Monday, April 29, 2013

Real Fruit

This next Sunday we'll complete a short five week series on "Growing".  I started this four Sundays ago because I had the idea of doing five messages on this theme using a metaphor of the Garden to describe how we can grow.
The outcome of real growth - whether in a garden, or in our own lives - is fruit.  God built into the creation...plants, animals, humans...the ability to grow.  Growth leads to reproduction.  When we are growing we are able to reproduce, and that leads to real fruit.

Many years ago I began to seek Christ in order to follow him and allow his life to define my life.  It led me to lots of realizations - mainly along the line of my own flesh, and the need to deal with that flesh in order to continue to grow.  Because of some habitual behaviors I was stuck...not growing.
I picked up a book - small and short - but packed with insight into why we don't grow.  From the author I went back to the New Testament and saw the words of Jesus.

John 12:23-26 (ESV)
23  And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
24  Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
25  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
26  If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.


Real fruit is not to be confused with religious behavior, or actions.  Real fruit isn't looking good, acting good. Having a head full of knowledge so that I can quote scriptures to give answers isn't fruit either.  That kind of fruit is like the incident in the gospels:

Mark 11:12-22 (ESV)
12  On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry.
13  And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.
14  And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.
15
 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.
16  And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.
17  And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”
18  And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.
19  And when evening came they went out of the city.
20
 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots.
21  And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”
22  And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God.


Growth comes from real faith...all other kinds of superficial religious actions are irrelevant.  We reproduce the things we incorporate into our own lives.  
Take a good look at actions and attitudes - ask yourself if that is what you want to reproduce?

There's nothing in this that is "have to" in our lives.  We have choices to make, and we have things we can do to see growth occur.
Take a look at someone you respect, and want to emulate.  What do they do in their life to cause you to admire them?

Real fruit is the goal.
Real fruit is possible.
Real fruit is in Jesus' life - seeing it come into our life as we yield ("if it dies") ourselves over and over again.

My friends, grace and peace

Monday, April 22, 2013

Catechism Anyone?

Ephesians 6:4 (ESV)
4  Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. 

I grew up in the Lutheran church.  As such I was put into Catechism classes where I was instructed in what the Lutheran church believed so that after Catechism I could become a communicant.  I went through all of that with little fervor.  I went because I had to, and after it was all over with I drifted from the church and faith for about 8 more years.
Was the problem catechism?
No,
The problems were my age - way to young to understand or appreciate what I was to learn;  and, my purpose in being there - I had to go, and I didn't therefore want to learn.

I don't propose we go back to instruction through Catechism instruction; but I do think there is much to be gained by reading and understanding the historical Catechisms.  The people who wrote these lived at the time of the Reformation and their understanding of faith was not merely intellectual, but filled with a sense of the need to change the prevailing religious culture.  In other words, they came to a generation of religious life that had been controlled by the culture of Catholic institutionalism that preyed on fear and false ideas of salvation and eternal life.  

We live in a culture that is beset with ignorance, at best, and out-right rejection, at worst, concerning matters of faith.

So, perhaps the answer is something that takes these great statements of instruction from the past and contemporizes them for the sake of growth in understanding our faith.
For example, look at the Heidelberg Catechism's opening words:

1. Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?
A. That I, with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, wherefore by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

2. Q. How many things are necessary for you to know, that you in this comfort may live and die happily?
A. Three; the first, how great my sins and misery are; the second, how I am delivered from all my sins and misery; the third, how I am to be thankful to God for such deliverance.

From the second comes not only the outline of the whole document, but a summary of the Bible and of the whole of the Christian life: GUILT, GRACE, GRATITUDE. 
That is well put.

Peace

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Lazy View of God?

Psalm 95:6-7 (NIV)
6  Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;
7  for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care...


Psalm 18:1-2 (NIV)
1 I love you, O LORD, my strength.
2  The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.


This morning I was reading a biography of John Calvin.  Calvin does not get many accolades among modern  Christians.  He's been called many names and few of them give him much credit; but that is all based on ignorance.  Those people who speak in negative ways toward him have never read his works, nor studied his life with a view of the historical and cultural context in which he lived.

