The Greatest Grace

Thoughts about Advent and Incarnation

Part one

The coming of the Promise. Fulfillment of prophecy in a mystery of yes and not yet. A baby born of a virgin on a not-so-silent night who grew up and changed the world, even to the marking of the calendar days. BC (before Christ) and AD (anno Domini) divide human history, even though the terminology has change with the secularization of the West. The “common era” of CE still begins with the events of this liturgical season.

As Christians around the world prepare to celebrate the Incarnation of God in human flesh, we take time to consider the magnitude of God’s greatest grace toward humanity: the virgin conceived (Isaiah 7:14), a child was born (Isaiah 9:6), and hope entered the world (John 3:16).

Part two

“We are rescued by grace poured out” (Jason Cook, 11/07/2021).

The text for the sermon was Ephesians chapter 2, and theme was “one new man.” Pastor Cook, with his usual wit and eloquence, compared the Church to a magnificent mosaic, made up of individual tiles. Alone, each tile may be beautiful or plain, but carefully combined by a master artist, the collection of tiles makes up a masterpiece. He proclaimed, “Salvation is possible by works—just not yours.” Only God’s grace with His mercy and love can redeem us to the Body of believers, a collection of mosaic tiles brought together to be a picture of Jesus to the world.

As followers of Jesus, we know intellectually that we cannot begin to approach the holiness of the Creator. Our egos, however, often forget. We begin to think about our legacy, our influence, and even our popularity as essential elements of how we live out our faith. Advent is an opportunity to consider with great awe and wonder the mystery of grace poured out. The Creator joined the creation through the very human process of birth. He who spoke the universes into being with a word subjected Himself to a physical (and messy) delivery of a squalling baby, born to a young, unmarried woman and her faithful betrothed without the benefits wealth might procure. From the great throne of the King of kings, He humbled Himself to the lowest and weakest of all humanity.

Why?

Love. Mercy. Grace.

Not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to His mercy through grace He saves us (Titus 3:5-7).

The grace revealed to us came in the form of an infant, physically born. Fully human, yet still fully God, Jesus offers a grace we can never fully understand, but one in which we can rest, secure in knowing that God’s grace is perfect.

Nothing but the blood of Jesus

I heard a song for the first time the other day and was moved by the message and the music. I appreciated the nod to old familiar hymns woven through. Mostly, though, I was struck by the focus on the blood of Jesus as the master key of salvation. We don’t sing about the blood often in our contemporary services, but the old hymns regularly pointed to the centrality of blood to the gospel.

I’ve been in a study through Hebrews the last several weeks and listening to a plan on a Bible app about finding Jesus in the first five books of the Bible. My pastor in in a series taking a deep dive into Ephesians. I was primed to respond to this song. The gospel is clearly presented in these lyrics. The propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus as a ransom for our sins, both individually and corporately propels us to move from hopelessness to transformation and gratitude.

The mystery of grace, the very nature of God poured out on people who are utterly selfish, requires more than acknowledgement. Grace is not cheap. Grace is not easy. It cost our Savior everything. Without the sacrifice provided by grace, there is no hope for life; we are the walking dead.

Only by blood.

Under the Old Covenant the faithful had to bring regular sacrifices to the altar. The burnt offering was brought to the altar and completely burned up. The symbol there is that everything we have and everything we are belongs to the Father to do with as He desires. The purification offering was to atone for sins. The faithful brought the sacrifice (a male animal without any blemish), placed his hand on its head, and then killed it. The priests took the blood of the animal and splattered it on the altar and at the entrance of the tent of meeting (Leviticus 1). The offering was then burned completely; nothing remained. Sin is like that. If even one iota of sin remains in us, we stand condemned by a holy God.

Over and over again, the people brought and slaughtered animals to atone for their sins. Over and over the priests splashed the blood, still warm, over the altar. Year after year, and still the task of purification was incomplete.

