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Posts Tagged ‘spiritual’

fig tree

Things aren’t always as they seem. How long was the Hundred Years’ War? It lasted 116 years. When do Russians celebrate the October Revolution? They celebrate it in November. What country sells the most Panama hats? Ecuador is known for the famous straw hat.

In Mark 11, Jesus makes a similar observation. Jesus is walking from Bethany to Jerusalem.  From a distance, He sees a beautiful green fig tree. It looks wonderful. It is full of leaves and seems to be a bastion of good health. When Jesus arrives at the tree, hoping to eat a hand full of young fig buds, there is nothing. The tree is barren. It has no fruit. It produces nothing.

Typically, fig trees make buds each March and they eventually turn into delicious figs. The buds are green like the leaves of the tree, so you need to carefully inspect the tree. When Jesus looks it over, there is nothing to find. The tree gives shade but no nourishment. It gives comfort with no provision. Help but no hope. The green, leafy, tree unfortunately produces nothing.

Jesus curses the tree for that very reason. It yields nothing. Despite all of the right signs and appearances, the tree is not what it seems to be. Jesus doesn’t condemn leaves, they are necessary for trees to live and grow. But we cannot be content with leaves alone.

Things aren’t always as they seem. A church might appear to be “healthy” when you look at it from a distance, only to be disappointed on closer inspection. The fruit it bears will tell the story. Individuals are the same way. A person may show all the right signs of “health” like a leafy fig tree, but bear no spiritual fruit.

The lesson of the fig tree is that we should bear spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22-23). If we only appear to bear fruit, then we have missed the point and purpose of what God desires. God judges fruitlessness, and expects that those who have a relationship with Him will “bear much fruit” (John 15:5-8).

May our lives yield a bumper crop of spiritual fruit that benefits mankind and pleases the Lord.

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grace notes

Philip Yancey has been writing for three decades.  That experience and understanding is apparent anytime you read his work.  He has a beautiful knack of viewing life and ordering it on paper.  Yancey’s insight, imagination, and gentle faith are refreshing to any reader.

He is transparent on being wounded by the church, sifting through faith issues, harboring doubts, and other struggles in his Christian journey.  Through it all, this earnest pilgrim finds his way back and strengthens his faith and reliance in God.  I appreciate his honest desire to seek the Lord.  The words of his journey and stumbles on the path now provide encouragement to other believers who need a solid footing in Jesus.

Grace Notes, Daily Readings with a Fellow Pilgrim is a compilation of Yancey’s total work.  The pages are drawn from his twenty plus books and numerous articles. They capture inspiring and provoking images for any believer.  This book is ideal for daily devotions or starting a new spiritual discipline.  The readings will correspond to particular days and themes on the calendar.  Some readings will follow the church calendar for Christmas, Easter, the Ascension, and Pentecost, but keep in mind that the days will vary from year to year.

Take time to discover the Grace Notes of Philip Yancey.  You will appreciate the experienced writing, spiritual depth, and brotherly encouragement that he provides.

 

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lent cross

Lent can be a great time of discovery.  It is often viewed as a time to focus on what is truly important in life.  We also need to examine what is truly important in our Christian walk.

Jesus performs a miracle at the Bethesda pool in John 5:1-15.  Scripture records that a man was healed after being ill for thirty-eight years.  Jesus asks the man if he would like to get well and then commands him to, “Get up, pick up your cot, and walk.”

All these events were done on the Sabbath, a day set aside for worship.  Many people saw this previously crippled man walking through their streets. While there should be shouts of joy, exclamations of praise, hand shakes, back slapping, and chaotic rejoicing people instead focus on our recently healed walker carrying a cot.

Tradition did not allow people to “perform work” on the Sabbath.  Carrying a cot would fall into that category.  It was not the law of Moses but their interpretation of it that prohibited carrying loads of any kind on the Sabbath. Folks were so fearful of ever breaking the Law that they built an artificial “hedge” around it, comprising volumes of extra rules and stipulations. In fact, this hedge created an additional 613 provisions so that people could avoid breaking a commandment. While this was done to avoid offending God, it only drove a wedge between the people and God.  It created an atmosphere where the people focus on works and wrongs instead of the message and ministry of Jesus their Savior.  In short, they missed the miracle.

Jesus was present.  He was in their midst.  The Messiah was alive, active, and at work in Jerusalem.  Jesus was just footsteps from their door.  The Lord performed an incredible miracle where a man’s life was transformed and physically healed.  A crippled man was able to walk, perhaps for the very first time in his life.  But people could only see a Sabbath infraction instead of the Savior.

Let us rejoice when a family shows up to worship instead of snickering that they are fifteen minutes late.  Let us be joyful when a man arrives in the sanctuary instead of judging the clothes on his back.  Let us celebrate the future when a criminal accepts Christ instead of focusing on the past.  Let us see the miracle.  Let us see the Savior.

God bless you on your Lenten walk this year.

 

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lent-give more

Today was exhausting.  After a full day of counseling, visiting Soldiers, and spending four hours in the car, I finally made it home.  I shut the door and breathed a sigh of relief.  There was just enough energy left to go upstairs, kick off my boots and take a nap.  That way I could salvage part of the evening at home. In order to give quality time at home and offer something significant, I needed to take a break and re-engage at a later time.

