As a church we believe that discipleship happens best through purposed relationships. The call to make disciples starts and ends with the call to LOVE WELL.
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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One of the bummers about getting older is that we eventually experience loss. When we lose someone who has impacted our lives, whether it is someone of influence or a loved one, something changes inside of us. For most of us, it is a perspective change. For some of us, it is physical change. But for all of us, it is learning what grief feels like. Grief is so uncomfortable and different for each person that it is really difficult to express how you are feeling and easy to feel alone in those feelings.
My experience with grief has changed with each loss I have experienced. As my faith grew, how I processed grief did, too. The hardest grief for me was losing our daughter. I felt things that seemed out of character for me. I didn’t feel like myself for years as I dealt with the mourning. The normal me was happy, I found joy in everything, and could see the good in any situation. But that wasn’t me for about five years after her passing. Daily I prayed for Him to lift the grief from me. My grief was so heavy that giving it to God each morning was the only way I could function all day. I got annoyed with this. I felt like I just needed to “get over it.” I broke down one day, so frustrated with myself. What was wrong with me?! Why did I keep dealing with these same feelings yet have so much peace?!
The following Sunday, Pastor Matthew made a simple but profound statement that gave me purpose in my grief during that time. This was years ago so I don’t remember verbatim, but paraphrasing he said that there are some things we just aren’t meant to get past. God flooded me with His love with the realization that I was seeking Him daily. I was pouring myself out to Him every day and He was able to pour the Holy Spirit into me. If I were to just “get over it,” would I feel the need to pour into Him daily? There it was. Finally! The purpose behind what I thought was prolonged grieving. It was God keeping me as close to Him as possible DAILY! I then felt like it was okay to have my “moments.” I was reminded to seek Him about everything, even if it seemed like a negative attitude. James 4:9-10 gave me the permission I needed to feel like I was doing this in a healthy way: “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” He meant this in a different context, but in reality I was looking at grief from my own perspective. But when I humbled myself to the thought that God wanted me in those moments, I realized it was okay to cry, to not feel joy, as long as I was seeking Him in the process. He loves us in all of our feelings and will meet us in those feelings. He will use all of our experiences (good, bad, grief, etc.) but we won’t see it until we give ourselves to Him in all of it. I learned that grief can be good. Choose to seek Him daily. Choose to make your grief, “good” grief.
Recently, Zach and I attended a fundraiser, an adult prom, for the Fairfield County Suicide Coalition. During the event, the coordinator made a very impactful speech. She asked a series of questions, and asked the crowd to respond by flashing their little key chain lights that the coalition had passed out. The questions she asked were not easy things. They were hard things to have to go through in this life. As the crowd responded, my heart felt very heavy. I looked around and realized...the room was full of hurting people. Just moments ago, people were dancing and laughing and having a good time. These same people were carrying or had carried such heavy loads. My heart just broke for them.
It made me think of the woman at the well (John 4:1-26). From the outside, maybe she was confident and seemed happy. Maybe she acted as if she didn't care what people thought of her. Maybe she was quiet and kept to herself. But from the inside, maybe she felt shame…loneliness. Maybe she felt like no one understood her. Maybe she felt hopeless. All we can do is guess what she might have felt like, but Jesus knew. He saw through all the junk she had been going through and saw straight to her heart. And He gave her what she needed, what she really needed…hope.
We all have heart-wrenching struggles. We all go through hard things in this life. But we don’t have to go through them alone. God offers us His hope…Jesus.
Maybe we are just like the woman at the well. We keep dipping our buckets into things we think will fill us up...but they don’t. Only one person can give us an everlasting hope. Only one person can satisfy the thirst of a purposed life.
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks
the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become
in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
I admit that I have days of my life that create a groaning in me. This may sound like a complaint or some form of discontentment, but groaning is not the same as those. Groaning is much more inward, and most often is not something that can even be described, but we feel. We can groan from a lot of things, but I think one of the major things we groan for and might not even notice, is connection to God in a place where our bodies and lives are not damaged by the effects of sin. I think we desire the nearness of God where we can experience His love at full capacity. Unfortunately, this desire can easily become fractured, distorted, washed out, cloudy…however you want to describe it…but that still does not negate the original need for it. It’s often times a longing or an innate need to be in the presence of our Father. As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 8:23, our bodies, hearts, and minds are always groaning for the day when we will operate out of redemption and not brokenness.
Paul describes this best in 2 Corinthians 5:1-2 when he says, “For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing” (NLT). It is both the groaning and the weariness that often arise in me when I reflect on my current condition and the hope of being face to face with Jesus someday, with an undistorted vantage point. Paul likens it to being adopted (Romans 8:23). Although I have never been adopted or in the foster care system, from what I have seen and heard and can imagine, it makes complete sense to say our longing to be with God is much like a child longing to find a home. A home where he or she can reside and is wanted and loved, where their fear of ever being alone is ended.