Until Jesus. The author of Hebrews reflected on the required ritual sacrifices, noting that the old covenant was established in blood: life for life. “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin” (Hebrews 9:22). Jesus, as the perfect Lamb of God, fully human and yet without sin, entered the Holy of Holies, not by slaughtering and animal, but by submitting to his own murder on the cross. His blood for ours. He, Himself, by the shedding of His blood, became the atoning sacrifice for all who call on His Name. We can serve the Living God only because Jesus traded His life for ours. At that point, the work of atonement was complete. Jesus breathed, “It is finished,” and it was.

The New Covenant, then, relies, not on the blood of bulls and goats and lambs and birds, but on the blood of Jesus. “This is the blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” he said. And by that same blood, we are sanctified, not just for a year, but for eternity (Hebrews 10).

Only by grace.

In many of our modern churches we spend time considering how to live in this broken world. We study how to rely on Jesus, how to navigate a culture that rejects the values we hold dear, and how to live. These are all worthwhile topics, to be sure, but I think regular reflection on the foundation that brings us to all the “how-tos” matters. The “how-to” topics are concrete expression, things we do, checklists we can keep to make sure we are on the “right” path. But the “how-to” conversations often lead away from grace into legalism and pharisaical mindsets. Checklists are not necessarily wrong; they can be helpful. But checklists cannot replace the blood of Jesus. Checklists may become idols. In fact, for most of us, the idolatry of what we do prevents us from living free in the grace of His abundant and joyful life. Focusing on the checklist means we focus on ourselves.

“Jesus, keep me near the cross,” Fanny Crosby (1869) wrote. “Near the cross! O Lamb of God, Bring its scenes before me; Help me walk from day to day With its shadow o’er me. In the cross, in the cross Be my glory ever, Till my ransomed soul shall find Rest beyond the river.”

We must remember the necessary sacrifice that secures our salvation and sustains our sanctification.

It is only by grace that we are redeemed. The blood of animals served only as a reminder that God’s holiness is unapproachable because, in our humanity, we are unworthy. The sacrifices of the old covenant were a picture, copies, shadows of the real redemption through Jesus’s blood. “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains” (Cowper, 1772). “Alas and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die? Would He devote that sacred head For sinners such as I?” (Watts, 1707). “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus” (Lowry, 1876). Only God’s grace, flowing from mercy and love as a gift to us as individuals can redeem us to the Body of believers (Jason Cook, 2021). Saved by grace, through faith, God’s gift.

God’s gift, given through the Blood of the Perfect Lamb. We must remember the necessary sacrifice that secures our salvation and sustains our sanctification. We must bow in abject gratitude and then proclaim His name. The focal point of our lives, the center of everything, is Jesus. His work, His perfection, His grace poured out on us delivered us. Thank you, Jesus, for the blood.

I was a wretch
I remember who I was
I was lost, I was blind
I was running out of time

Sin separated
The breach was far too wide
But from the far side of the chasm
You held me in your sight

So You made a way
Across the great divide
Left behind Heaven’s throne
To build it here inside

And there at the cross
You paid the debt I owed
Broke my chains, freed my soul
For the first time I had hope

Thank you Jesus for the blood applied
Thank you Jesus it has washed me white
Thank you Jesus You have saved my life
Brought me from the darkness into glorious light

You took my place
Laid inside my tomb of sin
You were buried for three days
But then You walked right out again

And now death has no sting
And life has no end
For I have been transformed
By the blood of the lamb

Thank You Jesus for the blood applied (thank You Jesus)
Thank You Jesus it has washed me white
Thank You Jesus You have saved my life
Brought me from the darkness into glorious light

There is nothing stronger
Than the wonder working power of the blood
The blood
That calls us sons and daughters
We are ransomed by our Father
Through the blood
The blood

There is nothing stronger
Of the wonder working power of the blood
The blood
That calls us sons and daughters
We are ransomed by the Father
Through the blood
The blood

