Thursday, February 28, 2008

You Want Me To Do What?

Luke 5:3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then He sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch." 5 Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because You say so, I will let down the nets." 6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon's partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men." 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (New International Version )

How hard is it to listen? How many times do we have to be told? I have three kids, and if you have children, then you know that sometimes you literally have to put blinders on them and hold their faces close to your face and talk slowly to them before they can hear. Sometimes, there's just too much going on. Sometimes, they don't want to listen. Same goes for us. We've been told, we've been taught, but yet we still question the instruction. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to be still, stop ourselves, and listen -- or read. I'm still amazed at the simplicity of Jesus' teachings. Jesus, the son of God, knows how to talk to us. He knows what to say to get our attention. He also knows that sometimes we simply choose not to hear Him. He also knows that we have to be told again and again and again. We (the people of today) are so blessed in that we have the complete word of God -- all in one neat little package -- the Holy Bible.

What does the Bible say?

2 Timothy 3:16 - All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

We're also blessed in the fact that in the Holy Scriptures, we have righteous men and women whom we can look to for an example on how to live.

See this example:

1 Corinthians 4:14-16 14 I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children. 15 Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians in part to tell them to follow his own example on how to live. Paul imitated Christ, and Paul encourages us to do the same.

My prayer is that we will examine the Scriptures, the Holy Bible, the Word of God, and ask God to lead us and open up our hearts and minds to His will for us. My prayer is that we stop pushing our own will, but submit to God completely. My prayer is that we can study to learn for ourselves what God is saying through His word, and not be willing to blindly believe anyone else simply because we respect them. My prayer is that we will stand up for what is right, Holy, and true and not be lead away to serve ourselves.

Are you listening to what God is saying in His Word?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Are you Bearing Fruit Yet?

John 15:1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (English Standard Version)

Yes. I guess that you could say that this story never gets old for me. We've just read the story of the Fig tree, and the judgement that was imposed on it for not bearing fruit. And yet, there's another story in the Bible with the same message. "Bear fruit, or else..." Well, what are you waiting for? Obviously the story or message is an important one to have it repeated over and over again in the New Testament.

Let's go over the verses again more closely, and let's see what we know. Jesus is the speaker, and he is calling Himself the true vine. Could there be other vines? Imposters? I think the implications are there that yes, there could be other vines, but the true vine is the only vine that matters. Jesus states also that His Father - God is the vinedresser. The One who walks throughout the garden and inspects the branches. Who searches for the good and for the bad. It is God who removes those branches that are attached to the vine, that are not producing. Remember the Fig tree? Why should the tree be left to use up the soil when it is not producing fruit? Why then should the branch be allowed to remain in the vine if it is not producing fruit? It is God who tenderly prunes those branches that are producing fruit. Why? To enable and encourage them to bear more fruit. What a neat idea. We should always challenge ourselves to bear more fruit. We should never be satisfied to just bear a little. God allows us and enables us to bear as much as we can. To continue to develop and mature so that we can always continue to bear more and more. God is awesome!

See also what prunes us, what cleans us. Jesus' words. Read His words, and listen to God through His word. Allow His word to work on us, and to clean us of every evil fruit, every dead branch that we support. Allow Him to prune us and clean us so that we can produce the good fruit, and so that we can continue to bear even more fruit.

We are encouraged to abide in the vine, and the vine will continue to support us. The only way that we, the branches can bear fruit is by remaining in the vine. We cannot bear ourselves. We cannot support ourselves. We cannot bear fruit on our own. We can do nothing on our own.

Again, we see the stern warning that if we choose to fail to bear fruit, then we will be cut off -- separated from the vine, and cast away and later burned. Again, it is implied that only for a little while will we be allowed live in the vine before we are inspected and expected to bear fruit.

My prayer is that we are found in the one and only true vine. There are imposters out there, so we must be sure. That our respect and love toward God would cause us to glorify Him by producing much fruit. That we would never be satisfied with only producing "just enough to get by", but that our goal would be that we should strive to always bear as much fruit as we can, and then some. Give God the glory and honor that He deserves.

Are you listening to what God is saying in His Word?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Are You Bearing Fruit?

