me, because I gave up my official role in ministry to become a full time mama and pastor's wife. I was warned by friends who had travelled this road before me to tread with caution. To be patient. To walk softly. But if you know me, my drive and passion and busy-bee energy make that a real challenge. I had really good intentions...I walked in the door ready to blaze trails and innovate and implement my old habits in my new environment. But that's not what God wanted me to do at all. And I know now that isn't at all what my new church family needed from me, in this place where rich relationship and time invested are the currency. I recognized pretty quickly that I had a lot to learn. 

I tried to recalibrate. I really did. But I felt a restlessness and a frustration about the new pace of my life and my new position. I just couldn't get myself to slow down to get my bearings. Actually, I just didn't want to slow down. So I often felt I simply didn't make sense here. As if God had made a mistake. As if I didn't belong. I can just see Farmer God in those early months, totally in control of the plan, looking lovingly at me, His restless little vine. "Don't worry," I bet chuckled to Himself right before COVID hit. "You're just where you're supposed to be. I'm about to help you slow way down." 

And boy, did He. 

Just months after moving to the country, everything shut down. Even after things re-opened, I can't count the number of times since that I've felt I was being "put in my place" by God. At the time, it felt like I was being limited. Stifled. Put in time-out, even. Honestly sometimes I still do. I have a head full of ideas and a lifetime of practice at gunning for it. However...I think in the last few months, I've finally, and necessarily, been humbled to the point where I understand that I am simply not here just to impart, but also to learn. Not to be seen, but to reflect. Not to be the vinedresser, but to be the vine. To grow. And to be fruitful. For my great big, capable, Farmer God. 

Let me ask you this—Do you ever feel like you're being put in your place by God? Are you somewhere you just don't want to be? Do you feel you're hitting a wall? Do you have great big plans for yourself that just keep ending up with slammed doors? Maybe you are feeling a bit underutilized. Is it making you so afraid you're going to miss it, whatever it is for you? Can I just gently and lovingly share with you what God has taught me about this on this beautiful farm I live on? It's not the plant's job to worry about its placement. Or its season. Or its pruning. All that worry belongs squarely on the shoulders of the Vinedresser...The One who invests, plans, purposes, prunes and perfects His crop with a great harvest in mind. Maybe you're like me. Maybe you just need reminding that you are not the vinedresser. Maybe it's time we start doing our job, instead of trying to do His. 

So what is my job, you ask? If I'm not planning how to maximize my own passions and life plan and skills for the Kingdom, what should I be doing? Let me illustrate it with rice. 

Wherever these little plants are placed, that's where they stay until the farmer moves them. They bask in sunlight, and they are absolutely saturated in water, soaking it all up and growing tall. As they grow, they develop fruit - the rice kernel. The more mature and fruit-filled the grain is, the more it bows low. And it yields its harvest to the use of the Farmer. When He prunes, it doesn't shrivel up and die—it keeps on growing under his direction. 

Do you see it? Do you see how we're like the little plant? We don't have to make our lives purposeful. We just need to strive to make them fruitful. We need to soak up His word, saturate in the Son-light, every day, knowing He will grow and nourish us. We need to grow in humility as we grow in stature and maturity. And we need to surrender every outcome to His leading and direction. 

Quitting My Farming Job

I feel my focus shifting slowly. More often now, I'm able to take my eyes off of my "black thumb" plan and what could be, trading it for the beauty God is growing right in front of me. Can I share what He has cultivated in me as I've relinquished the role of Vinedresser? 

The big mega churches I served in long for the kind of community I have found here. It's just a natural way of life for them here. Around fire pits with friends, on living room floors with a thousand kids running around, making drapes and filling tissues with tears, sitting quietly at my kitchen counter with a friend with a shared these places I have felt a richness and a love like never before. It's new for me.

I am learning to minister differently here. 
  • Stillness is a pre-requisite to service now. As I reflect back, so often I was doing ministry with an empty tank. Now, I soak a lot more.
  •  I no longer feel I have to wait for an official position to do impactful ministry right where I am. 
  • I'm unhinging from the belief that I need to perform in order to be valued, loved and respected. 
  • I'm (counter-culturally) embracing that increased impact does not always come with increased visibility. That great ministry is not just about great resources and activities and programming. It is about presence

I realize now, I didn't know how to be present before. I just knew how to get things done. I was always in such a hurry. So I see now that God, in His love for me, knew I desperately needed a replanting in a new field. I needed this beautiful community to help impart all this to me, to envigorate my growth. When I started, it felt like so much was being taken away. Now, I can see how much I really needed this big change. And all I can say is... I am so thankful for this displacement, this interruption, the pruning that, (while it began painfully, and I didn't always respond gracefully) has yielded some of the greatest joys and deepest relationships I've ever had. It is changing my life and my fruitfulness in ways I could not have anticipated. 

