The private French Christian school where Angela and I volunteer and our daughter attends, (Collège-Daniel) recently acquired some land with some “cabins” on it. We have a project this summer to renovate those cabins into classrooms and office space for this coming September. We have partnered with EuroTeam, a branch of Greater Europe Mission, to oversee the renovation work.
At present the project is in jeopardy as we lack the workers to actually accomplish the renovation. This post is a call to any/all who might be interested in participating in a 2-week short-term renovation-project missions trip to the Alsace region of France this summer. Individuals and/or groups are welcome.
This printable PDF flyer gives more details and could be posted in churches or Christian schools, etc. Please feel free to pass on this blog post and/or PDF file to potentially interested people/groups.
For those who are interested, please use the contact information in the PDF file as WE are NOT the ones coordinating the team; that is what EuroTeam is doing. Thanks!
As a youth, I was a great fan of Monty Python. The Flying Circus was great and The Holy Grail was…well the Holy Grail!
One of the great expression from Monty Python and the Holy Grail was, “Run Away!”, which was uttered numerous times throughout the film if memory serves, as a replacement for “Retreat!”
Well, I’ve discovered recently that there isn’t a replacement for retreat!
I’m not speaking of natural flight before an overwhelming foe, rather the time-honored tradition of spending a block of time in solitude to re-focus and refresh.
This summer, my head was down in concentration and I was focused on attaining certain milestones in the evolution of the computer network at the private Christian School “Collège-Daniel” where I work in Alsace, France. I was determined to achieve breakthrough and had been working on certain issues for a loooooonnnngggg time. The artificial goal I’d set required that I achieve certain things during the summer break that I simply couldn’t work on effectively during the school year.
Angela had been gone for a month in the States, hoping-against-hope that I’d have wrapped it all up by the time I met her at the airport with flowers in hand (which I did, of course!), and then we could actually relax a bit during the summer break [peanut gallery “snicker” here].
Of course while she was gone, I couldn’t hardly get anything done because I was running the house (and not nearly as efficiently as she does!) So, when I went right back at it at school our “expectation conflict” was beginning to brew.
Eventually it boiled over and soon thereafter I got sick for a week…so, she was right that I was working too much and my priorities were messed up. Additionally, as we reflected together on our “summer of family transition” and our last 8-9 years of cross-cultural adventure and moving from house to house, the accumulated weight of stress in my life became more evident to me.
Run Away! Run Away!
I finally realized just how exhausted I was…spirit, soul and body. It was time for a change of scenery and pace.
I’d heard of a place in Alsace, near Munster, where there was a retreat center run by protestant order of sisters where one could get away for a spiritual retreat. After some checking around, I finally found the Community Center at Hohrodberg (Centre Communautaire du Hohrodberg.) About the same, time a good friend of mine in the States also took a retreat. I knew it was a confirmation. I needed to run away!
So, I took 5 days to spend time resting and talking and listening to God. Of course, I had naively hoped to come back all cleaned up, rested up, filled up and full of clear direction for the year to come (among other things). This was a similar sentiment that I had when I left for our YWAM DTS 9 years ago.
God doesn’t seem to work that way with me…;-)
No, He seems to have a preference for drawing me and coaxing me toward Him via “hedging me in” in ways that are uncomfortable…physically, spiritually, and emotionally. He understands that “perfect bliss” in my natural life doesn’t push me Further Up and Further In!
So Angela drove me about an hour northwest of our home in Soultz to Hohrodberg. The final 10 minutes of drive are a beautiful, winding climb up higher and higher in the Vosges.
The Centre Communautaire du Hohrodberg is a collection of 3 buildings that straddle this winding road as it continues on into the Vosges. I was welcomed by one of the 7 sisters (in the “order” sense of the word) that live at the Center and run it. Their full-time vocation is to pray continually and welcome visitors to the Center. I was shown around and then shown my room. I said good-bye to Angela and settled in for my 4-5 days with the Lord.
