Olive Tree

Olivesfromjordan

Lord make me to be

like an olive tree

flourishing in the house of God,[1]

a thriving olive tree

with fruit beautiful in form.[2]

which yields its fruit in season,

and whose leaf does not wither.[3]

An olive tree whose leaf

brought hope to Noah,[4]

and whose oil became

sacrifice and offering.[5]

Lord, use the oil of my fruit to

keep the light of your presence

burning continually bright.[6]

Use the wood of my very body

to adorn Your Holy Temple,

the place where Your Presence dwells.[7]

Use my oil to bring healing

to broken bodies

and broken hearts

and broken nations.

And there, on the mountain

where my Lord prayed,[8]

press me, break me

that I may bring forth

the holy anointing oil,

precious oil poured on the head

of our Great High Priest,

running down on His beard,

down the collar of His robes;[9]

and anointing the King of kings.[10]

 

[1] Psalm 52:8

[2] Jeremiah 11:16

[3] Psalm 1:3

[4] Genesis 8:11

[5] Exodus 29:40

[6] Leviticus 24:2

[7] 1 Kings 6

[8] Luke 22:39-46

[9] Psalm 133:2

[10] 1 Samuel 1:10

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Time to Grow Up

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”   2 Timothy 3:16-17

I’ve been in church pretty much all my life, from the “cradle roll” (who remembers that?) to being a Bible teacher today. Other than a short stint of youthful rebellion, church has been part of my life all my life. I was taught all the Bible stories, David and Goliath, Jonah and the Whale, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Baby Jesus and the Empty Tomb. As I got older I listened to my Sunday School teachers and Pastors tell me what the Bible said – and I took their word for it and went on my merry way. Until about ten years ago, when God began to stir something up in me – a deep thirst for His Word – and so began a journey that I will be on for the rest of my life, studying the Bible – for myself. Because, while my teachers and Pastors did their best, they couldn’t speak truth into my heart and life like the Word and the Spirit can.

Our key verse was the first Bible Drill verse I learned as a kid (who remembers that?). And it is a powerful word about the inspiration of the Scriptures, the whole counsel of the Word of God. The Bible is not a man-inspired construct, but is man-penned through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God. It is truth, and it is true. I believe it is infallible, inerrant and as relevant today as the day the fresh ink hit the papyrus.

I couldn’t always say that though, or at least not with the same conviction, because I didn’t know the Bible well enough. I took what had been spoon-fed to me all my life and that was enough for me. Until it wasn’t. I was like the people in the book of Hebrews, who were still drinking milk and refusing to sink their teeth into the meat of truth. The writer says, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn” (Hebrews 5:11). From our contemporary perspective, that seems to imply a learning disability, but in the original Greek text, the word “slow” is translated “lazy and undisciplined.” That just took my breath. Read the verse and explanation again. They could not understand the deeper truths of the faith because they were lazy and undisciplined. Today we could say they spent more time watching T.V. and playing video games and Candy Crush Saga than attending to their souls. They went for the snooze button rather than the Scriptures every morning. Yes, we all need down time to give our brains and bodies rest, but have we gotten that out of balance? Don’t our spirits need to be refreshed as well, if not more so? Look at verse 14: “Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (emphasis mine). Ask any talented musician how they play so beautifully and they will tell you – constant practice. Ask a pro athlete how he became so good and he will tell you – constant training.   Do you want to be a more mature Christian? Get into a Spiritual training program –a Sunday School class, Bible study class or seek out a godly person to be your spiritual mentor. Put in the effort, and God will reward you with understanding and revelation and a deeper hunger than you ever imagined. Yes, understanding comes from the Spirit, but the Spirit ain’t gonna do all the work for you.