For the time being, though, how fortunate we are that when we put our faith in Jesus, we are given this hope to eagerly wait for (Romans 8:23). I know I am not alone in this; it is all of creation that groans along with me, including you. My friends, this is our hope and longing, but joyfully I can say Jesus has not left us alone in this present time. He knew that between now and then we would desperately need something to sustain us. Therefore, He has given us His Holy Spirit and He has given us each other. This is why it’s as important as ever to be purposed about spending time in the presence of the Holy Spirit, so He can meet your current needs. Furthermore, do not neglect to meet together, but encourage one another…and ALL THE MORE as you see the day of being with Jesus getting closer and closer (Hebrews 10:25).
Our longing will never wane, and we do not want it to. In order to keep our eyes on Jesus, find perseverance, and be uplifted in our weariness, we always need the Holy Spirit, and others pursuing Christ alongside of us. And ALL THE MORE because we know time ticks on, and with every passing moment, the realization of being adopted as sons and daughters is nearer and nearer. Let’s not neglect these things, my friends. Let them quickly rise to top of the list of what matters in your life.
Patient people have great understanding.
Love is patient. Simple enough. Yet if I've learned anything from being 37 years old, I've learned that simple doesn't always equate to easy. Considering this verse in 1Corinthians 13 can roll off the tongue of most people you meet, even if they can't remember the reference, you'd think we'd all be marked by it, moved by it, molded by it...love is patient. And yet.
I remember, years ago in Bible College, reading this chunk of scripture and putting it down in frustration. I mean, if I couldn't get past the first admonishment, then how in the world would I ever be more like Christ? I was easily irritated to say the least, and idealistic enough to be annoyed by everything else. But the Lord didn't give up on me. He was patient, and He set the example for me to be the same. Fast forward to now and...I'm still impatient. Alas I'm human, but my understanding of patience has grown and so I've grown with it.
It all started with Proverbs 14:39, "Patient people have great understanding." You see, my idea of patience was simply waiting without complaining, or digging deep to put up with something because we were called to die to ourselves. Yet at the end of the day, these were all surface changes, and according to Galatians 5, patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, a gift offered to us in relationship with Him. And so I turned to scripture and just like Proverbs 14 had told me a patient man has understanding, I found its reoccurring theme in verses like Proverbs 11:2: "A man of understanding holds his tongue," and Proverbs 17:27: "A man of understanding is even tempered." And the light bulb went off. Maybe the gift of patience the Spirit offers us isn't some contrived, forced, white-washing of ourselves, but an inner work (that is, after all, Jesus's forte). Maybe if I focused on understanding...understanding people's back grounds, situations, their individualism, their circumstances...maybe then patience would come naturally. Maybe if I heeded the proverbs and held my tongue and sought to understand instead of rush, contrive, or eliminate, patience would come and I'd be better for it...they'd be better for it. Maybe a focus on understanding (which to me seems synonymous with genuine love) would cause me to be even tempered. It would make it easier to befriend those I wouldn't normally, and it would give them the ability to befriend me.
I'd love to say I've mastered patience, but I'm definitely still working on it. One of these days, I believe I'll be at a place where I can safely put the Tree logo on my car without fearing I'll leave a bad taste in someone's mouth (tell me I'm not alone with the driving thing), but one day at a time. Thankfully, we can turn to the Word and know where to start. Love is patient, and a man of patience begins with understanding. Let's take the challenge of understanding others today and see how much more easily patience can abound.
‘And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'
There is no other commandment greater than these.
Mark 12:30-31 ESV
What if someone close to you starts to sin? Do you just cut them off, or do you still love them through their sin? What if you choose to love them while they are in their sin? When you love them, it doesn’t mean you are condoning their sin. Instead, you could speak truth about their sin and how it will destroy their life if they continue on that path. You are loving, but you are speaking truth. Jesus always loved people, but He would always speak truth into their lives.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14 ESV
A couple weeks ago, I listened to a sermon by Pastor Michael Todd on this topic of grace and truth. He taught on the Bible story of the woman who got caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11). The Pharisees brought her to Jesus so she would get stoned. Jesus bent down in the sand and started to write things (no one knows what He was writing), and said the first one who hadn’t sinned could throw the first stone. One at a time, the accusers left. Then Jesus asked her if any of them condemned her, and she said “no.” Jesus told her “neither do I.” He told her that she could leave, and sin no more. Jesus loved her and gave her grace, but he also told her to stop her sin. He gave her grace and truth. How often do we do this for our friends? Love them, but tell them that their sin isn't a path they should stay on.
We need to look at our own lives and look at the sin we keep doing. First stop and ask God for forgiveness. Then ask a friend who loves you to keep you accountable. This week, choose to love people well.