Thank You Jesus for the blood applied
Thank You Jesus it have washed me white
Thank You Jesus You have saved my life
Brought me from the darkness into glorious light

Glory to His name
Glory to His name
There to my heart was the blood applied
Glory to His name

Source: Musixmatch

Songwriters: Charity Gayle / John Hart Stockton / Bryan Mccleery /

David Gentiles / Ryan Kennedy / Steven Musso / Elisha Albright Hoffman

Taste and see: Part four

Tasting: The perfection of the fruit

John 15:1-8; Galatians 5:22; 1 John 4:7-17

Taste

Just a few days ago, Wine Spectator posted a “wine IQ” blind tasting game on their website. It posted a sommelier’s tasting notes and asked players to identify the variety, country/region of origin/appellation, and age based solely on the notes.

Tasting Note: Fresh and juicy, with good cut to the red currant and dried berry flavors that feature bright minerality. Ends with a creamy, well-spiced finish, with notes of dried green herbs.

Wine Spectator, June 11, 2021

Would you believe I got 3 of the four correct? And I almost selected Sierra Foothills instead of Sonoma County. The other correct answers: It is a California Merlot, 3-5 years old. But how was I able to identify any of the elements correctly? Let me explain.

The descriptors of “fresh and juicy” and “red currant and dried berries” told me it was a lighter wine. The options were Carignan, Merlot, Syrah, Tempranillo, and Zinfandel. I’ve never heard of a Tempranillo, but I do know that Syrah is usually pretty “big,” with strong flavors, not “fresh and juicy.” Zinfandel is usually kind of peppery. Carignan is not very common, so that left Merlot, a variety I happen to like now and then. It’s not too sweet, not too heavy, and pairs well with lots of meals.

California produces Merlot wines all over the state, so I opted for that instead of choosing from Australia, France, Spain, or Washington. I may be wrong, but I associate Australia with bolder flavors, Spain with bigger wines, and Washington State with lighter, sweeter wines like Pinot Noir. There were only two appellations in California among the options, and I chose the wrong one. In retrospect, I should have gone with my gut because of the “notes of dried green herbs.” As for the age of the wine, “fresh” is usually attributed to younger wines, so that gave me 1-2 years or 3-5 years. Straight up guessed that one.

Fruit

Because wine is a product from grapes, it should always have some kind of fruit in the description. If the fruit is missing, you no longer have wine; you have vinegar. The Wine Spectator game is a regular feature. Some of the other descriptions include things like “cranberry core,” “apple and pear,” and “lemongrass, passion fruit, and Key lime.” Those essences of fruit are directly related to everything that has preceded the first taste, from the choice of terrain for the vineyard, the weather, the time of harvest, the processing, the aging, the bottling, and the storing. Every decision made by the wine-maker is captured in that first moment of release. As Jesus-followers, our fruit is revealed in first impressions as well. Jesus said that we can bear much fruit when we abide in Him. He prunes and nourishes us, and when we acquiesce to His work in us, the Holy Spirit infuses us with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

As with wine, the fruit of the Spirit is complex, and even though the elements are the same, the way in which the essences manifest varies from believer to believer. Some people exude joy, while others are models of self-control. It is not that every Jesus follower is the same, but that the Spirit infuses each one with a unique combination of elements represented in that one Fruit of the Spirit. Above all, though, love must dominate. It is the first note, and the one on which all the others are measured.

See and Swirl

Sommeliers are professional wine stewards who spend years perfecting their senses of smell and taste so they can identify wines that will pair well with food. Only 269 people in the world have earned the title of Master Sommelier; the three part exam has been called the most difficult in the world because it requires demonstration of technique, palate, and theory across three days.

Of course, it is possible for the non-sommelier to have an educated opinion about a wine, especially if conditions of tasting are good: not too hot, not too cold, proper glass, and no outside odors (somehow even creating that list feels more than a little pretentious, but bear with me for now.)