My room was named “Horeb” and was situated in the building named “Elim.” It was immaculate! It was small but very thoughtfully appointed – bed, sink, table, night-stand, good lighting, good storage, great view, etc. I really couldn’t have asked for a better situation. I never saw any other rooms but I was very impressed by mine.
Horeb is mentioned several times in scripture; notably as the sight of Moses’ burning bush (Exodus 3:1-3) and Elijah’s encounter with the Lord (I Kings 19:4-18). Elijah’s experience spoke to me while I was there. Here’s a little comparison between his “Horeb experience” and mine:
Starts out exhausted after a concentrated time of heavy-duty ministry
Starts out exhausted after several years of spread-out ministry
Sleeps…wakened by an angel to eat divinely provided foot…repeat 2x
Sleeps…wakened by alarm clocks to eat food prepared by the sisters at the center…repeat 3x/day
Re-finding his strength, goes on 40 day hike to the mountains
Re-finding his strength, goes on 1 1/2 hour hike in the mountains
Experiences wind, earthquake, fire…but no God
Sees where men have experienced wind, earthquake and fire…but no God in fierce fighting in WWI at the “Lingekopf” near the Center.
Experiences calm…and dialogs with God
Experiences calm, where once was war, and dialogs with God
As I mentioned, my time at Hohrodberg, though valuable and peaceful, wasn’t idyllic. Idyllic is something I’d love to experience, but I know that idyllic doesn’t refine me.
At Hohrodberg, one is expected to enter into the community rhythm while staying there. I took a wonderful 3-day retreat many years ago at Sacred Heart in Colorado., and the integration was a bit more “à la carte” there, if you will. I think I preferred that. At Hohrodberg, office is 3-times-a-day, just before meals. The meals are all taken communally, course-by-course, with the breakfast and evening meals being eating in silence. Everyone participates, in turn, in the wash-up after the meals.
Probably what was hardest for me were the meals. I found it annoying to “eat in rhythm” with the serving of the courses. I also struggled with eating in silence with people on my right and left that I didn’t know. I don’t mind silence at all, but I prefer it in conjunction with solitude/physical separation. A crowded room of silence actually feels a bit oppressive to me. The food wasn’t outstanding either, so I didn’t really look forward to meal times.
I had all the rest of the time to myself and it was more than sufficient. But…the “imposed rhythm” marked me enough that I might think twice before going back…or perhaps I’d go back for a shorter time, in a better all-around state. I was more or less in “critical care” when I went, and really wanted to take a break from any particular rhythm…good or bad. I imagine that going there “healthy” for 2-3 days would probably flow much better for me.
I didn’t take my guitar or a camera. I’m glad I chose not to. The guitar would have been a distraction and the amazing beauty would have endlessly whispered (or screamed), “Capture me! Capture me!” As it is, I captured what I could with camera on my phone and added an album for Hohrodberg on our gallery. Having a “phone cam” however, allowed me to take very quick snapshots without getting sucked into the time-consuming activity of creating photographic works of art (in my dreams!)
The rest, the reading, the prayer, the walking, the offices, the enveloping beauty…all of this combined to communicate a handful of simple messages that have been amplified and confirmed since returning home:
Song of Solomon 2:14 is Jesus’ gracious, loving and merciful call to me right now. In my hike, at several points the path I took led me through the “clefts of the rocks.” The call of my Beloved is clear to me…I’ve only to respond.
While not intended to penetrate my life as anchors of shame, my weaknesses were underlined to me…in much the same way that God spoke to Elijah on mount Horeb to correct his errant thinking and I limp with them as Israel, né Jacob, did after Jabbok (Genesis 32:22-31).
I’ve loved serving God more than I’ve loved God Himself. I’ve been thrilled with the gift of being called into Kingdom service in things that personally I enjoy doing. However, even “enjoyable Kingdom work” does not bring a level of satisfaction and pleasure that greatly surpasses other earthly pleasures, nor does it renew and refresh over the long haul. It drains, perhaps slowly…but surely, and doesn’t provide a “protective pleasure” that makes worldly pleasures “pale in comparison.” Only loving God does that. This is subtle mind you… One can’t focus on loving God directly and somehow leave Kingdom service behind. The two are inextricably bound. It’s an issue rather of motivation and priority…but it is an important issue.