Let me show you one more thing I learned. As I said, I’ve heard this verse almost all my life, but I saw something very personal in it this morning. This is in the center of Paul’s charge to his young protégé Timothy, whom he has appointed as the Pastor and leader of the church in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3). From 2 Timothy 3:10 through 4:5, Paul exhorts the young Pastor in his calling. The passages in our key verse are a personal word of advice and instruction to Timothy. And that is what God spoke to me today (note: I am using my given name Dorcas, because God uses that name to speak to me): “Dorcas, all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching you Dorcas, rebuking you Dorcas, correcting you Dorcas, and training you Dorcas in righteousness, so that you Dorcas may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

This passage is not intended to be used to point to – or worse – point at others, especially non-Christians about the authority of the Bible. It is meant to be pointed at me. God is calling me to submit to the authority of His Word and to allow it to teach, rebuke, correct, train and equip me “to do good works, which God prepared in advance for [me] to do” (Ephesians 2:10). Maybe you got that long ago, but it hit me with great force this morning.   As a Bible teacher, I tend to read the Scriptures searching for the lesson I am to present. I often forget God wants the lessons to apply to me first.  As important that it is to know the inspiration of God’s Word it is even more important for me to know its authority over my own life.

What does God’s Word mean to you? Is it light and life to you? Is the Bible your delight and hope? Come, dig into the rich treasure of the Scriptures as see how sweet it is. It’s there for tasting.

God of the Word, please stir in me a hunger and thirst for Your Word; that passion for the Scriptures will press me closer and closer to you. Amen.

The Blessedness of Obedience

“Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor.  Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with Him.” (John 12:1-2)

The weary people stood at the edge of the Jordan River, listening to their aged leader Moses recount the history of their journey from Egypt, across the wilderness to the place where they now waited to enter the Promised Land.  He reiterated the commands and laws of God and, as he neared the end of his message, as all good preachers do, he delivered the application and gave them a choice: obedience or disobedience – and with the choice came consequences – blessing for obedience or punishment for disobedience.

I have set before you life and death, blessing and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice and hold fast to Him.  For the Lord is your life. Deuteronomy 30:19-20

 God so desires to bless us.  He has a vast storehouse of good things waiting to be poured out on your life and mine.  Because He loves us, He watches – not for us to do wrong – but for the moment we do right so that he can rain down “showers of blessings” (Ezekiel 34:26). God is generous with His blessings – lavish even (1 John 3:1).  It delights Him to delight us.  You can’t begin to imagine what God wants to give you as Paul said: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

But God reserves those blessings for those who love and obey Him.  True, “rain falls on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45), but He saves the greater blessings for His children who hear His voice and obey.  The account of Lazarus is a perfect example.

In our key verse, Lazarus is at the table with Jesus, his beloved friend, teacher and Lord.  The reason for the gathering is significant – it was a dinner to honor and thank Jesus for what He had done for Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary.  And it is also the point of this devotional.  Look back at the first part of our key verse and note that Lazarus had been raised from the dead by Jesus.  Take a few minutes to read the account in John 11:1-44.  Notice with me in verse 43 that “Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And what did Lazarus do?  He obeyed. “The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face” (v. 44).  Lazarus heard Jesus’ voice and he obeyed.  And because he obeyed, He was restored to life.  Because He obeyed, he was sitting at the table, sharing a meal with Jesus.  Lazarus heard, Lazarus obeyed, and Lazarus lived to enjoy the blessings of his Savior.  What if Lazarus had decided not to obey?  He would have stayed cold and dead in the tomb and not received the blessings of life and fellowship with Jesus.  His family would not have given a dinner and Jesus would not have been honored.

Lazarus’ obedience brought blessing, it brought life and a deeper relationship with Jesus than ever before.  Lazarus’ obedience brought honor to Jesus – and this in the last week of his friend’s life, for Jesus would die on the cross just six days later.

Jesus called Lazarus out of the grave and into life.  He calls you and me out of the grave and into life.  We are all spiritually dead until we hear the voice of Jesus calling us out of the grave, and He calls to us all – every man, woman, boy and girl.  Some will hear His voice and obey and receive the blessings of everlasting life and fellowship with God.  Some will hear His voice and refuse to obey and remain cold and dead, and will receive everlasting punishment.  But we all hear.  We all are called from death to life.  We all have a choice to make.

“Choose life . . . and live.”

 Merciful and gracious Heavenly Father, I pray for the soul that reads these words.  I pray that they will choose to obey.  I pray that they will chose to receive all the blessings You have in store for them.  I pray they will chose life.  Amen.

