Roots and Fruit

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It’s the twenty-first century and everybody has an opinion and a platform from which to share it. Which is good because all opinions are equally valid – even if they contradict one another. (Except Christians of course.) How do we know who’s right and what’s wrong? Jesus has some pretty sound advice for us in the Sermon on the Mount. “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16). He said a good tree will produce good fruit and a bad tree will produce bad fruit. It’s a horticultural fact: the fruit proves the root. The Bible even tells us how to discern the difference between good and bad fruit. Ready to go to the orchard?

Bad fruit is full of false hopes and self-made visions; good fruit offers real hope and visions from God. Bad fruit is heretical, denies the sovereign rule of God, leads many astray, questions the truth, and exploits believers. Good fruit is truthful, submits to God, leads by following Christ, upholds the truth, and builds up believers. Bad fruit is the product of liars who walk in darkness. Good fruit is truthful because it grows in the light. Bad fruit hates fellow believers. Good fruit “loves one another.” Bad fruit denies that Jesus is the Son of God and rejects the truth of His human nature. Good fruit acknowledges that Jesus is fully God and fully man. Bad fruit rejects the message of God and speaks from a worldly viewpoint – and the world listens. Good fruit listens to God, speaks from His point of view, and those who love God listen. John summed it all up this way: “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). Righteousness and love are the good fruit. You can trust that tree. You can trust that person.

When it comes to your faith life you need to be certain the messages you are hearing are right and true. You need to be sure you are chewing on good fruit that comes from good trees. Who is feeding your mind and heart? Beloved, you need to be a fruit inspector.

Jesus

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This semester I’m studying the Synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. I’m planning to do an in-depth study of John over the summer to round them out. I love the Gospels because I love learning about Jesus Every time I read even one of them, I am amazed at all Jesus did. That’s as it should be. Jesus was (is) amazing. As a man, He did the impossible. As God, He did the unimaginable.  He performed miracles and turned the order of things upside-down and inside-out. He left His throne in heaven and gave His life to save His creation – you and me and every human being ever born. All of this is reported by the four evangelists of the first century. It is enough to convince me He is God.  But John’s very last verse always grabs me. “Jesus did many other things as well.  If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25). Wow! Just imagine if we had a written record of everything He did! It would take a lot of coffee to read through them all.

In the past 2000+ years, man has had a variety of reactions to Jesus. Some have denied He is the Son of God and say that the reports of His miracles and resurrection were all fabrications. Some disregard Him altogether and claim He has no impact on their lives. Some have never heard His name at all. Some have laid claim to His name for their own glory and power and wealth. Some made it their mission to figure Him out – as if they could. And some have just fallen at His feet in worship, grateful for His mercy and grace and overwhelmed by His love. I am one of those. I have devoted my life to studying the Scriptures to know Him better. The more I know Him the more I love Him. And John says that I’ve barely scratched the surface.  I suppose if I knew it all, my heart would burst with affection and adoration.

Jesus is everything He claimed to be. Miracle worker. Teacher. Son of God. Savior of the World. The First and the Last. And He is so much more. Oh, Beloved, I pray you know Him and love Him. He is everything to me.

The Call

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I like to look back at my Facebook memories each day. I love seeing Joy grow over almost two years. I cherish memories of friends who are now in heaven. I especially love to recall God’s hand in my life. It helps me remember His faithfulness. And I cringe at times I thought I was so intelligent and spiritual.

This morning FB reminded me that seven years ago today was my last day after 17 years of serving at Tallahassee Heights United Methodist Church. I was devoting myself full-time to seminary, Bible study, writing, and teaching. That was a huge leap of faith. But it wasn’t a decision I made willy-nilly; God called me to it and I had to obey.

A few months before I had encountered a verse that became God’s call on my life and still guides me today: “The gracious hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws to Israel” (Ezra 7:9b-10). God said to me, “Devote yourself to study my Word, live my Word, and teach my Word.”  And that is what I set out to do and am still dedicated to doing.

But the call goes back even farther than seven years. Ten years before that I was sensing a call to ministry. I was ready – or so I thought. God had some sifting and refining to do in me first. And some major humbling. So much so that I thought He had rescinded His call and I burned all my notebooks filled with years of writings because I believed it was all over. But He was just beginning – and so was I. Today, seven years from the day I surrendered to that call, I am still studying, writing, teaching, and preparing – now in graduate school.

Why am I sharing this memory and my story? Because someone has felt God’s call in the past. You were excited about it and ready to go. But you’re still waiting and it seems like a long-lost dream. You may have had to go through some hard refining and you wonder if God has changed His mind. He hasn’t. He’s just been preparing you. Paul said, “God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). I’m living proof of that. Beloved get yourself ready to do what God called you to do. He’s not through with you yet.

Deep People

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God is looking for deep people. No, not intellectual people but . . .

people with deep conviction—1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 says  “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction.”  People who are convinced that Jesus Christ is exactly who He claimed to be. They are people who . . .

take “hold of the deep truths of the faith” (1 Timothy 3:5).  The bulk of the New Testament is made up of Paul’s replies to people who were not content with a surface knowledge about Jesus but searched the Scriptures for Him and wrote to Paul seeking clarification. These are people the Lord can entrust with . . .