The first evaluation is by sight. What colors are in the wine? Red is a color, yes, but it doesn’t actually say much. Look deeper. Is it a deep blue-purple red with gold tones as you hold it to the light? Is it more filled with shades of pink or bright ruby? Or, if you happen to be looking at a white wine, is is more translucent yellow or deep gold? The color will give you an idea of what to expect from the tasting; the richer the color, the bolder the flavor.

What do people see when they look at you? Do they see your joy? Your peace? Maybe your kindness? The color of your love is visible when you abide in Jesus. You present yourself as a reflection of God’s goodness with your countenance. Moses reflected the glory of God so brightly that he had to wear a veil when he came down from the mountain (Exodus 24:35).

Swirling a taste of wine begins to release the fragrance of aromatic compounds. Scientifically, swirling adds oxygen to the wine, allowing it to “open up” to its fullest flavor. Spiritually speaking, that is an interesting concept. When wine is bottled and corked, it is stable, and maybe beautiful, but only by open agitation does it begin to reveal its true character. We may want to live in a world where we blithely skip from rainbows to glitter, but the reality is, our character is revealed most when things around us spin. Trouble and trial bring to the front who we are at the core. Paul wrote,

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. For the creation was subject to futility–not willingly, but because of him who subjected it–in the hope that the creation will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children.

Romans 8:18-21

When we are swirled in the glass of suffering, we “open up” to share the essence of the Fruit of the Spirit within us, not for our own good, but for the glory of God the Father! All the notes of joy and peace and patience–all the way to self-control are released so that others may sense the overwhelming love of Jesus in us and through us.

Coming next, part five: The first taste

References

(2021, June 11). What am I tasting? Wine Spectator.

Gregutt, P. (2015) How to taste wine. Wine Enthusiast.

Shade of a wine (n.d.). Sommeliers Choice Awards. Beverage Trade Network

Vinepair staff (n.d.). How and why you swirl wine in your glass. Vinepair.

Image credits

Central photo by Stephanie Loomis

Grapes and Bottles images by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Magazine template by Photobacks

Taste and see: Part three

The wine

John 15:1-8; Psalm 34:8; Galatians 5:22; 1 John 4:7-17 ; Hosea 9:3-5; Exodus 29:40; Romans 11:11-24

A quick recap

The focus of John 15 is the role of the vine to the branches, and thereby to the fruit. The vine grows from the rootstock and is vital to the life of the plant. The vine connects the root to the branches and it is through the fruit-bearing branches that the vitality of the root and vine are revealed. The root and vine do not need the branches to live, but the branches are quick to die without the sustenance provided by the root through the vine. Additionally, branches from one varietal may be grafted onto a stronger vine and rootstock to avoid disease and strengthen the health of the vineyard.

A good winemaker knows which branches will bear good fruit, and the lesser branches are cut away and destroyed. Remaining branches are trained and tied so that the fruit has every opportunity to develop depth of flavor. There are times when good fruit is cut away to promote production of the best fruit. Every cut is for the benefit of the vineyard and the quality of the wine it will produce.

As the branches grow heavy with grapes, the time for harvest and the winemaking process begins.

Transformation

Making wine is both science and art, with multiple steps and decisions that will affect the quality and flavor of the wine produced. An excellent breakdown of the process is here. From harvest to fermentation to bottle is a labor of love for the winemaker, whose primary goal is not necessarily to make money (there are far more predictable ways to do that), but rather to “bring pleasure to those who drink it” (Anson, 2018).

The transformation beings at the harvest. When and how to harvest are decisions made partly by science (wind, temperature, weather events) and partly by instinct. Mechanical harvesting is quicker, but hand harvesting allows the grower to be selective. Grapes are then sorted and unwanted elements (damaged grapes, insects, leaves, etc.) removed before destemming and crushing. Again, crushing can be mechanical or done by human feet. The first crush produces the highest quality juice and subsequent crushing and pressing separates all the liquid from the solids.