So,... if I could just sum up what it has taken me two years and counting to learn, here it is: Friend...if you feel God is trying to put you in your place....maybe it's time that you just let Him

I know it's awkward. Painful even. You want to resist it. You're exhausting yourself fighting it. But say it with me...."I am not the Vinedresser. My Father is the Vinedresser." Relax the grip. Take a breath. Let the Farmer be the farmer. Let him take away what you don't need for a season. Let Him reposition you. Let Him repurpose you. Let Him do the planning. He knows how to maximize your life in ways you can't imagine, and this season is part of that. 

You do your job. Be the fruitful vine. Soak, grow, bloom, and yield. That's enough to focus on each day. You're not gonna miss it. I promise. As I often remind my daughter, He's got the whole world in His hands. That includes you. His are the very best outcomes, and while they do tend to take time, they are definitely worth the wait.

Happy growing, little vine. You are loved. <3 Don't forget it. 

Amanda ❤️

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Signs Of Life | The Beatitudes (Part II)

Part II of a study of the Beatitudes. Find Part I Here!  

"Blessed are the meek..."


In our ladder of light, the third "rung" is meekness. How do we define it? Maybe it would be easier if I start by telling you what meekness is not...

Meekness is not quick-tempered, ready to resent real or imagined disrespect, domineering, offended, or offensive (obnoxious), it does not have an attitude of superiority, is not always annoyed, doesn't have to knock others down. Meek people aren't proud, harsh, angry, revengeful, or ambitious. 

You can thank Charles Spurgeon for this extra convicting description. Trust me when I say, I do not like hearing this any more than you probably do. I demonstrate most of these things before I even leave my house in the morning. Especially before coffee. But the fact is, people who are progressing in their spiritual journey do attain this. They have been humbled, as we discussed in Part 1, and are ready to be thought of as less important by other people because they have surrendered their pride and self-righteous attitude. 

Watchman Nee, one of my favorite theologians, wrote about meekness in his book, The Release of the Spirit, which I highly recommend! Here is a meekness checklist, according to Nee:

  • Approachable and available – Meek people have their eyes up always - meaning they don't ignore or repel people. They are safe place for people to share their troubles. 
  • Highly Sensitive – Meek people are alert to the atmosphere of God’s people - they are responsive to others, and shed tears easily. 
  • Mutually Corporate – This means one has a readiness to ready to receive from all - as in they don't feel like their wisdom or experience or stature is superior to others, and they don't always think they are there to fix and mentor everybody else. They understand that we are all related as a body, so the needs and weaknesses of others are their burden to share as well.
  • Spiritually Receptive - submissive to God’s will, and flexible to his word, no matter how it is delivered (not critical, stubborn, haughty) – they see circumstances of difficult people or situations as opportunities, trials of His grace that will prove their faith and obedience; they are content
Meekness is misunderstood in our culture and we often resist it because we don't want to be dominated or taken advantage of. But that's why this is the third step - by the time we begin to demonstrate meekness, we have already embraced our own limitation, so we aren't focused on defending ourselves or proving dominance and superiority. It’s security, self-awareness and self-control to the highest, most admirable degree. And the amazing thing is that God really shows up for us and uses us so powerfully when we get out of the way and let Him!

Case in point: Moses is described as being meek - when his leadership was under scrutiny of his siblings, and others, he continuously bows low in response to their ugliness. The result is that God comes to his defense.  Esther obeyed kingdom protocol in a life and death scenario, waiting until the opportune time came to make her self-controlled request known. God showed up for her, aligning every detail, and many lives were saved through her actions. Who does God seek to touch, save and bring to their knees through your self-sacrificing meekness?

The blessing for the meek is that they inherit the land. What does that mean practically?

  • They enjoy what they have. They don’t have to come out on top, they are happy right where God has them. Because they know He has them!
  • They are glad to know others are happy. They are not competitive.
  • They are optimists who always extract the precious from the worthless, choose to see the good.
  • They inherit the promised land of the Kingdom of God; another sign of heavenly royalty that is in total opposition to earthly power moves
Who doesn’t want to live that kind of victorious life? Loving what you have. Celebrating others in what they have. Not having to be striving for superiority. Peace. Contentment. Yes please!

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness..."

Let’s think about hunger and thirst in a physical sense.

To hunger is to have a physical appetite, craving, an awareness of an emptiness that needs filling. There is an expression that hunger will break through stone walls - it's a powerful force, and a continual force - but to hunger is to be alive!

To thirst is literally life threatening - you drink or you die.

We long for lots of things in this life - honor, appreciation, attention, comfort, safety, love - but as we spiritually mature, our craving turns away from those things and longs to be filled with righteousness. 

