Monday, November 28, 2016

Cut It Down!

When it comes to parables, so much is packed into so little space that one must assume everything has something significant to explore.  If Jesus included something in a parable, it’s a good idea to treat that something as significant. 

Another thing about parables is the need to push past the mind’s desire to resolve a problem quickly – leaving the meat of the matter unexplored.  Let’s look at one I’ve been chewing on lately.
Luke 13:6-9

6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and 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, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” NIV

Parable Puzzling Point #1  There’s not a great deal of hidden wisdom in a teaching about fertilizing a tree or plant in the hopes of producing a better harvest. 

I enjoy a beautiful tree as much as the next guy – but when real estate is at a premium, and you are living in a day and age where life depends on the crop production, the decision to replace a non-producing tree is, frankly a no-brainer.  So unless you are comfortable with Jesus being on par with Captain Obvious, it’s time to dig a bit deeper.

Parable Puzzling Point #2 Why is there a fig tree planted in a vineyard?

            There are two other fig references that spring to mind.  First is in Genesis where we read that Adam sewed fig leaves together after falling for the enemy’s trap to become like a god knowing good and evil.   The second is just before the crucifixion where Jesus cursed a fig tree that was full of leaves but produced no fruit.  Interesting to note that the next verse in Matthew 21 tells us that the temple court was upset and wanted to know by what authority Jesus did things.  I don’t think they were concerned about his talking to trees growing alongside the road.  Do you?  The court knew that Jesus meant something of greater significance than a tree’s ability to bear fruit when he said, “May you never bear fruit again.” 

Parable Puzzling Point #3  Why does it matter that the man had been trying to get fruit off that tree for 3 years?

Parable Puzzling Point #4 Why was the keeper of the crops (figs and grapes) so concerned about the fruitless fig tree that he vowed to give it all his effort and attention?

Parable Puzzling Point #5 Did the fertilization efforts produce or fail?  If they failed, did the tree get the axe?

Let me ease your fears.  You are not the fruitless fig tree in need of fertilization or felling!

Putting the pieces together.

Fig leaves represent man’s religious attempts at covering sin and the old covenant.

The vineyard represents Jesus and the new covenant.

Jesus, by this time, had been ministering for three years.

The members of the Jewish court understood that Jesus was symbolically referring to the sacrificial temple laws when he spoke of the fig tree, publicly declaring the completed end of temple sacrifices and rituals.  

After the new covenant was ratified on the cross, making the old covenant completely obsolete it becomes the responsibility of each person to cut down the fig tree growing in our own lives.  Those real estate consuming, death producing things that we have allowed to grow, firmly rooted in self-righteousness and false promises of life, love, purpose, and acceptance. 

If you want your life to produce more of the fruit Christ intends, lay an axe to the root of your  producer of  fig leaves.  Cut It Down!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Why Do We Doubt Our Beliefs & Believe Our Doubts?

Good questions produce honest answers.  And when I heard this question— asked of a congregation decades ago— the desire to discover my answer became a life-long pursuit.

What I’ve learned so far:

#1 The God Who designed us with a free-will, in order that we might love freely, cannot Himself love from a place of duty void of free-will.   He  doesn’t love out of obligation, as if he's stuck having no way out. 

#2 He loves you that same way.  

#3 God isn’t a hand-me-down. 

#4 Trying to force-fit someone else’s experiences into my life made an authentic  relationship impossible.  

“And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart.”   Jeremiah 24:7KJV

#5 We all have our own jobs. I can't do yours and you can't do mine.

#6 Trying to walk paths designed for others is what produces doubt and uncertainty. Our paths are unique. 

Ephesians 2:10 tells us:
“…we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”KJV

  “But the anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in Him.” 1 John 2:27KJV

These days I find it so much easier to believe my beliefs and doubt my doubts.  It starts by accepting the truth.  

