Care in the Pruning

www.bible.com/1713/jhn.15.2.csb

Pruning feels a lot like discipline. Pruning feels like punishment. Pruning is not pleasant. And yet, the Lord sees fit to prune our lives from time to time. Things, people, professional possessions, from time to time God sees fit to prune away from us because they are not beneficial to us. Of course, we can’t understand this at the time it occurs. To us it feels like God is punishing us. It feels like He doesn’t love us. Yet God does it anyway, and demands that we simply trust Him. He is the Master Gardener. He sees our whole life at once. He knows what will help us grow. Like a good Gardener, He prunes back the branches from time to time to help us bear more fruit. He isn’t interested is us bearing more branches, because they can cause us to fall over in the storm when we are overbalanced. He knows exactly how big we need to be, what shape we need to be, because we don’t.

“Why did God allow this to happen?” People ask. How could a loving God let such things happen? Pruning is a painful act. But it is. Loving act. Discipline is a painful act. But it is a loving one. And sometimes they are the same. Bad things happen. Do not be surprised that the world hates you. You belong to the Lord. The world hated the Lord. They will hate you too. Sometimes God uses that hatred for your pruning.

When you are overcome, overwhelmed, and in need of hope, remember that this world is not our home. We are not judged on our possessions. We are not judged by our bank account. We are not judged by which church we attend. We are judged according to our faith in Christ and the works we have done in His name. We are judged by our fruits. And God wants to give us every chance to grow them.

God, help me understand why you are so hard on me. I have heard that I will not be given more than I can handle, but it seems You have an awful lot of confidence in me right now. Father I am not strong enough. On my own I cannot do this. I need you to empower me, to draw me to you. I need you. Please Lord. Amen.

Level Ground

www.bible.com/1713/psa.143.10.csb

I like level ground. Its so much easier to travel, but, it’s also pretty boring. If you’ve ever been on  a trip, traveling through hills and valleys, over rivers and even mountains is far more interesting than driving across long, level ground. My family and I had the chance last year to drive across Kansas on I-70. It is the very definition of level ground, and Kansas knows this. They’ve tried to spruce it up with several roadside attractions and tourist traps. I’ve not driven anything quite like it before.

So why would we want to Spirit of God to lead us across level ground? Simple. The same mountains and valleys that make travels interesting are the very things we want to avoid in our spiritual life. We’ve had the mountain-top experiences, and those are great, but we’ve also traveled through the valley of the shadow of death. Not so nice. In short, we would prefer the long, evening boring road led the Spirit to free us from the extremes of emotional and spiritual travel. That being said, we truly appreciate the highs and lows for those shape us to be who we are.

All of this is to teach us to do the will of God. I would much rather God teach me His will than have to force me along it. Let me learn by His gentle instruction than to have to be broken again and again until I listen. So as I live, let me learn what Your good, pleasing, and perfect will is.

Heavenly Father, I know I’ve messed up, and often. And often you have to teach me in ways I don’t like. Sometimes I have to take dark paths of sorrow and misery before I open my eyes enough to see the lessons you would have me learn. Help me Father to have open eyes and delight of heart when You bring me along Your will. Help me the path you would have me go, so that I will not wander but travel on the level ground you have prepared for me. Thank You Lord, In Your Son’s Name, Amen.

Guide my Feet

www.bible.com/1713/psa.119.105.csb

Not sure where your life is going today? It’s Monday morning and you are back to the same ground you’ve been doing for years. Nothing has changed. Monday is a painful reminder that your life has been put on hold indefinitely. Yes. It’s a job. Your family is cared for. Your needs are met. Your marriage is good. But it’s Monday and life is dull. It’s been this way for years and you just don’t know how to get out of this rut.

May I suggest something? The excitement you at looking for will not be in a new location, job, or marriage. It doesn’t really matter when you are the same. What needs to change is you. If you keep looking at the world through your own lenses, it will only be as exciting as you can imagine. Take a look at your world through God’s vision. What do you see?

God sees relationships and work that He is blessing. God sees a great foundation for ”greater works than these.” Imagine the contrast of a family if one element of your blessed life is removed. Good job but bad marriage. Good house but unreliable work. Food on the table but one child is hooked on drugs. Imagine if one thing was knocked out of your perfectly boring world. Doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?