My Past is not My Future Anymore

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  2 Corinthians 5:17

I’ve been reading recently through the genealogical records of 1 Chronicles of the sons of Israel. I know, that’s pretty dry stuff – who begat who and thus-and-so is the son of so-and-so. Most people I know who try to read through the Bible end up skipping the first 9 chapters of this book. But I’ve read the Bible enough times to begin to pick out some names I’ve run across before and to see things I’ve never noticed in these passages.

Stick with me for a little Bible study lesson before we get to the application.

Genealogy is very important in the eastern cultures, even today. This is very different from the western culture with our sense of independence. While there is inheritance and some businesses that are passed down through generations, the west does not value the generation interconnectedness of the east. Land rights, position and particularly religious authority are traced back many, many generations. When the Israelites returned to Jerusalem 70 years after the Babylonian captivity, genealogical records ensured the rights of property and position. This was especially important for the Levites – or descendants of Jacob’s son Levi, the temple servants who were assigned their position and work by these records. If a Levite could not prove by the genealogical record that they had rights to a position in the temple, they were not permitted to serve.

Each one of Jacob/Israel’s sons is listed along with the list of many of his descendants up to the fall of Jerusalem.   As I read through these names I saw a trend emerge. Much like the Levites, many of the ancestral lines held certain positions for generations.   One that caught my attention was the line of Issachar, another of Jacob’s sons. If you have the time and inclination, read the 2nd chapter of Numbers where the tribes of Israel are arranged around the tabernacle in their camp and in their order of travel. Judah was the royal tribe and they were “front and center” in the arrangement. They were edged by the tribes of Issachar and Zebulun, who were charged with protecting the royal tribe, from which King David and King Jesus would come. These two tribes took their charge very seriously. For all the years of wilderness wandering and awaiting their settlement in the Promised Land, Issachar and Zebulun stood watch over Judah. The genealogical listing in 1 Chronicles highlights “the mighty men of valor” and the number of “men ready for battle” in the record of Issachar (1 Ch. 7:4-5). 1 Chronicles 12:33 says 50,000 “of the sons of Zebulun” were in David’s mighty army. Here’s the point: the tribes of Issachar and Zebulun were still faithful to their God-given charge more than 900 years after it was first issued. Almost a millennium later, the sons of the sons of the sons were at their post, protecting the king.

I love that. I love a strong, godly heritage that continues on through the generations. I think of the family of Billy Graham, and his many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who serve in ministry. I know of many families who have multi-generational pastors, missionaries and leaders in ministry. I love to see several generations crowded together on the church pew every Sunday. A godly heritage is a precious thing.

But maybe that is not your heritage. Maybe you don’t have a lineage of preachers and missionaries and godly prayer warriors. Maybe your family tree, like mine produced a lot of bad fruit, and more than a few nuts. I remember hearing my grandmother talking about her grandfather who was a cattle rustler, and a brother who spent more time in jail than at home. Maybe your family has a sinful “legacy” like mine does, and you can trace, not the influence of God, but that of evil through your family. Does that mean that you are destined to follow your family’s path? Not if God has anything to say about it.

Our key verse is a promise that when we come to Christ, we have a whole new story, all our own yet to be written by “the Author of our faith,” Jesus (Heb. 12:2). Your past and your family’s past are no longer the story of your life. If you are in Christ you are “a new creation,” and what you will become is up to God not your past, your parents, grandparents or anyone else. For many years I fell victim to the sinful thread that ran through my family. It was “my destiny,” like those before me. But God said “NO.” Just as He did for so many before me, God gave me a new name, a new lineage, and a new future. I am now a child of God and my family lineage is that of Jesus Christ and all the saints who have gone before me (Hebrews 11). This is the heritage I stand on today. This is the history of my family: godliness, obedience, endurance, faithfulness, righteousness, holiness and blessedness. When the enemy tells me who I was and what my “destiny” is, I tell him that I am God’s daughter and my future is secure in Christ, and his destiny is destruction.

Dear friend, don’t stand back believing the lie that you can’t rise above the past. Take God at His Word and grab hold of the new life and the new destiny that awaits you in Jesus Christ.

