The Blessings of a Long Battle, Part 3

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From Jonathan Coe’s website at http://www.openheavensblog.com/. Thank you gracious brother! (I’m so glad you are my friend.)

As I look over the last two posts on the blessings of a long battle, I’m reminded of what the Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians about the importance of not being ignorant concerning the schemes of Satan (II Corinthians 2:11). After reading those posts, I realized a word of balance was needed in discussing the relationship of formulaic Christianity to spiritual practices lest the devil distort the truth to his advantage.

Both posts encouraged the believer to move beyond canned formulas to a restful trust in and radical dependence on Christ. A common formula for someone who finds themselves in a protracted struggle with sin, weakness, or some thorn in the flesh is “Read the Bible, pray, and attend church and that will solve your problem.”

These are wonderful spiritual practices but the problem is that people begin to trust in the formula more than the Person who can heal their inner leper. The formula can become a religious idol.

The biblical view of spiritual practices (prayer, Scripture study, church attendance, fellowship, fasting, meditation, and the sacraments) is that they are both avenues of renewal and bridges to intimacy with the Living God. They are sacramental; they are a means of grace.

Christ is the Vine; we are the branches. One of the primary ways that the branches stay connected to the Vine is through spiritual practices. That is how we abide in him and apart from abiding in him, we can do nothing.

This next part is crucial, and, if you only get one thing out of this post, this is it: when the believer gets frustrated enough to forsake impotent formulas, the devil’s primary agenda then is to get that person to forsake authentic, life–giving spiritual practices too.

That’s why the Christian should ask for wisdom every day so that he or she can tell the difference between the two. Satan is more than happy to allow us to forsake the false as long as we don’t replace it with the real.

It’s part of the human condition that, in our anger and frustration, we often throw out the wheat with the chaff. And a person who is involved in a long, difficult battle is going to need all the grace–filled spiritual practices they have time for!

I’m convinced that when the devil sees a believer, who is involved in a long battle, leave anemic formulas and begin to become engaged in regular, soul–nourishing spiritual practices, it fills him with uncontrollable rage. He will come to that Christian with many false voices in an effort to separate the branch from the Vine. Here’s a small sampling:

  • “ You tried this religious stuff before and you still have the same addiction/weakness/problem. What makes you think it’s going to work this time?”
  • “If you have your quiet time with God in the morning when you don’t feel like it, you’re being a phony. You should only do it when you feel like it.”
  • “If your quiet time with God becomes a regular thing, it will become a dead religious ritual. You don’t want to become legalistic. Keep things spontaneous. Just do it when your heart moves you to do it.”
  • “Regular spiritual practices aren’t the real you. You can find God in every day life without them in a way that fits your personality.”
  • “You’re a person of action not of contemplation. You get things done without all this navel–gazing and spiritual stuff.”

These are just a few plays out of the devil’s playbook. May God give us the discernment to recognize his voice and the wisdom to reject his counsel.

Reposted from http://www.openheavensblog.com/. Thank you Jonathan for your great teaching.

The Pruning Knife

“He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.”

John 15:2, NLT

In order to become fruitful we must accept the knife. 

It takes a sharp eye and a sharper knife to do the Father’s work of cutting.  He slices to the quick, and all that is not useful falls to the ground.  The vine will produce grapes, and every bit of “grape-energy” will be used productively. Fruitlessness will be cursed, and sterility is condemned.  It takes a decisive heart, as well as a wise hand to prune God’s own vineyard.

Fruitless believers may become fruitful ones.  Understand, the vine dresser does not attack the vine.  He is not malicious or vengeful.  All that He does is for the good of the vine.  He is motivated to produce fruit.  That is what He thinks about; you could say that He is preoccupied with that singular end.

Pruning and fruit are concepts that we vacillate over, some days we understand and other days we blow it off.  After over 30 years, I’ve heard every “John 15 sermon”.  And most of the time I turn down my spiritual hearing aid. That is tragic, and shows my heart has become hardened.

I need to come on board with this particular imagery.  For years I have asked God to “show me His ways”.  I’d like to believe that this understanding of pruning has changed me.  I would like to think that I have attained a clearer view of wisdom.  This pruning business is all well and good.  But being sanctified by the knife is decidedly unattractive and uncomfortable.

You must be pruned; pieces of your life are earmarked to be lopped off.  (I always wonder if the trees that are spray painted are curious over the why and the when they are to be cut?)  In regards to being fruitful we must accept the knife.  If we want to be holy and conform to the image of Christ we will be cut.  There is simply no other way.

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Different Ways to Fall Out of a Tree

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Imagine climbing up to the top of a very tall tree. You work your way up to the highest point– you can go no further. The view is completely glorious, it’s more than you hoped for. You want to post it on Facebook, so you dig into your pocket to get your camera-phone. You suddenly slip, and because your arms are occupied getting your camera, you fall. And you fall fast.

As you plummet, you realize that you’re hitting every branch on the way down. The smaller ones break, and the bigger ones, well– you just bounce off. The trip down is very fast, and perhaps even a bit illuminating.

  1. First, you think of death.
  2. Then you think about the pain each branch causes, and wonder about your imminent arrival on terra firma.
  3. Perhaps you consider how stupid you are, and how you are going to explain it.
  4. Lastly, I suppose, you wonder if you have clean underwear on, like your mother always told you to wear.

This is how my life has gone, the last 20 years. This metaphor is a good way for me to process things, and to find some understanding. I now believe that some of us go through life sideways, or horizontal. We careen off of every branch on the way down, and it seems we are hitting branches that we didn’t even know were there. Tree limbs are snapping, as we are dropping.

Others who are wiser (or maybe more experienced,) try to fall more vertically. As they fall, they use their hands to try to slow their descent. (This does work!) They will take their fair share of jolts, no doubt. But their journey to the forest floor is way less traumatic. They may end up in the hospital– but not in emergency surgery like the first guy.

It sometimes seems like every trouble I have faced I have gone into it sideways. I have broken a lot of branches on my way down. I suppose I’ve entertained some who have watched me plummet, and seen me careen and spiral my way to the bottom. These have been some painful times, I have inflicted considerable amount of bruises on myself.

People who go through life sideways will invariably suffer. They seem to hit every obstacle and trial that could be in their flight path. The existence of pain in this life cannot be disputed.

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33, NLT

Jesus understands. Especially if you are one of those people who are “trial magnets” going through life horizontal. (You just seem to collect them.) My hope for you that as you break your branches on the way down (for maybe the 100th time). You will try to plummet vertically. Not that it is any easier, life will hurt. But perhaps it won’t be as agonizing. And I suppose that would be a good thing.

“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy,”

Jude 24

Just hanging on!bry-signat (1)

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kyrie elesion.