Our Colorado lemon tree
Just in case you wonder, lemon trees are not indigenous to Colorado. In fact, unless one has a green house or a western facing window and lots of patience, it really isn’t possible to grow them here. So when we brought this little tree from California four years ago, we knew we were taking a long shot chance on it producing fruit. However, year after year it has had an abundance of lovely green leaves, fragrant lemon blossoms and each year we get to enjoy two to four sweet, juicy, Meyer lemons. No matter who came to visit, its unexpected beauty and bounty became a conversation piece. Then came 2020.
What do you see when you look at this picture of my tree? Two lemons are valiantly hanging on, doing their best to ripen into their full potential. But the leaves! The leaves are gone, and nothing remains but spindly little branches and two, little Meyers. It would be sad if it wasn’t so prophetically beautiful.
In Luke 13 we read the story of a man who went for a walk through his vineyard in which there was a fig tree that had not produced fruit for three years. He ordered the vine dresser to cut it down so it didn’t take up good ground and nourishment other trees could use. The grounds keeper asked him to leave it for one more season. He would feed it, tend and care for it, and see what happens. From this account as well as the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree that had an abundance of leaves but no fruit, we learn what matters most in the Kingdom. Leaves are lovely: fruit is the goal. In light of this, I’ve decided to give my Meyer one more year, as well.
My little lemon tree is not the only living thing that bears the marks of this crazy year of 2020. Each of us has been touched by the events of this year, some impacted more than others. I remember in the height of the panic, when it was all new and we really didn’t know what was happening or what to expect next, my heart would skip a beat when I realized – again and again – that it was not just OUR family, or our city or even our nation but, in fact, the entire globe that was being impacted. Each negative story or report that came along in those months left an imprint. In lemon tree terms, with each negative report, I lost a leaf. Now that we’re coming up on the end of the this year of unknowns and challenges, I hope I look like my lemon tree. I may not have all my leaves or look as in years gone by, but if I am producing good fruit that remains, I have done well. It is fruit the Master looks for when He comes. The fruit of faith that overcomes fear, the fruit of joy that brings strength. It may be time we each take a fruit inventory, before a New Year rolls around again.
A year ago, toward the end of 2019 (seems like longer than one year ago, doesn’t it?!), many people were talking and writing about what seemed to me the obvious concept of the Lord giving us 20/20 vision in this year. I remember having perfect vision when I was a child, to the point school teachers would comment on how exceptional both my close and distant vision were. That has changed with age and now eyeglasses afford me a similar benefit, though earlier this fall I had to get a new prescription and glasses as my vision continues to weaken a bit. However, the vision the Lord wants us to operate in is not just physical, natural vision but spiritual vision: the ability to see beyond what is happening in the natural. To see as He sees. To see Him more clearly than we’ve ever seen before. Thankfully, spiritual vision increases and sharpens with use and wisdom comes as we learn to see as He sees.
As I recently chatted with my friend Lenny, he shared something profound with me (and gave me permission to share the gist of the concept with you.) As the year began He asked the Lord how he was to navigate it and heard the Lord tell him to read John 20:20. He, too, was processing the idea of improved, in fact, perfect 20/20 vision and what that might mean or how it might come about. In this verse, the disciples are hidden away in a locked room (sound familiar?), afraid. The resurrected Jesus appeared to them, speaking peace over them. As He was speaking, He showed them the wounds in his hands and side, and it says the disciples began to celebrate as they SAW the Lord. There was something about seeing His wounds, knowing that He not only could identity with but in fact had carried their pain and stress and all the trauma of the uncertainties of those days IN HIS BODY, that unlocked their ability to bear fruit. They may have been ‘stripped of their leaves’, that is, their bravado and ego and posturing for power was gone – but when Jesus showed them that He was alive and carried all the ‘hard stuff they’d been through’ in His very being – they began to celebrate. Joy came and replaced fear. Relief washed over them and cleansed the trauma of all the unknowns and what if’s. In some versions the end of verse 20 reads, “it sank in that they were really SEEING the Lord.” In seeing, they were able to receive the peace He came to leave with them and went on to produce lasting fruit that we still enjoy today.
In this month of Thanksgiving here in the States, as we look forward to a Christmas celebration and the beginning of a new year ahead, I pray you will Love Yourself To Life by taking time to LOOK and SEE. Ask the Holy Spirit for fresh vision; for the ability to see beyond what the natural eye perceives. For when you do, you will see Jesus. Seeing His scars, remembering He has borne it all for and with us, the traumas and fears of this 2020 year will fade and heal and you will be restored to produce the fruits of the Spirit. And peace that passes all understanding will be able to settle in your soul, once again as you celebrate the God who is always, ever with us.
