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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I hate board and card games. My wife loves games of all types. I don’t know why, but I never enjoyed games. One of our granddaughters recently asked me, “Grandpa, you don’t like games??? Everyone in our family loves games.” I felt bad...but not too bad. The problem is, I love being with my wife. I’m a Quality Time guy, and I love just sitting across the table from my wife. There is nothing I enjoy more than seeing my wife’s bright eyes and smiling face. When she plays games, she smiles and is happy.
Even though I hate games, I love my wife. So, I began playing dominos every night after dinner. I loved that it made her smile. Then it began. I began trying to win. It began to become dog-eat-dog competition. My goal then was to find the right domino piece to beat her. I no longer was looking at her face, laughing or talking with her. I began trying to strategize a bit more and focused on getting the right piece to become the master of the board. I found myself posturing, manipulating, and getting a bit tense. The problem is, my original goal was to 1) be with my wife, 2) make her smile and happy, and 3) have fun together. I was no longer doing that.
I notice the same thing happens occasionally with people and their relationship with Christ. They begin their relationship with an honest desire to love God and know Him. They begin reading their Bibles, tithing, serving, and going to church. All good stuff. It’s amazing how condemnation and comparison creep into our rhythm of life. Now we realize we’re not reading our Bibles as much as someone else. We’re not memorizing God’s Word. Other people memorize God’s Word. I must be bad. Oops, I sinned again...and I then begin missing Connect Group because I don’t want to confess what I’ve done. We begin posturing, making excuses, rationalizing, and getting stressed out in our faith.
In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (MSG).
Remember, our original desire was to know Him. Might I suggest we begin learning how to love on Jesus again? Spending quality time with him. Enjoying Him. That we focus less on the busyness of life by posturing, manipulating our calendars, and trying to make EVERYTHING work…and focus more on knowing and enjoying God’s presence? Just a thought.
Oh, by the way, I’m playing dominos with my wife tonight. It’s going to be about her tonight. Not winning.
The foundations of skyscrapers are quite remarkable. The technology and engineering that goes into stabilizing and supporting these giant buildings is top notch, and for good reason. They are buildings that truly touch the skies. Very impressive. The foundation is the most important part of the building and therefore gets a great deal of attention, if not the most attention, during the building process. Engineers must pay close attention to things like soil type, weather conditions, water tables, erosion patterns, and much more, in order to ensure the foundation is as secure as possible. Ultimately, the weaker the foundation, the weaker the entire building.
But the foundation is not the only thing that impacts structural soundness. It’s not enough for the foundation alone to be strong. It is just as important to build these skyscrapers with quality materials that will withstand the test of time and usage. The best skyscrapers are built with steel or reinforced concrete frameworks which steadies the guts, making it strong from top to bottom, inside and out. The external walls are finished off with thick glass or even polished stone. When all is said and done, if the building process is done to the highest quality, you have a building that should endure anything.
This isn’t only an engineering principle. It’s a spiritual principle as well. Jesus mentions the building of foundations in several of His teachings. The Apostle Paul also addresses it in I Corinthians 3 when he wrote about the way some people in the church at Corinth were being misled to build their lives with things other than Jesus and His teachings. Although they had the foundation of Jesus by believing it to be true initially, someone misled them to start trying to combine the foundation of Jesus and His teachings with less than adequate building materials. Although the foundation was good, Paul cautioned them to steer clear of using anything other than Jesus and His teaching to build their lives with. Paul used earthly items such as gold, silver, hay, precious stones, and wood as examples, but this was to help them understand that the world can only offer a cheap imitation of what Christ can provide.
We are not entirely sure how they were being misled, but we can tell from the context of the passages in the entire chapter that it had something to do with them putting their faith in man’s abilities over God’s. Whatever it was, it clearly was an area where Paul felt they needed some correction, because he loved them enough to remind them that Christ and His teachings are the best thing we could ever build our lives with. In the words of Paul, “Let no one deceive himself” (vs.18). Man’s wisdom is so futile in comparison to God’s, and we would be unwise to deceive or convince ourselves otherwise. We must not think differently. We too must be aware that building our lives with anything apart from God will only make all the more challenging. It will make us unstable, unsure, unsecure, and certain to crumble.
We must start first with making Jesus the foundation of our lives, believing Him to be our salvation, and then follow Him as He leads us to build our lives upon Him both now and forevermore.
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.