We often face this dilemma with our families.  We also face the same dilemma with God.  What kind of offering do we give God?  Does God get our first fruits or the leftovers from our day?

As we focus on the season of Lent and strive to maintain our spiritual practice, it is important to examine the offering we bring to God.  Exodus 23:19 shares, “Bring the best of the first fruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God….”  Not only should God get what is currently available, but the best of what we have to offer.

Giving our best to God is a daunting challenge.  It requires time, energy, and devotion.  Allow this Lenten time of self-examination and sacrifice to strengthen your spiritual commitment and resolve.

The Lord has given grace, healing, and redemption to an afflicted world through Jesus Christ.  God has given His Son as the atonement for the sins of humanity. While there is no way to repay this perfect and holy gift, it cries out for a response.  Christ’s crucifixion should call us to tears, shame, seeking forgiveness, acknowledging our need for a Savior, and ultimately changing our lives so that we pursue Him.  It should create a spark in us that never dies or wavers because of God’s great love for us.

As we mark another week in the season of Lent, examine your gift.  What offering did you bring?  Will God see the first fruits or the leftovers of your day?  Do not “call in” this season of sacrifice and commitment.  God deserves our very best from start to finish.

God bless you on your Lenten walk this year.

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This week PBS aired, “The Dust Bowl” Ken Burns’ latest film.  The documentary chronicled a decade-long drought during the 1930s and how it impacted farm families across the heart of America.  Survivors shared powerful stories on how they endured incredible suffering and hardship.

It was truly moving to hear the personal accounts of loss and sacrifice.  Sand and dust dunes covered crops and livestock.  Money was so scarce that mothers would turn used flour sacks into dresses for daughters.  Ranchers would burn the needles off cactus plants so their cattle could eat.  Farmers went years without rain and crops.  Families lost homes, mortgaged their farm machinery, and send children to live with relatives.  Many who decided to ride out the dust storms lost infants and elderly family members to “dust pneumonia.”

No one can watch this series and remain the same.  The hardships and trials of this generation will shock you.  The stories of survival will amaze you.  They endured the suffering and poverty that few can imagine in our country.  This series is an important reminder to be thankful and consider our blessings.

I encourage you to watch the series and consider how God has personally blessed you this holiday season.

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Found a great article on the struggles of marriage that will speak to every military couple.  She does a great job of sharing practical tips and reinforces the fact that being a Christian does not exempt you from marital problems.

Hats off to Elisabeth K. Corcoran for the excellent advice.  Enjoy the article.

In a Difficult Marriage? | Kyria.

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Each year Gallup releases a “Confidence in Institutions” survey.  This year it reveals that only 44% of Americans have a “great deal or quite a lot of confidence in ‘the church or organized religion.'”

Organized religion has ranked at the top of the list from 1973-1985, but now it is tied with the medical system.  Bean counters will quickly point out that religion still ranks fourth out of sixteen institutions tested, but that can hardly be viewed as a prize.  Bronze medal?  Sorry church, you missed it by that much.

After I let the survey results simmer, my thoughts went to people who have been hurt, wounded, and injured by the church.  When I hear stories of people searching for a different church home it is always for a reason.  Too often families leave a congregation because of strife, bitterness, and conflict.  They leave due to splits and infighting.  They leave because of hurtful comments and negative attitudes.  Unfortunately, the pain can be so intense that many won’t even bother to look for a new church home.  Many stop looking or worse yet, stop going.  When that is the legacy, why would people express confidence?

I like it when people describe the church as a hospital for sinners.  It is the emergency room where we find comfort and peace through Jesus Christ.  But this spiritual hospital will have people who are coughing, fever-ridden, and sick.  There are varying levels of sickness due to sin.  Cross-bearing is a requirement for ministry to occur in this setting.  There will be unpleasant people in every congregation, but then again what emergency room doesn’t have someone in need of a physician?

If you are looking for a church home or stopped looking for a solid body of believers, remember that Jesus died for you and all who suffer from the pain of sin.  He died for everybody.  Congregations are made up of imperfect people who are in need of the Great Physician.  Place your confidence in the Son of God and you will never be disappointed.

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Each Fourth of July we celebrate the birth of America.  We celebrate freedom, independence, and the precious rights that guarantee the blessings of liberty.  But it is important to remember how religious freedom was the original goal of living in our land.  And by that, I mean prior to signing the Declaration of Independence.

Christianity operated in a very different environment from what we know today.  Prior to the Pilgrims leaving England, there was no separation of church and state.  There was one official church for people to attend and the King was the head of the church.  During the 1600s, British law required citizens to attend worship services.  Those who did not attend would be fined one shilling for each Sunday and holy day missed.  People who conducted unofficial church services could be fined, jailed, or executed.

As persecution and arrests grew, the Pilgrims left England for Amsterdam.  By 1617 the congregation was stable enough for another, more permanent move.  They wanted an enduring place where opportunity and religious freedom could be secured for their families.  They turned their eyes to the new America, braved a sixty-five day voyage across the Atlantic, and started Plymouth Colony.