There is an early letter of his that is a response to a Catholic Cardinal by the name of Sadoleto, who had attacked the Reform and appealed to Geneva's church and authorities to return to the Catholic church.  It is a personal attack on the Reformation and even though Calvin had left Geneva to go to Strasbourg, he was asked by the Genevan authorities to write a response to Sadoleto's charges.

I read the letter he wrote and was struck by something he said...and then in my readings this morning, I read those two Psalms, and it all hit me anew.
Calvin makes a powerful statement about God's glory.  In fact, he makes it clear, we must begin with God, not ourselves.  He writes to Sadoleto,  "you have a theology that is too lazy, as it almost always the case with those who have had no experience with struggles of conscience."
Calvin is writing both about the church he left which he felt had developed into an indifferent and lazy formalism, and also about his own struggles - struggles many of the reformers had come to personally see in their own experience - of how to come before a Holy God and know that there is acceptance, forgiveness, and salvation assured.  These struggles had driven him to Luther's writings, and others and at an early age it had made him think - biblically and theologically - about the character and work of God in Jesus Christ.

Whatever you think of John Calvin, he was not theologically lazy.  I can't help but look out at a church today and see the opposite.  It makes me despair at times, wondering if we are going anywhere at all in our knowledge and growth in God.

Psalm 95:6-7 (NIV) 
 Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; 
 for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care...


Psalm 18:1-2 (NIV) 
1 I love you, O LORD, my strength. 
 The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.



The Psalmist calls us to focus on the Lord our maker - he is worthy of worship and praise.  AND, we are His...the sheep of His pasture.
AND, therefore, our response is to proclaim our love, our praise, our trust...to declare and to affirm in our thoughts and actions that God is our fortress, deliverer, our Rock...the one thing that is most sure...our shield, our stronghold...and most of all, Our Salvation!

In the day in which we live we need that affirmation in our soul day by day.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Roots

Taking a look outside I see the snow gone, the ground has soaked up lots of moisture over the last week with rain coming almost every day; and it looks like it will continue with rain in the forecast for the next week also.
It's Spring and the April showers are what brings the May flowers.

But what's most vital about these rains is the replenishing of the soil and the ability of the roots to have moisture to supply the life of the plant.

Roots...the greatest need is the health of the roots, for the health of the plant above, on the surface - that which is outward appearance and where fruit appears - all depends on the health of the roots.

Paul says to his young Timothy:
1 Timothy 4:7-8 (NIV)
7  Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.
8  For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

Train yourself.
Our relationship with God through Jesus is free...we don't have to earn anything, do anything, other than place our trust for salvation in Him.
But the fruit to follow...that's our work in connection with the work of the Holy Spirit within us.
Train yourself...
Enter into the necessary means of good connections.

Colossians 2:6-7 (NIV)
6  So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him,
7  rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.


Connections...dig down deep into Christ and allow our roots to go deeply into Him.  Soak up the Holy Spirit in taking in God's word, and allowing it to shape us, speaking truth in love to us, and learning the joy of obedience.
This life of training is intentional and will be rewarding as we learn to trust and obey.

Peace

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Birth

John 16:21 (ESV)
21  When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 

Yesterday, April 10th, at 6:30 central time, our daughter delivered twin boys, Joel Elliott (on left) and Simeon John (right).  Both were nearly 6 lbs, and boys and Mom are doing fine.

When Lindsay announced last Fall that she was pregnant with twins a second time, we all were pleasantly shocked.  Lindsay was delighted to be carrying twins a second time.  The older twins, Raewyn and Theo are now almost 3 1/2 yrs old.  I'm not sure how were going to designate the two sets of twins.  Being a twin myself all sorts of names are cast at two - "the twins", "the boys", and one I remember all to well - "you boys".
Perhaps we'll just resort to the names - I know I preferred Elliott to other sorts of renditions.

I referred to the verse in John 16, because it's a reminder that with joy comes a certain amount of non-joy.  Joy is that great mixture of surprise and mystery that leaves you saying "Wow" - even if you knew it was coming.  It is a gift of God and comes in waves, often mysteriously appearing at times when it's not apparent it would.