I’ll leave it at that.
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When encountering a legend, be sure you are fully awake.
In this most interesting new era of time, it is important our senses are fully engaged. In the Bible we are encouraged to taste and see that the Lord is good. Those who have ears to hear understand His ways, and we are instructed that as the fragrance of Christ, we display His aroma to all those we meet. It is through touch, the laying on of hands, that we pray for the sick and see them healed.
So, when earlier this year the Holy Spirit began impressing upon me the necessity of keeping my senses alert, I knew to expect Him to show me something in a way I’d not seen it before. I had no idea He would teach me through a legend’s voice.
Having seen a movie on the life of Andre Bocelli last year, I was deeply touched by the story of this Italian opera star. Though the doctors encouraged his mother to abort this child they knew would be born with a genetic predisposition to blindness, she refused. Andre was born sighted and lost his sight at around age 12. He loved music and singing and the movie depicted how his mother would take him to venue after venue to sing, only to be told he was not good enough to make it as a professional. Those who heard him obviously could not see the potential of his gift as they listened. Ever since watching this movie it has been on my wish-list to attend an Adrea Bocelli concert, and suddenly in June that dream came true. Scrolling through the internet, a pop-up advertisement told me he was in concert that evening in Denver and within minutes I had purchased tickets for our daughter Beth and myself to attend. It was that evening, listening to Andre’s strong, mellow voice, that I was taught about how to navigate the mountains I face that seem impassable.
Arriving to our seats just in time for the concert to begin, I mentioned to Beth something I have noticed when I’ve seen Andre sing on videos: he touches the woman with whom he sings. There is neither hint nor whisper of anything inappropriate in this, but I had observed the soprano accompanying him will often hold his arm or he, her hand. I simply made a non-judgment observation.
Throughout the concert Andre was led on to the stage by the orchestra conductor. He would sing two or three songs and be led off, to be replaced at the mic by a soprano soloist or perhaps a violinist. The first note of the evening filled the hall and touched a deep place within. At intermission I posted on Instagram: “Raw vulnerability wrapped in power. Raw power encased in an earthen vessel. Andre Bocelli, your gift has touched my soul.” I had no idea what was yet to come.
The concert ended only to be followed by three standing ovations and therefore, three encores. During the second ovation, he and a soprano sang a song called, “The Prayer”. As the song built to it’s climax, the soprano joined in with her note just a hair of a split second late. Now, I neither pretend nor imagine to be a professional musician or music critic, but all of my senses were fully engaged in this prayer, and it is a song I am very familiar with as I have both listened to it often and watched videos of other well known singers perform it. As soon as she ‘missed’ her entrance, I held my breath and that’s when it happened – Andre reached for, found, and held her hand. And I cried, realizing I was witnessing a display of raw vulnerability in the same earthen vessel as raw power. Holy Spirit was teaching and I was learning, through the gift of this man.
You see, whereas other professionals turn to look into each other’s eyes at this high point of the song – to sync breath, beat, blood – their souls- in song- Andre is blind. Where his eye gate could not connect he and his duet partner, his hand, the gate of touch, could and did. Clasping hands, they finished the prayer as two voices perfectly harmonized as one. As prayers are meant to be.
They walked off stage following The Prayer and once again thunderous applause demanded Andre return. We were not done hearing. Our individual souls were collectively watered but far from satiated.
The conductor once again led Andre on for his final performance of the evening, which was concluded with as clarion a note as that with which it began. Now finished, the conductor led him to the far side of the stage so he could take his final bows there. As he did so, the conductor took a step back so as to not take any of Andre’s limelight. And as Andre turned to go, his shoulder bumped the conductor’s, who quickly stepped into place, taking Andre’s arm in a steadying, comforting, leading gesture. Together they walked across the stage and exited one final time.
But with that momentary, awkward shoulder bump, every sense in me was alerted and graphically aware: this remarkable, gifted, humble man whose voice took our collective breath away could not get himself safely off the stage.
