Teaching at the Tree is communicated in a practical, easy to understand way that is relevant to your everyday life. It’s not religious jargon, just the truth of God’s word presented in a loving and challenging way.
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Most of us don’t like change. We don’t like when our plans are shifted, when we have an expectation of what our day is going to look like and it takes a sharp turn in a completely different direction. This is me. Depending on the situation, unplanned change can make me very irritable and salty. Right now, I am sitting in this exact situation. I had plans today to go to work, finish my to-do list, treat myself to lunch at The Well (which I was really looking forward to), pick my kids up, and head home to start dinner. But that didn’t happen. At 3:30 this morning, my oldest woke up screaming and puking. Needless to say, I am now working from home in the middle of distraction city and taking care of a sick child, attempting to not let the rest of my family get sick.
This is life. Things are going to happen that aren’t planned and we have no control over them. The only thing we do have control over is how we handle them. This is not easy! Luckily, we can look to the Bible for encouragement from other followers just like us, who went through similar situations. When I think about this, Joseph comes to mind. I am sure that his plan for his life looked completely different than how it turned out (Genesis 35-45). Joseph is such an encouragement to me. His life kept taking a turn for the worse…again and again and again. Yet he continually had a good attitude, and he continually trusted that God would fulfill His promise. When reading his story, you can tell it wasn’t always easy for Joseph to trust God. He had his moments when he doubted God’s timing, but he always came back around. I want to be like Joseph. I want people to describe me as being faithful, no matter what is thrown my way.
In order to accomplish this, we have to draw near to God and allow Him to help us. This is exactly what He wants us to do. I pray that we can all be more like Joseph this year. When the unexpected comes, let’s draw near to God and hang on to His promises, trusting Him completely.
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you,
I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10 ESV
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God
must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Hebrews 11:6 ESV
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.
I’m a big fan of the competitive cooking show “Chopped.” Four contestants, usually experienced chefs, line up in a professional kitchen for three rounds of competition. They are given “mystery baskets” of unique ingredients they have to conform into an appetizer, a main dish, and a dessert. Every basket ingredient has to be used, or the chef risks being eliminated for omitting an ingredient. Each round, three judges taste the prepared dishes, and the least successful contestant gets “chopped.”
Can you imagine if our walk with God was this way? Each morning, we get a new basket of ingredients to conform into something that is pleasing to God. Like the chefs, sometimes our daily basket is something we’ve never encountered before, and we have to figure out a way to deal with it. While we may not be getting exotic foods to conform into edible wonders, we get things like last minute school cancellations, car trouble, and lost wallets that can quickly de-rail our chances of having a “good” day. How am I supposed to be a disciple, let alone make disciples when I’m up against a challenge? How do I use this lousy basket ingredient and turn it into something positive?
I am so thankful for God’s grace and forgiveness. My daily basket ingredients have led me to react poorly compared to the standards God has set forth. From time to time, I’ve made some pretty lousy dishes out of the ingredients I’ve been given. In all honesty, I’m sure that I’d be “chopped” almost every day with the ways I fail Him. Unlike the cooking show, we receive a second chance (and third, and fourth, and so on) to use the ingredients to make something good, because our Judge says if we ask Him for forgiveness, He will grant it. (1 John 1:9)
I’ve been working hard to conform my “mystery basket” into something that looks like love and leads others to want to be more like Jesus. He has brought new people and new friendships into my life over the last several months that have blessed me with the way they model discipleship. I’m thankful I get the chance to walk with a Savior who is the ultimate Champion of the game. Because of His sacrifice, we don’t have to worry about being “chopped” after our time in the earthly game is complete!
This week, I challenge you to conform your daily basket into something that looks like Jesus. Maybe it’s a “pay it forward” cup of coffee in the drive thru, or even bringing home your neighbor’s kiddo from soccer practice one night just so she can have 30 minutes of silence. Transform your ingredients into something wonderful!
For several years now, I have made it a routine at the end of one year and the beginning of the next to focus and pray about what I have learned from the previous year, and ask God to give me one word for the new year coming up. In 2017, the word was "grow." I had been struggling with some bitterness and anger. When God gave me that word, I felt a bit of relief. “Good! I will finally get rid of this baggage and grow in this area and be free of these terrible feelings!" But by the end of 2017, I went to God, still struggling, and asking, "Why am I still struggling with this? I thought You were going to help me grow in this area so I could release this and be healed." God spoke to my heart, “You didn't change. With no change, there is no growth.” If I was going to grow in this area and feel a release of my anger and bitterness, my heart would have to change. My focus would have to change.
And so the journey started for 2018. Our family had a lot of change last year. We put an addition on our house, so the physical appearance of our home changed inside and out. We made new friends. We lost loved ones. I joined the gym that Zach and the kids had been going to. I competed in a triathlon in September, so my normal schedule changed to fit in more workouts to train. Our church moved to our new building. A situation at Zach’s work had him working out of town frequently for a few months. One of my younger boys started preschool. My oldest son started middle school.
