Deeper Roots

“Nana, I watered your flowers!” Joy burst into my study the other day and dragged me by the hand to the porch to take a look. “See! Didn’t I do a good job!?” I smiled down at her eager face and gave her a big hug. “Yes, you did! Thank you, sweet girl!” I said, noticing that the leaves glistened with moisture but the soil was barely damp. Her idea of “watering my flowers” was to sprinkle water across the tops of the plants. When she proudly ran off to play, I turned on the hose and gave the plants the good, long drink they needed to survive and flourish. I returned to my study with a fresh cup of coffee and my Bible. I checked the reading plan and turned to Psalm 119:9-16 to read. I started to close my Bible and get on with the chores that nagged me when I sensed a “Stop!” in my spirit. “Read it again. Slower.” So I sat back down and re-read the passage. I realized that the Psalmist wasn’t doing a quick reading of the Scriptures, He was soaking it in. Like my granddaughter’s idea of watering my plants, I was sprinkling God’s Word over the surface of my heart, but I wasn’t spending enough time in it to do my soul much good. When I looked further into Psalm 119 I found verse after verse after verse about the power of the Bible for those who will give it more than a quick read.

I’ve quit trying to read the Bible through in a year, I’m more focused on reading it. thoroughly. I decided to slow it down and take smaller, deeper bites that I can chew on all day. Peter called believers to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18). Growing in knowledge takes time, but it pays off with deep roots. Deep roots bear fruit (2 Kings 19:30, paraphrased). Jesus said that we were chosen and appointed “to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (John 15:16). That requires time in the soul-nurturing Word of God. Beloved, it’s time to put away the watering can and pull out the soaker hose. Go deep in the Word of God and let God’s Words go deep in you.

Hebrews: A Forever Home

I don’t own a home. We rent a very nice house and love where we live, but now and then I wish I owned a place of my own. Homeownership is the “American dream.”. Renting seems like throwing money away, but really – all I need is a stable roof over my family’s head, and I have that now. And years of moving around as a military brat make me want to put down deep roots. But the truth is, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through.” The author of this song is unknown, but it could have been Abraham. 

Hebrews says that “By faith [Abraham] made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents . . . For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (11:9, 10). Abraham had the promise from God of a land – “All the land that you see I will give you and your offspring forever” (Gen 13:15). It was a physical place, real ground he could set his feet upon, a “land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 33:3). But for Abraham, it wasn’t “home.” Nor is it for those who follow Christ.

Philippians 3:20 reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven.” And Peter said we are “aliens and strangers in this world” (1 Pet 2:11; also Heb 11:13). “Home” for the believer is nothing less than heaven. Jesus said because we belong to Him, we “do not belong to the world” (John 15:19).

He also said he was going to prepare a home for all who will believe and trust in Him.  “In my Father’s house are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you, [and] I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3). You can bet it will be better than any house man could build. And did you catch the reference to “foundations?” John’s description of heaven in Revelation 21 noted that our heavenly home has a twelve-layer foundation – each one of precious stones (vs. 19-20). You can’t get more stable – or opulent than that.

I’ve seen some pretty impressive homes and I confess to a twinge of jealousy. But then I remember that “I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop.”* My forever and ever home. (*Ira Stanphill – 1949)

Jesus and John Lennon

The Beatles sang it in the mid-’60s and it is the mantra of our culture today: “All you need is love, love, love.” In a world of mass shootings, child abuse, hatred, racism, and war, love is the only antidote. And the Bible agrees. The problem is our definitions of love. John Lennon’s lyrics are empty. He called for love but said nothing about how to love. The culture deems love as permissiveness and approval to indulge in every kind of earthly attraction. But is that truly love?

In a sense the Beatles and the culture are right. Jesus said that the second most important commandment, after loving God, is to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). But what does that look like? Whose meaning is right?  I believe the Author of love is the best one to define it.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves” (Rom 12:10).

“Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature, rather, serve one another in love” (Gal 5:13).

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4:2).

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you” (Eph 4:32).

“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Eph 5:19).

“Bear with each other, and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another (Col 5:13).

 “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16)

“Love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).