Monday, November 21, 2016

Enabling: The Impostor of Love

It’s a familiar parable found in Matthew 13. Good seed is planted in the master’s field but in the cover of darkness an enemy peppers the field with bad seed. And not just any bad seed, but seeds when sprouted and while growing, look nearly identical to the master’s desired crop. When it comes time to harvest the yield is diminished because precious nutrients, time, and real estate had been stolen by the worthless and unproductive weeds. When his workers asked permission to become weed-pullers, the Lord said no. The collateral damaged would be way too high. Instead, Jesus instructed them to let the authentic and the illegitimate continue to grow in the same field and the truth would be made clear when it came time to harvest.

Somewhere in my past, while warming some pew, I heard an interpretation of this parable which led me to believe it was of little concern to me. Their explanation went something like – the harvest comes at the end of life as we know it on this planet, and the good crop represents the children of God while the bad crop the people who are not.

That explanation doesn’t work for me anymore. Here’s why:

Jesus told us that we have to understand his very first parable or we wouldn’t understand any of them, then he broke it down so there would be no misunderstanding: seeds are ideas that become beliefs, soil represents human hearts, and the quality of a harvest is determined by the quality of that soil and the diligence of the one responsible to guard that soil. Bottom line – God has planted His stuff in our hearts and we are the ones responsible for keeping our hearts in the best condition possible.

Now, fast forward a few decades (I’m not a real quick learner), and I realize that I am less than satisfied with what my life has been producing, a frustrating mix of worthwhile and worthless, and that I had experienced many, many times of harvest already.

And I recognize the value of the wheat and tares parable. That multiple things are growing in a single field. Our lives are the harvests of the seeds planted in our hearts.

Oh dear!

If the harvest Jesus was referring to in the wheat and tares parable has everything to do with the here and now and not someday in the distant future that meant I would have to roll up my sleeves and get to work in order to see positive changes in my life.

Warning! Sorting out the who, what, why, how, and wheres of a heart and life is no weekend warrior project. Who is God? Who is the enemy? What are the good and desirable seeds God has planted in my heart? What are the illegitimate ones planted by the enemy that mimic the authentic? How did the enemy sneak those nasty things in? Where do they come from?

Just like I came to realize that a teaching heard decades ago had been ‘taken to heart’, but when scrutinized found to be fruitless in my life today, and not just fruitless. That inaccurate interpretation had been overwriting the truth. Had I continued to hold on to the idea that harvest is not anything for me to worry about, then I would not have recognized the responsibility I have for examining the quality of what my life is producing everyday.

Pretty sneaky huh?

If one wonky idea has that much influence on the outcome of my life’s purpose what other teachings and doctrines I thought were true are sucking the life out of life? To examine life’s production of love, joy, kindness, peace, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control and find very little harvest says that there are too many impostors taking over.

Enabling imitates love. Happiness takes the place of joy. Being nice substitutes for kindness and tolerance masquerades as peace. Self-righteousness parades as goodness, and legalism sucks the life out of faithfulness. Will-power takes the place of self-control and force rolls over gentleness without a second thought.

Some of the sneakiest of impostors are theological ideas developed by people whose lives indicated that they had no idea who Christ was or served the God Jesus came to reveal. Over time those ideas became doctrines presented by people we’ve been led to believe deserve our respect and allegiance. Could there be anything further from the truth?

There was a time when information was completely inaccessible. Today is not that day. If, while inspecting your crop’s yield, you find something that is not producing, and trace it back to a teaching you thought to be solid and biblical, take some time to investigate its origins. I have been shocked to discover that some of the most entrenched ideologies and unquestioned doctrines have originated from sadistic and unrepentant murderers, thieves, liars, fear mongers, and cons. But once the initial shock wore off, and I quit beating myself up for having allowed the ideas of these people to take up space in the development of my beliefs, I began to disentangle those ideas from the authentic teachings of Jesus.

If you wouldn’t follow that type of person today, why on earth feel obligated to follow them because they are dead? They were God’s enemies then. Their teachings are God’s enemy now.

It’s time to pull some weeds.

