A Walk Amongst the Trees: Lessons on Productivity

Come! Take a walk with me. I have some trees in a garden I’d like to show you. No, not the tree. I wish! Wouldn’t it be fun to sit in the shade of the Tree of Life? But, that will have to wait for another day.

fruit tree transplanted 2

The trees I want to show you are coming up here on the right. They have lessons for us to learn. Tell me what do you first notice?

That’s right. No tree is the same. Each is uniquely beautiful and bears it’s own distinct fruit. At the same time, no tree is bigger or brighter than the next.

And yes, the hues of green are amazing – rich with life. If we were to build a home in this garden, we would witness how these trees are green year round and consistently bearing their fruit. Though they do have dormant seasons and pruning seasons, they regularly bear fruit consistent with their nature.

How do you suppose these trees got here?

You might be surprised to learn they were transplanted. They did not begin here. While some began in deep, ancient forests, others began in scorching, waterless deserts, and others began in a harsh, frozen tundra. It doesn’t matter where they were originally planted, all had to be transplanted. No tree can blame their beginnings and neither will they find sufficient nourishment from sucking the juice from the roots of their forefathers. No, every single tree here had to be dug up by the roots and planted anew.

Tell me what you observe about the streams they are planted next to?

Correct. They are small irrigation ditches. They don’t require a mighty thrilling river in order to bear abundant fruit. Just daily intake in sufficient amounts of water.

fruit tree by stream

Take a closer look at those streams. Scoop a handful of the water and examine it closely. What do you see?

Words. Yes. Words of life. Years ago those words were recorded for an ancient people to learn about the life-giving Creator. They called it The Law. In more recent times, those words became pictures – pictures of a God/Man – the WORD – who provided a human visual, completing The Law.

Look down the stream over there. You see that little cluster of trees all huddled together, bent low over the water as if they are struggling to suck up every drop from the stream?

They think they have to work their absolute hardest to soak in the water. But look how such exaggerated effort has distorted, crippled, and over-watered them. All they really need is a normal daily drink.

Walk with me now. I want to take you to the edge of the garden. Look over there across the chasm at those trees. Now listen closely. What do you hear?

Yes, that’s mocking. Those trees have chosen to transplant themselves near poisonous waters. Oh they weren’t fooled – they knew full well that water was not good. They knew the trees in that garden were brown, thin, and flaky before they burrowed their roots into that soil. The bitter water they drink has morphed their perspective. They think their life is so good, they make fun of the green trees in this garden.

You see, all trees have choices as to where they want to live. In fact, they don’t have to move at all from their original planting. But if they stay where they feel comfortable, their leaves will easily wither and their fruit will be sporadic and tasteless. Those who chose to transplant themselves next to God’s life-giving streams will prosper. Only here can they produce the abundant fruit as the Master Gardner intended.

Fruit of Psalm 1

©Cheri Johnson August 2016

How to Produce the Fruit of the Spirit

Red raspberries, fuzzy peaches, sweet cherries, and mouth-watering melon. I love this time of year when I can sink my teeth into succulent fruit.

IMG_7026

Galatians 5:22-23 lists the “fruit of the Spirit”. Can you list them from memory? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Before I take a brief look at these I want to shout out the most important lesson of all here. These are fruits of the SPIRIT – not YOU! You can’t produce these fruits on your own. So quit struggling to be good enough and simply surrender.

Years ago Hannah Hurnard wrote a book called Mountains of Spices (Tyndale House, 1983) where she draws a parallel from the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians to the fruit and spices mentioned in the Song of Solomon 4:12-14. How intriguing!

A garden enclosed
Is … my spouse,[considered by biblical scholars to symbolize the church]

Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates
With pleasant fruits,
Fragrant henna with spikenard,
Spikenard and saffron,
Calamus and cinnamon,
With all trees of frankincense,
Myrrh and aloes,
With all the chief spices.
NKJV

In Solomon’s time, due to their rich flavors and aromas, these fruits and spices graced the tables of kings. They also held significant symbolism.

For example the first mentioned is pomegranates. This fruit’s tree represents love. It was considered one of the most beautiful trees, bearing abundant fruit with healing qualities. The tree itself was said to ward off evil spirits. The deep red fruit hangs low from the trees branches, offering itself to all who wish to partake – just as Christ offered His life for all of mankind. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13, NKJV).