Raw vulnerability wrapped in power. Raw power encased in an earthen vessel. Andre Bocelli’s life touched my soul and gave me great insight into how I am to navigate this new era. We were never meant to sing our song alone, never meant to find our own way. There is One who leads and guides us, One who is always by our side. And in walking together as His family, His children, His beloved, we are encompassed ’round about, always within easy reach. When one of our senses seems dull, we are invited to use another to ensure we stay in step, in tune, in sync. Jesus IS the Way across the mountains we face, and He has given us one another so we do not journey alone. His love for us and our love for and trust in both Him and one another as we make our way across the stage of life, through the seemingly impossible days, will keep us safe and sound as we Love Ourselves To Life. We will learn how to successfully and joyfully live the days we’ve been given, together.
This blog was written to compliment a series of video blogs in process. To access those blogs, check out our Facebook page at Bespoken International or click this link: https://youtu.be/nAbczD9CXCw .
To partner with Bespoken in providing these videos and written blogs, you can give through these links: Venmo: BrendaVanWinkle@Brenda-VanWinkle-2. PayPal: Bespokenint@icloud.com.
The past two years found us running as fast as we could. Moving, trying new ministry expressions, pushing ahead all while doing our best to keep up with events that happened to and around us. It seemed like something over here always needed attention and something over there needed doing. List making became a moot point as more than once I found myself making lists of my lists. Sometimes we’d work and serve and do and give until it felt like we had nothing left and when we slowed down guilt was waiting in the silence to remind us what we had not done. What a ridiculous way to live! In fact, it’s not really living, at all. I know you know what I’m talking about! I’m blogging this today hoping it will help someone head into this holiday and new year season with joy and lightness of heart, not overwhelmed and exhausted.
When we moved into our new-to-us house in August, I was both grateful and uncertain when my new ‘work orders’ were – rest. Oh, good grief. I’ve blogged on rest, taught on rest and worked hard to get to rest but to know my only assignment was to rest left me unsure of what to ‘do’. That’s the point. I’m as guilty as the next person of ‘doing’ at the expense of ‘be-ing’, so was unsure how to stop the madness in order to just be.
I’ve learned a lot these past couple of months about myself and what I expect of me. About the Lord and what HE expects of me. I have learned that slowing down after years of running hard is not easy. For one thing, the body responds in strange ways. I had a headache, then felt like a cold was coming on. I was so tired and hadn’t realized, when in the midst of the madness, that my weariness was not just physical. My emotions were tired as was my mind. Stopping was more challenging than I’d ever have believed, especially because what I did not do was lie on the couch and watch television. I did not quit all the groups to which I am committed, though I did pull back a bit and not attend every meeting every time. I didn’t turn off the internet (tempting!) or become a hermit. Here is what I did do:
I recalibrated my heart to hear what the Lord was saying. Now I hear Him more clearly than I have in a long while. I don’t think He’s speaking louder: I’ve moved to be closer to Him. I readjusted my vision – my way of looking at things – so I could see things more from heaven’s perspective. I spent hours listening and not much time talking. I didn’t write at all but did read, especially the Bible. If I want to know The Word, Jesus, I need to know The Word that is written that gives testimony of Him. I prayed – a lot – mostly silently, just me and Jesus, having a chat about the condition of my heart far more than the condition of the planet. I worshipped, most often in silence. I went to the Every Home for Christ building and when it was nice weather I sat outside in the grass by the pond and pondered the life of the geese who live there. On cold, rainy days (and often on the sunny ones, too), I went inside and sat silently in their worship room, allowing the Presence of Holy Spirit to wash over me again and again.
I made a conscious effort to engage with friends and family. Relationships require tending if they are to stay vibrant and healthy. Our earthly relationships as well as our connection with the Lord require time and engagement. I don’t want to lose touch with people – or with my Lord, so I intentionally made time to be sure our heart connections are strong. There was much going on during my ‘rest’ time – and I did it all on my knees.
Oh, not literally, of course. But my heart, my soul, every part of me was enabled to become still and quiet and humble and I felt like I was living life on my knees as that was the posture of my heart. I didn’t blog, work on any manuscripts or do any public speaking, so in the natural it seemed like I was doing nothing. In fact, I was running fast and hard and a great distance in the Spirit- and I did it all on my knees. I think this is one dimension of becoming, once again, like a little child. Our granddaughter, Ella, is six and runs cross-country. She has to be encouraged to push hard to win as she just loves to run and enjoys the race!
