Extending Grace to Ourselves and to Others: Reflections on Growth in the Vineyard

One year, I celebrated my June birthday with my daughter and family in California. To my delight, Beth took me to my vineyard for lunch at the lovely restaurant there.

On the way to the Temecula vineyard area, I was amazed to see how the former ruthlessly pruned vines were now covered with lush green leaves.  You may remember those stark vines in a former post.

That was just a little over 3 months before!

I wondered about the fruit though, because I do know that usually harvest season is in the fall.  So after lunch, we went to see if we could find my vine.  Beth lifted some leaves, and we saw a bunch of beautifully formed green (not ripe) grapes.

I was amazed at the transformation in such a short time.  However, the growth wasn't complete yet.  The promise of a harvest was evident, but it wasn't yet a harvest.

Those green grapes set my mind and heart thinking about growth and maturity and waiting on God, the Master Vinedresser who knows the process from the beginning to end.  He has promised,

He who began a good work in you will perfect it till the day of Christ Jesus. Phil 1:6

So often, I'm impatient with myself and others, wanting instant maturity or expecting "fruitfulness" before its time.

I think of Moses as a young man in Egypt.  The book of Acts says that he knew about his call to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage and actually tried to do so before God's time.

When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel.  And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian.  He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. Acts 7:23-25 ESV

God still had work to do in Moses life to bring him to the end of himself.  Then he would be ready for the mature "fruit" of being God's instrument of deliverance.

It's the same way with us.  God the Father, our Gardener, promises that as we abide in Christ His True Vine, we will bear fruit in increasing measure:

...fruit,...more fruit,... much fruit. John 15:2,5.

He has us in His process!  The Father does whatever is necessary to bring our lives to fruition.

Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he lifts up [alternate translation], and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. John 15:2

Our job is not perfection, but abiding.  But rather we are impatient and really...immature.  We want to experience mature fruit before God's time.

This reminds me of when we were kids in the 1950's.

Linda, Janet, & Nancy in Arizona circa 1954

In the 1950's, my family lived on the edge of a desert in Tucson, Arizona in a new housing area consisting of cinder block duplexes, but little else.  Not much grew out there.  But one thing that did grow was melon.  The way I know that is when we kids would eat watermelon, we would spit our seeds to one side of our front porch.  After a time, a watermelon vine would grow carrying a beautiful new melon.

Would we wait till the melon ripened to open it up?  Oh no!  We impatiently and prematurely cracked open that baby, only to see white hard flesh where juicy sweet redness should be.  What a disappointment!

And maybe that's why we are disappointed with our own lives and the lives of our children and others close to us!

There's an interesting verse in the New Testament addressed to fathers, but it could very well be addressed to mothers, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, other relatives, friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc.  Just substitute alternate relationships for the underlined words:

Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart. Col 3:21

How do we exasperate and frustrate our children and others?

By unrealistic expectations of perfection?

By building walls instead of choosing love in difficult situations with others?

By giving up and not counting on God's working?

In reality, full maturity will will not be reached on this earth.  Rather it will come when we meet Christ face-to-face.

So in the meantime, dear brothers & sisters, let us abide in Him, keep on growing, and extend to each other (and to ourselves) God's grace:

And now, little children, abide in him... Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 1 John 2:28; 3:2

But grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 2 Peter 3:18

Lessons from a Family Vacation {We become like what we focus on!}

Vacation-Blog04-150x150
Vacation-Blog04-150x150
Vacation Blog05
Vacation Blog05

LBI...Long Beach Island, New Jersey -- sun, surf, and sweet memories.  Home of Surf City and Barnegat Lighthouse!   LBI was a favorite place for us Renners to vacation in our growing up years in the 1950's & 60's -- not every year but as many years as our family of 6 (and later 7) kids and 2 parents, living on one income, could afford.

It was such a beloved place that my brother Conrad and family bought a beach house there in 1998...within a block from the beach, no less!