Friday, November 18, 2016

My Sheep Hear My Voice

My sheep hear my voice. The voice of a stranger, they will not follow.  The Lord said this.  Seems pretty straight forward to me.  Probably the first ah-ha I got from it was realizing that he didn't say my sheep won't hear a stranger's voice. They will.  But hearing is not the same a following.  His sheep recognize whose voice to follow.

The third ah-ha came last night.  From a comment I made on a FB thread that seemed to set off - or to use a term popularized in the past week - triggered a huge discussion.  

Want to know my triggering comment?

"I am only a sheep in my relationship to the Lord."

And this is the story of my second ah-ha connected to that verse:

Ironically, yesterday's post talked about my prayer closet.  It's where I go to hear His voice, ask questions and get my thinking and believing sorted out.  Well, here's a little secret.  The very first question I asked, when I started my journey out of the cesspool that had masqueraded as my walk with God was:

"Why do I get so upset whenever I hear people being referred to as sheep?"

His answer: "Because people are only sheep in in their relationship to me."

And I couldn't believe it.

My heart held a more entrenched belief.  Something like: "stupid sheep, (which apparently I am - based on biblical analogy and shepherd interpretation) are unable to accurately hear and unwilling to follow, the voice of God."

Where had that belief come from?  It was a direct contradiction to the word of God and yet I believed it whole-heart-idly, in spite of the fact that doing so brought me so much confusion and misery.  My traditional belief had nullified God's word on the subject. (Mark 7:13) 

I climbed out of my closet and went to my trusty Strong's Exhaustive Concordance to search for verses that referred to people as sheep.  And much to my surprise, I had heard God accurately.  Humans are overwhelmingly (I would say always, but I may have missed a verse or 2 in my study) only ever referred to as sheep in relationship to Him. 

Last night's FB conversation made evident that this is not a popular view.  

Here we are, ALL having been given a ministry.  ALL believers in Christ are commissioned to declare a single message, "You have been reconciled to God!" But the FB comments sparked by saying I am only a sheep in relationship to God, felt like they came from a determination to beat this unruly sheep so she would know her rightful place as a lesser than species under the greater thans who hold the golden 'shepherd' ticket.    

This morning I was reading the comments made overnight and my eyes began to leak.  Weird sensation, to experience a flow of tears with no emotions connected. Only the realization that while our nation is fighting for its life, and the church is hemorrhaging under accusations of irrelevancy, the 'shepherds' are bickering over who's king of the mountain.  Oh God, help us!  

There's a 4th ah-ha but that will be another blog.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A Peek Into My Prayer Closet

“What would You have me write about, Lord?”  It’s the question I ask whenever it’s my turn to submit an article for the Pastor’s Voice column of our local newspaper.  This time His instruction was very clear. 

“Tell the people I love them.”

“That’s it?”  I asked.

“Yep, that’s it. Tell the people I love them.” 

“But God don’t You think there will be a lot of blank space and wide margins unless I come up with about 397 more words?”

“What’s wrong with blank space and wide margins?”

“Um… well, ahhh, nothing really…I guess.”

“Good.  Tell the people I love them.”

“Okey, doke.”
*insert 3 days of writer’s block here.*

“Hey, Deb, do you have that article done yet?”


“What are you waiting for?”

 “I was kind of thinking about how crazy the world seems right now and maybe some encouraging words might help ease fearful hearts.”

“More encouraging than, ‘I love them’?”

“Well, Lord It’s kind of...”

“Kind of what? Too complicated?”


“What then?”

“Simple… okay there.  I said it.  It’s too simple.”

“Well of course it’s simple.  That’s my style.  Confusing and complicated come from another source entirely.  So, Deb, are you ready to write that article?”

“Yes Sir.  I am.”

God loves you—each and every one of you!  He loved you to the cross and back.  And He really wants you to know how terrific you are in His eyes. 

“How’s that Dad?”  (Yeah, I call Him Dad)

“Perfect.  Thank you.”  *insert grin/wink/nod from God mental image here*

I love that He loves me and I love that He loves you too.  Blessings!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Identity, Value & Purpose

Every person must find the answer to 3 questions: Who am I? Do I matter? Why am I here?

