Monday, September 9, 2019

Roots and Fruits

 

[Graphic of a tree with roots]


“He shall be like a tree planted by streams
of water, which yields its fruit in
season and whose leaf does not wither.”
—Psalm 1:3

Trees fascinate me. I love the variety, the shapes, the different leaves, and how the trees and leaves look in different seasons. Trees have often seemed like major décor in God’s world—decorating and defining space, shading, and quietly fluttering in the breeze.

I am impressed that, often, the Scriptural writers use trees to teach us, to describe a characteristic, and to liken the trees to some quality in our lives. In the verse at the beginning of this blog post, we see the offspring of a healthy tree: leaves and fruit. Often these elements supply life-sustaining food for humankind and animals. They also give evidence to us of health, strength, usefulness, and beauty.

Yet, we don’t often see the most important part of the tree because that part lies deep underground. In a healthy specimen, more than half of a tree remains beneath the surface of the ground. There, it reaches out for nourishment from the soil and for deep springs of life-giving water.

Trees that have stunted roots, those that grow quickly and sprout early, often do not have the stabilizing power of those that have grown over many years. Jesus uses this principle in His well-known “Parable of the Sower” found in Matthew 13:5, when He teaches about the farmer’s seed:

Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.

Our growth in grace follows a similar timeline. God plants His Spirit in us. But, God wants to grow us deeply into the “soil” of His written Word wherein we will grow in our knowledge of, and relationship with, Him and His church.

We must not look for our Christian lives, or our churches, or our ministries to “spring up overnight.” Rather, we must allow time, difficulties, and the seasons of life to develop God’s process of deeply rooted spiritual growth.

Seeds of vegetation scattered on a soil with rocky places will spring up quickly and die off quickly because they haven’t grown deep roots into the nourishing soil. Likewise, our personal spiritual formation that develops too rapidly with unnatural enthusiasm and without putting deep “roots” into God’s written Word, without cultivating faithfulness to a local church, and without spending time with mature fellow Christians will ultimately run the risk of burning out and of failing to produce useful spiritual fruit.

Instead, let’s find a beautiful large tree. And, let’s think of the seasons of its life and how deeply the roots must have reached. Then, let’s allow God to mature us spiritually in the same way. We must remain patient and look forward to the sweet fruit and beautiful leaves which will surely appear.

 

 

Monday, September 2, 2019

Digging Ditches

 

[Photo of a shovel being pushed into the dirt]


Digging Ditches

While the harpist was playing, the hand
of the Lord came upon Elisha and he said,
“This is what the Lord says: ‘Make this
valley full of ditches.’ For this is what
the Lord says: ‘You will see neither wind
nor rain, yet this valley will be filled
with water, and you, your cattle and your
other animals will drink.’ This is an easy
thing in the eyes of the Lord; he will
also hand Moab over to you. You will
overthrow every fortified city and
every major town. You will cut down
every good tree, stop up all the springs,
and ruin every good field with stones.”
—2 Kings 3:15-18 NIV

Are you ready for a blessing? King Joram of the Northern Kingdom and King Jehoshaphat of the Southern Kingdom had been marching with their armies for seven days. But, they had no water for themselves, or for their animals. They knew that they could never fight their enemy, Moab, in this condition.

They asked Elisha, the prophet of the Lord, what they should do in their helpless, desperate state. I like the fact that before Elisha gave an answer, he asked for a harpist to come and play music. During the music, God spoke to Elisha so he could share the words captured in the Scripture verses above.

Even though they asked Elisha to petition God in their behalf, these kings were not prepared to receive the blessing for which they were asking God. As Charles Spurgeon suggests,1 they needed to make a…

…believing preparation for the divine blessing; they were to dig the trenches in which the precious liquid would be held.

How often do we pray, asking for God’s blessing, while we remain unprepared to receive the answer?

In a story recorded in Acts 12, when the disciples gathered for prayer for Peter’s release from prison, they were astonished when he stood at their door. Like them, we often pray without really believing in God’s miraculous ability to answer our sincere prayers.

If God has led us to pray for a blessing of deliverance, or enlargement, or wisdom, or protection, or peace, or anything else we desperately need, we must also show our faith in Him by preparing to receive that blessing. Although God may not use our expected methodology in answering our prayers, if we make a believing preparation to receive that answer, we will clearly see His answer come to pass.

______________________

1 Spurgeon, Charles H. Morning and Evening. McLean, VA: Macdonald Publishing Company, Public Domain. p. 275.

—Posted: Monday, September 2, 2019

 

 

Monday, August 26, 2019

Sibling Rivalry

 

[Photo of a brother and sister arguing]


“If anyone thinks he is something when he is
nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should
test his own actions. Then he can take pride
in himself, without comparing himself to somebody
else, for each one should carry his own load.”
—Galatians 6:3-4

Where does sibling rivalry come from? Largely, I’d say, it comes from jealousy, selfishness, or both. Even the Bible has stories of such family arguments. These stories caution us about the common, but contentious, occasions between brothers and sisters, both at home and within our churches.