Pomegranates

Henna bushes produce flowers that exude a sweet scent, representing joy. These bushes attract fluttering birds, alive with song. However, necessary for such sweetness is a bitter manure fertilizer. Out of bitterness Christ can bring the sweetest song if we allow Him to.

Spikenard, symbolic for peace, is from the root of a shrub grown in high elevations – close to the presence of God. It is used as a healing balm and fever reducer. It was spikenard Mary poured on Jesus’ feet.

Saffron is the cross-shaped stamen of a type of crocus. The first flowers of spring, they push through the cold of snow where they are exposed to harsh elements. If trampled underfoot, they spring back up. They have a unique, slightly sweet, but very strong flavor. A little goes a long way. Sounds like patience suffering long – to me.

Calamus, from which we get calamine lotion which soothes irritations. Like kindness, it offers an welcome response to many annoyances.

Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of stately trees. It is hidden to initial observation. Sometimes goodness seems hidden too, but just as sound as the cinnamon tree, God’s goodness is sure.

Frankincense is the dried sap of trees which is burned as a sweet lemony incense. Believed in times past to ward off evil spirits, and currently believed to serve as an anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory agent, frankincense serves as a faithful guard to life.

Myrrh is a bitter-sweet fragrance used for embalming because it stops bleeding. Isn’t this what gentleness does? It carefully handles, soothes, and bandages bleeding hearts.

And finally, aloe trees have trunks that can grow up to three feet in diameter and have an enormous root system. With such a solid foundation no wonder they are unaffected by the elements. They are a perfect picture of self-control. And what is self-control if not foremost Spirit-control. When we are rooted in Christ, drinking deeply from Him daily, and surrendered to Him, control is much easier to experience.

Daughters of the King, we too are invited to eat such fine fruits. Has He not prepared a table before us (Psalm 23:5)? Has He not called us to His banquet (Song of Solomon 2:4)?

Servants of the King, we too are asked to serve these riches to those in our care. But we can not give what we do not have. Maybe of the fruits we feel depleted, we need to first partake.

Remember …

Fruit of the Spirit requires surrender

©Cheri Johnson August 2016

No Grunting Necessary

The gardener strolls through his vineyard admiring the sea of spring foliage. Rippling in the breeze, the leaves sing promises of a bountiful year. But what’s that he keeps hearing? A grunting noise. Where is it coming from? Leaning close he discovers it’s coming from a branch!

2016 Dino Reichmuth
2016 Dino Reichmuth

“What’s this, Miss branch? Why do you grunt so? Are you unhappy in my vineyard? Am I not a caring gardener?”

“Oh dear Master, you are the most gentle and wise. The Gardener of gardeners and Lord of lords! Worthy of my utmost praise!”

“Are you ill or troubled by pests? Do you need some extra tending?”

“Oh no, Master. I’m healthy and fit. You’ve cleaned and protected me, fed and watered me. You’ve more than satisfied my every longing.”

“But, Aaaaaahg! Oooooo! uuuuuugh! Aren’t you pleased, Master, with how hard I’m working? I’m squeezing with all my might. It’s all for you and for your glory!”

“What’s this, my dear? Why are you grunting and working so hard?”

“Why to produce fruit, Master! After all you’ve done for me, I want to do my all for you.”

“Silly sweet branch! You don’t produce fruit by working so hard! My dear, the sweetest fruit is produced simply by abiding in the Vine! Rest! Drink deeply of what’s abundantly provided! No grunting is necessary. Even in the storms you are safe because the vine holds onto you.”

“Now, now! What’s this? You tremble so! Is that a tear I see? What troubles you, my dear?”

“It’s those pruning sheers I fear. Soon they will come snip-snipping along and take some of my fruit. That’s why I must work so hard. I want to produce the best looking grapes so that you won’t need to cut any off.”

“Ah, I see! Well, pruning happens to all the branches. It’s normal and it’s healthy. It lightens your load so that you can send all your sweetness into your choicest grapes. Do you think I’m most blessed with bunches of mediocre fruit or a smaller amount of premium fruit? I prune you so you can focus your resources to produce your very best.”

“So you’re not pruning me because I don’t measure up?”

“No, ma’am!”

“May I ask you, kind Gardener, do I measure up? Am I good enough?”

