Father Please Cut!

Driving back from dropping the team off at Cape Town airport I was thanking God for such a beautiful sunny day after so much rain. I was also recalling the chill in the air a few days earlier at vineyard and how the time spent there seemed way too short. As I was nearing the exit to the vineyard I sensed an inner call to go back and dwell some more.

Beginning  my climb up a slope to the steeper part of the vineyard I noticed several crews out pruning the rows of vines. The sound of the shears was rhythmic as the team looped off branch after branch. Before you knew it several branches had been cut and discarded to the ground. The whole process seemed like my last haircut where the barber kept buzzing away until I had only a few hairs left.

When the pruners had cut off most of the branches-leaving just two or three good canes attached to the vine-they moved on and repeated the same process. Without this winter pruning the grapes would be tiny and the harvest would become unproductive. This tedious work of the farmer is vital for the success of his vineyard.

As I watched these skilled workers cut away at the branches the text of John 15:1-2 took on living color:

“I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch that doesn’t produce fruit and He prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more fruit.”

 As I kept walking up the steep hill to get a better view of the vineyard I asked the Father, “what are you pruning in my life? What are you cutting away so that I can bear much fruit to bring you glory?” My list was long but at the core of it was self. Self must die daily in order to live in the rich sap of Jesus the vine. If I try to branch out on my own and not live daily in dependence on Jesus my branch will wither and die.

Daily, yes daily I must let the Father cut away anything that does not keep me dependent on Him. What is the shears that He uses to do this? His Word!

 “You have already been pruned for greater fruitfulness by the message I have given you.” (vs. 3)

 I love how the author of Hebrews describes Jesus the Word:

“For the Word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us for what we really are…” (4:12).

 For me daily being in His Word reveals to me my absolute need to constantly abide in the finished work of Jesus Christ for me. Apart from Christ I am nothing!

Maybe the best prayer we can pray is “Father please cut that I may abide fully in your Son Jesus!”




Trusting the Gardner in the winter seasons

What is our world in desperate need of?  Fruit! Yes, spiritual fruit that flows from the heart of a follower of Christ. We had a chance to spend several days with a high school team from the US talking about John 15, Jesus’ illustration of the Vine and the Branches.

You can imagine Jesus and his motley crew of disciples passing by a local vineyard and Jesus taking them on a detour in order to emphasize the patterns in creation and present a tangible visualization of the essence of true discipleship.

So towards the end of Oceans’ Kingdom Encounter a drive to the oldest vineyard in South Africa dating back to 1685 called Groot Constantia was a must. We challenged the students to spend time walking through this beautiful historic place meditating on John 15 and listening to what the Spirit may be saying to each one of them.

It was a profound time for the students and we pray the visual of the vineyard and the text will forever be etched in their mind.  For us leaders it had an incredible in pact as well and we hope to share some of what we encountered in the next few blogs.

As I was walking through the rows of the vines one of the thoughts which grabbed me was how dead the vine and branches looked. Here in the Southern Hemisphere it’s winter and and the vines have gone dormant. I have to be honest I enjoyed strolling through the vineyard during the summer season when the branches were bending under the weight of clusters of ripe red grapes.

But winter is a vital season for the vine as it is nourished by the winter rains and rests from a season of heavy production. It is also a busy season for the Gardner as Jesus points out in John 15:1,2, “He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and He prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more fruit.” In many ways the winter season is just a busy for the Gardner as the harvest time.

As I slowly strolled along I thought about how important spiritual winters are for followers of Christ. Yes, it seems dead and dormant and doesn’t look pleasing to the eye, but it is vital for our spiritual growth. The Bible and history gives us plenty of examples of Christ followers who experienced spiritual winters. It can be painful, dark and extremely lonely as the spiritual winter blows in and overtakes the soul.

Yet, these times are when our faith can be strengthened as we are called to trust the loving hand of the Gardner to faithfully care for our fragile branches. As I looked over the expansive vineyard that has been around for over 300 years it testifies to the faithful change of seasons where spring breaks forth and leads to budding new branches which will in time bring forth an abundant harvest.

Maybe you are in the midst of a winter season, it can be tough and unpleasant, but as you wait keep your focus on your Father, the Gardner. Trust that He knows what He is doing and is preparing you for an abundant harvest that will bless many and bring the Father Glory.

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines…yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength…”  Habakkuk 3:17-19


“This is how I fight my battles”

Written by Mike Verkaik

What has God used to prune you in your handling of adversity? For me it has been my many trips to South Africa. As prepared, as I believe I am for every trip, the airlines seem to always create a new scenario to grow my capacity to surrender circumstances out of my control.

Last week as the team pulled into O’Hare airport, about 3 1⁄2 hours before our flight, I felt overly prepared for a smooth check in and entry through customs. We finished the preliminary check in process, and now waited for an attendant to come and finalize it. Passport? Check! Negative Covid test 72 hours prior? Check! Negative Covid test 48 hours before for Germany? What? Sir, we don’t need that, we are just flying through Germany. “Sorry, this is Covid, and things change, you will have to go across the street and get a rapid test. It takes a while to get the results, so it is going to be tight to make your flight,” said the attendant.