One such story occurs in Luke 10:38-42. You know how this story goes. Martha is cooking, while pots and pans pile up in the kitchen. But, Mary sits at Jesus’ feet listening to Him teach. Martha complains to Jesus and He sides with Mary because she chose to do “the most important thing.” Mature Martha loves Jesus. So, she undoubtedly responds in humility and love for her sister, as well.

Jesus tells another well-known story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32. In this story, the younger brother rebelliously takes his inheritance money, recklessly spends it on foolishness, but later returns home to ask forgiveness from his father. The older brother, who has remained faithful and continued to work for his father at home, doesn’t appreciate the celebration and the banquet given to this ne’er-do-well sibling. The rift may have separated these brothers permanently. But, we aren’t told.

My last illustration from Scripture can be found in Mark 10:35-45. This story shows what can happen within a faith community infected with rivalry. Brothers James and John come to Jesus and ask if they can sit in the two most prominent seats in heaven—one on Jesus’ right and the other on His left. The remaining ten disciples became so indignant that Jesus has to sit them all down and tell them:

…whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.

These stories illustrate the way that small rifts between brothers and sisters can cause disunity in our homes, workplaces, and in our churches. Each such rift provides an entrance for the work of the evil one. This kind of disharmony harms the witness of the body of Christ and affects the power of the Holy Spirit to work freely in that body. Scripture admonishes us often to work at keeping peace with our brothers and sisters, particularly within the church.

As Paul tells Christ’s followers in Ephesians 4:3:

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

We may expect, even tolerate, sibling rivalry between little children. But, among mature believers, we must ask God to protect us from the sins of jealousy and selfishness that create an atmosphere ripe for disunity. In our homes, in our places of work, and particularly in our churches, may God’s peace grow and abound to Christ’s glory!

 

 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Move Ahead

 

[Photo of two sneaker feet stuck in concrete]


The Lord said to us at Horeb, “You have
stayed long enough at this mountain.
Break camp and advance.”
—Deuteronomy 1:6

I am “risk averse.” As a pianist and organist, I always look at printed music, even though I have a particular piece completely memorized. I try to stay out of crowds, afraid of the danger that may lurk there. I avoid certain sections of highway during snowstorms, lest I become involved in an accident. I like to plan ahead. And many times, I have opted to stay put rather than move ahead.

The Israelites showed this same kind of aversion to risk. Or, let’s be honest, they displayed a decided lack of faith during the time they wandered in the wilderness. They had certainly seen God perform amazing miracles for them in their escape from Egypt. He had supplied their needs and protected them. Still, they persisted, with heavy cement-laden feet, to resist forward movement in their lives, individually and as a nation.

When God calls us to take a risk, our arguments usually begin with a long list of “what ifs.”

  • What if we come up against things we’ve never seen before—men that look like giants, violent land owners, walled cities we may have to conquer?

  • What if we die of plague, starvation, wild beasts, or warring enemies?

  • What if we run out of food or water?

  • What if we take a wrong turn and lose our way?

  • What if…

In the first two chapters of Deuteronomy, God reminded the Israelites of His faithfulness. And, He reminded them of their lack of faith. He had prepared really big things for them in the days ahead and He needed them to get moving.

Twice we read that God said, “You have stayed here long enough.” He reminded them that He had watched over them and provided for them for forty years. Later, He egged them on to move and take possession of the land He had promised them since the days of Abraham.

I like the second verse of the hymn, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.”1

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
are big with mercy, and shall break
with blessing on your head.

When God prompts us to move on, to venture out and trust Him, we must move forward in faith, fully relying on His provision and protection. If we turn a deaf ear to God’s call to move onward and insist on standing still, mired in the fast-drying cement of our current situation, we stand the greater risk of getting stuck where nothing will move us.

______________________

1 Cowper, William. God Moves in a Mysterious Way. Verse Two. Public Domain.

 

 

Monday, August 12, 2019

Reflection

 

[Photo of the moon rising over a lake]


When Jesus spoke again to the people, he
said, “I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will never walk in
darkness, but will have the light of life.”
—John 8:12

“You are the light of the world. A city set
on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light
a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a
stand, and it gives light to all in the house.
In the same way, let your light shine before
others, so that they may see your good works
and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
—Matthew 5:14-16

Have you ever considered how differently the brightness of the moon affects what we can see at night? Driving seems so much easier. And, the distance we can see is so much farther. Nights with a full moon allow us to see so much more than we can see when the moonlight is absent or diminished.

Scientists tell us that the phases of the moon, and the amount of light we observe from the moon, results from how much of the moon’s surface faces the sun and reflects the sun’s radiance. The moon produces no light of its own. It serves only to reflect the glory of the sun.

When we meditate on Jesus’ words in the first Scripture passage at the beginning of this blog post, where He told is that He is the Light of the World, we must realize that Jesus has given us the same designation that Creator God gave to the moon. As His devoted followers, Jesus expects us to understand that we give divine light to those around us only to the extent that we reflect Him. The more “face time” we have with Him, the more fully we will reflect His powerful light.