Luke 13:6 Then Jesus told a story. "A man had a fig tree," he said. "It had been planted in his vineyard. When he went to look for fruit on it, he didn't find any. 7 So he went to the man who took care of the vineyard. He said, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree. But I haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?' 8 "'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year. I'll dig around it and feed it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'" (New International Reader's Version)
I just did a very quick and not so completely accurate count of the times that fruit is mentioned in the New Testament. Let's just say that it's well over forty times. Of those times, the word is used mostly in the four gospels in the teachings of Jesus. And over and over again, the word is used to compare our lives and our productivity to that of plants and trees and their productivity. I marvel at every teaching of Jesus, and His excellent wisdom. His stories are so simple and uncluttered that the 'simplest' person can understand them, but the 'wisest' person cannot see the true meaning. Yet, His teachings are dissected, broken down, and torn apart in hopes to find a deeper meaning. I will be the first to admit that even though His teachings are simple, I still struggle with full meaning. But I'm confident that if we're interested, God will speak to us through His word, and reveal His intended meaning to me, and to you.
In the story above found in Luke, there is a vineyard owner. Year after year, he walks through his vineyard, and stops at the fig tree. It's a beautiful tree. It is well shaped, has nice large leaves, has nice branch structure. In fact everything about it is perfect. Except one thing. It has no figs. The tree is obviously old enough to produce, and is perfect in structure so that by all appearances, it is a beautiful addition to his vineyard. But it is missing something. All the time and effort that had been spent on it the past several years has so far been wasted. It is puzzling in fact to the owner because he's been keeping tabs on this nice specimen. This beautiful tree will one day bear some wonderful fruit, but each year - nothing. Do you see the hidden meaning yet?
The owner has had enough. "Cut it down!" the owner proclaimed to the man who took care of the vineyard. "There's no need for this spot of ground to continue wasting it's resources on this worthless tree!" "Chop it down, and put something else here that will bear fruit!" "Too much time has been wasted on this tree, and I'm ready to end this and put a tree here that will bear fruit, and not waste time doing it." But the gentle voice of the vinedresser, the husbandman, or the gardener comes to the rescue. "Wait, Sir." "Give me one more chance, one more year to help encourage this tree to bear fruit." "Let me help this tree to realize that I'll do all I can for it this last year, and then, that's it." "Allow me to dig around it, to help aerate it, to fertilize it, to prune it and encourage it to grow and develop and to finally, bear fruit." "I know that it's possible, Sir. This tree is perfect in every other way. One more year." "If the tree has no fruit next year Sir, then I too will be done with it." Do you see the hidden meaning yet?
By all appearances, this tree was perfect. How do we appear to those around us? Are we putting on a show, so that we may look perfect to our friends? It all comes down to the final, most important question.... Are we bearing fruit?
What is the fruit that we should be producing? Read on.
Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
Ephesians 5:9 For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth.
I have to read those words, those fruit words over and over. I have to allow them to really soak in. I have to think of my life, what have I done each day. Do those fruit words live in me? Have I been gentle, loving, peaceable, kind, happy, and humble today? It's been hard. I need to hear these words every day, and memorize them, to put them in my life, for them to be a part of who I am.
My prayer is that I am found to be bearing fruit. That I must realize that I only have a certain amount of time here on this earth, and I must use every available resource toward producing fruit. I realize that I am made for that purpose, and that I am expected to be doing so. Help me Lord to realize my responsibility that you've placed within my life. Help me to consciously bear fruit, so that others may see You living in me. Help others taste of that fruit so that they to may see that you are an awesome God who gives us every blessing.
Are you listening to what God is saying in His Word?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Sower Went to Sow

Mark 4:1-9 (Today's New International Version)
1 Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water's edge. 2 He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: 3 "Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times." 9 Then Jesus said, "Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear."

One of my favorite wishes is to wish that I could have been there to see and hear Jesus. To be there to see the super-natural miracles that He performed. To sit and listen to His simple teachings and parables. Or to crowd around Him just to touch Him as He passed. Many people realized that Jesus was like none other. So many people in fact that Jesus spent a few occasions in a boat, a few feet from shore speaking to the people as they crowded around the shore.

Most of us have heard this story many times in our live. Jesus further explains what the different soil represents. Jesus leaves us to wonder and reflect on what type of soil we represent. But what I’d like to consider is the Farmer’s actions. In short, we have a Farmer who indiscriminately broad-casts his seed all over the place. Consider if you will for a moment, what kind of work that is, and even if we’d be willing to do this in today’s times. Uhhhh…….. We’ve got specialized equipment connected to tractors and a single person can do the work in 1/100th of the time it took this broad-cast farmer to do it in. So you can definitely say, that this farmer was definitely working hard. Sweating pretty good in fact. You might could say too that this Farmer was experiencing a little bit of Sacrifice and pain for future gain, or grain that is. Let’s look at it again in today’s methods. Let’s figure the fuel cost of that there big old tractor, the maintenance and up-keep. Or if you’re like me, and want to skip the annual maintenance and up-keep, then you’d better figure in the higher cost of repairs from the equipment simply breaking down. Then you have to count the cost of the Seed. You want good seed or not so good seed. Well, that’s a silly question now isn’t it? Good seed is expensive seed. Fertilizer anyone? You can see that our cost is going higher and higher. Think back to what Sacrifice meant in the Old Testament. The one offering the animal had to have first purchased it or have reared it – the sacrifice cost him something. Remember David refusing to accept the land to build an altar as a gift, saying, " I will not sacrifice to my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing." (2 Samuel 24 vs18-24)

Now, all of this is NOT in Jesus’ story maybe for a reason. Jesus warned us in other places that following Him was costly. (Luke 9:56-65) The hidden nugget for me was that Jesus asks for Sowers to sow – Not for Sowers to count the cost.
Do your part in proclaiming the kingdom of God – EVERYWHERE. Don’t analyze the place, and pre-judge it not worthy. Don't stop and think about it too long and hard and determine that it's just too expensive. Put the seed out there and leave the rest up to God. It is my believe that we can never determine if someone is supposedly Good Ground, or Bad Ground. Our responsibility is to sow the seed.