Crushed and pressed

No winemaker can expect the finest wine to come from grapes that are improperly planted, growth, nurtured, harvested, and pressed. Similarly, we who are believers must not expect our faith to be mature and our obedience to the Lord to be perfected without His nurture and His pressing. Good fruit comes from meticulous care. Good wine comes with a change from one form (grapes) to another (juice). Grapes left on pruned branches rot and decay; they are not changed, but rather are rendered useless. In the metaphorical sense, believers are pressed like the grapes, not to destroy us, but rather to extract from our lives the best part of what the Father has called us to be and to do. Paul wrote,

“Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing through us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

(2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Suffering often feels like destruction to us because we have finite minds. We make decisions based on what we see, but the winemaker makes decisions based on what he knows will be. God allows us to be pressed and squeezed and drained, not to harm us, but that His perfect will might be revealed through us. The best wine is impossible without the crushing of the grapes.

Fermented, changed, and waiting

Image by RonalddeBruijn from Pixabay

Crushing and pressing are active processes, but good wine also requires waiting. Fermentation takes time as the natural sugars are converted to alcohols with a number of antioxidants, digestive enzymes, and probiotics. Fermentation takes the juice pressed from the fruit and changes its chemistry. Wine is not the same as juice, even though both come from the same fruit. Juice is full of sugar, calories, and is highly perishable. There are arguments about the virtues of wine, but it is the most common drink mentioned in the Bible, and the Lord chose wine for a drink offering as far back as Exodus 29. Jesus, Himself, used wine as a metaphor for the blood he would shed on the cross (Luke 22:14-20.) If the metaphor is good enough for the Savior, it is sufficient for illustration of how God uses the liminal spaces of our lives to change His children.

Waiting is hard. Change is hard. Suffering is hard. But Paul reminds us that the promise of what is to be and what is to come is worth the trials of life. In fact, God requires us to persevere through difficulties for a number of reasons: to develop character, to trust His plan, and ultimately to be part of His glory revealed. This life, with all its challenges and hardships conforms us to the image of Jesus. Paul wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed in us”(Romans 8:18). And James wrote that we are to “count it all joy” when faced with trials because the tests make us steadfast (shelf-stable) and complete (James 1:2-4).

Once wine is fermented, it is traditionally placed in oak barrels to evolve and develop complex and balanced flavor. The wood infuses the wine with flavor, aroma, and texture over time. Both the size and age of the barrels affect the wine, and the length of time in the barrel depends on the taste the winemaker wants to achieve. A small barrel will produce a flavor extraction faster than a large barrel, but a large barrel will afford a larger quantity of a consistent flavor over time. Time in contact with the wood is critical to fully develop the character of the wine.

Similarly, time in contact with the Word of God develops Christian character over time. Trials and suffering speed to process by bringing believers face to face with their inability to rescue themselves from their nature and stripping away anything that interferes with their relationship to God. But there are times, too, where growth doesn’t require hardship. There are times when God allows His children time to rest in His arms, to dwell in His Word, and to simply go about the work He provides. Not every moment of life is dramatic. There are more days we might consider mundane than any other kind of day. But God speaks to us in the ordinary when we are faithfully in the Word, working out our daily tasks, however unremarkable we might think they are. In waiting, we are transforming. Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “I do know that waiting on God requires the willingness to bear uncertainty, to carry within oneself the unanswered question, lifting the heart to God about it…” (2002). Like the wine in the barrels, we are transformed in the quiet times as we absorb the nature of what (or Who) holds and contains us.

Coming next: bottling, pouring, and tasting.

References

Images, unless otherwise noted, are public domain

Anson, J. (2018). Anson: What drives people to make wine? Decanter. https://www.decanter.com/magazine/anson-why-make-wine-392180/

Caperso, A. ( n.d.) The wine-making process in 15 steps-part 1. Wine and other stories [Blog]. https://wineandotherstories.com/the-winemaking-process-in-15-steps-part-1-infographic/

Elliot, E. (2002). Passion and purity: Learning to bring your love life under Christ’s control. Revell.