One year, when our kids were grown but not yet married and out of the nest, we had the most wonderful Renner family reunion at LBI.  Conrad scouted out other houses on his street that were for rent. And so several of us rented for the same week, and we all (along with in-laws, friends, and pets) descended upon that little beach community.

Family reunion at LBI 2000
Family reunion at LBI 2000
Vacation Blog
Vacation Blog

It was a glorious week, filled with swimming, sun-bathing, sunrise watching, etc etc.  But the best thing was the love and togetherness and community that "happened".  We shared meals together, each family taking a turn.

A year or two later, some of us rented houses again at LBI.  I was hoping to recapture the same experience of that previous vacation together.  Well, you know how that goes.  Recapturing "glory" usually never happens.  And it certainly didn't happen this time...or so I thought!

For one thing, we all couldn't make it...for various valid reasons.  On top of that, my brother Paul's family, including his sister-in-law's family, rented a house that was germ infested (probably from the previous renters).  Everyday other members of their families "would drop like flies" with a terrible flu-bug.  So there was often a "skeletal crew" on the beach from that household.

Vacation Blog06
Vacation Blog06

We didn't eat together like the other year.  There was little to no fellowship or community because of struggles going on in individual lives.  My widowed mom, then in her mid-70"s, was staying with us. (Remember her?  My hero in a previous post!)  She was frustrated with issues related to our family house, which was too much for her to handle at that stage of her life!  (We probably had waited too long to move her elsewhere.)  So our conversations were largely negative.  She had to get it off her chest, but with my expectations for a nice relaxed vacation, I was hardly as sympathetic as I could have been.

Not to bore you with too many negative details, let's just say that to me the vacation was a total bust!  And I left LBI mad, mad, mad...and feeling cheated!  For the 11 hour drive home from NJ to OH, I seethed.  I couldn't sleep that night!  And I stayed stuck for days despite dealing with some issues I needed to deal with.   Until...

Until the Lord broke through, "Enough!  Now it's over!  You've dealt with what I told you.  NOW when you think of this vacation, I want you to focus on the one hour of joyful bliss we had together."

Oh my goodness!  I had forgotten about that because of my absorption with my disappointment!

Bageleddi's
Bageleddi's

It was the Wednesday of vacation week.  I woke up at 5:45 am totally awake.  Grabbing a cup of coffee at Bageleddi's (the local favorite), I walked alone to the beach.  It was warm, and the sun had just started to come up but was not yet visible.  The cloud bank above the ocean was turning shades of pink, purple, and blue...and then the sliver of sun started to appear on the horizon. I opened my Bible and read in the Psalms,

The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship... God has made a home in the heavens for the sun. It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding. It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race. The sun rises at one end of the heavens and follows its course to the other end. Psalm 19:1,4-6

So Jesus and I walked and talked together that glorious morning -- perfect rest in Him, enjoying together the most gorgeous sunrise I had truly ever seen.  And I had forgotten it all!

So whenever negative thoughts about vacation would start to again flood my mind, I remembered this one joyful hour of bliss with my Lord.

As the days went by, something amazing started to happen.

Vacation Blog01
Vacation Blog01

Other pleasant memories of our vacation started to surface:  like my early morning walk to the beach only to discover a delightful sight -- my brothers and nephews fishing in the surf; and the fun supper at the Mud Hut with my husband and adult children; and a surprisingly wonderful conversation with an in-law that I didn't typically connect with.

By God's grace, He saved me from a root of bitterness in my heart.  As I began to reflect on what had happened in me, I started to realize what I've come to believe is a spiritual principle:  We become like what we focus on.

I remembered some of my favorite passages of Scripture:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another... For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Cor 3:18: 4:6 ESV

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Col 3:1-4 NIV

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthythink about such things... And the God of peace will be with you. Phil 4:8

So here's the question, dear friends:  What's your attitude, your frame of mind, like right now?