Days after sighting land, The Mayflower Compact was established as a way to honor God, guarantee just and equal laws in the colony, and create a free form of government.  The Pilgrims decided to establish a system where every member of the colony could enjoy guaranteed rights and freedoms under majority rule.  Freedoms that they were unable to enjoy until that very moment when the ink was dry.

Their voyage and vision created the first written constitution on our continent.  It became the seed of American freedom and democracy.

We often forget the past difficulties that Christians have faced trying to worship God.  We also forget the difficulties in our present age.  We have been so blessed with liberty in our nation, that we forget the inequalities that exist elsewhere.  While we are not fined, jailed, or executed for practicing our faith in America many others suffer across the globe.  We have brothers and sisters in Christ who live with the same fears, torment, and punishments of seventeenth century Pilgrims.

Recognize the incredible gift we have as Americans and utilize your religious freedom.  Glorify our risen Savior in song.  Strengthen your faith in a worship service.  Read your Bible in public.  But also take time to pray for the persecuted Church beyond our borders.  Their current plight was ours not so long ago.

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I love lemonade.  There is nothing like a glass of lemonade during the summertime.  It’s the best you could ask for.  A cold glass of lemonade hits the spot after mowing the yard, walking the dog, or just relaxing on the porch.  This amazing drink will immediately satisfy me, draw a thirst quenching “aaahhh” from my mouth, and deliver a toothy smile to my face.

Sure there are different kinds of lemonade out there.  You can get lemonade in an Army mess hall or even a Navy galley.  But I’m talking about the good stuff.  The lemonade recipe that your grandmother used.  You know what I’m talking about.  A recipe with real lemons, sugar, and plenty of kick.

My wife and I recently went to a Chick-fil-A and ordered lemonade with our meal.  We didn’t know what to expect of the drink.  Would the lemonade be a watered down version or something that tastes too syrupy sweet?  The sign said it was made-from-scratch daily, so we decided to take a chance on their lemonade.  We were both amazed.  It was absolutely fantastic!  It had to be one of the finest lemonades out there.  Where had this been all of my life?  Why didn’t anyone tell me that Chick-fil-A lemonade tasted so good?

To say that I was surprised by their lemonade would be an understatement.  I had been settling for something less, when this recipe was clearly better.  This discovery became our new gold standard when it comes to lemonade.  No longer will we settle for something less.

God understands good lemonade.  He gave humanity a recipe to follow regarding life.  He knew that this recipe would satisfy us, quench us, and make us smile.  This recipe is the finest out there.  In fact, it is the perfect recipe.  It is the gold standard of recipes.  But some folks wanted to make their own recipe.  They wanted different ingredients and proportions in the mixture.  They were willing to settle for a recipe with less because it was something that they had made.

Romans 1:25 shares that people exchange the truth about God for a lie or “the” lie depending on your translation.  This passage tells how people “worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator . . .”  This lie is about self.  I know better.  I am more important.  I will do whatever I want.  The rules don’t apply to me.  In essence, I will follow my own recipe.

Folks have the choice to follow their own recipe in life.  Perhaps they didn’t know just how satisfying God’s recipe is for us.  But when you taste and discover how incredibly satisfying it is, you won’t settle for less.  May God bless you and your pursuit of His righteousness, His recipe for your life.

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Memorial Day allows us to remember the meaning of sacrifice.  Veterans, soldiers, and veteran groups frequently celebrate Audie Murphy and his sacrificial efforts during World War II.

As a soldier, Murphy was credited with destroying six tanks, killing over 240 German soldiers, and capturing many others.  He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in the battle of Holtzwihr, France.  In this campaign, Murphy’s unit was reduced to 19 out of 128.  As they continued to take losses, Murphy ordered his men to fall back while he provided rifle fire to protect their escape.  When he ran out of ammunition, he climbed on top of a burning M10 tank destroyer and used its .50 caliber machine gun to fight the enemy.  He also called in artillery fire to slow the German advance.  Murphy continued to shoot and call in artillery for an hour until he was wounded in the leg.

When asked after the war why he had seized the machine gun and taken on an entire company of German infantry, he replied simply, “They were killing my friends.”  His selfless service and sacrifice is celebrated every year.

Each Memorial Day we celebrate the suffering and sacrifice of veterans.  But to understand sacrifice we must  look past the holiday weekend.  To understand sacrifice we must look to God.

John 3:16 shares that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  A sacrifice was made for us.  Christ was wounded for our wrongs.  Isaiah 53 is titled the Suffering Servant.  This chapter in the Old Testament shares how the Son of God would be “pierced for our transgressions” and suffer on our behalf.  His actions would bear our iniquities and justify us before a Holy God.

As Christians, we understand that Jesus went to the cross for our sins.  His substitution on the cross ultimately atoned for the sins of the world.  He interceded to save us.

While stories of sacrifice, war wounds, medals, and heroism will take center stage this holiday weekend, remember that we understand sacrifice through the love and devotion of Jesus Christ.  He is truly our Savior.

 

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