When we place our  faith in Christ Jesus, He bestows on us His righteousness. But as we mature spiritually, as we spend time in His Word and among His people, our desire to close the gap between what He calls us and what we really are becomes more and more urgent. We begin to move from a place of just wanting to be "reckoned as righteous" to actually longing to really be righteous. We want the inside of our minds, our wills, and ultimately our behaviors - to actually "match" the proverbial robe of righteousness that Jesus gives us to wear. Another word for this is sanctification. So many people have the misconception that this matching is a prerequisite of being in a relationship with Jesus. They think they have to get things right before they come to a holy God. But Jesus didn't make that the foundational step of faith. He tells us we must begin by acknowledging that we don't have what it takes to get right, to be good enough - to be spiritually poor. To let Him empty us of our vision and our ego are the first steps. Because it's when we're finally empty of self that we are ready, hungry for filling and receptive to being filled with His wisdom, teaching and commands. That's when we're finally ready to let Him transform us. When holiness becomes a priority in our lives - every day - when that is what you seek to fill and fuel you - it's a fantastic indicator that you are truly, spiritually alive. 

So what do you crave in this life?

Next post, we'll transition in to how these first several beatitudes, which have all been internal postures, propel outward over time, working their way in to the way that we view and interact with those around us.

Until then....blessings!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Signs of Life | The Beatitudes (Part 1)

 "signs-of-life"- shannon grissom

As a person who is often digging deep for that amazing opening line for articles, meetings and messages, the Beatitudes in the famous Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 really fascinate me. 

Think about it for a moment -- if you were Jesus, with your new recruits, at the beginning of your ministry, knowing what you were about to ask of these wide-eyed men who had left life as they know it to follow you, painfully aware of what it would cost them (and you), and passionate for them to achieve your vision of them as ambassadors and over-comers -- what would you say to kick it all off? What would your vision-casting on the Mount of Olives have looked like?

What made Him decide that day to begin with those loaded statements we call "The Beatitudes?"

I have a theory about this.

Worth It


When Michael and I began the endeavor of adoption years ago, we kept hearing this phrase over and over: "It will not be easy, but it will be worth it." Funny enough, some Hebrew speakers interpret ashrei, the Hebrew word we read as blessed, as having a connotation of being "worth it." It's not as simple as just being happy. And the truth is, if you've lived out those beatitudes or any biblical commands for that matter, you've probably found that it's definitely not always the most "happy" experience. No, blessed means more than that - it's a kind of commendation, an encouraging word that says, even though it's tough now, it is worth it.

Disciples in Jesus' day didn't just study with a Rabbi. They didn't just see him at church once a week or have an occasional coffee date. They totally immersed themselves in the life of the one they followed. He became their sole focus, not just to soak up all of his knowledge, but to literally be conformed to his image - with the goal of becoming just like him

If they were endeavoring to become like the Messiah, then leaving their jobs and families was only the beginning of their sacrifice. It would be exhausting, humbling, and unappreciated by most - not unlike biblical obedience in the world we live in today. So, Jesus shares these blessings for the true disciple to be found here and now, little reminders that there are spiritual, eternal, abundant blessings that far outweigh anything we would lose for the cause of the Gospel of Jesus. In other words - what makes it all worth it.

Signs of Life

Charles Spurgeon (who is 1000x wordier and wiser than me and I absolutely love it) called the Beatitudes a Ladder of Light, because they are a progressive list of attitudes and behaviors defining spiritual growth – they are, quite literally, where Jesus wants to take those who take Him on. For us, they serve as a kind of measuring tool. 

Keep in mind, these are not attitudes we are supposed to "try" to live out so that we can gain some kind of reward. They supernaturally emanate from a regenerated, Spirit-led life. So, for you list-makers and task masters like me, remember that rather than trying to pursue these in our own strength, we should hold them up to ourselves as a sort of measuring tool of our own growth and ask ourselves, am I really a "disciple?" And if I say I am, is there any evidence of that in my inward and outward posture? Are there any "signs of life?"

"Blessed are the Poor In Spirit..."

Notice it doesn’t say blessed are the poor in terms of possessions and salary. This is not "Marie Kondo-ing" your life to be happy with less or feeling shame about your material wealth. This is about spiritual poverty – or a recognition of it, rather.

Let’s use material poverty to understand this spiritual poverty. When someone is living in abject poverty, they recognize they have a need; they know they are have insufficient funds and that they are lacking to provide for their needs in order to live. They need help and they know it, so they humbly set aside self reliance and pride, and embrace that they must depend on someone else to sustain them.

Spiritual poverty isn't really that different. There are so many professing Christians in this world who go through life with the perception that they have a full cup to offer to the Lord, when the reality is the exact opposite. So many of us live as though we are self-reliant, self-sufficient; we are often self-focused and self-righteous. With that demeanor, when our faith becomes inconvenient, we can simply set it aside. God can be just "part of life," but doesn't have to permeate every aspect of it.