C. S. Lewis wrote about this in his book "Surprised by Joy".  I quote a small portion here:

"As I stood beside a flower currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not of years, but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old house when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery.  It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; "enormous bliss" is near it.  It was a sensation, a desire, but of what?...Before I knew what I desired, the desire was gone, the whole thing a glimpse...withdrawn, the world turned common again, only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just occurred and now ceased.
In a sense the central story of life is about nothing else...the quality common is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.

I call it JOY..something sharply distinguished from happiness or pleasure.
Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic and only one in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again...I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world.  But then Joy is never in our power, and pleaure often is."
 -  C.S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy

Yesterday was a "Joyful" day in our household.  It was a joyful day in Bristol, England.  It was a joyful day in households all over the world...that's the nature of Birth...you celebrate the Joy and recognize the one-time feeling you wished would stay.  But that is what makes Joy so special.

Peace

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Waiting

Waiting is perhaps the hardest thing to do in life.
In fact, I hate waiting...

Linda will tell you that I am not very good at waiting.  When she is late, or I'm sitting waiting for her to get out of an appointment, or I have a meeting and others are late, I don't do well.
A certain force of "judgment" creeps in and I find I need to think positively instead of the almost automatic desire to yell..."what are you doing?"  

I hate waiting...

This morning I'm waiting.  My daughter is having her twins delivered by C section.  In fact, she's gone to the delivery/operating room as I write, and I'm waiting for the news...anxiously, prayerfully, expectantly, hopefully...Oh God, please be with her and the twins.

Psalm 62:5-8 (ESV)
5  For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.
6  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
7  On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
8  Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah

Sometimes when you wait, you just have to trust!

Peace


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

My Greatest Need, Our Greatest Need

I heard the story of a man walking up a hill when he encountered a dense fog.  He didn't know where he was and then he stumbled upon a rock, so he stood on it hoping to get a better look.  As he pulled out his GPS he thought - "Ok, there's North...that's the way to go"; only to find that North changed immediately.  Wondering how it could happen he stepped off of the rock, only to hear the rock say "Baaaaaaaah".  It was a sheep!

Sometimes the world seems to be shifting, changing at such a rapid rate that it is hard to get our bearings.  I confess, the problems we deal with today are unprecedented, and seem to be shifting by the week.  I thought I had problems as a Pastor 30 years ago helping people navigate questions of life; but as I look back most of those issues seem fairly benign these days.

What is needed, of course, in the process of living out Christ in our world these days is Wisdom.  Take a journey with me through some scripture and think about the greatness of that profound word - wisdom.

Proverbs 1:7 (ESV)
7  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. 

Proverbs 2:6 (ESV)
6  For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; 

Proverbs 3:13 (ESV)
13  Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, 

Proverbs 4:7 (ESV)
7  The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. 

So there you have it...
It is essential to avoiding the foolishness of living.
The Lord is the source of it
We can  "find" it
We must "get" it, and with it the insight or understanding of what then.

Prophesying of the Messiah, the prophet Isaiah says in Isaiah 11:1-2 (ESV) 
1  There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
2  And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.


And Paul reminds the Corinthian believers that the scripture is the source of wisdom as the Holy Spirit brings clarity to us...
1 Corinthians 2:10-13 (ESV)
10  these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.
11  For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.
12  Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.
13  And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
 

All of this comes back to the fact that our world is shifting and the wisdom of the world is taking on unprecedented power to shape and control things so that God is ignored and the "foolishness" of the world's supposed wisdom reigns.  1 Corinthians 2:6 (ESV) 
6  Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 


Paul's prayer to the Colossians is where I find my great need:  Colossians 1:9 (ESV) 
9  And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom... That's it, we need to simply go back to those days of hell-fire and brimstone, scare people into submission, tell them that they're going to hell for their disregard for God's word...etc.  If it was that easy.  We have a society that has been formed on the belief that the individual is supreme, and that religion is a private affair, and no one has the right to tell anyone else what they should do or not do.  
It makes me want to pull out whatever hair is left on my head - and that's not much!
This privatized, individualistic, leave me alone, I'll do what I want is the world we live in; and in some ways, if not in a lot of ways, we as Christians have endorsed it.  The chickens have come home to roost and now that we are not in a position of power, we hate it.