All these things created some sort of change in my life. Some little, some very big. And as I sit here and reflect on all the change that happened, I realize how very ordinary all these things are. The truth is, I go through changes every year. So what made this year different? My focus. My seeking. All these things happening made me more reliant on God. I talked to Him more. I sought Him more. And the more time we spent together, the more He softened my heart. Our relationship was better. And I started to see a change. I started to have that peace I had longed for many years. I started to feel that bitterness melt away. I started to see my relationships get better because I didn't have that chip on my shoulder anymore. It felt great.
The funny thing is, nothing changed with the situation where the bitterness and anger all started. It's actually exactly the same! But God changed me. He changed my perspective. He changed my heart. He helped me change my focus. All of that led to healing and growth.
Psalm 44:21 says that God knows the secrets of our hearts. He knows whether or not we are really willing to change. He knows the hardened areas of our hearts. And He alone knows how to soften them. When we seek Him daily, He shows us just how to do that.
Looking back on this year, I can see we had a lot of physical change. I can see now that when God gave me the word “change,” He was making a promise to me. “Yes, Meghan, this year, I am going to change your heart.” I am so thankful He changes our hearts. I am so thankful He doesn’t leave us in our hardened states.
I have a song I love that is on a CD my sister gave me. In the song are the words, “Search me, O God. And know my heart today. And test me. And know all my thoughts.” They come from Psalm 139:23. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” It has become a prayer for me every day. I want to know. I want to know what areas of my heart need changing. I don’t want to ever be in that hardened state again. I want to be moldable.
Do you have areas in your life where you want to see change? Ask God to help you change them. And then seek His advice daily to know the next step.
Each year, I spend the month of December in prayer and review of the year, and pray for the upcoming new year. I ask God to give a word or phrase or specific scripture to focus on for the year, and I let that guide my year. I have found this has produced greater change in me than making resolutions. Last year my word was “choose.” It seemed so odd to me at the start of the year, but man, did it end up explaining my year well! Through many different types of choices, I grew in Christ. I had to make the choice to accomplish difficult concepts, tasks, relationships, loving well, changing my perspective, protecting my faith, and many more. Lots of “choosing”!
This year, God has repeatedly led me to the word “simple” and this scripture: “Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No;' anything more than this comes from evil (Matthew 5:37).” I’m excited about this one. When I kept receiving this word, I thought YES! I would love a simple year! Maybe one with nothing to “choose.” But I know that I grow most when I am challenged, so I have a feeling I will have some “simple” challenges this year that God wants to reveal Himself through in a mighty way!
Taking the idea a step further, I have decided to make the word an acronym to set a goal for the year.
S- Study: Really dive into scripture daily, not just devotionals.
I- Implement: Listen and apply what God is teaching me through prayer and study.
M- Memorize: Commit scripture to memory. Goal-at least one a month.
P- Purpose: Embrace God’s plan for me. Act on the purpose He placed on me.
L- Love: Grow in loving well.
E- Empower: Be an encourager who empowers others in their walk of faith.
I will be applying this form of “simple” to my life this year. Ironically, “study” is at the top, and it’s probably the most “simple” statement to gain growth. God speaks to us through His living Word; it’s as simple as that! If I truly want to grow in Christ, I must first commit to learning/knowing His Word. This will be the start to succeeding this year. What will be your goal for the year? How will you grow in Christ? You can join me on this “simple” journey!
I will rejoice in the simple gospel
I will rejoice in You, Lord
(Simple Gospel, United Pursuit)
The LORD preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.
For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling;
I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living.
I want to do something a little different with the devo today. Instead of giving you a quick thought to digest, I want to create time for you to engage God’s Word and think about its implications for your own life. Now, if you are panicked already, don’t be. There is no pressure here, and I am going to walk you through each step of this. It will be fun, I promise! You can do this on your phone or a journal, or even a scrap piece of paper you have laying around.
Scripture: We are going to start by simply reading a scripture. I chose Philippians 1:1-2 today. Take a minute to read it, and then read it again.
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Observe: Now we will start looking at different elements and items that are in the scripture. We are simply making notes of what we see. I have given you a few examples; you fill out the lines below with other observations. Start by simply looking for what sticks out to you.
Ask Questions: Here is where you might have to do some homework by going to a commentary (there are many free good ones online…Matthew Henry’s commentary is linked above and a great place to start). But many times the text will answer your questions for you, and these questions will help determine the meaning.
Find The Meaning: We will look at what we observed and the answers to our questions, and determine what the scripture is saying. We are taking all our observations and answered questions, and putting together the things the author was trying to say.
Application: This is the part where we determine what the scripture means for us and how we should respond. This is where we bridge the gap between what the scripture means to everyone and what God is saying to us. This process ends with a practical step God is calling us to take.
This is how we begin to read and understand the Bible. It’s not a fast process; it’s not always an easy process. But for those who want to know and live their lives for God, this is the process God uses to give us wisdom and guidance, and to show us who He is. I hope you have fun with this, and I pray it sparks the realization that you really can read and understand the Bible.