Does that look like the kind of love the culture is touting? Do you see that in Lennon’s lyrics? No and no. But can you imagine how this love would change the world? How about just your family? Love is much more than an ethereal notion. It is practical. It has substance. It has hands and feet. It has a voice. Your hands and feet. Your voice. And mine. Truly, all we need is love – love for God and love for one another. Yes, John, you were right – love is all we need.

Holding onto Hope

I had hoped in a dream that I believed was God’s plan for me – it was exciting and I was filled with anticipation.  But when my life turned in a different direction, I set my backpack full of dreams down and shuffled off on this unwanted new path.

The Bible mentions several people who stood at the same crossroads.  Moses, Elijah, and Naomi come to mind.  Peter and several of the disciples, uncertain of where their lives are going after Jesus’ death, dejectedly went back to fishing (John 21).  And then there are two of Jesus’ followers walking on the dusty road to Emmaus when they encounter a stranger.  They tell him about Jesus (isn’t that a kick), sadly saying, “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).  They saw their lives going in a completely different direction than they expected.

Part of the problem is our understanding of the word “hope.”  We say, “I hope it doesn’t rain out the picnic today.”  “I hope he asks me to the prom.”  “I hope you feel better soon.” – but these are spoken like “wishful thinking.”  The Bible portrays hope as “an attitude of confidently looking forward to what is good and beneficial.”  It’s not a hope in circumstances. It’s a hope in God. A hope that we can carry with us no matter what twists and turns life takes.  Better yet, it’s a hope that carries us no matter what.  That’s the kind of hope you and I need.

Remember Peter and those disciples on the road to Emmaus – the ones who had lost hope? Their stories didn’t end there.  At the end of that fishing trip was breakfast with the risen Jesus and restored hope for Peter.  At the end of the Emmaus road was the joyful realization that the stranger in their midst was the resurrected Lord Himself. 

Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true at last there is life and joy.”  I believe this is an assurance that our God-given dreams don’t get cast aside when life takes an unexpected turn.  Because God expected that turn, even if I didn’t, and somehow the dreams He planted in my heart will make the turn too. And when He brings them to reality, they may not look exactly like I envisioned, but they will be full of life and Joy.  And hope.

Foot-washing

He rose from his place, removed his outer garments and took the towel and basin to the pitcher of water, and poured. Imagine the shocked silence that filled the room at the sight of Jesus, their beloved Teacher, kneeling before the first man, removing his dusty sandals and touching the filthy feet before Him. Surely all that could be heard was the splashing of water as He moved around the room. Peter wanted to spare His Lord such humiliation and drew back his feet, but Jesus refused to pass him by. When the task was done, Jesus told them to take His example and live by this expression of humility and service.

Something strikes me about it this scene. John (who was the only gospel writer to record this scene) never says that anyone washed the feet of Jesus that day. Perhaps one of them did, but surely John would not leave out such an important detail.

There will come a day – sooner or perhaps later – when I will see Him face to glorious face. When I bow before Him in grateful adoration, I want to wash my Jesus’ feet. I want to hold those beautiful feet in my hands. I want to splash water from the River of Life (Rev. 22:1) on His feet. Yes, Mary washed Jesus’ feet. But the feet she washed did not bear the scars from the cross. Those precious marks would come after His act of holy love. I want to touch the imprints left by the nails and kiss the scars that bought my redemption. I want to show Him “the full extent of my love” (Jn 13:1 NIV). I want to wash my Savior’s feet. The feet that kicked against the swaddling clothes in the manger. The feet that carried the Teacher to the shores of Galilee. The feet that walked the dusty road of the Via Dolorosa. The feet that bore the weight of His body and the weight of my sin on the cross. I want to wash those beautiful, glorious nail-scarred feet that speak of this sinner who has been set free.

Hebrews: The Disgrace of being a Christian

I became a Christian at nine years of age. I still remember sitting in the pew after I was baptized and feeling the water dripping from my hair and down my back. I remember standing in front of the church and receiving “the right hand of Christian fellowship.” One of my teachers hugged me in class on Monday and congratulated me on my decision for Christ. But for first-century believers, being a Christian was vastly different.