 “the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10).  That’s not knowledge outside of the Bible, but it is “spiritual truths . . . taught by the Spirit . . . in spiritual words” (2:13). In other words, people who are walking with and listening to God’s Spirit expressing the deep things of God’s Word. They are also people . . .

 with deep love.  Paul prayed that the Ephesian believers would be “rooted and established in love, [and have] power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that [they] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19) Paul is not trying to put parameters around God’s love, but rather to express its greatness and better understand its limitlessness. Then, from the deep love of God comes . . .

deep love for one another. Peter added: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22). This is how we obey Jesus’ command to “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). We can’t deeply love people until we deeply love God.

Oh, Beloved, I pray you are stirred with a yearning to go deeper with God. What better time than the Easter season to set your roots in the depths of His love.

Proofreading Your Life

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My late brother, who was a published author, recommended Grammarly to me and it has been invaluable for helping me in my writing both for school and for ministry. It alerts me to misspelled words, incorrect syntax, better word options, poor grammar, incorrect punctuation, and – my most frequent error, too, many, commas. When I open it with my Word document, it sits on the right-hand side of my screen and constantly checks my work. When I make an error, it comes to life with colored lines and warnings about what I’ve done wrong. So far it has caught 13 mistakes in this devotional (*I’m updating this number as I’m writing). Yet for all its benefit and wise advice, it has one flaw – it won’t make the corrections for me. It finds my problems and makes suggestions but leaves the choice to make the changes up to me.

I think you know where I’m going with this. God has given us a powerful tool for our lives: His Word. The Bible can point to the problems in our lives and give us wise counsel for fixing the problem, but it is up to you and me to make the change. Two things can cause Grammarly not to do its job. I can neglect to turn it on and never see the issues in my document, or I can ignore it – which I do when I like the word I’ve chosen and don’t want to change it. Likewise, if we never bother to read God’s Word, we will never recognize what is wrong in our lives. Or, we just ignore what God said because – let’s be honest – we like the sinful choice we’ve made and we have no desire to change.

James said, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). He compared the person who hears, then disregards the Word to someone who looks at his reflection in a mirror and then forgets what he saw when he walks away. All through his letter, James emphasized the hearing and the doing of the Word. Reading the Bible is really useless if you and I aren’t going to obey it. (Note: Grammarly suggested I take out the “really,” but I am ignoring that suggestion because I want the emphasis.)

Beloved, the Bible is the living Word of the living God and it has great power to transform your life – if you will read it and heed it. It’s a good thing to be a good writer, but it’s eternally better to be an obedient doer of the Word of God.

Are You Sure About That?

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I was in the 5th grade and was doing my math homework one night (and anyone who knows me knows how much I hate math) and I kept asking my mom, “What’s so-and-so times so-and-so?”, over and over until she lost her patience with me and snapped, “Figure it out!” So I did. I added and added and added and . . . well you get the idea.  I know for certain that 7×8=56 and you can bet it will remain with me for the rest of my life.

Why do you believe what you believe? Because your childhood Sunday School teacher told you a Bible story? Because your pastor preached about doctrine on Sunday? Because you read something profound in a book by a smiling author? What we believe is too often just what we’ve been told – but not what we know. And there is a difference. What you’ve heard just sits in your ears, but what you know takes deep root in your heart and, like your circulating blood, affects every part of you. If your faith is built on other’s thoughts and opinions, how can you be sure you are building on solid ground? When someone challenges your belief, you can’t make a good defense and it all starts to crumble. But if your belief is built on what you have mined from the Scriptures and chewed on and have wrestled your heart and mind into submission then your faith will stand up against the questions of the world. Like my math equation, what you invest in stays with you. Paul said, “I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). As Christians come under fire in the coming days, it’s more important than ever that you know what you believe, and why you believe it. And it’s eternally important that what you believe is the truth. Beloved, you don’t just need to know about religious-sounding stuff. You need to know and be convinced of the truth.

A Safe Place in the Storm

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A storm is raging outside my window this morning. Thunder rumbles a warning as the wind howls and the rain beats down. In the next county, a tornado warning has sent people scurrying for their safe place. Farther up the state, families are trying to recover from this same system that has destroyed homes and neighborhoods. We really shouldn’t be caught off guard by them; it’s spring in the South and we know every year that these storms are coming. They’re still frightening to go through though.

Storms are raging in the world around us. Not storms with rain and wind and tornadoes, but storms of hate and anger and oppression. These storms are the work of the devil, God’s enemy and the enemy of everyone who loves God. We should not be taken by surprise when they hit because Jesus warned us this was coming. He said that the world (who operates under the influence of the devil) would hate us and persecute us because we belong to Him. He told us, “If they persecuted me [and they did], they will persecute you also” (John 15:18-20). It’s still frightening though.

I have a good, sturdy house that has weathered storms and a recent category 5 hurricane. I have confidence that it will protect me and my family from this morning’s wind and rain. Jesus didn’t offer you and me a safe house to ride out the cultural storms. But  He said, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). How did He overcome the world? By His presence in it. Jesus came bringing light to this dark world, and John declared that darkness cannot overcome the Light of Christ.