The hour is such that my need to make a distinction between the #1 priority of the “One Thing” (Psalm 27:4) and #2-#n priorities can no longer suffer neglect…neglect must now be reserved for my “urgent matters” that pop-up to take me away from my One Thing. Included in the “not #1 priorities” would be clear direction for all activities. That’s for the Lord to reveal when He wants…my pursuit is Him.
(This post is an excerpt of my daughter Rachel’s Facebook post about her participation in the Freedom Walk in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania a couple of weeks ago)
Around 300 years ago, a religious group of people suffered severe persecution in Switzerland. A certain Lord Ribeaupierre invited those people to come and live in Alsace, France and farm the land. Among his conditions were that the people take a ‘vow of silence’ and refrain from any kind of witnessing or proselytizing. They agreed, moved, and withdrew as religious communities from the outside world. Later, many emigrated to the United States.
This story is about the Anabaptists, who are still around and known as Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren. And strange as it may sound, this is the reason I went to Pennsylvania last week.
Sins committed in the past can be confessed, repented of, and forgiven in the present. God leads individuals and groups today to stand humbly in the place of their ancestors and deal with these sins. This work of reconciliation breaks off generational curse of sin and spiritual strongholds that affect and imprison places today.
A team of people from my church in France flew to Pennsylvania to ask forgiveness for having imposed the ‘vow of silence’ and to intercede (pray for) Lancaster by joining a group of various believers to complete a prayer walk around the perimeter of Lancaster county.
I was invited to join by the leaders of the prayer walk (who are good friends), and to help with translating for the French team!
And it was awesome.
Revival is coming to Lancaster.
Revival is coming to the Amish.
We saw some of the beginning signs of this in the 5 Amish families who prayer walked with us! A few years ago, they were given a supernatural healing ministry and were consequently excommunicated from the Amish church. Now they are a community and call their work Light of Hope Ministries. They see themselves as bridging the gap between the Amish and the rest of the Christian community. I LOVED (lovedlovedloved) being with them, spending time with the children, mixing with another culture, and being challenged by their passionate spirituality and vision.
Read more about them here: https://charismamag.com/articles/index.php?id=17482
Because of the French team and their need for translation, I feel like God has also used this week to give me a second chance – (that I really didn’t deserve – to appreciate the French and the French language. For the last few years, I’ve generally resented speaking French and feeling doomed to substandard communication. Despite what people say, I know just how far from fluency I am! Not only that, but my confidence had gone way down after being away at BFA for two years…
So, knowing that He could, I asked God to help me translate beyond my abilities this week. There were MORE than enough opportunities to serve, and of every variety – French to English/English to French, simultaneous/phrase-by-phrase, informal/formal, one-on-one/group situations… and yes, many times it was easier than I anticipated. God was helping me! I learned several things: first, that I may actually be gifted in translating. Second, I learned better to dismiss the fear of being judged for my mistakes. The fact that the people in the French team all know and love me helped. I had to think about others first, and realize when they weren’t understanding… forcing me to be very NOT self-centered. Not always easy.
I’ve been on a total of eight plane trips this summer, and – what are the odds – been given a window seat every time. I know heaven isn’t really a straight up shoot from earth (more of a parallel realm), and yet, there’s something about that “God’s eye view” that takes my mind outside the box… and I smile at the big screaming deal we think we are.
Do you ever wonder what it would look like to fly over the US on July 4th in the evening? I do.
I need to blog about this before it becomes ancient history!
But…I don’t think the impact of this will fade into history to be forgotten. Indeed “ancient history” and “making history” are central to this.
What is this?
Well, I blogged about it a while ago in: “Risky Business…” It’s about a 3-week intercession walk along the borders of Alsace that we (our church, intercessors in the region, intercessors from other countries) recently completed.
I personally was involved in the logistics of the walk…mainly the communication. I also walked the 3rd week of the walk along with my daughter Rachel.