The writer of Hebrews said, “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publically exposed to insult and persecution, at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated” (Hebrews 10:32-33). For a Jew to make a public profession of faith in Jesus was, at best, to open yourself to public ridicule and often worse. Many lost their employment or the community would cease doing business with them. Sons were disowned by their fathers and wives faced severe repercussions from their husbands, including beatings. They were stripped of their possessions, even their homes, and many were imprisoned just for taking hold of new life in Christ.

How did these early believers respond to such awful treatment? Better than I would have. “You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property . . .” (v. 34a). They found Joy in the persecution they faced. Why on earth? Because they weren’t thinking about earth. “You knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (34b). They were thinking about heaven and eternity. They were thinking about what Peter called, “an inheritance that can never perish spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet 1:4).

They remind me of the apostles who, after being beaten by the Sanhedrin for preaching the name of Jesus, rejoiced “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).

I live in the US where the cost of being a Christ-follower is mild compared to the early Christians and to believers today in places where faith in Jesus is tantamount to a death sentence. We might get insulted on social media, and some factions are working through the liberal courts to shut down Christian businesses, but on the whole, being a Christian here is not a hardship. And maybe that’s the problem. But I am certain it’s coming. The cultural winds are shifting to the left and blowing in real hatred for God and His people. You and I need to be ready. It takes a firm faith and an eye to eternity to rejoice in the face of persecution. Beloved, are you willing to suffer disgrace for the Name?

When the Heat is On

A woman read in the Bible that God refines His people like silver and gold so she visited a silversmith and asked about the process of refining the precious elements. The smithy said he put the silver in a kettle and exposed it to extremely high heat that caused the dross, or impure elements, to rise to the surface where he could scoop it out. This process took intense heat and so she asked, “how do you keep from burning it?” The man replied, “I lean in very closely to the kettle and watch it carefully, using only as much heat as necessary until it is just as I want it.” She asked, “How do you know when it’s ready to be removed from the heat?” The smithy answered, “When I can see my reflection.”

You and I are called to be the reflection of Jesus Christ to the world and that image must be pure. God uses all sorts of “heat” – financial struggles, relational heartache, health problems, emotions, culture, rejection, persecution, consequences, and yes, often spiritual heat to bring the impurities in us to the surface where they can be removed. How do I know this? He’s been cooking some junk out of me for a while. Why would He do that to me? Because, like His friend Peter, some things in me need to be removed before God can use me for His Kingdom and His glory. Remember in Luke 22:31-32 how Jesus allowed His friend to be sifted by satan? He let His disciple go through the crucible of intense suffering to remove what was marring His image in Peter (Luke 22:54-62). Afterward, Peter became a mighty Apostle and preached the first Gospel message after Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 2:14-41. The Lord used a humble Peter mightily in the birth and growth of His church.

None of us welcome the seasons of suffering and pain in our lives but know that God is at work, purifying your faith and refining you to be His witness to the world. And you can be assured that in this time of intense heat, He is leaning in close and carefully watching over you, allowing just enough heat to accomplish His purpose – to see His Son reflected in you. And don’t forget that Jesus is praying for you (Luke 22:32). In the end you, Beloved, will come forth a beautiful vessel for His glory.

In the Shadow of the Cross

Time and eternity intersect at the Cross

My granddaughter loves crosses. She knows the cross has something to do with God and Jesus, and at almost three, that’s a good foundation. But in the first century, the cross was a symbol of shame. So why would the church adopt it as our standard? We get a clue from Peter who said, “[Jesus] bore our sins in His body on the tree [cross], so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24, emphasis added). Pete packed a lot into that short sentence.

First, the cross is for sinners. It is for people who make mistakes, for the ones who are weak, for those of us who do foolish things, who fall into a pit of sin and walk in the wilderness of the consequences. The cross is the place where Jesus took on all our sin and shame, our profane mouths and promiscuous acts, our greed, and selfishness, our lies, our addictions, our lustful thoughts, our rebellion, and disobedience.  Jesus didn’t die for those who have it all together. He died for those of us who are falling apart in our own human sinfulness. The cross is for me.