Evans, T. (2019) Tony Evans Bible Commentary. Holman Bible Publishers.

ESV Reformation Study Bible (2015) R.C. Sproul (Ed.). Ligonier Ministries.

Hanson, D.K. (2021). Wine vs grape juice: Which is better for health and long life? Alcohol problems and solutions [blog] https://www.alcoholproblemsandsolutions.org/wine-vs-grape-juice-which-is-better-for-health/

MasterClass Staff (2020). What is fermentation? Learn about the three different types of fermentation and six tips for homemade fermentation. MasterClass [blog]. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-fermentation-learn-about-the-3-different-types-of-fermentation-and-6-tips-for-homemade-fermentation#what-is-fermentation.

New Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. NRSV (2019). J.H. Walton and C.S. Keener (Eds.) Zondervan.

Redhead Blogger (n.d.) How to age wine in oak barrels. Red head Barrels [blog]. https://redheadoakbarrels.com/how-to-age-wine-in-oak-barrels/.

Taste and see: Part one

The vineyard and the vines

John 15:1-8; Psalm 34:8; Galatians 5:22; 1 John 4:7-17

A recent sermon about Jesus as the true vine included an illustration meant to be humorous (it was), but got me thinking about the process of wine-making. Having lived 12 years in Sonoma County among the wineries, the illustration brought back memories of wine country seasons, the crush, the fairs, and the competitions for the gold ratings. The full sermon from Fellowship Bible Church in Roswell, GA is here, but the particular illustration that got my thinking was William Rainey’s poking fun at his habit of making faces when trying new foods and made a connection to the way people look at wine tastings as they discern the notes and flavors in each sniff, swirl, and sip. Having seen a few of those, I knew exactly what he meant and I giggled.

I started thinking, professionals in the wine industry don’t often need a full sniff, swirl, and sip to determine whether a wine is worth drinking. They can identify any issues with a wine and can often identify where the issue began, even as far back as the health of the vine, the soil, the nutrition, and the caretaking of the vineyard.

In the beginning was the appellation. Or appellations. Depending on the kind of wine you want to make, you need to find just the right combination of temperature, humidity, soil, climate and microclimate, space, drainage, and light. I lived in Sonoma County, the home of 18 different American Viticultural Areas (AVA or appellations.) There are 252 AVAs in the US, and thousands worldwide (although the definitions of appellations vary in Europe.) Each appellation is ideal for producing a limited type of wine. The Sonoma County wine country includes hot inland valleys, perfect for Zinfandel, a long lazy river carrying Pacific fog for miles, ideal for Pinot Noir, volcanic ash enriched soil that nurtures Chardonnay, and the Mayacamas Mountain range where higher elevations are home to some of the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the region. All the conditions for each varietal must be perfect for a vineyard to survive. What makes the wine country of Northern California unique is the number of soils types in the size of the region; there are at least 60 different soils from rocky to clay and each one has attributes that provide the right conditions for a particular kind of wine.

Vineyards are not generally planted as seeds, but as cuttings from established vines grafted onto disease-resistant rootstocks. The vigneron (the person who cultivates grapes for wine ) chooses his cuttings and rootstocks carefully, selecting those elements that are best suited to the appellation in which he is planting his vineyard. When we accept the gift of salvation offered by the Father in Jesus, we are grafted into the central vine from the rootstock of the Almighty (Romans 11:17-24). This is the beginning of our growing in Christ, a literal union with Him as we separate from what we once were and join to Him, sustained and nurtured by the root of the Word.