Maybe you need to hear the Lord say (as I did), "Focus on Me and remember joy!"

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3


Lessons from a Family Vacation: Expectations Transformed

Jan at Barnegat Lighthouse 2000
Jan at Barnegat Lighthouse 2000

LBI...Long Beach Island, New Jersey -- sun, surf, and sweet memories.  Home of Surf City and Barnegat Lighthouse!   LBI was a favorite place for us Renners to vacation in our growing up years in the 1950's & 60's -- not every year but as many years as our family of 6 (and later 7) kids and 2 parents, living on one income, could afford.

Vacation Blog05
Vacation Blog05

It was such a beloved place that my brother Conrad and family bought a beach house there in 1998...within a block from the beach, no less!

One year, when our kids were grown but not yet married and out of the nest, we had the most wonderful Renner family reunion at LBI.  Conrad scouted out other houses on his street that were for rent. And so several of us rented for the same week, and we all (along with in-laws, friends, and pets) descended upon that little beach community.

Family reunion at LBI 2000
Family reunion at LBI 2000
Vacation Blog
Vacation Blog

It was a glorious week, filled with swimming, sun-bathing, sunrise watching, etc etc.  But the best thing was the love and togetherness and community that "happened".  We shared meals together, each family taking a turn.

A year or two later, some of us rented houses again at LBI.  I was hoping to recapture the same experience of that previous vacation together.  Well, you know how that goes.  Recapturing "glory" usually never happens.  And it certainly didn't happen this time...or so I thought!

For one thing, we all couldn't make it...for various valid reasons.  On top of that, my brother Paul's family, including his sister-in-law's family, rented a house that was germ infested (probably from the previous renters).  Everyday other members of their families "would drop like flies" with a terrible flu-bug.  So there was often a "skeletal crew" on the beach from that household.

Vacation Blog06
Vacation Blog06

We didn't eat together like the other year.  There was little to no fellowship or community because of struggles going on in individual lives.  My widowed mom, then in her mid-70"s, was staying with us. (Remember her?  My hero in a previous post!)  She was frustrated with issues related to our family house, which was too much for her to handle at that stage of her life!  (We probably had waited too long to move her elsewhere.)  So our conversations were largely negative.  She had to get it off her chest, but with my expectations for a nice relaxed vacation, I was hardly as sympathetic as I could have been.

Not to bore you with too many negative details, let's just say that to me the vacation was a total bust!  And I left LBI mad, mad, mad...and feeling cheated!  For the 11 hour drive home from NJ to OH, I seethed.  I couldn't sleep that night!  And I stayed stuck for days despite dealing with some issues I needed to deal with.   Until...

Until the Lord broke through, "Enough!  Now it's over!  You've dealt with what I told you.  NOW when you think of this vacation, I want you to focus on the one hour of joyful bliss we had together."

Oh my goodness!  I had forgotten about that because of my absorption with my disappointment!

Bageleddi's
Bageleddi's

It was the Wednesday of vacation week.  I woke up at 5:45 am totally awake.  Grabbing a cup of coffee at Bageleddi's (the local favorite), I walked alone to the beach.  It was warm, and the sun had just started to come up but was not yet visible.  The cloud bank above the ocean was turning shades of pink, purple, and blue...and then the sliver of sun started to appear on the horizon. I opened my Bible and read in the Psalms,

The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship... God has made a home in the heavens for the sun. It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding. It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race. The sun rises at one end of the heavens and follows its course to the other end. Psalm 19:1,4-6

So Jesus and I walked and talked together that glorious morning -- perfect rest in Him, enjoying together the most gorgeous sunrise I had truly ever seen.  And I had forgotten it all!

So whenever negative thoughts about vacation would start to again flood my mind, I remembered this one joyful hour of bliss with my Lord.

As the days went by, something amazing started to happen.

