Monday, February 19, 2018

God's Tree of Life




Did you know that God has an orchard of fruit-bearing Life trees?  In Paul’s prayer for the church at Philippi, he describes these trees from the roots all the way up to the fruits.  Each of us is one of these trees.  The health of our tree is dependent upon growing deep roots of wisdom, a sturdy trunk that is free of pests and disease, and strong branches teeming with fruit.

Philippians 1:9-12
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.


Things to think about:
·      Before we dive into our topic, here is a Pro Tip on prayer from a pastor friend: If you don’t know how to find the right words when you’re praying, use the prayers of the Scriptures as your model.  I have marked in my Bible this passage as my prayer for our group.
The Roots
·      Paul says that in order for our tree to grow big and strong it must have roots that are growing deeper in knowledge and insight. God’s word and His teachers provide us with the nourishment we need to grow as He intended.
o   Absent a strong foundation, our tree is susceptible to every wind, flood, and drought.
§  Winds of circumstance can challenge our commitment
§  Floods of discouragement can overwhelm us
§  A drought of feeling God’s presence can shrivel our faith
§  Do any of these ring true for you?
§  Are there Scriptures you cling to in times like these?
o   We can sometimes be more like thin blades of grass or a delicate flower than a towering tree
§  Isaiah 40:8 –“All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”
o   We are also vulnerable to toxins like bad teaching or faulty theology
§  Ephesians 14:4 – “ Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.
§  Proverbs 19:2a – “Desire without knowledge is not good”
o   Then when the winds, floods, and droughts come as they inevitably do, we will be able to discern what is best, to remain pure, and to be blameless.
The Trunk
o   However, a great deal of knowledge that never comes out hiding is like a root system that never becomes a tree.  It eagerly takes in the nutrients and the water but doesn’t grow up and give back.
o   Paul said it like this in 1 Corinthians 13:2:
§  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
§  Jesus is love and does not hide from the harsh glare of the sun or the bitter cold of winter.
o   So the trunk is the link between the roots and the branches that bear the fruit.
§  Jesus said in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
§  Why does Jesus count “good works” that are done apart from Him as nothing?
The Fruit
·      The very point of a fruit tree is to bear fruit.  The Orchard Owner designed it that way and expects to see branches that are leafy and brimming with deliciously sweet fruit.
·      Fruits of righteousness
o   Love God by obeying His commands
o   Love others as Christ has loved you
·      Fruits of the Spirit
o   Galatians 5:22-23 – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control
§  The fruit described here is attainable by each of us because it’s not called the fruit of man but of the Spirit who indwells every believer.
·      Let us pray as Paul did that on the day of Christ, we will be filled with the fruit of righteousness, to the glory and praise of God.

Proverbs 11:30 - The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life


Monday, February 12, 2018

Beat Down



Beat Down
I recently had the opportunity to confront what one might call a personal shortcoming, a momentary lapse in judgment, an oversight, or perhaps even an indiscretion.  God has another word for this behavior, He calls it sin.  Of the many problems with sin, one of them is the way that it can eat a believer up from the inside out.  In Psalm 38, David gets quite graphic about how he is a physical and emotional wreck because of his sin.   I was able to empathize with many of his feelings in my recent confrontation with sin. 

Psalm 38:18
I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin.