As we enter this Thanksgiving week here in the States I can feel my season changing. Ideas are flowing; the anointing is, too. I’m energized and realize I am acutely aware of the movement of God in and around me. I have more dreams than one person needs and actually have the emotional, physical and spiritual energy to begin pursuing some of them. All this happened because I obeyed when Father said, ‘rest’, and I took time to know what that meant for me in this season. Out of rest and staying childlike, that is, ‘on my knees’ in humble obedience, fresh, new life is erupting!
My prayer, my hope, my desire for you is that whether you are in a ‘go!’ season or a season of quietness, that you encounter the reality of His nearness that is greater than any you have known. I realize not many people get the gift of two months to slow down and gain momentum, but we can all make time in our lives for more of Him. I pray you take time – even 20 minutes a day or an increase of ten minutes in what you already do – to listen, to sing, to worship and read the Word and BE. That you Love Yourself to Life by getting on your knees and staying there until He says it is time to rise. Pulling back and gaining new perspective, may you, too, run the race of life with passion and gusto as together we disciple nations and proclaim His goodness – on our knees.
One week from today, October 31, is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. That is the day Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door in Wittenberg, Germany and the Reformation began. Many new things were born that day, but my focus today is the fact that following this the Bible was written in common language so everyday people can read it for themselves. Because we’ve never been without access to copies of the Bible I doubt we can fully appreciate the gift we have been given. Translations now abound and are as close as one’s cell phone if you simply download an app. We’ve come a long way in 500 years.
Or have we? Perhaps the saying, ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ is sometimes applicable in our lives concerning the Bible. The tendency is to either not read it because we don’t understand it or not read it because we’ve read it before. Both are clever deceptions to keep us from reading it at all!
This week I invite you to join me in READING THE BIBLE ALOUD EACH DAY. From now until Reformation Day, October 31, choose a portion of scripture and read it out loud. Faith comes from hearing the Word of God, so expect your faith level to rise as you hear your own voice read the Book that is living and active. You may want to choose familiar passages that comfort you, or perhaps read from a book you’ve not read for a long time, if ever. Either way, the spoken expression of God’s word will bless both your heart and His. And if you read it like you mean it, you will begin to believe it.
Imagine if churches encouraged their people to do this during this week! Whether large groups or a few here and there begin to read the Word aloud this week, imagine what God will hear! From the earth, a fragrant offering of His own thoughts and words read back to Him in worship. Will you join me? I think each one who does will end the week amazed at how much more we love the Father and the Word as Holy Spirit brings it to life in us, by faith. And how much more we will also Love Ourselves to Life as we express words of life with our mouths! Let’s get going! Reformation is coming, again.
Our updated website is up and running. If you haven’t seen it I encourage you to do so, at www.bespokeninternational.com. It will continue to expand and grow so check back now and then!
When you visit the site you’ll see on the home page a link for ‘One of a Million’, which is a call to pray for America. Today, as this blog is posted, RISE UP 2017 is being held in Washington, D.C. www.thecall.com
This follows four days of prayer for our nation on the mall, www.awakenthedawn.org. Did you know this was happening? Each of our 50 states had a tent of worship and for these days representatives – just regular people like you and me – fasted sleep and food and comfort to worship and pray for a new Jesus movement. I watched parts of it online and it was powerful.
This Wednesday I plan to begin a prayer meeting in my home in which we will pray for this nation. In the past Jim and I have held many prayer meetings to pray for other nations and I’m sure we will again. However, this time the focus is the United States. Included in this invitation are some ideas of how to host such a meeting. Mine will be held from 9-10 am (not 8-9 as stated due to morning traffic). There is a beginning date and an end date, which keeps it do-able for many of us. Now and then I’ll send a short note of ideas to keep your prayer times focused and fresh.
I encourage you to go to the website and if you will, sign up! This isn’t for any other reason than to let us know others are joining in and frankly, to encourage us. Find a time and way that works for you and let us pray for God’s grace and mercy on our land. After all, for as much as we know Jesus loved Martha, the do-er, For Love Of Martha, He will always and ever stand up for and defend those who go the extra mile to express their extravagant love and worship. We see that both with Mary the sister of Martha and Mary who poured out her gift of oil as worship.
Prayer for a nation, for the souls of women and men. Prayer for His kingdom to come, for hearts to be open and for the gospel to fall on hearts that are good, prepared soil. It is time and it is a wonderful way to Love Yourself and Others, To Life. Join in and be One of a Million
Words and the way we speak them, matter.
