Just Like My Dad

Like_Father_Like_SonYesterday was the first day of 2016, and it’s the day that many people announce their resolutions for the coming year.  I you read this blog yesterday, you know that I encouraged you to “join me in making at least this one resolution for 2016:  I will be a disciple who glorifies the Father by abiding in Christ.”

I based this resolution on John 15:7-11: “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you [that is, if we are vitally united and My message lives in your heart], ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.  My Father is glorified and honored by this, when you bear much fruit, and prove yourselves to be My [true] disciples.  I have loved you just as the Father has loved Me; remain in My love [and do not doubt My love for you].  If you keep My commandments and obey My teaching, you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and remain in His love.  I have told you these things so that My joy and delight may be in you, and that your joy may be made full and complete and overflowing.”

When I was studying this Scripture, I read the Amplified version, and it offers some interesting concepts related to our resolution:

  • This first item is the one that caught my attention: Jesus said, “I love you just like My Dad loves Me.”  This is an eternal, never-ending, and unfailing love.
  • The word “remain” is used several times. In many versions of the Bible, it appears as “abide,” and the idea isIf you abide in Jesus, and His words take up residence in your life, you will attentively observe His teachings and strictly maintain a walk that is in step with Him.
  • An obedient life is a prerequisite to answered prayer.
  • Remaining or abiding is not a Sunday experience, but a lifestyle.

When you think of the 4 points above, I hope you realize that joy, not happiness, is the focus of each of these.  Jesus said, “I have told you these things so that My joy and delight may be in you, and that your joy may be made full and complete and overflowing.

The Bible only uses the word “happy” or “happiness” about 30 times, while “joy” and rejoice” are found around 300 times.  You will never find true contentment in the contents of merchandise that has been neatly packaged and gift wrapped.  It is not the result of the final score in one of the many football games played at this time of the year, and its not found in the empty promises of politicians.

Joy can’t be purchased and it’s not the victim of circumstances; it’s the fruit of a genuine relationship with God that perseveres.

Even though Paul had been arrested and jailed, he had learned to be “content” regardless of his situation, and He said: “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

I hope you use these 4 points throughout 2016, so you can be “disciple who glorifies the Father by abiding in Christ.”

Be Still and Bear Fruit

prayerYesterday I walked by a table and, I heard part of a conversation in which one person said:  “It’s a mute point.”

Mute means silent, and I have often made a point of being silent, and I have even pointed silently. I cannot, however remain mute about a key point of that conversation.

Mute and moot cannot be used interchangeably—they are not synonyms.  Moot is used to refer to some item or point of discussion that is debatable, but of no practical value.

While moot points are often hypothetical in nature, making a point to be mute can have real value.  In Psalm 46:10, there is a clear command to be mute:  “Be still and know that I am God.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer expressed the importance of this principle in a letter to some friends:  “Daily, quiet reflection on the Word of God as it applies to me becomes for me a point of crystallization for everything that gives interior and exterior order to my life.”

The words of Bonhoeffer serve as a commentary on God’s instructions to Joshua:  “This set of instructions is not to cease being a part of your conversations. Meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to carry out everything that’s written in it, for then you’ll prosper and succeed (Joshua 1:8.”

Mother Teresa suggested that silence is an essential of practical Christianity:  “The fruit of Silence is prayer. The fruit of Prayer is faith. The fruit of Faith is love. The fruit of Love is service. The fruit of Service is peace. “

I encourage you to take time out of your schedule for a mute point, so you can “be still” and bear fruit . . .

Pits, Peaches, and Perspective

ImJustPeachyThe last time I was in Kansas City, I made a stop at Trader Joe’s.  I sampled some delicious grapes, and they were so tasty I decided to buy a cluster.  The quality of the grapes influenced my decision to buy some nearby peaches:  Bad decision.  There was nothing to savor in the way of flavor.

In retaliation for the tasteless peaches, I could have launched a tirade on Facebook, and Trader Joe’s would have received their just desserts.  Instead, I asked my wife to use the peaches for just dessert and make a cobbler.