There were many moments in the walk that God was speaking to individuals and to the group as the borders of Alsace were walked by groups of 5-20 people. Hopefully at our church site there will be a fuller report by those who took notes at the daily debriefing. Those would be initially in French and I’ll work at getting them translated into English.
I’ll just explain two times that were particularly noteworthy in that 3rd week of the walk.
As background, some research this past spring into the local history of Alsace and Guebwiller in particular, brought to our attention some horrible war time experiences that the people of Alsace had suffered. These were not the war time experiences that you might quickly associate with Alsace in WWI and WWII. These were from the 30 Years’ Warway back in 1618-1648! Specifically during this conflict the climate of fear which developed in the Alsatian civilians was such that they did not even leave their homes to cultivate their land lest they be attacked. This led to starvation conditions and and people even exhuming human remains for food.
…hard to read…hard to write…imagine experiencing it…
A part of the invading/occupying force during the 30 Years’ War was from Sweden. During the 2nd week of the walk, the group came upon a large, old oak tree that had a marker indicating that it had been used by the Swedish during the 30 Years’ War to hang Alsatians. Hold that thought…
The Lord has His ways of orchestrating His redemptive purposes…
A few weeks before the walk, we got an email from a family from Sweden asking if they could join us during the 3rd week of the walk. They were going to be on staff at the OM Teen Street camp in Germany near that time and wanted to come a bit early and participate in the walk for a couple of days. They had heard about the walk through Martin Scott’se-mail newsletter (read his report of the 3rd week of the walk here). We were thrilled to have them come and indeed they were a blessing but I don’t imagine that we had any idea when they first asked just how key their presence and participation would be.
They joined us Tuesday morning and walked with us all day. It was a day where we got lost (took the wrong forest road) and ended up 9kms short of our goal for the day (about 40kms/day normally). The day ended in driving rain and we felt a fair amount of spiritual resistance. We ended the day near the foot of Mont Donon where there is some overt historical occult traces (roman and celtic temple remains, sacrificial stone, etc.). That evening in the debriefing time, the wife/mother of the Swedish family, Maria, mentioned that while we walked and prayed, she had had an image of a “large tree of unrighteousness” that we were uprooting as we prayed. Vito, our leader, took that as a cue that perhaps now was the time to share with them about the oak tree that they had seen the previous week during the walk and the history of the Swedish occupation of Alsace during the 30 Years’ War.
The Swedish family was not aware of these things and we did not want to press/push any “resolution” right then and there.
The next morning, Wednesday, August 2nd, at the foot of Mont Donon, before we started walking, we had a time of prayer to start the day. We broke bread and poured out wine and milk and honey on the bread and prayed for the region. At the end of this time the Swedish family (the father and mother and teenage daughter) came forward and, standing for Sweden, confessed, repented of, and asked forgiveness for the occupation of Alsace and the atrocities committed by the Swedes during the 30 Years’ War. It was a powerful time of reconciliation between the Alsatians and the Swedes and facilitated the rest of the day. We started walking down to St-Marie-aux-Mines while a small group want to the top of Mont Donon.
Meanwhile, another couple who walked with us the 3rd week, Rusty and Janet, from the States, had already been all this time in St-Marie-aux-Mines searching for the perfect spot.
They had come from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania with a signed declaration of repentance to bury in the ground at St-Marie-aux-Mines.
Well, it turns out that also way back in history, just after the 30 Years’ War, the aristocratic Ribeaupierre family in Alsace invited persecuted Swiss Anabaptists to come and farm their war-torn region around St-Marie-aux-Mines…
…under one condition…
They could not evangelize. They were muzzled from sharing their faith. The Swiss Anabaptists (from the Bern area), had had enough of deadly persecution and they agreed. They agreed to keep quiet and be hard workers.
In this town, there eventually came a split among the Anabaptists that had settled there. The followers of Jakob Ammann split with the the Swiss Brethren and became the Amish.