Jesus got 2 of his answers at his baptism. Coming out of the water that day, he heard God say, “This is my beloved son (identity) in whom I am well pleased (value)".

Immediately after hearing this, we learn that Jesus spent the next 40 days examining his beliefs with every ‘if’ question the enemy proposed. Using different words, but essentially the questions all boiled down to; If you are who God says you are, prove it.

The temptation wasn’t to turn stones into bread, or to bow down to the enemy, or jump off a cliff. The temptation was to lift physical proof above God's declared word. Our Lord’s wilderness battle is ours as well.

Now, I’ve never been tempted to prove anything by jumping off a cliff, but I have found myself tangled in some enemy ‘if’ questions. If you are a child of God, why don’t you prove it by giving more? Praying more? Doing more? Being more?

Jesus didn’t cave to the temptation. Instead, he stood firm on the words he'd heard. Trusting that God's words are true without any human efforts propping them up. Just follow the Lord’s example. Settled in your heart that you are who God says you are apart from any attempt to prove it.

So what about purpose? Once the truth concerning identity and value were firmly established, Jesus' purpose emerged. 1 John 3:8 tells us Jesus' purpose was to destroy the works of the devil.

We read in Luke 4:14 that Jesus came out of that 40 day experience filled with power and he immediately stepped into his purpose. Purpose comes out of identity and value. Too often we try to get identity and value from other people, jobs, income brackets, and education levels instead of God. NO! The very first step is knowing who you are then get comfortable with the reality of just how much the Father loves and values you! When those two things are firmly established your authentic purpose grows out of His truth!

Jesus took 40 days. Most of us drag the process out over 40 years or more. But the great news is God's delighted and present whenever we get serious about establishing our hearts in His Truth and find ourselves fulfilling our purpose.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

When Forgiveness Isn't Enough

If your experiences at trying to get past your past have met with advice like:
    "Get over it."
    "You just need to forgive and forget."
    "What's the big deal?"
    "Give it to the Lord."
Or here’s a popular one:
    "You must have picked 'it' back up again."

Then chances are you have a sneaking suspicion that 'motivational' advice is ineffective at best.

When pain and confusion have swallowed you up inside and has begun to consume every aspect of your life, this advice sounds a lot like take a couple of aspirin and call someone who cares.

Don't get me wrong - forgiveness is a necessary life skill. Use it liberally! But like an anti-biotic doesn’t cure cancer, neither is forgiveness the one pill cure all. When forgiveness is ineffective, it’s time to try another approach.

James 4:8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. KJV

The verse in James says it plain. Your part is to get close to God. When you do that it's going to inspire a couple of things: you're going to want to stop doing the destructive things that suck the life out of your life (sinning) and the house cleaning your heart has been crying for will become apparent.

You have been given the mind of Christ*, and that's a problem. You have your view of what you think life is supposed to be and how it's supposed to be lived. And you also have the ability to see life as your Creator sees it. That’s what double-minded is. Are you going to believe the way you always have by viewing life and getting your cues for living based on the limits of your mind and its ability to make things make sense? Or will you choose to clean out your heart by replacing old beliefs, and non-truths with God’s truth?

Example: Someone said, “You’re stupid, you’ll never amount to anything.” If your heart took that in, and continues to believe it to be true then when God says, “I love you more than life, I have an amazing plan for you to pursue and fulfill.” If you haven’t cleaned out your heart from the old, longer held belief, you are not going to be able to fulfill God’s plan.

What next? A heart-cleaning. To forgive the person who said or did things to and against you is your first step. Your second step is to consider what it is you have come to believe about yourself, your God and your world as a result of those words or actions. Then simply decide what you are going to believe: their lies or God’s truth.

*1 Cor.2:16

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Real Work Has Just Begun

"The flaw of the church for hundreds of years has been the idea that we can politically accomplish what must occur in the hearts of individuals who choose to believe the truth of God's Word." Jim Richards

Are our definitions of love and success in line with God's or is it a muddy mess of a little of this and a little of that? A little humility and a lot of force? A little acceptance and a lot of self-righteousness? A little mercy and a lot of judgement? A little grace and a lot of self-effort?