But Jesus says, the foundational sign of life is to see ourselves as we really are; it is to come to the desperate realization that we are spiritually insufficient, lacking and bankrupt; we have nothing to offer the Lord but a life-or-death need for the grace and intervention of Jesus. The poor in Spirit have a full dependence upon God.

What does this look like in a life? It is the confession of King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4 that he was like an animal before God in his pride. How about the cry of Peter to Jesus in John 6: "Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life!" Or the declaration of the once lofty Paul in Philippians 3, recognizing all his own personal achievements and endowments are worthless after seeing the literal divine light in Acts 9.

Have you had this "empty cup" experience with the Lord? I know it may not be incredibly appealing to be leveled in this way - but the consolation of this recognition of reality is this - yours is the kingdom of heaven. While you lose the facade of your own kingdom in this life, you gain a real one, in which you're not just a citizen but an heir. In other words, humility is a tell-tale sign of royalty. It demonstrates that truth has touched you. And that is so much better than proudly (albeit foolishly) living a life of make believe.

"Blessed are those who mourn" 


Having an intellectual awareness of your sin is one thing - grasping that reality emotionally is another thing altogether - and it is the second "rung" on our ladder of light. Again, when we look at Jesus’ description, we are not thinking about a worldly/physical condition – as in those who lose loved ones – but rather a spiritual, heart condition. When God lets you see yourself for what you really are without Him, then it is only natural that our response should then be a grief over it. 

Although I'm pretty low maintenance about most things, I happen to be super passionate about my hair. I recently received a rather unfortunate haircut that, while it technically was like the picture, was about three inches shorter than I actually wanted it...and I have really short hair to begin with. For the first few weeks after that haircut, I would get up in the morning, look in the mirror, and have a very emotional reaction. "It wasn't supposed to be this way!" Insert crying emoji here. I know I'm not the only one who has stood before I mirror with a sense of defeat - we had a vision, and we can see we are not living up to it. It stings.

While that's a very silly, shallow example, I thought about that as I studied this verse about grief.  Mourning spiritually is simply taking a look at yourself in light of God's standard, seeing how far short you are of that standard, and feeling the deep grief, because this is not who - or how - you are supposed to be. It should break our hearts that we have become offensive to the one who lovingly and purposefully made us. We should feel sadness that sin has such a hold on us, and that we are not living up to all He had in mind for us. Paul discusses this as he wrestles with wanting to be holy and yet still struggling with his sinful inclinations in Romans 7 with the cry, "Oh wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death!"

We don't just experience this grief over our personal limitations - it extends to what we see in the public, in the world at large. We live in a time when sin is not just tolerated. It isn’t just trivial – it is celebrated. When you are part of a heavenly kingdom, this is a tragedy. It hurts your heart to see it. "This is not how this should be," you think as you hear the news, watch who rises to power and fame, and interact with an unbelieving world. We are so, so far from where we should be.

We grieve over our personal failure. We grieve over injustice. We grieve as others experience the consequence of sin. We grieve when a broken world causes pain and suffering. We feel the weight of lost innocence and lost potential. We know that sin is not trivial, it’s treason, and the result is death. And the nearness of that death in a world created by the God of light and life is almost too much to bear.

But here is the blessing that comes with feeling the pain of the brokenness in the world - you will be comforted.

" In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
John 16:33

Jesus didn’t just mourn sin – He conquered it with His perfect, sinless life, His sacrificial death, and His victorious resurrection. He began the work of establishing a kingdom that will be free of sin, death, shame, pain, and brokenness. And until that Kingdom is established fully, He has not left us alone to grieve - He promised and delivered us a Comfortor, the Holy Spirit. But to really experience Jesus' victory and the Spirit's comfort, we have to be mourning the death that sin brought us. So let me ask you - are you grieving? 

Just the Beginning...

You may be asking yourself right now, why does God have to bring us so low right out of the gate? This doesn't really sound like a journey I want to be on. Guilt? Grief? Poverty? I thought God offered abundance and joy. Let me remind you of something - this is just where the journey starts. In order to build us up in His image, He has to tear down the idol of self we've built up. Just like a physical birth, it begins painfully, but it doesn't end there - labor gives way to light, new life, glory and great joy.

Understanding our need for God's grace on an intellectual and emotional level is essential to experiencing the passion, devotion, appreciation, loyalty, and an unquenchable joy of our salvation. You don't invite people to come see fireworks at high noon - you bring people into the dark. And in the same way, God must show us the darkness within and around us first, so that he can demonstrate his glory in and through us. So get ready for the big divine light show...

I'll leave you here for this installment, and next time we'll climb a bit higher on the ladder of light....


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