As the new graft grows, it takes on a woody base; the stronger the base, the healthier the branches that bear the fruit. It might take five years for a grower to develop a satisfactory base by cutting away any growth that might detract from the establishment of a secure network of roots to anchor the plant when it is ready to produce fruit. To the casual observer, it may not look like any kind of growth is happening, but just below the surface of the soil, the roots grow deeper and spread wider, creating a network that will support not just one vine, but the whole vineyard. As believers, we shouldn’t feel rushed to jump headlong into ministry, especially as we are learning who we are in Christ. We might find ourselves in Peter’s predicament when he jumps off the boat to walk on the water. Everything was fine until he looked down and realized he was human, and humans sink. He had to remember to look to Jesus to save him (Matthew 14: 22-31). Not long after, Peter found his faith, his role, and his voice to become the first of the apostles to preach the gospel at Pentecost. By then, his roots were secure, and he was trained in the way.

Training is part of the vine-cultivator’s job. In order for the roots to support the branches well, the branches must be trained so that their weight is balanced. There are many ways to train a grapevine, and the vintner chooses the one that best suits the type of grape, the location, the climate, and his plan for harvesting the fruit when the time comes. The Lord trains us similarly. Each one of us has a role in the Kingdom, and the Father prepares us according to His plan and by our characteristics. He doesn’t force us into a common mold, but rather carefully shifts our inborn traits to function best within His vine. Like grapevines, He may twist us into shapes we don’t expect, but whatever He does is for our good and His glory.

vine-lifecycle-winter-pruning
Wine Folly has the best illustrations and excellent explanations.

Pruning a vine takes years to master. Once a grapevine is established, the canes (branches) must be cut off, even the ones that bore the best fruit. Then the pruner must decide where to leave enough of a bud so that new shoots can form to become next season’s canes.

It is in this dormant time that the vine-grower makes decisions that will affect the entire season ahead. Dormancy is hard for humans. We feel guilty when our branches are bare, and we may be judged by others because they don’t see any visible growth. But God is at work during our dormant times. He is cutting away the things that may interfere with what is yet to come. He prunes away things that will never bear fruit, and He cuts back even the things that we think are good or beneficial. The Father is not planning for good fruit; He is pruning for the best that is possible to come from us.

vine-lifecycle-spring-flowering

Budding begins in early spring, and buds break out all over the new vines. A careful vigneron will continue to prune away any buds and flowers that might hinder growth of the best grapes. The overall yield may be lower, but the quality of what is left behind is better than it might have been if left to grow freely on its own.

Similarly, when we spend time in the Word, we may follow interesting lines of thought or intriguing stories. These ideas are not necessarily bad, in fact, many of them are good and profitable in the right context and time. But if we are studying a specific book or passage or precept, we need to be mindful of wandering like an errant vine tendril until God shows us the connection between our meanderings and His purpose. We also need to be careful to use Scripture to understand Scripture. There are commentaries and sermons and studies that might be helpful, but the Bible and the Holy Spirit are all we actually need to know the Father. Grape flowers are considered perfect because they self-pollinate. The Word of God is actually perfect, as the Psalmist wrote: (Psalm 19).

The law of the Lord is perfect,

    reviving the soul;

the testimony of the Lord is sure,

    making wise the simple;

 the precepts of the Lord are right,

    rejoicing the heart;

the commandment of the Lord is pure,

    enlightening the eyes;

the fear of the Lord is clean,

    enduring forever;

the rules of the Lord are true,

    and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold,

    even much fine gold;

sweeter also than honey

    and drippings of the honeycomb.

Psalm 19: 7-10

Coming in Part Two: Berries, Vérasion, and Harvest

References

Clay, M. H. (n.d.). How does a vineyard actually work? Sonoma Ranches and Vineyard Land.

Day, K. (2020, December 3). The great debate: What is the future of appellations? with Andrew Jefford and Robert Joseph. Wine Scholar Guild.

Fodor’s (2021). Grape growing: The basics. Fodor’s Travel.

McKirdy, T. (2018, April 26). Pruning and grape vine training: The basics of wine grape growing. Wine Frog.

Mercedes, H. (2020, May 15). Discover the lifecycle of a wine grapevine. Wine Folly.

Vaughan, B. (2019, February 1). American Viticultural areas of Sonoma County. Sonoma County Tourism.