I have confidence in this Light and I trust the Lord Jesus’ power over the darkness in the world. Everyone who puts their faith in Him lives in His Light; the darkness has no power over them. Mind you, that doesn’t mean that the devil stops trying, but he cannot win against those who are covered by the blood of Jesus. You need to know that Beloved. Jesus has overcome the darkness and evil and death and the devil. You couldn’t find a safer place to be.

Can You Really Know God?

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Several years ago, during a deep, dark season, God asked me a question: “Child, who am I?” “You’re God,” I replied. “Who else could You be?” He answered, “Yes, I am God. Yet there is so much more to Me than you realize. I want you to know Me, then tell others about Me.” Know God? How can I know the Indescribable? God is far too big to fit into my finite little mind. But He had spoken to me, and His words were very clear. The purpose of my life is to know God and to make Him known.

Not many days later, I came across a Scripture that has become my life verse: Jeremiah 29:13, which says “You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.” I knew that this would be a life-long search, and I knew it would not be truly complete until I stood before Him in heaven. But I had His promise in His own words – “I will be found by you…” (Jeremiah 29:14a). The beauty of this verse is that God promises that as we intentionally seek Him, He will make Himself available to us. Through the years I have come to know God in amazing and wonderful ways, yet I haven’t even scratched the surface of who He is.

Incredible, isn’t it? The God who created and rules the universe wants you and me to know Him. He has said so over and over in Scripture. But we won’t stumble over Him on our way to something else. To “seek” God means we actively invest in all the places and ways He reveals Himself. He gave us the Bible so we could know Him through His Words. Seeking God means reading and studying and meditating on and memorizing His Word. Oh, and obeying. Obedience opens the door to a greater revelation.  He sent His Son Jesus to reveal Himself to us. You will not find God apart from Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Even the world that surrounds us was designed to draw us to Him (Romans 1:19-20).
Beloved God is not hiding from you. He wants you to know Him…so much so that He has invited you to pursue Him with the promise that you will find Him. I’m on that life-long journey – won’t you come with me?

When I See Jesus Face-to-Face

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One day I will look in the face of Jesus and I will see that everything I believed by faith was true.

He is good.

He lived a perfect, sinless life.

He is the King of heaven and earth.

He loves me.

He calmed storms around me and in me.

He overcame darkness and evil.

He met my every need.

He made the blind see.

He made the deaf hear.

He made the mute speak.

He made the lame walk.

He made the sick well.

And He made the broken whole.

He ran to meet me on the road back to Him.

He carried me when I couldn’t take another step.

He held me when my heart was breaking.

He raised the dead to life.

He called and anointed me.

He gave me rest.

He brought peace in the middle of chaos.

He brought Joy when I was brokenhearted.

He is everything He claimed to be.

He not only gave me hope but He was my hope.

He made a way when I couldn’t see any way.

He turned this filthy sinner into a spotless saint.

He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

He prays for me.

He died for me.

He rose from the grave.

He is with me to the end.

And when the end comes, I’ll be with Him forever. And my faith will be proven right.

“For now I see through a glass darkly: but then shall I see face to face. Now I know in part: but then shall I know even as I am known.” (1 Cor. 13:12)

Today I see by faith, and that is enough for me.

How to do Battle with the Devil

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“Take . . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God,” (Ephesians 6:17).

Why do you suppose Paul called the Word of God the “sword of the Spirit”? There’s a very good reason for that – it is the only offensive weapon in our Christian arsenal. And it is enough because Satan runs from the holy power of God’s Word. Hebrews 4:12 calls the Word of God “a double-edged sword.” Revelation 1:16 describes the God-Man, Jesus Christ: “out of His mouth came a sharp double-edged sword.” Even in the heavens, Jesus still uses the Sword of the Spirit to deliver justice. The Word of God is powerful enough to speak the universe into existence and to enact divine judgment on the wicked and evil in the world.

So where do we get this sword, and how do we learn how to use it? Psalm 119:11 gives us the answer – “I have hidden your Word in my heart,” Simply put, we memorize Scripture. Every verse, every passage, every promise, and every truth adds to the power of your Sword. And the more you study the Word and meditate on it, the more adept you will be at using it. Is there a particular area of weakness or stronghold where Satan usually attacks? Look for Scripture that addresses that area. Read the verses aloud, write them on notecards and place them in areas like the kitchen, your desk, your bathroom mirror, or bedside table. Get a journal and write the verses out, look up the words, consider how this verse applies to your life – these are all excellent “drills” to help you grow in knowledge and strength in the Word of the Lord. The final step though is to submit to and obey the Word hidden in your heart.

Consider this, when Satan launches an attack against you, and all you know is John 3:16, (which is an awesome verse to know), you are trying to defeat the enemy with a pocketknife. But if you have been reading, studying, meditating, and memorizing Scripture, when you reach into your heart where that Word has been stored and grab hold of those verses, you are going to pull out a SWORD that will send your enemy reeling and scrambling. Beloved, That’s how you do battle with the enemy of your soul!