Rusty and Janet come from the heart of Amish country in the US where they are active in reconciliation ministry between the various Anabaptist streams (Amish, Mennonite, Brethren, etc.) and the Swiss Reformed church which had brutally persecuted them so long ago. Janet recently published a book entitled Unlocking our Inheritance – Spiritual Keys to Recovering the Treasures of Anabaptism. (Read about the reconciliation process and how to acquire the book at https://www.anabaptistreconciliation.org/).
Their declaration had been signed by Mennonites and Amish leaders from the Lancaster area and was a specific declaration of repentance for having accepted the agreement to stop evangelizing in order to avoid persecution and for the origins of the Amish split in the Anabaptist tradition.
This also was a powerful time of repentance and reconciliation between the Anabaptists represented by Janet and the Alsatians and even a Swiss lady from the Bern region.
The end of Wednesday was at the top of St-Marie pass were one re-enters Alsace from the interior of France. At this pass we found a military cemetery, a large “mile-marker” from the days when Alsace was German, and a large information board which mentioned many of the difficult parts of Alsace’s history tied to that very area…including issues of the Swedish in the 30 Years’ War. The Swedish family was leaving the next morning, and because we had had that time of reconciliation Wednesday morning, we could face that information about the Swedes in the 30 Years’ War Wednesday evening and know that it was dealt with and have a wonderful time of blessing and prophetic send-off for that family that became so precious to us in just 2 days!
This was truly a blessed week. Don’t get me wrong, it was physically hard at times (especially on a nearly 45-year-old body like mine!) and not always comfortable (weather, wet camping two days, etc.), but we were used by the Lord to redeem history. In all, it was rich beyond measure!!!
I’ve had the impression in the last couple of months that God is dropping various “threads” in front of me and saying, “Make something with this.” I think my first several strands had me thinking of “braiding”. Then perhaps, “knitting”. Now, I wonder whether God might be saying, “Stop thinking about a tiny macrame plant holders and begin to think BIG!“
Last weekend we had Martin Scott at our church for a weekend of intercession training and, in addition to it being a fabulous weekend in all respects, he said one thing and gave me one thing that are both stirring up “bigger thinking” for what to do with my “threads”.
First of all he reminded us that God says that He will give us above and beyond what we can ask or imagine. (Eph 3:20) He showed us that though God goes beyond our imagination, the size of our imagination plays a part. Imagine small...you’ll getmorethansmall. Imagine BIG,you’ll get more thanBIG! I have to say that this is not my habitual way to function. I tend to think a bit more like Gideon when he responded to the angel and said that he was a “nobody” just trying to keep from getting squashed by the enemy (Judges 6:11-23)…but of course, God had a different perspective! I believe I just might be starting to think bigger!
Then, I was looking at the books that Martin brought to sell. (We don’t often have a selection of books in English to peruse through around here!) I had already 4 of the 10 or so titles that he was selling. I picked up one, titled Church that WORKS that caught my eye because of the title and especially because of one of the co-authors, James Thwaites, whose books like The Church Beyond The Congregation and Renegotiating The Church Contract have been books that I’ve wanted to read for some time now (can you say, ” wish list“?). I expressed my interest in the book and he just gave it to me! What a blessing! Thanks Martin!
So now, I’m thinking like industrial textile mill! (Strangely enough, the textile industry used to be quite big in this valley!)
I’m only on the first chapter of this book, but already I’m very stirred in my spirit about how God would want to use me, in relationship with others in His Body in this area, as a concrete channel of His blessing to manifest His Kingdom here in our town, valley, region, nation and continent. When I say “concrete”, I’m thinking literally of “concrete”…buildings…buying them…working in them…housing people in them…etc. My prayer this morning as I prayer-walked our town was to be this channel…somehow! In fact the prayer walking itself is a good example of how this vision is starting to grow in me.