My prayer is that we accept Jesus’ challenge to count the cost. That we accept Jesus’ challenge to sacrifice our selves, and the things that he gives us to focus on the task at hand. To proclaim the kingdom of God. To sow the seed everywhere we are, and leave the rest up to God.

Are you listening to what God is saying in His Word?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Got Milk? Need Something Else?

1 Peter 2:1-3 (New International Version)
1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

If you’ve ever been around a baby, you know that every few hours, they gotta eat. They will let you know about it too. I’m not talking about Steak and Potatoes either. Babies hunger for their milk. Jesus’ apostle Peter is reminding Christians throughout Asia and the world how their children -- their babies act when they’re hungry. Peter wants us to be like our children -- to hunger for the word, and to get upset when we can’t get it. For by it, he knows that we will continue to grow and mature as proper Christians. He also knows that without it, we will quickly die spiritually.

1 Corinthians 3:1-3 (New International Version)
1 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?

Here Jesus’ apostle Paul reprimands the Corinthians for their continued child-like spirituality. After enough time, they should have grown and developed into more mature Christians, who should have been ready for more mature discussions in God’s word. Instead, Paul must still talk to them as spiritual children who have not yet grasped the fundamentals of their beliefs.

Hebrews 5:12-14 (New International Version)
12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

Again we see another discouraged teacher and his student’s child-like behavior. The Hebrew writer was scolding the Jewish Christians for their lack of knowledge. They had forgotten the subjects that were the foundation of their Christianity. They could not progress into mature Christians and become teachers of His word.

My prayer is that we open His word daily. That we pray for God’s wisdom and understanding of His word so that we would know His will for us. That we would not remain as children, but that we would mature properly in His word. That we would become teachers of His word and bring the message of hope to the world.

Are you listening to what God is saying in His Word?

Open the Door and Do Something

Luke 16:19-26
Jesus Said:19 "Once there was a rich man. He was dressed in purple cloth and fine linen. He lived an easy life every day. 20 A man named Lazarus was placed at his gate. Lazarus was a beggar. His body was covered with sores. 21 Even dogs came and licked his sores. All he wanted was to eat what fell from the rich man's table. 22 "The time came when the beggar died. The angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In hell, the rich man was suffering terribly. He looked up and saw Abraham far away. Lazarus was by his side. 24 So the rich man called out, 'Father Abraham! Have pity on me! Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water. Then he can cool my tongue with it. I am in terrible pain in this fire.' 25 "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember what happened in your lifetime. You received your good things. Lazarus received bad things. Now he is comforted here, and you are in terrible pain. 26 Besides, a wide space has been placed between us and you. So those who want to go from here to you can't go. And no one can cross over from there to us.' - New International Reader's Version

What a sad ordeal to have the chance to do something, and miss the opportunity. In life, whether rich or poor, we’re all faced with opportunities. Our only decision is to grab the opportunity and run with it. Once it’s gone, it may never present itself to us again. Or it may be a daily opportunity. And in that case, we may see the chance so much, that we become calloused to it and it never even registers with us.

The Rich man in Jesus’ story was for a time, faced with a daily opportunity to help someone who was in desperate shape. There’s no need to discuss how wealthy the man was, or how poor Lazarus was. The opportunity was that someone needed help, but was not comforted. There is a little word in this story that really sticks out with me, and yet is it echoed in other times in this story. The word is gate. Think about what a gate is, and how it is used.

  • A movable barrier in a fence or wall

  • A point of entry to an enclosed space

  • An opening in a fence

  • Gates may prevent or control entry or exit

  • Gates can be opened and closed

  • Some gates materials can been seen through

  • Some gates can be locked or unlocked

My idea of a gate in Jesus’ story was a simple swinging gate that Lazarus could see in, and the Rich man could see out. My idea was that the Rich man knew that Lazarus was out there, and Lazarus knew the Rich man was in there. My idea was the Rich man could easily open the gate, but daily, he chose not to.

How sad that an object as simple as a gate could be used to separate two people. I’m reminded of the Nazi prison camps throughout Europe, and the thousands of people who were separated by a gate. How simple and easy would it have been to use the gate to help, but instead it was used to separate and destroy.

Jesus further explains that without putting forth a little effort here in this life, and opening the gate to others, there will be a much larger separator – “a wide space” between comfort and torment which one cannot pass from either side.

My prayer is that we look and find opportunities to help people. To put forth a little effort and go out of our way just a little or a lot in order to help someone – before our time or opportunity is gone. We are guaranteed that our time is counting down, and that every day we live becomes one day closer to everlasting comfort or torment.

Are you listening to what God is saying in His Word?