Vacation Blog01
Vacation Blog01

Other pleasant memories of our vacation started to surface:  like my early morning walk to the beach only to discover a delightful sight -- my brothers and nephews fishing in the surf; and the fun supper at the Mud Hut with my husband and adult children; and a surprisingly wonderful conversation with an in-law that I didn't typically connect with.

By God's grace, He saved me from a root of bitterness in my heart.  As I began to reflect on what had happened in me, I started to realize what I've come to believe is a spiritual principle:  We become like what we focus on.

I remembered some of my favorite passages of Scripture:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another... For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Cor 3:18: 4:6 ESV

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Col 3:1-4 NIV

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthythink about such things... And the God of peace will be with you. Phil 4:8

So here's the question, dear friends:  What's your attitude, your frame of mind, like right now?

Maybe you need to hear the Lord say (as I did), "Focus on Me and remember joy!"

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3


The Vineyard Revisited: Reflections on Growth

I just returned from two weeks in Southern California visiting my daughter and family.  During that time, I celebrated another birthday...and to my delight Beth took me to "my vineyard" for lunch at the lovely restaurant there. On the way to the Temecula vineyard area, I was amazed to see how the former ruthlessly pruned vines were now covered with lush green leaves.  You may remember those stark vines in a former post. That was just a little over 3 months ago!

I wondered about the fruit though, because I do know that usually harvest season is in the fall.  So after lunch, we went to see if we could find "my vine".  Beth lifted some leaves, and we saw a bunch of beautifully formed green (not ripe) grapes.

That has set my mind and heart thinking about growth and maturity and waiting on God, the Master Vinedresser who knows the process from the beginning to end.  He has promised,

He who began a good work in you will perfect it till the day of Christ Jesus. Phil 1:6

So often, I'm impatient with myself and others wanting instant maturity or expecting "fruitfulness" before its time.  I think of Moses as a young man in Egypt.  The book of Acts says that he knew about his call to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage and actually tried to do so before God's time.

When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel.  And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian.  He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. Acts 7:23-25 ESV

God still had work to do in Moses life to bring him to the end of himself.  Then he would be ready for the mature "fruit" of being God's instrument of deliverance.

It's the same way with us.  God the Father, our Gardener, promises that as we abide in Christ His True Vine we will produce fruit in increasing measure:

...fruit,...more fruit,... much fruit. John 15:2,5.

He has us in His process!  The Father does whatever is necessary to bring our lives to fruition.

Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he lifts up [alternate translation], and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. John 15:2

Our job is not perfection, but abiding.  But rather we are impatient and really...immature.  We want to experience mature fruit before God's time.

It reminds me of when we were kids in the 1950's.

My family lived on the edge of a desert in Tucson, Arizona in a new housing area consisting of cinder block duplexes, but little else.  Not much grew out there.  But one thing that did grow was melon.  The way I know that is when we kids would eat watermelon, we would spit our seeds to one side of our front porch.  After a time, a watermelon vine would grow carrying a beautiful new melon.  Would we wait till the melon ripened to open it up?  Oh no!  We would impatiently and prematurely crack open that baby, only to see white hard flesh where juicy sweet redness should be.  What a disappointment!

And maybe that's why we are disappointed with our own lives and the lives of our children and others close to us.  There's an interesting verse in the New Testament addressed to fathers, but it could very well be addressed to mothers, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, other relatives, friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc.  Just substitute alternate relationships for the underlined words:

Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart. Col 3:21

How do we exasperate and frustrate our children and others?  By unrealistic expectations of perfection?  By building walls instead of choosing love in difficult situations with others?  By giving up and not counting on God's working?

In reality, full maturity will will not be reached on this earth.  Rather it will come when we meet Christ face-to-face.  So in the meantime, dear brothers & sisters, let us abide in Him, keep on growing, and extend to each other (and to ourselves) God's grace:

And now, little children, abide in him... Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 1John 2:28; 3:2

But grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 2Peter 3:18