Since we’ve been here in this town, I’ve been prayer-walking its streets with some degree of consistency. I change my route a lot, but here’s the perimeter of my town and I think it will become my route for a while.There is something about walking and praying at the same time that connects in my spirit in a big way…and, of course, I love the images that the Lord presents using Joshua and Caleb about where their foot treads, He will give them that land. For me it’s a big deal already that the Lord would give me Soultz as an inheritance. As with most of Europe, the signs of eternal life in Soultz are calcified, decayed or buried. Seeing a Soultz for Jesus would be a fabulous thing. But God didn’t say, “ask of Me and I will give you the small towns.” No, He used the word nations (with an “S“). (Psalm 2:8)
Well, for me, walking more than Soultz’s perimeter is “more than I can ask or imagine” because of my joints. After about 45 minutes of walking, my hips begin to whine and my knees and ankles don’t really stimulate me to go “above and beyond” either! But, there are three nations within spittin’ distance in this neck of the woods and God is helping me to see bigger!
So now there is a project on the table to prayer-walk the borders of Alsace within the next 14 months. It’s not “my project”, but I have a strong desire to be involved and I think the Lord may be asking that of me as well. This is a first-step physical connection to the spiritual reality that God is extending to us (our family) a measure of authority to establish His Kingdom here in Alsace…but as with Joshua and Caleb, this is not handed to us on a silver platter.
The French government has already told us “no” when we requested a more firmly established residency status. To me, God has said “Yes…now go and take this land.” So I want to be like Caleb, who when he was 85 took hill country (the Vosges mountains in Alsace?) from the enemy!
So, I’m “training” on my “Soultz Prayer Loop” but I want to see bigger! things!
In these Bible examples, we see faith, and I’ve heard that the late John Wimber used to say, “Faith is spelled r-i-s-k.” Again, like Gideon, I’ve never been high on the “risk-taking scale”. I can point to more than one personality-typing test that will prove to you that it’s just not me! But if it’s true that “without faith it’s impossible to please God“, well then…?
It’s clear in the Parable of the Talents that God rewards Kingdom-building risk-taking. In the “return-on-investment” category, I’d put us somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd servants. We’ve done more than bury our talents but I think that God is calling us higher. He’s not scolding, but he’s saying, “I’ve given you more than you’ve put to work for My Kingdom. Part of what I’ve given you has effectively been buried, and I’d like you to risk investing that as well.“
So, now I’d like to give God all our “loaves and fishes” and see what He will do with them. This probably involves our house and my computer skills. God has been graciously leading us down this path whereby we really do need to invest everything for the sake of His Kingdom in this land, or we risk to lose that which we have managed to hold on to this long.
We moved into our house in July, 2004 (moving report). Our house is a “duplex” of sorts and dates back to 1900. It’s a hodge-podge of an Alsatian home, attached to the structures on either side of it, like most of the buildings in the town center here in Soultz. Due to its odd dimensions, several of which have drawn blood from my 6′ 2” scalp, we call it our “Hobbit House”…when we’re affectionately disposed toward it…
One of its oddities is that on its right side, where it’s joined to the house next door, there isn’t a single dividing wall that goes straight up and down between the houses. If one could see it in 3-D from that side, you’d see that the living room goes father into “their side” than, say Olivia’s bedroom just above or the kitchen next to it, etc. Truly bizarre… My architect friend James Skaines tried to measure our house once and there was much scratching of heads trying to make sense of how it’s laid out. In fact, I’m sure it was not “laid out” but probably was a single home with the neighbors and then just split up at some point.
This isn’t about bizarre architecture though…
The house next door, as far as we can tell, is comprised of 2 or 3 apartments. For our first year, at least one, maybe two of those were vacant and the other taken by, as we heard, a flight attendant who was rarely there. It was practically vacant as far as we were concerned.
…’tis no more…
Somebody moved in this summer. Due to the nature of how our entry-ways are placed and our non-intersecting lives, we never see their comings and goings (not even sure what they look like!). But, lately, we’ve been all too aware of their presence. Why? Because of a smell that permeates our living room. The smell of stale cigarette smoke comes and goes in our living room through some porous opening somewhere between the two houses.
Not to criticize those who smoke, it’s just that the smell drives me fairly crazy! I can live with cigar smoke (really!). Pipe smoke can even be pleasant, but cigarette smoke is more than I can take. (definitely more difficult in Europe at the moment than in the US where anti-smoking laws have been circulating much longer).