It is God's kindness that leads to repentance. Have you experienced His kindness in a way that has empowered you to surrender your thoughts and ideas in exchange for His? I know lots of people who labor under the idea that it is guilt and shame that leads to repentance. Or knowledge and understanding. Or force and will-power. No. It is His Kindness. Invite His kindness into the dark and confusing places in your heart and mind. Let His kindness transform those places into areas that you know the power and peace that comes from being reconciled to Him. 

Are we ready to model this? Are we equipped to help others know the freedom and love of God because it's something we know and enjoy ourselves because we've embraced the ministry of the Prince of Peace? 

We've all been given the ministry of reconciliation...2 Corinthians 5:11-21. This, and all true ministry, flows out of a heart that is already experiencing it. Let's make certain it is something we are convinced of in our own hearts and lives. Not just some area we've hijacked into trying to prove our own value, purpose and worth. 

The real work has just begun!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Against The Odds

The book of Judges tells about the period of time sandwiched between Israel’s exodus from Egypt and the coronation of their great king, David.  The people had taken possession of the Promised Land, under the leadership of Joshua and were 205 years into their lives as property, business and home ownership. Just two centuries into a way of life far removed from the slavery, wilderness and conquest chapters of their history and we find the people already having rejected the Lord’s instruction to not become like the people they were living among. God’s people had rejected His warning to not honor the gods of the Amorites. During those 5 generations they had lost sight of who they were.

Judges chapters 6-8 tell the fascinating story about the way God delivered them when they found themselves at the mercy of a merciless enemy suffering under the marauding tyranny of the Midianites and the Amalekites. 

Before we go any further, let’s look at some definitions that shed a clarifying light on their situation and brings this 3,000 year old story right into the reality of our present circumstance. 
            Amorites:  sayers
            Midianite:  strife
            Amalekites: low valley dwellers

What are some 21st century equivalents to these ancient enemies of God’s Kingdom?  I'd consider the media and entertainment as the sayers of our time.  An industry with an agenda void of Truth, and determined to shape the minds of people to accept a view of reality that is contrary to the truth of Christ.  Do we live among this?  Yes.  Have we been lured into a distorted reality?  Yes.  Have we lost sight of God’s warning and instructions concerning how we are to not get deceived by their message?  Yes.   Hmmm, maybe there’s more we can learn from this dusty old story.

We learn that the people of Israel continued to live on their land, plant their crops, harvest their fields but for 7 years, after putting all that effort into trying to provide a living for themselves,  the Midian and Amalekite armies would swoop in and steal the Israelite’s harvest.

Again, what does that look like for us today?  Spiritually? Economically? Socially?  Can you recall times in your life where you have watched your efforts be destroyed by agents of strife or a low-level mentalities like greed, lust, jealousy, hate, pride, self-centeredness or vengeance and been powerless to stop it?  Yeah, me too.  Every April 15th, or while thumbing through a magazine with air-brushed standards, or listening to a friend lament that God must not love them because they want His love to be proven in a way that is different than it was at the cross. 

And then there is the campaign of 2016.  Wow.  Talk about a strife producing environment that one feels absolutely powerless to defuse.  Okay, let’s get back to the story in Judges.

Because the people had exchanged their true identity – (who God said they were) – with who the sayers said they were, for 7 years the Israelites suffered defeat at the hands of those enemies.  The authentic owners of the land found themselves cowering and desperate. And that’s where we first find Gideon.  He is threshing grain in a winepress, for fear of Midianites making off with what little harvest he had scraped together.

An angel of the Lord shows up at the winepress-turned-threshing-floor with a message from God for Gideon.  He has been selected to lead an army against the thieving troops of strife and low-level thinking.  Gideon was less than thrilled with the commission.  But hey, that’s where we got the popular cliché’ about putting out a fleece when we want to confirm whether we heard God accurately when we feel tempted to do something crazy like give to the poor, help a person in need, forgive someone who wronged us or ignore an offence.  Or maybe something really crazy like standing up against strife that threatens to invade our own thought processes with low level thinking that ignores our identity in Christ and exalts the identity this world has tried to force on us. Because, after all, that’s who the sayers say we are… but I digress.