“If you had been here my brother wouldn’t have died.” POW! What a punch in the gut, I don’t care who you are. It is one thing to feel like I, myself could have done more but to have such a weighty and harsh accusation leveled is painful. The tone in which a thing is said, matters. Out of our heart our mouth speaks, so how we say a thing is a waving flag letting others know, “This is what I really think in my heart.”
The Bible is good at giving us life examples of how the same response can have very different results. For instance, right off the bat as the New Testament opens two people are visited by an angel to let them know they would have a son under impossible conditions. What good news! A baby! First a priest named Zacharias is doing his job attending to priestly duties when an angel appears to tell him his wife Elizabeth will bear him a son. Now we know that this was an elderly couple: in fact, we’re told they were ‘well advanced in years.’ That could mean almost anything in days when people lived a long time! Added to that is the fact that Elizabeth was barren. At least she had been until that moment when the angel spoke. Things happen when angels talk to you.
Now not only was Zach old, he was caught very off guard by this announcement. His response to the angel was, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” Seems reasonable to me but something about it smacked of doubt and unbelief and at the angel’s word Zach became mute and not able to speak for at least the next nine months, “because you did not believe my words.” Doubt and unbelief are a bit more challenging to spread around when one can’t speak and there’s no internet or texting.
Luke also tells us that an angel visited a young woman named Mary, who was a virgin. We aren’t told what she was doing that day but it is reasonable to expect she, too, was going about her everyday life. Mary was troubled at the unexpected announcement that she was graced and favored by God. The angel went on to tell her she, too, would have son but not after she and Joseph married: she would become pregnant before she ever knew a man sexually as Holy Spirit would hover over her womb and impregnate her with the very Son of God. It is impossible to imagine how it would feel go be given this incredible announcement even with time to prepare, let alone without warning! You know Mary’s response: Initially she asked, “How can this be, since I do not know a man”. Once the angel told her it would be a miracle her response was: “Let it be done to me according to your word.” She and Zacharias both asked the same basic question, “How can this be?”, but whereas his doubt caused him to lose his voice, Mary ran off to tell Elizabeth. How grateful Elizabeth must have been for someone – a relative – who was also having angelic visits and miraculous conception and could talk about it!
Another example is Mary and Martha. As we looked at last week, the M&M sisters sent word to Jesus that their brother, Lazarus, was sick. Would Jesus please come? They’d seen him heal the sick and heard so many testimonies, they had no doubt of His ability to make their brother well. You know the story, Jesus took His time and while He lingered, Lazarus died. Not only did the sisters love him but their brother would have been their protection, provision, covering, more. Now those things were all gone. What difficult news, a death.
When they heard Jesus was coming into town, both sisters ran to meet Him. Martha was first and in her own inimitable way said to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again” to which she replied yes, she knew he would rise again at the resurrection of the dead. Jesus then let her know that HE, Jesus, IS the resurrection. That whoever lives and believes in Him would never die. Did she believe? I can almost hear the impatience in her voice as she says she believes He is the Christ, the Son of God. She did not say she believed a person would never die. After all, her brother who loved and believed the same about Jesus was now in His grave. She had no grid for a physical resurrection let alone eternal life even though Jesus Himself just gave her a teaching on it. Later when they go to the tomb she argues with Jesus about opening the tomb. It’s almost like she’s saying, DO SOMETHING! No, not that, DO SOMETHING ELSE!
In contrast, when Mary came out to meet Jesus we read she fell down at His feet, the posture to which she was accustomed. To sit at a rabbi’s feet was to take the position of humility, of learning. Her words to Him were the same as Martha’s but I suspect they were said in a different tone, from a different heart position: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Part of the reason I believe her tone and demeanor was different is because when Jesus heard her He did not teach her, He wept with her.
We live in days of vast opportunity and much confusion and change. While we may or may not be visited by an angel bringing us a message, there are plenty of chances for us to be shocked and surprised at what comes our way. Each of us can identify with at least one of these Bible characters to some degree though our circumstances are unique. Proverbs 4:23 (CJB)instructs us “above everything else, guard your heart for it is the source of life’s consequences.” This week, take time to ask Holy Spirit to search your heart to determine how much of it is filled with doubt and how much, faith. Be sure faith is the dominant posture: you can do this through worship, praise, reading the Word, prayer, sharing with a trusted friend who knows Jesus well. It is important – no, it is vital – that our hearts be fully His so we respond to both difficult and good news with words of life. Words that help us Love Ourselves and thereby, Others, to Life. The world is waiting.