The Fragrance of… Lemons?

As a kid growing up on what I thought was just a “boring old raspberry farm”, the thought of living someplace with palm trees and citrus in the garden would have been unthinkably exotic. And to now live where we enjoy pomegranate, orange, lime and lemon trees in our backyard still sometimes seems an unreal childhood fantasy. But here we are, and loving it.

imagesThat also means I’m learning how to care for this wonderful variety of plantings. And because I’m still enamored by the novelty of it all, I hate to prune back these trees any more than necessary. Yet I know that pruning is necessary and helpful for the trees and their fruit.

Jesus said he is the Vine, and we are the branches. He said,

My Father is the gardener…and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more” (John 15:1-2).

That’s you and me – that if we bear fruit we can expect to experience some cutting away, some pruning of branches in our lives. It might be painful at times, but it is so we will bear more fruit.

As I clipped away at the lemon tree in our yard recently I remembered the sensory bonus of lemon tree pruning: as one snips the branches, the fragrance of fresh lemon is released at every cut. It certainly makes the task more pleasant to enjoy that aroma.

As I considered the pruning work that God sometimes needs to do in my life I wondered what kind of aroma comes from my life in the cutting process? Is it the rich sense of humble gratitude, or the stink of complaining? I suppose we could ask the same questions as God may even do some pruning in the life of our church…what fragrance do we exude in the midst of pruning?

Second Corinthians 2:14-15 says,

Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God.”

I want my life to be that Christ-like fragrance, even when life is hard, even when being pruned.

How about you? Are you experiencing a pruning in your life? What fragrance are you sending out?

Brian Wiebe-Lead Pastor

 

 

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UNSHAKEABLE

A mighty fortress is our God; a sacred refuge is Your name

Your kingdom is unshakable; With You forever we will reign

 

You may have heard Pastor Brian allude to a family whose house was broken into this last week. Well, we were the family. After a full day of work, dinner together as family and a couple of hours of CPR instruction, we came home to open drawers, tossed clothing, and a TV parked close to the exit window the burglars used. We were in shock and we were shaken.

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While we still feel the effects of last Thursday’s break-in, we have been able to put some of this crime in perspective. Much of what we lost was jewelry and money. While some of the pieces were family gifts, it all amounts to stuff. No one was hurt. No one was a hostage. The things – read, people – we value most are intact.

Yes, we lost “valuables,” and we could have lost other things as well. Yet these “treasures” are not what our life is about. We have this opportunity now to understand what it really means to not treasure the material things of this world more than the kingdom of our Lord and King. Jesus himself reminded us,

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”

Matthew 6:19-21

I certainly do not want robberies to be a regular occurrence for us in order to hold this perspective. If anything, I hope we continue to have a lasting gratitude for what we have been given as a trust for the purposes of God’s glory. I also do not want this event to rob us of the certain truth that God is our fortress and refuge, our very present help in time of trouble.

Our confidence in locks and gates is certainly shaken. Our sense of personal security is rattled. The good news is that God’s kingdom among us is NOT shaken. Our confidence in the Lord is intact. He certainly knows what happened and will certainly take care of the justice we desire. We stand confident that our God is still watching us and giving us refuge even now. May this witness to God’s faithfulness encourage and remind you that the Lord will be a refuge for you even as He is for our family.

-Mike Spinelli-Choir Drector

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I recently had eyebrow surgery to improve my eyesight. During that procedure, an attending nurse asked the surgeon what the spot was next to my eye. “Let’s see”, he said. The nurse was persistent and pushed the doctor to check again. Sure enough, he had not noticed it before and proceeded to remove a cancerous growth.

I had the opportunity to personally thank the nurse and the Doctor for their God-given skills to take care of this need since it required two follow-up procedures to make sure the cancer was removed and reconstruction of the area. While recovering I have thought about vision and what it might mean to lose it.  images (3)

One person was asked what would be the most devastating loss, and he replied: Probably my eyesight. The other replied that even worse might be to “lose our vision”.

Morris Frank lost his eyesight by age 16 and traveled to Switzerland to meet Buddy, his seeing eye dog. With Buddy he was able to find freedom. A simple leather strap, linking me to life, He said. You might say he had a new ‘leash on life’.

But how do we not lose our vision? Hebrews 12:2. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting Christ, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. With the resurrection, Christ is now seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.

May we always keep our eyes on our Lord and the hope of resurrection.

 Ed Willems Minister of Care

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FRAGILE

This past weekend I was reminded of just how little control we have over most things in life. A head cold started to play havoc with me the previous weekend, thankfully the only sickness I suffered this winter. I spent a day in bed, hoping that would be the worst of it. But by midweek, a sinus infection was making me downright miserable, which had me convincing an urgent care clinic doctor I deserved a round of antibiotics.

I still felt somewhat in control of myself until my voice evaporated Saturday morning. That’s a problem when one speaks for his livelihood. I think my family loved it, but I exercised faith to believe I’d recover by Sunday. Yet as Saturday evening set in I realized I needed a contingency plan.

Thankfully our friend Pastor David Carothers from Woodward Park Baptist Church was willing to pinch hit for me. Their service starts late enough that he could share his excellent and challenging message on tithing with us and make it back to his own church family in time to preach there too.