As I swallowed hard, my problem-solving mind revved into full motion as panic began to set in. My first reaction was, “We have got to go!” However, as I gathered the students and their bags altogether, pruning from past experiences were triggered as a song entering my mind.

In the valley I know your there with me and surely your goodness and your mercy follow me, so my weapons are praise and thanksgiving – this is how I fight my battles. And I believe you’ve overcome and I will lift my song of praise for what you’ve done. This how I fight my battles. (Upper Room)

Those are some of the unknown lyrics to the song Surrounded (Fight My Battles). Over the last few weeks I have been referencing and singing them quite a bit. The memories came from a conference at Bethel Church in Redding, California. What a revelation and pruning time it was for me as I listened to the words, so my weapons are praise and thanksgiving, for the first time. There in the midst of five thousand people God gave me a breakthrough into how to handle a personal storm, which I knew was spiritual battle that I was unequipped to fight.

Worrying was not the answer, neither was lashing out or getting angry. Believing that my Father has prepared a table for me, tells me He loves me, and has me in the palm of His hands was where I needed to go; where I desired to go as my small world came crashing in on me.

So, in the moment at the airport, instead of taking off to the testing center, I paused with the group, acknowledged our King, thanked Him for who He was and surrendered this situation to Him. Then, we took off at a fast pace to the testing sight.

Our difficulties were far from over after receiving our negative tests. The trials continued as the next agent required a South African health questionnaire we didn’t need, our bag tags did not print out, there was a strike at the airport in Paris and

they lost six of our seven bags, taking eight days for Ashley and Elijah to receive their bags.

Talk about experiencing some turbulence – put your seat belt on! Or just sing, praise, thank and trust a Father who is the good shepherd. Who will refresh your soul, guide you on the right path, tell you not to fear because He is with you, anoints you so your cup overflows and reminds you that His goodness and love will follow you, even through unpredictable airports.

He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in Him. (Psalm 40: 1-3)

“When the Enemy comes in like a Flood…”

Patty and I had just crawled into bed on stormy cold South Africa night and there was a knock on our door-usually not a good sign. Thobeka, one of our team workers at the Retreat Center, frantically said you need to call the municipality, the sewer is backing up and back of the retreat center is flooding.

After a useless plea for help on the phone we made it down to asses the matter-which was worse than I thought-as the rain continued to pound and water from the gutter was backing up.  A knee deep lake had already formed and water was pouring into one of the buildings.  As the rains and winds continued, it felt like we were trying to put our fingers in a dyke that was ready to collapse.

Deep into the night 10 of us on campus kept trying to overcome the flood with our buckets,  a shop vac, and whatever else we could think of to resist the surging water.  We all were looking up to the heavens praying that the rain would stop so we could make some head way. All of us were wet, shivering, and feeling defeated by the elements, when Thobeka, our on campus  engineer, handed us each a broom and told us to start to push the water.  With buckets and brooms we started to create a river from the low spot into a drainage area.  As we worked in unison we redirected the water and the water level began to drop lower than the building.  By 1:30 AM the rain had ceased and flooding had stopped.

As we feverishly worked together I recalled aa Bible verse I learned as a boy from Isaiah 59:19:

“When the enemy comes in like a flood, The Spirit of the LORD will lift up a standard against him.”

I thought about how hopeless it all seemed until we worked as a team pushing the water to  create a river and divert it towards the parking lot. The flood was a great “team building exercise” for all of us on campus.  No one person on their own could have fought off the flood, however together in a united rhythm we made a plan.

Spiritually  that is how we fight off the enemy of our souls, the one who seeks to swallow up God’s children into his demonic flood (see Rev. 12:15ff.).  Our “standard” is Jesus Christ who by His blood brought us into the Father’s family and united us together by His Holy Spirit so that in Christ we can overcome the enemy.

Lately, here in South Africa, and all over the world it seems like the enemy has opened up the flood gates and is unleashing spiritual destruction.  But as I was reminded the other night knee deep in diluted sewage, there is  power in unity.  Think for a moment if the church that Jesus built through His blood and by His Holy Spirit would work together as one to fight the flood. What if we stopped fighting each other and started focusing on the face of Jesus and shining forth His image as one to a lost and dying world?

Wonder if we stopped building our kingdoms and worked together to build His Kingdom bearing fruit from the vine of Christ’s “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control,” (Gal. 5:22)? Wonder if His children would jump in the sewage of a sinful falling world and work as one to live into the grace of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ?

What an hour for God’s church to come alive and live as an untied family to overcome the spiritual flood seeking to consume us. We have a Mighty StandardJesus, to rally around who claims, “nothing is impossible for those who believe!”