Gideon finally accepts God’s invitation and is able to muster a standing army of 30,000 to face off against an army of 120,000.  One to four odds.  Yikes!  Then God says, “no – you have way too many.  Tell every man who trembles in fear of this battle to go home.”  What?!? Are you kidding me?  Nope.  22,000 men went home.  Wow.  But that was still too many.  When God got finished with His unique selection process there remained 300.  There was going to be absolutely no doubt about how this enemy was going to be defeated, it was certainly not going to be by human might.

Well, by now I hope you are inspired to read the account for yourself.  And read it over and over again, allowing the Spirit of God to show you things that can instruct you in your own battle with identity and the struggle to think with the mind of Christ.

God had a fascinating battle plan that involved trumpets and torches with embers encased in clay pots.  Gideon’s men held veiled torches in one hand and trumpets in the other.  And in unison broke the pots, igniting the hidden embers and they sounded the trumpets.  The 120,000 low-level strife mongers turned on one another, and destroyed themselves. 

I think that strategy will still work today.  I think the Body of Christ needs to stop letting the sayers tell us who we are and establish our identity in who God says we are.  And let our representative be only those who are not tormented by fear or desire to prove anything.  People who will follow a prompting (no matter how unconventional) from the Spirit of God rather than cave to the pressure of this is how it’s supposed to be done. 

Let’s see what happens when this is the caliber of people who stand in the darkness with their lights blazing bright and their trumpets blaring the message of Truth.  Strife, by its very nature, will destroy itself.  And because lower level thinking is not equipped to sustain growth in the light of higher level truth, it will have to shift up or shrivel on the vine. 

So the next time you are tempted to say we are too few against too many, remember Gideon. Remember that you are who God says you are.  Remember that the Cross of Jesus Christ is the unifying rally cry for a victory powerful enough to change an entire nation.  

Thursday, November 3, 2016

In Turning, I Turned

The seven congregations of Asia Minor, listed in Revelation were dealing with some dicey issues. The very same issues we see in our congregations today.  What did the Apostle John have to do in order to find a way to lead those churches out of the messes they found themselves in?   John tells us what he did; turned.  He used the phrase, “And in turning I turned.”  Then went on to say, “and when I turned, I saw...” and goes on to describe seeing Jesus in His current state; as Lord of lords and Keeper of His people.

John had to turn away from looking at the problems to see The Solution. Turn from the Jesus he had known so well in order to see the Jesus who now sits at the right hand of the Father.  Turn from seeing things as they appeared in order to see them as they could be when people walk in the ways of God's Kingdom.  When people turn, people repent.

Repent, now there's a word that's lost its punch these days.  It's become only applicable to sin; making repentance ineffective in our lives.  A quick search of the word repent in the New Testament finds that sin is rarely the issue.  Although some modern translations have added 'your sins' in an effort  to help clarify our understanding of the concept, in this case, their 'help' hinders.

So, if repenting isn't about sin, what is it we are called to turn from?  Great question!  Short answer: our allegiance to the World's system – The Kingdom of Darkness. Jesus taught the principles of the Kingdom of God.  Teaching us that we must turn from is our adherence to the Kingdom of Darkness which is governed by the laws of sin and death.  He called those who failed to do so, “Whitewashed sepulchers”.  Yuck!

What part does sin play in our lives? It brings death.  Always has.  Always will.  It buys our citizenship into the world's system but Jesus paid our way out of that miserable existence, freeing us to walk in God's system.  An existence where there is no place for manipulation, shame, fear, intimidation, coercion, force, gossip, or trying to outweigh bad with good.  There's no room for I'm
-going-to-do-it-my-way-because-that's-best-for-me.  It's time to turn.  And in turning we will see what John saw; our Solution.