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S. A. J. Lyttek, a multiple award-winning writer, always loved writing, but didn’t arrive at the profession in the typical manner. After college and graduate school, she plunged into government consulting. In this environment, she discovered a knack for writing tests, interviews and other measurements. That soon became the focus of her career—reigniting her love for the written word. Thus captivated, she spent evenings freelancing “fun” writing including short stories, poems, articles and cards. When her eldest was a toddler, she quit full-time work to stay home and write. Eager to spend more time with her children, homeschooling intrigued her. From preschool through high school, she homeschooled both sons while continuing to freelance. While an integral part of the homeschooling community, she developed and taught writing classes to a generation of homeschoolers. Married to her childhood sweetheart, Gary, Mrs. Lyttek loves to share her commitment to learners of all ages and her fascination with the written word.
The women who attended last week’s retreat learned a lot more about this topic than I can possibly fit in one blog post.
We are not the vine and cannot be. We can’t pull nourishment from God and give it to others to help them grow.
No. In vineyard culture, we are the branches.
Branches have their own purposes. Primarily, though, branches reach into the vine for life and use that energy to produce fruit. You could go through a concordance study about that fruit and what it should look like (spending a lot of time in Galatians), but my focus today is the vine itself and how it feeds the branches.
In John 15, Jesus describes himself as the vine. The culture of the disciples, indeed the culture of anyone John would have told this to, would appreciate all the references that most in the western world don’t get unless we have a nodding acquaintance with vineyards. Almost every Jewish home of the day had at least one vine. The vines were used as much for shade, trellising over the gate, as they were for the fruit. Even those who didn’t have a vine in their yard had been called upon by the local vineyards to help with the harvest.
Therefore, when Jesus tells them to remain in him, they know that as branches, they are to continue to draw from the vine and seek nourishment from it. Branches that cease to pull from the vine dry out and are broken off. The dead branches can be used for baskets to carry the grapes, or fire to warm the harvesters, or a whip to goad the laden animals, but they can no longer produce fruit. To do this, new branches are grafted in.
Anyone who doesn’t have a Jewish heritage is a grafted branch.
Jesus is the perfect and ancient vine. His roots came from the stump of Jesse and represent the kingly heritage of David. He is a perfect vine because he is sufficient in and of himself just as a perfect vine horticulturally doesn’t need male and female flowers.
Vines can only accept grafts after three years. Jesus served for three years.
Grafts require the vine be cut, a process that permanently scars the vine. Jesus was cut for us as a way to bring all peoples to him and he still wears the scars of that event. Interestingly enough, to ensure the success of the grafting process, the vine can only be cut and the grafts can only be transferred to the vine in late March or early April—around Passover, the same time that Jesus was sacrificed to open the way for us. When the branches are grafted in, they will look like dead twigs. We were dead in our sins when he opened the way for our redemption.
When do vintners know if the grafts will take? The signs of a successful graft evidence themselves around early June or when the church experienced Pentecost. The apostles and the disciples looked fairly ragtag until the Holy Spirit flooded them with the ability to produce fruit. Elsewhere in John it talks about the Spirit flooding believers with living water. From their tie into the vine, the spirit flows in and the new grafts can grow.
Is that it? Is that all there is?
No. The grafted branches will change based on the character of the vine. In the same way, we are changed when we tie our lives into the Lord. Often, the combination of the grafted branch and the ancient vine creates an entirely new varietal with new flavors and uses. So are we totally changed the more we rely on Christ for our strength and purpose.
As we grow and as the vine produces, the vinedresser who is God the Father, monitors the crop. At some point, the season of growth ends and harvest time begins.
For a vineyard, for the vine, the harvest season is quick and abrupt. I remember when we lived in Germany, the general call would go out. “Anyone available to help is welcome!” For a free lunch, a small stipend and the camaraderie of the harvesters, you could participate. This was because the window of time between ripe and overripe is short.
This fits right in with Thessalonians and the return of Christ. The angelic host are the harvesters and it will be over and done in the blink of an eye.
Then we must pray that the harvest is God’s vintage year and the wine of his joy.
Not too long ago, I found a recipe for Swedish hard tack that I love. I think the cookbooks call it knockbrot with a couple of umlauts in the mix. Growing up in a Swedish-American family, this dry crusty rye bread made its appearance at all holiday feasts and sometimes at other times of the year. It is our version of unleavened bread.
It’s so yummy I made another batch today.
Every culture has unleavened bread in some form. It cooks quickly, it lasts a long time and is resistant to contamination and spoilage. Is it any wonder that Jesus chose to identify himself with bread like this?