Where do we go?  What do we do when the power people, the authority, the rulers move on it life without a sense of thinking about God?  Politicians, Wall Street financiers, Educators,  Professionals - like Medical, Legal, Social - All of these are largely void of thinking about "What does God say about this?"

I don't have answers - I have a need...a need for Wisdom, and I believe that this can only come from God.  I find the great need to "think" and then "think again".  The confusion of the world has no quick solutions, but it has lots of repercussions.  We live in an "un-thinking" world where personal pleasures, personal preferences, and personal attitudes shape almost all choices.  
I want to walk with Jesus again...to listen, to talk, to seek understanding...It's the only source of real wisdom.

Peace

Monday, April 8, 2013

A Vision for Growth

Hi all,
This week I'm going to post a couple of days worth of readings...sort of a "prompter" for additional thinking, and perhaps praying about this idea of growth.
Yesterday I began a short five week series on growing up in Christ.
If you were there, you'll remember that the key is being "Intentional".  We don't grow haphazardly, or randomly, we grow on purpose, because we choose to do something and practice it over and over to get it right.

Here's a couple of passages to read, pray, and ponder, then read the question after:

Micah 6:8 (ESV)
8  He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Galatians 5:13-26 (ESV)
13  For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
14  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
15  But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
16
 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
17  For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
18  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19  Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,
20  idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,
21  envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
24  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

25  If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
26  Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.  




What do you want to tell God is the area, or thing, you want to grow in?  Be specific.  Example:  I need to stop......, or I need to begin to work on ............

Remember, God is on your side...  Read, Memorize (even if paraphrasing it) Philippians 2:12-13

Peace

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The roots of despair

Reading through Ecclesiastes is a very enjoyable "wake-up" to life.  It hits me that he really thought about what life was basically all about, and he makes some rather startling and honest confessions:

Ecclesiastes 3:9-13 (ESV)
9  What gain has the worker from his toil?
10  I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.
11  He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.
12  I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;
13  also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.


And this is at its basic core, a simple way to view living.  God is good, everything he does is beautiful...so let's enjoy God in the very basics of life...BUT Reality Check Time:

Ecclesiastes 1:8-11 (ESV)
8  All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
9  What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.

10  Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us.

11  There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.


He, sometimes we, cannot see beyond the repetition of life that there's a "new" beginning to things.  Sometimes people get so stuck in their self-thoughts that all they can hear is their own voice telling them that nothing is going to change, nothing can be done to make things better.

One of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen said it best:
“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, "Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody." ... [My dark side says,] I am no good... I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the "Beloved." Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.” 
― Henri J.M. Nouwen

It all comes down to who's word we believe...God's or Other's (including our own self) words.

Peace

Monday, April 1, 2013

He is No Fool

Psalm 14:1 (ESV)
1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. 


April Fools Day...a day of "light-hearted" tricks that has it's origin in the changing of a calendar.  Up until the late 16th century, most countries celebrated the beginning of the new year near April 1, nearest the Equinox - certain traditions had it around March 25.  Then in 1582, Pope Gregory, proclaimed the a new calendar (the Gregorian Calendar) which was a corrective calendar to put the earth year in a much closer proximity to the Solar year.  We still use the Gregorian calendar today.  But the new calendar changed the beginning of the new year to January 1.  According to tradition many people mocked the change of celebrating the new year and continued to celebrate it on April 1.
There are other interpretations of how this day came into being; but my purpose in writing this is to point out that the real fool is the one who ignores, or even defies, God.

In contrast, the wise are people who look for, and look to God in all of life.  I could say more, but let the Psalmist say it most beautifully.

Psalm 111:2-10 (ESV)
2  Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.
3  Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.

4  He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and merciful.

5  He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.

6  He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the inheritance of the nations.

7  The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy;

8  they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.

9  He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name!

10  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!


SO...you may be tricked today, and let it be a light-hearted thing, but make no mistake, your faith in God is no trick, it's the stuff that makes for real wisdom.

My favorite quote from the martyred Saint, Jim Eliot - "He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."

Peace