The weekend reminded me of just how fragile I am. We recently spent some weeks in the adult Sunday School discussing spiritual gifts and personality strengths, and how we can implement those for the benefit of the church and the glory of God. It’s really fun to see how others are gifted, and we all want to know what our own strengths are.

But who wants to talk about weaknesses? Who wants to admit we are really fragile? That’s not nearly as fun to reveal.

And yet it is not until my weaknesses are revealed that someone else’s strengths can emerge. And when that happens, the church is built up and God is glorified.  images

The Apostle Paul understood this in his physical ailments. He wanted to be set free but he wasn’t. Instead, the Lord said to him, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness”. So Paul learned to boast about his weaknesses, knowing that’s where God’s strength would be obvious (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

I think God’s strength becomes apparent when we admit our own weaknesses and allow others to flourish in their gifts and service. I love that Bethany folk are quick to help others in need, whether in a practical skill or financial gift. God is honored when you do that and God’s people are blessed in the process.

I’m on the mend and expect to speak this weekend, but I still know I’m fragile. Are you, too? Can you admit it and let the strengths of another be your help? And can your strengths come to the aid of another?

Pastor Brian Wiebe

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Ask me about my loquat tree!

My goal for the season is to plant a loquat tree but as most yard work projects go, what seemed like a simple project has actually involved weeks of hard work and it’s not over yet. Readers’ Digest version: One shady corner of our yard used to contain a large fish pond. Hopefully very soon, the now sunny corner will contain plum, pear, and loquat trees. Digging the pond seven years ago was rigorous work because we have shallow hard pan (aka bedrock) all over our lot. When we decided to plant fruit trees in place of the pond we knew we were committing to the laborious task of digging out still more hard pan. We’ve had this growing hole in our back yard for a few weeks. It’s a work in progress.

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Digging out hard pan is an accurate allegory for my spiritual journey of late. For years, I nursed a particular sin. When the Lord put this blog topic in my mind I thought I’d just stick with this vague description of said sin, never naming it, just being real poetic – “a sin.” But let’s be honest, that ambiguity is not helping anybody, is it? I’m going to call if for what it is – it’s the sin of bitterness. It’s ugly, it’s contagious, and I hate it. I’ve clung to it, I’ve made excuses, I’ve convinced myself that my bitterness was justified. So the bitter root just grew deeper and harder for years until I had a toxic, bitter mass in my soul.

Let’s go back to digging out the pond hole. At one point I stabbed my shovel into what felt like a particularly large rock only to find after more digging that it was a cement slab we’d forgotten about. When we bought the house in ’05 there was an old, metal clothesline contraption on a small concrete foundation back in that corner of the yard. When we dug the pond, we somehow managed to bury the slab and forget about it all these years. Well, it reared it’s ugly head right where we want to put a fruit tree, so it had to come out.

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Hang on to that visual for a moment and return with me to church this past Sunday when Pastor Brian preached on John 8:1-11, Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. Her accusers wanted to stone her and Jesus said the one who had never sinned should throw the first stone. Then the accusers dropped their stones one by one and left her at Jesus’ feet where she found grace and hope from Him.

We were all given small rocks to bring to the altar on Sunday. The rocks were symbolizing guilt or condemnation, both things Jesus invited us to bring to Him and drop, with the promise of his grace and hope in return.

As I stood in my usual front row spot, stone in hand, I thought to the LORD, “This little stone is hardly appropriate, God. It’s not big enough. And I’m in the front row. The “altar” is only about 3 steps away. Placing this dainty little rock on the altar will require almost no effort, no sacrifice, no work on my part. That big cement rock at home seems like a much more appropriate representation of my sin. In fact, if I really wanted to do this right, I’d roll that big piece of concrete all the way to the altar in penance. That’s more like it, right?”

While we sang, “At the cross I bow my knee …” out of the corner of my eye, as my church family brought their stones to the altar I saw one sister in Christ kneel in prayer among the stones. Immediately, I knew that was where I wanted to be so I took those three steps and knelt with my puny stone in my out stretched hands.

“Well, here I am with my rock of guilt and condemnation. Here’s this sin of bitterness, LORD. I’m dropping it at Your feet. I’d rather bring you that cement ball! This stone just isn’t big enough.”

“It isn’t small enough,” He impressed upon me, in His still, small voice.

“No, it isn’t big enough!” I wrestled with Him.

“It isn’t even there!”

“Wait … what?”

“It isn’t even there anymore. The sin. It’s gone now.” He said, as I let my stone roll out of my hands. Forgiveness.

Is that the last I’ll ever see of bitterness? There are consequences to the years I spent nursing that habitual sin. The Holy Spirt has much to teach me as I face those consequences as spiritual training sessions to break the flesh-habit of bitterness that has ingrained itself into my daily life. But I’m forgiven of the sin of bitterness! When God looks at me, He doesn’t see my sin. He sees His Son! And by the grace of God, I remind Him of His Son, because His very Spirit is coursing through my veins too.

It’s hard work to dig up hard pan, but nothing will thrive in soil with hard pan beneath it. I’m sure you can connect the metaphorical dots and see how the fruit trees we’ll plant in this soft, well-drained soil are like the fruit of the Holy Spirit in a life exhumed of sin mass. Like I said, it’s a work in progress. I’am a work in progress. And so are you.

Do you have hard pan that needs digging up?

Crystal Nachtigall

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