Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Lenten Meditation Week Three: Fruitfulness Requires Healthy Responses To Pressure

He dug it all around…”  

          (Isaiah 5:2 NASB)

This aspect of God’s garden preparation deals with soil compaction. That happens when dirt is compressed by outside pressure. The pressure can come from regular foot traffic, wagons, and farm equipment. When that happens water and roots can’t penetrate it as well and fruitfulness suffers. Research verifies that germination rates drop, plants are less healthy when they do germinate, and yield less than they otherwise would. That isn’t a temporary thing; that same research has found that compaction and its results last for years after the pressure is gone.  Compaction, and its adverse effects, are more likely and more pronounced when soil is wet or not rich in organic material (like clay). See Soil Compaction: Causes, Concerns, and Cures (Univ. of Wis. 2008).

Fortunately, there are ways to deal with compaction. The best are preventative: to avoid pressuring the soil as much as possible, by adding organic material, and by letting it regularly be broken up by crops with strong tap roots and through the freezing and thawing of winter. Once compaction occurs it can be undone by tilling the soil and adding organic material (the more the better).

We see the same dynamics in our lives. We are all subject to pressures that can compress us to the point of diminishment if we do not respond properly. They may be big stressors or just relatively minor, but repetitive, ones.  Like soil, we tighten up and that makes us less likely to bring forth new things, and makes whatever we bring forth less attractive and less fruitful. And that will be more pronounced if we don’t have a lot of the spiritual equivalents of organic material—prayer, scripture, and time with other believers—in our lives.

Scripture describes that phenomena, and ways to deal with it. Let’s dig into it and see what we learn:

Pressure and its results:

Breaks from pressure filled routines:

The spiritual equivalents of organic material:




Sunday, February 24, 2013

Lenten Meditation Week Two: Fruitfulness Sometimes Requires Hard Actions

My loved one had a vineyard
 on a fertile hillside.

  Isaiah 5:1 (NIV)

It’s not easy to garden on a hillside. There are erosion and irrigation issues. If nothing else you are going to spend a lot of extra energy walking up and down the hill.  That’s why most folks avoid hills.  See Gardening on a Hillside (Sonoma County Master Gardeners 2013)Where to Put Your Vegetable Garden (Iowa St. Univ. Extension 2013).

But sometimes you have to put up with those things.  Maybe that’s where the only, or the best, soil is available.  Maybe the kind of crop you want grows best on a hill. Sometimes you just have to deal with the hassles of hillside gardening if you want to be fruitful.

Maybe that’s the dynamic God is getting at here—that we sometimes have to travel a hard path to get to where we will bear the best fruit. We see that pattern multiple times in scripture. Joseph had to go through slavery to get to a position where he could provide for Israel. Moses had to spend 40 years in the backside of a desert before he was ready to lead Israel out of Egypt.  David had to be chased by Saul for years before he was able to give Israel the leadership God wanted for it.

The same thing can be true for us, even if God doesn’t call us to  such epic tasks. He sometimes makes us go where we rather wouldn’t because He knows that’s where, or how we’ll get to the place where, we’ll bear the best fruit. This week’s verses speak to that dynamic. Let’s see what they say.

Lenten Meditation week One: Listenting for God

“Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard”   Isaiah 5:1 (New Revised Standard Version)

Let’s start with the very first thing: God wants us to know Him better.  He therefore reaches out to invite us into more fruitful relationship with Him. 

He did so here through the prophet Isaiah. And He did it through two particularly powerful media: song and imagery that those in that agricultural society could all understand.  God really wanted the folks He was addressing to "get it."

We’ll see in this week’s readings that this was not an isolated incident.  God  repeatedly invites us to know Him better.  He does that—and does it so many times—because He wants to share his goodness with and through us.

So how do we respond?  In two ways.

First, listen for Him.  Turn off  the TV, the radio, the computer, the tablet, the MP3 player so you can focus on Him.  Read scripture and then think about what you’ve read, not just then, but throughout the day as you do mindless tasks or have otherwise dead time.  That gives you the chance to hear God. I guarantee what you hear from Him will be far better than whatever would have come from your electronic device.
Second, keep the device turned off and talk to God. Ask Him to help you focus on Him; it isn’t always easy, so you’ll need His help. It may take a few minutes, but He will respond if you keep after Him. Ask Him to show you things from the scripture you read that day that you didn’t “get” before. Again, do that throughout the day as you have empty time (while you are driving is a great time for this). It will be worth the effort.

OK, enough commentary.  Here are some of the many passages where God reaches out to draw us to Him:

Mark 4:7, 18-19  (by negative example)

Lenten Meditations on Fruitfulness

Lent is a time of preparation to more fruitfully live the new life Jesus made possible through His passion and resurrection.  We do that through increased focus on God and what He would have us know about Him or do for Him.  

In order to help us do that, and in keeping with our focus on bearing good fruit, we have prepared a Lenten Bible study based on Isaiah 5:1-2. That passage describes the steps God took to make his people fruitful in Old Testament times, using the metaphor of creating a garden.  It reads as follows:

1 Let me sing my beloved the song of my friend for his vineyard. My beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hillside.2 He dug it, cleared it of stones, and planted it with red grapes. In the middle he built a tower, he hewed a press there too. He expected it to yield fine grapes...(New Jerusalem Bible).

What better way to increase our fruitfulness than concerted prayer and meditation on the steps that God—the source of all fruitfulness—takes to increase His people’s fruitfulness?

To help in that inquiry, we have prepared six sets of scripture readings on key phrases in Isaiah 5:1-2, one for each of the six weeks of lent. Each set will start with a short exposition on the principle the phrase in the Isaiah passage speaks to, and then set out six or seven other scripture passages that deal with the same principle.  The idea is to make that principle the focus of the week by praying and meditating on scripture addressing the principle.

Our hope is that those mediations will make us each more fruitful  in the same way that amendments make a garden’s soil more fruitful.

The scripture sets will be posted every Wednesday, starting on Ash Wednesday (Feb. 13).