Yeah, but I’m still bored. I’m sorry others aren’t as blessed as me, but that doesn’t change my situation. Maybe remind you of one verse in Philippians? ”Godliness with contentment is great gain.” Both of these drivethe engine of joy. Are you godly? Are you striving to be more like God every day? Do you appreciate and thank Gid for the blessing you enjoy every day? Do you bring the needs of others before God? Do you see others as God does? If you feel you have reached a plateau in your spiritual life, that’s not God’s fault. The depths and mysteries of God cannot be fathomed. If that doesn’t at least pique your curiosity, then you seriously need to work on your faith. Read more. Listen more. Get out of your own head. You already know everything in there. Submit to God in your daily activities and see what He can do with them. It’s not all about you.

Heavenly Father, being back to Monday isn’t what I had in mind for a good time today, but You remind me that life is more about my own needs. You remind me that I was put on this earth for You and Your purposes. Show me today what I can do to grow in my faith and not be so consumed my my own little world. Help me to grow past the dull and into the light. Show me the path. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Slow

www.bible.com/1713/jas.1.19.csb

My wife will tell you that I do not move very fast. In fact this morning we arrived at church 20 minutes late and couldn’t find a seat. Good problem to have I guess. I have been told that my superhero name ought to be ”Sloth-Man”. While I happen to admire sloths, but I don’t have an affinity for them.

And maybe being slow is a good thing. This is one text that I can get behind. For I am always quick to listen, anger and speaking tend to be slower. I like to think before I say anything because my mouth has often gotten me into trouble. And since I’ve often made my living from the words I say, you can see how that would be a problem.

That’s not something that I knew right off. And it’s not a skill you can easily acquire. It takes time, experience, and patience, lots of patience. It takes maturity, which is why I think this book is later in the Bible. The books written here toward the end of the New Testament tend to be more difficult to understand and practice than the earlier ones. And they are more geared more for mature believers. This is a skill that Christians work up to as they grow to be more like Christ. This is something that is expected of you, but that you will need to grow into it.

Dear Lord, we pray this morning that as Christians you continue to call us forward in our faith. Help us to grow and mature as believers and become your disciples. You have called us to be salt and light in this world. May our witness reflect that. Help us to be quick to listen. Help us to be ready to listen and to hear first without judgment, that we may understand each other. Then Father give us the patience to work through what we have heard. And only then Father when we have heard and thought may we speak your truth, and apply anger when necessary. Let us give fair hearing and sound judgment when we speak and act. Thank you Lord for your grace in us. Let us be at least as gracious to others. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Pure Joy

www.bible.com/1713/jas.1.2-3.csb

Joy, joy, joy. Praise be the Lord who reigns on high.

Consider it pure joy. When? When you encounter various happy occasions? Nope. When you encounter various trials, for it is then you know your faith is being tested. Hmmm.

So I should consider an honor than I have been chosen to have my faith tested. I am certain many of us would just as soon pass. Surely God can find better ways of schooling us into maturity than trials and tests. But that’s not how we learn, is it? Were it not for the trials and tests, would we remember that our faith ought to be growing day by day? We should probably thank the Lord that He still loves me enough to test me, and that I am not a lost cause.

What I have found is that with each successful test, some new means of testing is found. When you have been found faithful in your Bible reading, you are tested in your prayer, or it might be your commitment to church, or your finances, or your marriage, especially when you think things are going great. One of your kids may suddenly have a crisis, or you find an unexpected visitor at your door, or something will come along that will test you in areas that you thought were secure, like your health. Ouch.

Even to talk about all these things could test you in another area: worry. Will you trust God to take care of the things you can’t? Would you let God do the worrying for you? Wow.

What James calls for is an attitude that anticipates God’s work in you and welcomes it. Remember, just as you are working toward maturity, God too is working in you. Consider it all joy. For it isn’t about being happy through your life, but joyful, a joy beyond circumstances.

May God bless you today!

Mercy!

www.bible.com/1713/mat.5.7.csb

I probably say this phrase 100 times a day. It’s my go-to for surprise and wonder, or just excitement. Yeah. I guess I’m old-fashioned. I probably use it so much it doesn’t have the same meaning. But for me it’s better than a lot of other words I could say. Mercy!