Things to think about:
·      For about the past three weeks I have been dogged by a confession I needed to make to a brother.  As much as I tried to rationalize, minimize and otherwise trivialize what had happened, there was a constant cloud hanging over me.  Without addressing it directly (with no excuses), the situation was not going to get better.
o   To describe his misery, David uses words like sick, hurting, guilt, heavy burden, bowed down, pain, weak, anguish of heart, light gone from his eyes
o   Have you experienced this heaviness of guilt that just won’t go away?
o   Are you living with this burden now?
·      For me, the “good news” in all of this was that God loves me too much to let me get away with it
o   Every morning it was the first thing I’d think about
o   It created a major barrier to Bible study, church, and praying
o   How can guilt some times be a good thing?
·      In Matthew 5:23-24 - “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”
o   We cannot have fellowship with God if we do not have fellowship with His children
·      1 Corinthians 11:31-32 – “But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.”
o   God loves us too much to let us go on in sin
·      So what’s the cure?
o   Psalm 38:18 – “I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin”
§  As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I was deeply troubled by my sin. It wasn’t much fun and the separation from God was not worth the price of my foolish pride.
§  Step one was confession to God
·      1 John 1:9-10 - If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 
§  Step two was calling my friend to confess and ask for his forgiveness
·      James 5:16a - Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. 
·      Psalm 38:21-22 – Lord do not forsake me; do not be far from me, my God.  Come quickly to help me, my God and my Savior.
o   Psalm 46:1 - God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
§  Even trouble of our doing!
·      Are you carrying a ton of bricks today that is sapping your strength, breaking your back, causing you great pain?  Do you miss the closeness of being with God?  Is your heart about to give out from anguish?
o   Today is the day, now is the acceptable time
o   2 Corinthians 6:2 - “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you. I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”
·      Stand up, do what needs to be done, and let Him breathe new life into your body and soul.  It was important enough to Him to suffer for your sin so you don’t have to!


Monday, January 29, 2018

Detours



This weekend I had the opportunity to go to Dallas to serve with a ministry called Metro Relief. It is a mobile outreach where they serve soup, hot chocolate, etc. to the homeless in the area.  Besides the obvious nourishment, the food is a means of engagement to begin conversations to learn how we can be of help.  We had arrived just a few minutes before when I saw a man who was walking away from our bus with a cup of hot chocolate accidentally drop it on the sidewalk.  I got a fresh cup to bring to him and was walking his way when a lady stopped me and asked me if that was hot chocolate I had in my hand and if she could have it.  Her name is Mary and she is about 60 years old with bright blue eyes and a radiant smile. She had a very sweet spirit about her, was clearly a smart lady, and yet was living in a shelter.  We spoke for about 45 minutes as I learned more about her story of daily survival, illness, and faith.  At the end of our chat I prayed for her and she assured me that she would be praying for my wife Bitsy too!  I walked away from that encounter amazed by this woman of hope and resilience. It also dawned on me that I thought I was heading out to replace a dropped cup of hot chocolate but instead God detoured me to making a new friend in Mary! 

Proverbs 16:9
In his heart a man plans his course but the Lord directs his steps

Things to think about:
·      When has God redirected your steps to His divine appointment?
·      Sometimes we feel tremendous pressure to make the “right” decision on some issue
o   For example, Should I take this new job? Should I lend/give money to this person? Should I confront a situation?
·      Do you ever suffer from Analysis Paralysis?
o   Are you a deliberator or a person of swift action?
o   Are there certain kinds of decisions that are harder for you to make than others?
o   Isaiah 30:21 – Whether you turn to the left or to the right, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way, walk in it.”
§  Sometimes we can agonize over making a perfect decision. While we should always seek God’s guidance, sometimes it may not be clear which direction we should take. In matters that aren’t illegal or immoral, it may be that you just need to GO!  God is able to move in your circumstances, irrespective of the choice.
·      In fact, inaction may be the worst decision
·      Proverbs 3:27 – Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it is in your power to act.
§  God is bigger than any one decision we can make.  Numbers 11:23 “Is the Lord’s arm too short?”
·      The apostle Paul knew what it was like to move out in faith
o   Acts 20:22 – And now behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there.”
o   Are there other biblical examples you can think of where people stepped out in faith not knowing if they had made the right decision? (HINT: There’s only about a thousand)
o   Are you facing a decision today where the outcome feels risky?
§  Seek God’s direction
·      James 1:5 – “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let Him ask of God who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”
§  Be alert to God’s voice
·      John 10:27, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”
§  Obey what He says
·       Luke 11:28, “Blessed are those who hear the word of the Lord and obey it.”
§  Trust His goodness and wisdom
·       Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Acknowledge Him in all your ways and He will make your paths straight.”