In the second Scripture passage at the beginning of this blog post, where Jesus said that we are lights of the world, He used the illustration of a lamp. Even if we shine as lamps in this dark world, we must have oil, or power, from some source other than ourselves. The image of oil in the Bible often refers to the power of the Holy Spirit.

We cannot expect to give off the Light of Christ in this world unless we reflect Him, just as the moon reflects the sun, nor can we shine as lamps without the oil of the Holy Spirit. The divine light must come from outside our own selves.

This question, then, is worth asking ourselves: “Is the ‘light’ I give off coming from the dimly lit bulb of my own selfish glory, or do I truly reflect the glory of my blessed Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the glory of God, my Father in Heaven?”

How we answer that important question makes a difference. And, that difference is like night and day!

 

 

Monday, August 5, 2019

Slaying the Dragon 1

 

[Photo of a dragon breathing down fire]


 “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
 —James 4:7

David and Karen Mains, in their marvelous children’s book, Tales of the Kingdom,2 tell a story of Amanda, a princess, who, despite warnings, takes home a dragon egg, hatches it, and makes a pet of the baby dragon. At first she enjoys playing with the little guy and does everything she can to domesticate it. But, before she realizes it, the dragon has become much too formidable for her to control and she has to kill it to save her own life.

Private sins are like that. We try to housebreak them and keep them under our control. Our secret fantasies, the so-called minor offenses we hide and whitewash, never stay the same. Like the dragon, they grow too large for us. The gossip we share with just one friend becomes too easy to share with many more. The anger we allow to spill out in occasional verbal outbursts at others soon becomes a way of life.

Recently I read this quote from J. C. Ryle in the book, Diamonds in the Dust 3 by Joni Eareckson Tada:

We are too apt to forget that temptation to sin will rarely present itself in its true colors. Never when we are tempted will we hear sin say to us, ‘I am your deadly enemy…I want to ruin your life.’ That’s not how it works. Sin, instead, comes to us like Judas with a kiss. It comes to us like Joab with outstretched hands and flattering words. Sin, in its beginnings, seems harmless enough—like David walking idly on his palace roof which happened to overlook the bedroom of a woman. You and I may give wickedness smooth-sounding names, but we cannot alter its nature and character in the sight of God.

We need to remember that the dragon has a burning breath and a dangerous tail. When we first entertain the idea of letting him near us, or even domesticating him for our pleasure, we need to slam the door on him and flee.

We can never hope to serve God effectively with known sins in our lives. The longer we let them grow, the more attached we become to them, and the harder it gets to slay them.

Please pray with me:

Oh, Lord, give us Your Holy Spirit’s power to recognize the first sign of a deadly sin and flee from it. Help us to stay very close to You, hour by hour, so that we can be protected by Your loving arms and have the power You give us to resist the devil. Amen.

______________________

1 This blog post was originally published on June 16, 2014.
2 Mains, David and Karen. Tales of the Kingdom (Kingdom Tales, Book 1). Elgin, IL: David C. Cook Publishing Company, ©1983, Chapter 10.
3 Tada, Joni Eareckson. Diamonds in the Dust. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, ©1993, Devotional for June 8th.

 

 

Monday, July 29, 2019

Little is Much

 

[Photo of five loaves and two fishes]


“Your procession has come into view, O God…
There is the little tribe of Benjamin, leading them.”
—Psalm 68:24, 27

Jesus understood small things and appreciated their worth. In Luke 21:1-2, He remarked about an incident, barely noticed by anyone else:

As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “I tell you the truth,” He said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others.”

Jesus honored the smallest things by pointing them out and using them for His glory. The story recorded in John 6:1-15 of the five thousand plus people who came to hear Jesus speak, points to His use of small things.

These people had come out from nearby towns and had been there many hours listening to Jesus. He told the disciples that they needed to feed them. They brought Jesus all they could find: the small lunch of a little boy that contained five small barley loaves and two fishes. Jesus showed His appreciation and used this small gift by multiplying it to serve all five thousand people present, with twelve baskets of food left over.

What do we have so little of that we feel God cannot use? Time? Money? Talent? Strength?

In Judges 6-8 we read the account of Gideon in the days when the Midianites invaded the land of Canaan. God called Gideon to save His people. In Judges 6:14-15, God said to Gideon:

“Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

“But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

The story goes on to point out how God chose to use this reluctant warrior. God chose to use Gideon because Gideon was the weakest available: the runt of the litter.

We need to think beyond ourselves, too. Maybe God wants our family, or our neighborhood, or our work department, our school, or our office staff to do something big for Him. Even more, maybe He purposes to use our little church for a big ministry, when it may seem that plenty of mega-churches in our area could do the job so much easier.

God’s voice asks of the prophet in Zechariah 4:10:

“Who dares despise the day of small things?”

Instead of bemoaning our lack of anything, let’s praise God for small things and small strength. He wants to show His mighty power through us. May we submit to His will and watch the blessings follow!