But what is being offered here? Mercy is being offered to those who share mercy with others. The preconditon is that you are merciful to other people, where they wrong you or offend you. Your reaction is to extend mercy. Maybe they didn’t understand you? Maybe they are having a bad day? Maybe they too are sinners and they need the love of Jesus? Mercy!

But how can someone have this quality of mercy? This depends on how you understand the Beatitudes. When I read them, I see a gradual progression, from “poor in spirit” which we all qualify for, to “persecution” which is what happens when you live authentically as a Christian. Each point along the way is a sign of maturity for the believer. “Mercy” occurs about halfway through this list. This mercy isn’t something you are expected to start off with, but something you will need to develop and mature. Mercy!

So when you are tempted to give someone the third degree, remember you are called to mercy. As we show mercy to others, God shows mercy to us. Something to think about on this Sunday.

God bless you today!

Cleansed

www.bible.com/1713/1jn.1.7.csb

Are you worried that somehow the blood of Jesus hasn’t cleansed you? More often than not, I run into Christians that worry they are not cleansed, and still need to do some form of penance to be forgiven. This is an idea that is prominently Catholic, but you can find it in all forms of Christianity. It is the idea that somehow, God’s grace through Christ’s shed blood doesn’t extend beyond your baptism, all sins committed up to that point, and that in some way you must continue to beg for forgiveness after that point. I’ve even had someone ask me after the death of an individual if that person who died was forgiven their sins even if they forgot to confess some? Would that person now burn in Hell because he/she forget to confess a sin before they died?

Really? Is it that easy to lose your salvation? If so, then there’s no hope for any of us. What do you do with people who get dementia? What happens to the old, who sin just as much as anyone else, only slower? Trust me, I’m getting there. What happens when dementia sets in, and they forget? Does that mean Hell is yawning before them because they forgot to confess a sin they forgot about?

The real question is how powerful God’s grace is. Did Jesus die for all sin for all time? Yes. All sin. John also says in 1 John 3:20, “For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” If you feel condemned before God, then ask for forgiveness, For Christ’s shed blood has already forgiven it. As an errant child, even though the Father loves us too much to condemn us, we still need to ask for His forgiveness for our own sake. But if we ask for His forgiveness, we also need to accept His grace freely given.

In chapter five, John says we know we are His children. There is no guesswork when it comes to grace. This passage in 1 John 1:7 is for our benefit. We can know we have forgiveness and cleansing from all our sin because we are children of God. He will not let us go easily.

Can a person lose their salvation? Yes. In the same way they received it. They ask for it. Well what person would ask to lose their salvation? A person who says that they no longer want Jesus to be their Savior. If they cast Him aside like dirty laundry and pursue sin with abandon, is there any hope for that person? Yes. If they put aside their sinfulness and once more pursue Christ. It is impossible for that person to be saved as long as they reject Jesus. But that is at the end of a very long road, where God has pleaded and begged for them to come back to Himself. God paid a high price for our salvation. He is highly invested in us. If we choose to follow Him, He does everything in His power to keep us, short of violating our free will.

God will put you through some tough times, both to strengthen your faith and to put you in a position where the only way out is with Him. Christians will suffer in this world, but that is because this world is where we are tested, for the Lord to know those who are truly His, and not merely paying lipservice. It took much labor to bring you into this world. It will take even more to prepare for the next. But take heart, this is the worst it will be. You will experience your worst suffering here, if you are His. If you are not, Hell makes your worst suffering feel like a stubbed toe by comparison.

You are cleansed from your sins, and if you are a child of God by faith in Christ Jesus, you have no fear to walk boldly into the throne room of grace. Ask for it, for it flows freely, but also accept it. Accept God’s forgiveness for even your worst sins, and work to stop sinning against Him. That is maturity. Resist the Devil and he will flee from you. Resist sin and you will grow in faith. Accept His grace and be at peace. You ought to feel anguish over sin, because you know the cost that saved you. You ought to ask for His forgiveness, but know that even if you forgot some, even if some forgotten sin has slipped your mind, He has still forgiven you. He loves you and wants you to be with Him.

God bless you today.