Holy Father, thank you for giving me a new life, a new name, and a new destiny. Thank you for the new lineage of godliness that is mine as Your child. Give me courage to walk forward and leave the past behind me. Amen.

No Plan B

We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you” 2 Chronicles 20:12

“OK, here’s my plan . . . and here’s my back-up plan.”  “If this doesn’t work out, this is what we’re going to do.”   It’s good to have a plan – even Jesus recommended it in certain situations (Luke 14:28).  We go on a trip and plan the route and stops along the way.  We make a plan to save for retirement.  Some people (not me!) actually plan their family’s meals and shopping lists for the whole week. I am getting better at making plans for tackling tasks for the day.  But there are times when plans get in the way of faith.

Let’s look at an Old Testament example.  Please read 2 Kings 13:14-19.  Joash (some translations say Jehoash) ruled over the northern kingdom of Israel, and the enemy was threatening.  He went to Jehovah’s prophet, Elisha, who told the king to shoot an arrow in the direction of the enemy, Aram.  This signified victory in the coming battle.  Next, the old prophet commanded Joash to “take the arrows and strike the ground.” And here’s where we find our application.

Elisha’s command to “strike the ground” (shooting the arrows into the ground), was as a sign of the king’s faith in God’s ability to give Israel victory over their enemy.  Elisha chastised him for only striking the ground three times saying, “You should have struck the ground five or six times, then you would have defeated Aram and completely destroyed it. But now you will defeat it only three times. Joash had five or six arrows, but only used three.   What difference does that make to you and me?  The arrows were symbolic – the real issue for Joash was, how much did he trust God?  By shooting three arrows and keeping back two or three, the kings was showing that he didn’t trust God completely.  He thought it best to hold back a few arrows – just in case God didn’t come through.  He was depending on his “Plan B” rather than trusting God’s “Plan A.”

God had a promise for Joash and Israel – complete victory over the enemy.  But God wanted the king to completely surrender and trust in His deliverance.  Joash demonstrated a lack of faith in God.  He thought it best to keep a back-up plan in his back pocket.  Contrast Joash with Jehoshaphat, king of the southern territory of Judah.  (Read 2 Chronicles 20:1-30 for the background.).  The Moabites and Ammonites were breathing down their necks, and the king came before the Lord in total surrender, and our key verse is the heart of his prayer.  The Lord’s answer was as unlikely a battle plan as Joshua and the battle of Jericho, but the king told his people, “Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld” (v. 20). No plan B. No back-up strategy in his back pocket.  Just faith. God promised deliverance, and we’re going to stand here and watch it happen.

We live in a world that believes in a contingency plan for every occasion.  Getting married? Better sign a pre-nuptial agreement – just in case it doesn’t work out.  Signing a business contract?  Make sure the exit clause is in there in case it goes sour.  We approach every decision and situation with a doubtful attitude.  And we approach God in the same way.  When His Word says “Trust me,” we say, “Yes, but what if You don’t come through?”  When He says “Do this and I will be with you,” we step tentatively out on the ice with a rope tied around our waist, expecting the ice – expecting God – to fail us. Believe me when I say I understand doubts.  I know how scary it is to step out in faith with no net below me.  I am walking that tightrope now in seminary, not sure of what God has planned, but knowing that He has called me to this.  I have questioned myself, and wondered “what will I do if this fails?”  “What is my back-up plan?”  But I have decided that God is faithful, completely dependable and I don’t need a plan B, because God’s plan A never fails.  I am going to “Trust in the Lord with all [my] heart and lean not on [my] own understanding. I am going to “acknowledge Him in all [my] ways, believing that “He will make [my] path straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

My friend, you can count on God.  People may have failed you, but God never will.  His plans are perfect and as sure as His name – El Emunah – “God who is faithful.”  I have staked my life on His character and His Word. No plan B. Nothing but complete trust and confidence in my Sovereign God.  Step out onto the tightrope with God – you’ll be so glad you did when you reach the other side.

“Holy Father, I’m trusting You. I have no other plan but to follow where you lead, over thin ice and swaying tightropes, because I know that You are faithful. Amen.