This week continues the not God series from our Lenten, not Jesus angle. This week we will delve into how Jesus is the bread of life. We cannot nourish or feed ourselves. We are dependent on him for spiritual food, just as we are dependent on the bread we eat for physical food.
Like Jesus as the living water, we first see Jesus as the bread of life in the book of Exodus. Moses refers to this time, looking back, as he teaches the children of the former slaves in Deuteronomy chapter 8. “Remember that the Lord your God led you on the entire journey these 40 years in the wilderness, so that He might humble you and test you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands. He humbled you by letting you go hungry; then He gave you manna to eat, which you and your fathers had not known, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
As the manna, Jesus was the complete nourishment that the people needed. As water, remember from last week, he kept them alive. As bread, he helped them grow and thrive.
Water is essential to life, but it can’t do much more than keep you from dying. The water saves you, or acts as the salvation, from death. Bread, however, is the sanctification. As the bread of life, Jesus sanctifies us, feeding us himself so that we become more like him.
Did you get that? Feeding spiritually on our Lord, who is the Word, pouring over what he has told us, and imitating his example, brings us into a state of life closer to him and more dependent on him.
As the old saying goes, “You are what you eat.” This is as true spiritually as it is physically.
We can choose to feed on spiritual junk food of varying degrees. Some might have an iota of him, a bit of goodness, but it would take an awful lot to nourish. Meanwhile, we might find ourselves addicted to the sweet stuff of truisms and platitudes. Other things we mentally munch on might have no redeeming value. Still others could actually harm our spirit.
Say you eat a lot of the first. The things that have some real bread mixed in. Trying to get enough to fill you up, to actually meet your needs will make you spiritually fat and less responsive to the tasks he has planned.
Much better to just feast on the whole bread, the manna of life.
I think, too, of how Jesus taught the disciples to pray. “Give us, this day, our daily bread.” We need nourishment fresh every day. Yesterday’s time in the word won’t satisfy today’s hunger. To grow, specifically to grow more like Christ, we need Biblical input on a daily basis. The daily bread is physical and spiritual, not physical only.
And we can’t forget the ordinance that Jesus instituted on his last full day of earthly life before the crucifixion. “This bread is my body, given for you. Do this as often as you meet in remembrance of me.”
Like many things Jesus said, that instruction has many layers to it. Bread, particularly in Passover, symbolized deliverance from slavery. It was always eaten with bitter herbs, representing pain and suffering. In the Passover, they saw it as the pain and suffering as slaves. We see it as His pain and suffering to take us out of slavery. We were in slave to sin; his bread delivers us from that condition. Since he too is unleavened bread, he is pure, uncontaminated by the yeast of sin. In addition, all sacrifices were accompanied by unleavened bread in some form, so calling himself bread pointed to the sacrifice on the cross.
Let’s feast on the Word freely given!
For the remainder of Lent, the “Not God” posts will change focus. We are not Jesus. We cannot be our own Savior.
That goes against the American ideal, the pull yourselves up by your own bootstraps, the reinvent yourself in the land of opportunity, or the become what you imagine mantra. America, for all of it being called by some a nation of Christian underpinnings has a whole lot of warped ideas as far as what humankind are capable of.
Last week in the second part of Salty, we explored how we as salt, can create thirst.
But we aren’t the Savior, so we can’t satisfy that thirst.
Salt as we know it, especially the sodium in it, is essential to the body and helps some of the systems run more effectively. But according to some sources, you could conceivably live a month or longer without salt. The lack of water, however, will kill us in only three days. Or less, depending on weather and health.
Water, beyond everything, is essential to life.
The Living Water, Jesus Christ, is essential to eternal life.
The parallel in the Bible is so obvious to make sure we understand that.
The first time we see the Savior as the water of life is in the book of Exodus. Many if not most of you will remember the story. They were wandering through the wilderness, fresh from Egypt when they came to a dry area. So extremely dry that there wasn’t any water to be found.
Chapter 17 excerpt: And the Lord said to Moses, “Go on before the people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel. Also take in your hand your rod with which you struck the river, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.”
Psalm 105 summarizes the passage in Exodus. He (God) opened the rock, and water gushed out; it ran in the dry places like a river.
Later, in Numbers 20, we have a similar situation. Same type of rock. But here, Moses gets angry and strikes the rock when he was told to speak to it.
And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?” Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank.
When I’ve heard preaching on these two events, it wasn’t just that Moses disobeyed, it was how he disobeyed. The Rock was only supposed to be struck one time to issue the living water, just as Jesus only died once to pay for all the sins. The second time, he was told to ask for the water, speak to the Rock. This is because Jesus offers the water freely to all who acknowledge his sacrifice.
We only have to ask.
David understood the power of that living water. He knew what it was like to live wholeheartedly for God and feel it flowing through him. He also knew what it was like to disobey God and then feel the drought.