Unfortunately, life is full of not-so-peachy moments.  Because Paul experienced many of these times, I often look to him for advice:  “We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!” ~The Message

One of the defining characteristics of Paul’s life was his ability to make lemonade out of his many lemon-like trials: “Five times I have withstood thirty-nine lashes from Jewish authorities, three times I was battered with rods, once I was almost stoned to death, three times I was shipwrecked, and I spent one day and night adrift on the sea (2 Corinthians 11:24-25).”

Here’s the lemonade:  “So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.” ~The Message

If you go through life just focusing on the sourness of the pits and the trials, you’ll never notice the abundance of sweet fruit.  Paul said the pain of the here and now is manageable when you remember to frame it in the pleasure of the there and then or the “lavish celebration” God has prepared for you.

Apples, Tomatoes, and the Curse of God

fruitYou’ve probably heard the story.  It’s the one about Adam, Eve, and the tree of knowledge, and it took place in the Garden of Eden.  In an act of disobedience, Adam and Eve took of the forbidden fruit, and they were banned from and booted out of the Garden.

The myth of that Eden experience is that Adam and Eve ate an apple, but the Bible doesn’t specifically name what it was that they ate.  I disputed the apple assertion earlier this year after I had purchased a tomato.  It had such a deep red and luscious appeal that promised a taste bud-tingling-experience.  I took it home, sliced it, and added it to a sandwich.

After I took one bite of this fine-looking tomato, I drew a deep theological conclusion.  When God cursed the Garden, He must have also cursed a certain variety of tomato.  I’ll call it the supermarket variety because they all have one dominant and pervasive feature:  They are tasteless.  There is no flavor to savor.

The dilemma of tasteless tomatoes is explained in part by author Mark Schatzker in The Dorito Effect.  According to Schatzker, for the past 70 years commercial horticulturists have been focused on yield, pest resistance and appearance at the expense of flavor.

While store-bought tomatoes are no longer tasty, manufactured flavor has been added to Doritos and your munchies, so you’ll crave more.  Schatzker says: “Synthetic-flavor technology makes bland ingredients attractive without supplying the myriad benefits of the real thing. The twin forces of flavor dilution and fake ­flavor have short-circuited the biological basis for mutable appetite . . . Our bodies learn to draw connections between flavors and the physiological responses they signal . . . We can seek out and find what we need, nutritionally, and stop eating once we get it”

Schatzker seems to suggest that it’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature.  I would add that perhaps we shouldn’t try to improve on the design of the Master Designer.

Psalm 84:11

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; The Lord will give grace and glory; No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.

Tree Rings

A tree is such a common sight, that we rarely consider how uncommon it is.  In the spring when the saplings begin to appear, we may pause briefly to reflect on childhood adventures—tree houses, gunny sack swings, and puppy love initials deeply etched in the dark colored ridges of once skin smooth bark.

Trees are utilitarian—they serve and fulfill many of our needs.  Due to its thorny disposition, Osage Orange was idealized in the past century as fence material.  Oak has been the wood of choice to decorate the living quarters of many homes, and baseball enthusiasts are thrilled when they hear the exhilarating crack of an Ash-made bat launching a baseball into the depths of center field.

But, utilitarian is an insufficient adjective.  Unique is perhaps a more adequate description.  A tree, you see, never really dies.  Even though a tree may be harvested, milled, and kiln dried, it is reborn every time a craftsman touches it.

This remarkable aspect of the tree is often overlooked.  A good example of this is the community or school orchestra.  After hearing a stirring rendition of Bach or Beethoven, the concert attendee may comment on the beauty of the stringed section.  If, however, there were no trees, there would never have been a violin or a fiddle; and, what about the music that reverberates from these stringed instruments?  Do we hear the sound of the strings alone, or is it the life of the wood that lends its vitality to these artistic endeavors?

The life after death potential of a tree is almost unlimited.  The first  Psalm speaks about a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its  season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.  The roots of this tree run deep and the fruit it bears is seasonal and sweet.

Long after we die, and we are little more than a memory, the fruit of our influence will live on.  What will your influence be?  Will it be the sweet and melodious sound of a violin or will it be an unwanted round of chagrin?

I hope this thought keeps you thinking.