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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Unless there is a cloudless sky, it’s really dark at 4:00 in the morning. As I was driving one rainy Monday, I marveled at this and one other thing; there are a lot of cars on the road at this crazy hour. I kind of expected to be the only person on the road for some reason, thinking the rest of the sane world would be in bed.
It may have been just a tactic to stay awake while I was driving, but my mind began to think about all of the people in those cars. All of us driving in the darkness with the goal of getting to our destination safely. We rely on the light from our headlights to blaze our path.
As I approached the airport that early Monday morning, the bright beacon on the control tower blazed a light for the planes that would be landing there before daylight. The pilots rely on the tower’s lights and communications to guide them safely to the ground.
We are in a world of darkness, seeking light sources to guide our path to safety. It parallels our lives in this world so completely. Sin left us flailing in a dark world until Jesus came to save us. He is the beacon, the lighthouse, and the headlight of our lives.
Unlike the cloudy sky that turns dark with the weather, or our headlights that occasionally burn out, the light of Jesus is always there. Nothing can cover His light. Nothing can burn it out. If we follow Him, we will reach our destination safely, and eternally!
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot over come it.
Lessons from the middle seat
Friends, if you ever want to do a self-check to see how you’re doing with “loving well,” I have a recommendation for you. Plant yourself in the middle seat of an airplane and fly across the country. It’s the ultimate experience in “togetherness.” It’s something else, though. It’s a real-life representation of our life journey.
This seat is humbling. You are locked into a spot with people you don’t know on both sides of you. No matter how hard you try, you’re still in the middle. If you try to move to the left or right, it’s impossible. It’s a lot like our life’s timeline, isn’t it? We can’t move to the left and go back in time, and we can’t move to the right to see our future. We are stuck here in the middle. We can choose to live our lives with regret for mistakes we’ve made in the past, feeling guilt or shame. We don’t recognize that person from our past—or don’t want to. Maybe we dream that we are somewhere in the future where we think things will be so much easier, and our situations will be better. What will that person be like?
Reality check: Does God want us to live in the shadow of our past or worry about tomorrow? Nope. He wants us right where we are. Right in the middle seat.
So don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries.
Today's trouble is enough for today.
Matthew 6:34 NLT
We have this time in the middle to be all that we can be for Him. It may be uncomfortable sitting here right now, but God wants to do something from the middle seat. Maybe He wants you to be uncomfortable in this season so you can grow from your past experiences, and get re-acquainted with that person you were on the left (in the past). There could be something you have buried deep down inside that he’s longing for you to give to Him. He wants you to be free from the mistakes you’ve made, and not regret the stuff on the left anymore. In fact, there could be someone in your life who needs to hear your story to help them come to Jesus.
What if this time in the middle is grooming you for a ministry in the future? Maybe this middle seat experience is helping soften your heart for encounters you will have down the road, and open you to see the needs of others you can touch.
Maybe, just maybe, this horribly uncomfortable middle seat is changing your life. God is asking you to invite Him into the middle with you, so you can see He’s here in the middle, too.
But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead-
I am a people pleaser. This is something I am constantly working on. Some days I can’t get past it, and others I can. I want people to like me and not think the worst of me. I also want to serve God and do what He is asking of me, even if it is going against what the world thinks. This is where the tension comes in life. God should never have to compete with my people-pleasing. Unfortunately, it happens.
I have been doing a devotional app called “First 5.” It goes through books of the Bible, and I have been going through Acts. This week, Acts 5 challenged me on people-pleasing. Peter and the apostles were sharing about Jesus with everyone. This made the high priest and the officials mad, so they arrested the apostles, put them in jail, and told them not to teach about Jesus. While they were in jail, an angel of the Lord opened the jail and told them to teach. They did, and then they got arrested again. When they were brought to the high priest, he told them he had said not to teach about Jesus. This is what they said:
Peter and the other apostles replied, “We must obey God instead of people!”
Acts 5:29 (NIrV)
Whitney Capps (the author of this devotional) said, “When we seek to please ourselves rather than God, we fall outside of God’s protection and under His judgement. Consequently, our efforts will fail. Pleasing God means following His ways, letting Him drive our motives, and choosing sacrifice over ego.”
I am choosing this week to seek approval from God and no one else. Is it easy? Absolutely not. Am I failing sometimes? Yes, every day! God is so good that He is waiting for us to come back to Him and say, “I want it Your way, not mine.” Take some time today to really ask God to show you where you have taken the world’s side on things to make people happy. Then ask God for His forgiveness, and ask Him to show you His way. God loves you so much! Praying for you today!
Am I now trying to get people to think well of me? Or do I want God to think well of me?
Am I trying to please people? If I were, I would not be serving Christ.
Galatians 1:10 (NIrV)
It’s a New Year. And a New Year quite often means challenging yourself with new goals. New goals always bring change. We want to lose weight. Stop smoking. Exercise more. You stop one old habit...and begin a new habit.
Did you know discipleship involves change as well? You begin putting off old and putting on new. It says in Ephesians 4:22-24, “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
So how do we actually begin the change process? The answer is, you need to change the way you’re thinking. Change requires a new way of thinking. Check out the passage you just read and see how you put on a new self. It says, “to be renewed in the spirit of your minds.”
You see, your thinking determines how you feel. Equally, your feelings determine what you do (your actions). So, if you want to change your actions, and if you desire to change the way you feel, you begin by changing your thinking. What do you focus on? If all you do is focus on how unhappy you are, or how lonely you are, guess what? You will always be unhappy. For example, you might say, “I need to love my wife more.” The problem is, just desiring something isn’t going to work. You can’t “desire” your way into feeling love toward your spouse. You must change the way you think about your wife, your children, or your husband. When you do that, it changes the way you feel, and that will change the way you act toward your wife or husband. The Bible says, “Let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes” (Ephesians 4:23 NLT).
Battles are won and lost in your mind. If there are things in your life you don’t like, if you want to change anything with your emotions or behavior…you need to begin with your thoughts and attitude.
There is a similarity between the “renewal of your mind” and the word “repentance.” Many people think repentance is about changing our actions. Repentance doesn’t have anything to do with your behavior. Repentance is “changing your mind” and learning to think differently. To “repent” means to do a mental U-turn.
With correct thinking, what all can you turn from? From guilt to forgiveness. Frustration to freedom. Darkness to light. Hatred and bitterness to love.
Not a bad deal. Begin today by changing your thought life.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Growing up, I always heard this verse as a tool to have God help people do whatever they wanted. If you wanted to fly, you could fly. It is a classic "mug verse" or a bumper sticker. I remember asking God to make me invisible, then saying this verse and wondering why God didn’t make me invisible. God is a constant source of strength and direction but not a genie. This isn't the true meaning of this verse.
Paul is in prison when he is writing the book of Philippians. Naturally, he is beat down and low energy. He is writing a series of letters that come from a place of desperation. So when we see this verse without context, it appears to have a different meaning. The heart behind this verse comes from the few verses before.
We find context in Philippians 4:10-12: “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” Then he goes on to say, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
Paul isn't saying that he is invincible or that God is going to make him immortal. He is saying, "God has brought me through thick and thin. He has taught me how to rejoice in times of blessing and poverty. God has shown me that my strength is from Him not from my works." Paul knows if he had to rely on his own strength, it wouldn’t be enough. He is content with whatever situation God has him in. He is relying on God to be his daily bread.
I pray you will go to God when you are in your low places. I pray you will trust that God will strengthen you to do whatever He calls you to.