In Psalm 63 he cries for the water of God to fill his spirit and satisfy his need for the holy. O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.
The sons of Korah echo this sentiment in Psalm 42. As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God.
My favorite book of the Bible, Isaiah, mentions water more than fifty times and many of these reflect the spiritual water that Jesus offers.
Isaiah 12 Behold, God is my salvation,
I will trust and not be afraid;
‘For Yah, the Lord, is my strength and song;
He also has become my salvation.’ ”
3 Therefore with joy you will draw water
From the wells of salvation.
In Isaiah 44 it says, For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, And My blessing on your offspring.
And from Isaiah 55, Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
I have to wonder if it was these passages in Isaiah that Jesus hinted at when he spoke with the Samaritan woman. She would have known of them, even if she didn’t know them word for word. She would have recognized what it was that he offered her.
She knew the dryness she had within and how nothing she had done or tried to do quenched that thirst. Man after man, event after event and rather than easing the dryness as she intended, the internal drought increased.
Then Jesus tells her, “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”
And she runs into town with joy, asking the rhetorical question, “Could this be the Messiah?” Because she now feels the water within quenching that deep thirst and she knows it to be true.
A quick concordance search showed almost three hundred references in the Bible to light. Most of these have to do with God’s initial creation or the ceremonies of the Temple. Either way, they allude to Jesus.
We are not light. Our one light-related ability is that we can reflect the light we receive. We are the moon or we are a mirror. Either one can be useful to reflect and direct light, but we are never the source.
Multiple songs on my playlist use the word “shine”. Some are secular and some are Christian, but the theme is the same. We need to reflect the light we receive to others.
But in contrast to the secular idea that all light is good, it matters where we receive our light from. Remember, Satan is referred to as an angel of light. That is what his other name, Lucifer, means. But the leader of demons is also called the prince of darkness. How can that be?
I think of the glitzy lights of Las Vegas or many other cities. The areas of these urban environments where you are encouraged to partake of the night life. The lights there can be beautiful, but they can also blind you to the myriad of temptations that surround you until you have succumbed to one or another. That’s the way Satan’s light works. It directs us toward darkness of the soul.
Jesus in contrast is pure light. Another verse says there is no shadow of turning within him.
In the beginning, God created. The first thing God said was “let there be light”. And he called the light ‘good’. If you remember that Jesus says there is no one good but God alone, when God calls the light ‘good’ he is saying that it is representative of him and his nature.
As I was writing this, my brain went off on a rabbit trail about the Trinity. I keep thinking that Scripture has a lot more references to the three-in-one than we often notice. I think this creation scene in Genesis is one of them. It says God is creating. It says the Spirit is hovering. If we go to the gospel of John, it says that the Word, Jesus, was there in the beginning. But how does it say that in Genesis?
Jesus is the Word. He is also the Light. So I think when God speaks and says “Let there be light” he is calling for the Son to show his role in this process in two ways. The true word is spoken and the true light is revealed. God the Trinity is in agreement about the creation of our world.
Now back to my regularly scheduled blog about Jesus as Light.
What does Light do that our Lord does?
Light reveals hidden things. Like a flashlight’s beam looking for a lost ring in a dark corner, Jesus as the light finds the souls of those who are precious to him. He also shines his light on what we hide and try to cover up forcing us to be honest about both our sin and how much we need to grow.
Light purifies and burns. As lasers being used in surgery to remove cancerous or dangerous tissue, so Jesus’ light upon us can clean us of growths and tendencies that are too attached to our core to remove safely any other way.
Light guides. In fact, several Psalms implore light to lead them to truth, to the Temple or to God’s holy hill. In Psalm 119, too, it links the two natures of Jesus again that I said Genesis 1 refers to. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Light cheers. If you don’t believe that one, think back to a time when things were really hard. Maybe you were grieving. Maybe you struggled with pain. Maybe something else. Whatever the situation, you spent most of the night praying and crying out to God. Then the sun rose. Nothing changed about your situation, but suddenly, you could close your eyes and rest in the promise of a new day.
What else can light do? A small amount of light can remove darkness. Light also beckons like the light from a home at the end of a path. Light marks time. We know by the sun, the moon and the stars what day it is and how much time has passed. Light itself is fast. If Jesus is light, and he says he is, He moves at the speed of light or faster. I think faster because he is pure light, not created light.
Light in excess can also blind. I think this is why so many refuse to believe. Without their Holy Spirit sunglasses, they only perceive Jesus as something, someone too strong to be looked at, too intense to be contemplated.
Once, I was there staring at the blinding light and seeing only pain. So I pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to work in many, giving them eyes to see he who is the true Light.