One night recently, when I was smelling “fresh” cigarette smoke in our bedroom (a slightly different but equally annoying smell that has started to occur there as well!) while laying in bed, I felt God saying that this would be an excellent opportunity to pray for my neighbors. So, now, while still racking my brain to figure out how I can better seal our house from “odor-attack”, I’m trying to use my nose to trigger my prayers! It’s not easy, let me assure you!
I’m reminded that Paul told the Corinthians (way back before they thought that deodorant was cool), that God “…manifests the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.” and that “…we are a fragrance of Christ…” For me, as I get smacked in the nose with this reminder to pray for my neighbors, I wonder, what fragrance do my neighbors smell? Here’s an American family with 3 kids, several musical instruments, 2 cats and a loud car (needs serious work!). Personality-wise, we’re not individually in anybody’s face since we’re all mostly introverted, but it’s obvious that we stick out a bit and I’m sure that “sore thumb” might be an apt description at times!
My prayer right now, is that we could have some contact with these neighbors (and all the others around us) and that we could begin to build relationships and that the fragrance of Jesus might be the overriding olfactory sensation in this neighborhood!
In the 15th chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that He is the vine and we are the branches. It’s a powerful image that bears much reflection. Bruce Wilkinson’s book gives some great insights on the subject. Indeed it is probably understood only to the degree that it is lived.
Another aid in understanding this metaphor is certainly to spend time in vineyards and learn, first-hand, what this is all about really. Overlooking our town of Soultz in the Alsace region of France, we have a hillside of vineyards. It’s about a 5 minute walk from our house to get into the heart of these vineyards…and your heart will be pumping after the walk up the hill too! I’ve not profited enough from their proximity in the year we’ve lived here so far. For my physical heart’s sake and my heart of heart’s sake, I vow to go there more often.
This morning I went there and I felt that I got another glimpse into this metaphor of John 15.
“I am the vine, you are the branches…” actually doesn’t appear until verse 5. Verse 1 and 2 speak of another player in this drama…The Vinedresser. This is God the Father, and I saw a bit of truth about His role this morning. Let me explain…
In modern vineyards, there are metal cables strung along the row of vines at varying heights for the vine branches to attach themselves to. Otherwise, it’s a pretty unkempt, floppy mess!
The vinedresser is the one who plants these vines in a row and then stretches this straight cable all along the row. What is interesting is how the vine branches are attached to these cables. Take a look at the following two pictures:
I took these pictures this morning of the same vine. The picture on the left is of a branch up high, at the top of the plant. The picture on the right is of a branch down low, at the bottom of the plant. The difference I saw was striking.
The branch up high held on to the cable with its own natural strength and abilities
The branch down low was attached by a metal clip that the vinedresser had put on
The branch up high was thinner
The branch down low was thicker
The natural grip of the high branch was nicer to look at
The super-natural grip of the low branch seemed comparatively ugly…
The natural grip for the branch up high could support the weight of the high, thin branch
The branch below could not have been held up by such a natural grip and did not even appear to be trying to create one
The branch on high had no grapes
The branch below had several clusters of grapes that were in the process of ripening
It says in verse 8 that the Father, the Vinedresser, is glorified when we bear much fruit. What I saw was that our Heavenly Father gives us a strong, straight support upon which to lean. In the metaphor, this could be the Word of God and/or the Holy Spirit. They both work in tandem anyway. Perhaps it is the whole package of how we are “supported”. We don’t fall when we are supported. That’s the first truth and it’s an important one.
So often though, we’re a Church that looks good; has high flourishing, green branches, but they are not necessarily the ones that are bearing the fruit. What I saw was that the low, mature branches were bearing the fruit. I also saw that the Father had “supernaturally” provided for those branches that were heavy-leaden with fruit. He attached the branch Himself to the support with an “anchor” sure and firm and stronger than any anchor that the branch could have provided for itself. The branch was focused on bearing fruit, not being up high, not how it looked, not supporting itself.