“You are mine! That’s all it takes to meet my standards. It’s your love I watch for. If you love me, you will obey me. Do you know how to do that?”

“Umm. I think I need a little clarification.”

“You abide in the Vine. You listen to His instructions and do what He says. He knows what you need because He listens to Me. None of this grunting and struggling to do things the way you think is best. You simply abide, listen, and obey. And while I’m thinking about it, you need to get along with the other branches.”

“That’s it? Abide, listen, and follow the Vine’s lead? Nothing else? No squeezing every ounce of nectar possible into my blossoms? No seeking the best place in the sun? No pushing myself forward to look the best?”

“That’s it, my dear. Abide. Only when you abide in the Vine, can you hear His voice. Only when you hear His voice, can you know what He wants you to do – or not do. If you doubt – and at times you will – remember you simple need to rest, drink deeply, listen, and obey. And most importantly, know deep in you soul, you are Mine.”

“Oh, and one last thing, sweet branch; you might want to read John 15.”

I Am the Vine

©Cheri Johnson August 2016

Boundaries are Made for Testing, Right?

What do you mean, I can’t use that word? That’s ridiculous!

I intended to write this month about a certain athletic event. It would provide fodder for some great discussions on running the race set before us, keeping our eye on the prize, and so forth. BUT, that particular event has all sorts of copyright laws prohibiting a business from using a whole smattering of terms until after August 24th. Though I’m not a business, I hope to be some day. So I will honor that law whether I like it or not.

I actually get it. For those businesses who’ve invested millions in sponsorship, they have the right to the profits first. And even if I don’t get it, I’m generally the sort of person who isn’t that interested in testing the boundaries. I usually trust that rules exist for a good reason. I also simply don’t like to get into arguments over things I could easily avoid. I believe there are times we need to stand up for ourselves but those times are very rare.

However, there are some personalities that love to challenge the lines. They must think those lines are made of elastic that can be stretched (and then get mad when they come snapping back at them). Others just wait until no one’s looking and cross them anyway. Others just step over them, whether anyone’s noticing or not, and when questioned say, “What line?” (And, seriously, I’m not sure they ever noticed the line.)

Lines

Riding breathlessly in the back of Russian taxis my husband and I realized the solid yellow line in the middle of the highway meant absolutely nothing. We decided another name for taxi was prayer closet. My kids came from this culture which gave confusing messages about lines. Either the lines didn’t matter, or they were so tightly drawn you had to cross them to survive. Trying to teach my kids about boundaries was difficult. In fact, in many cases, I’m not sure we succeeded.

In 2011, I joined three other adoptive moms on a trip to Russia. My goal was to learn as much as I could about the culture that birthed my kids so I could better understand and support them. One early morning I scrunched next to one of my companions in a 24-hour Moscow diner as we listened to a man who’d help run an orphanage and was now in touch with government higher-ups. His insights were fascinating. He told us that orphans will push as hard as they can against boundaries because they are desperate to find someone who is stronger than they are. They are looking for someone strong enough to provide the security they need.

My husband and I were pretty good boundary setters. We always started with a thin, clear line. If that got crossed we reminded once, often using humor, but the next time the line got thicker, then thicker. Sometimes I wondered if we were going to have to build a wall – with barbed wire on top. Now that my kids are all parents themselves, we witness how they too draw pretty good lines. We also have great relationships with each of them. It seems to me, standing our ground and enforcing our boundaries provided what they needed.

We all parent differently, but we all have to draw boundaries for our kids. All kids need them. And at times, those lines will be tested. Frankly, that’s an important part of our children’s growth. We need to allow for that while teaching our kids how lines can appropriately be challenged. Lines at times need to be moved. Maybe we realize we’re being too strict, or that the lines were necessary when the child was younger. But this should only be done once the child has learned to respect boundaries.

And hasn’t our Father God done the same. He’s drawn plenty of lines for us – all based on a foundational ten. When we remember that Father is 100 percent loving, we know that all his boundaries are for our good – many serve as a guard rail to keep us from crashing and others to give us something to hold when we can’t see the way ahead.

God's Word a Handrail

So ridiculous or not, like it or not, I will respect this boundary placed in front of me. It’s not going to hurt me. And it will allow honor be given to whom honor is due. And on August 29th, look for the blog I was going to post today.

©Cheri Johnson August 2016