Second, the cross helps us in our weaknesses. By holding fast to the cross of Jesus, we draw strength to enable us to overcome our un-Christ-like habits and attractions. When I look to the cross, I am reminded again of what Jesus did for me, and I find the strength to fight against the enemy and flee from temptation.   I’m not implying that the cross is some magic talisman; but it is a symbol of the transforming power of Christ – a power we are encouraged to call on every day and every moment. You and I can’t control the sinful desires of our flesh, but Christ can help us stand strong in godliness. Through the cross, Christ empowers us to live for righteousness.

Many criminals before and after Him died on a cross, but the cross of Jesus is the hope for all mankind. It is the place from which love dripped down Christ’s body and bought us our freedom. Paul said, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Beloved, have you come to the cross of Jesus?

Think Bigger, Pray Bigger

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What are you asking God for today? What do you imagine He will do in your situation? You need to imagine bigger and pray wider. Why do I say that? Because the Bible says, “Now, to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine . . .” (Eph 3:20). Whatever you’re asking, and however you think God will move is so much less than He has in mind.

Take the disciples. When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, they were content to spend their lives casting nets over the side of a boat as fishermen. Jesus said, “Come, follow me, and I will me you fishers of men” (Matt 4:19). They had no idea how big that be, but they were the first seeds of God’s plan to change the world. Even after spending more than three years in ministry with Him, they still had such a small vision of who He was and what He came to do. After His resurrection, he met two of His disciples walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. When He asked them what they were discussing, they explained that they were talking about “Jesus of Nazareth” (I almost envision the Lord chuckling to Himself) who had died just three days before. They said, “we had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:13-21). But they were thinking too small because Jesus came to redeem the whole world, not just one nation.

But there’s something else I want you to see – something God revealed to me I’d never seen before. Look back at verse 20 – what is the first word? “Now.” Now indicates a continuation of the previous thought. What was Paul’s previous thought? He was praying to the Father for the believers in Ephesus, that they might be strengthened with the power of His Spirit, that they would have faith, and that they would be “rooted and established in love” and “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” and know this “love that surpasses knowledge.” And get this: that they “may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:14-19).

Then he said, “God is able to do more than all [I’m] asking.” Can you imagine what the world would be like if we believed God for all that? Imagine bigger, Beloved, this is God we’re talking about.

Power

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The words escaped my lips without thought, “God I am so tired of…” How would you fill in that prayer?  Tired of financial struggles or health problems. Tired of battling family members.  Tired of too many responsibilities. Tired of the struggle against sin. It is so easy to get overwhelmed and feel powerless.  But God wants you and me to know that we are not powerless.  Quite the contrary, as believers in Jesus Christ, we have “incomparably great power (Ephesians 1:19),” power that comes from God.  But do we really understand what that means?

The Bible speaks of God’s eternal power” (Romans 1:20), His “power for the salvation of everyone” (Romans 1:16), “overflowing hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13), and “[God’s ]power made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  He said that God’s “power is at work within us-[doing] immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20), and “by His power, He [will] fulfill [our] every good purpose and act of faith” (2 Thessalonians 1:11).  “God [strengthens us] with all power according to His glorious might” (Colossians 1:11). And Peter declared: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).

But perhaps the most powerful statement about the power of God is found in Ephesians 1:19-20, where Paul writes about God’s “incomparably great power for us who believe.  That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.”  Stop.  Go back and read that again. The same power that God exerted to raise Jesus Christ from the dead now lives in you and me through the Holy Spirit.  That is the power that will enable you to accomplish everything God has called you to.  Do you have a problem that is bigger than death?  No, and neither do I.  Whatever the problem, whatever the challenge, whatever the work you and I are called to do – in Christ, we have the power we need.

You possess the power to love others, to forgive every wrong, to endure trials and suffering, to fight for justice, to remain firm in the face of opposition, and to be Christ’s light in this dark world. You have the power to resist temptations, turn away from sin, and walk in righteousness.  God’s power strengthens your faith so you can be His hands and feet in a world filled with lost and weary people. His power is real and it is mighty. And it is all yours Beloved. What a powerful promise!