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 my favorite Disney movies to this day is The Lion King. I remember as a kid watching this movie over and over again, to the point where I could even recite most of the lines. It also had such memorable music, and this is going to date me, but I bought the soundtrack on cassette tape and listened to it all the time. I remember the music very well. My children actually just saw this movie for the first time a few weeks ago, and of course I sat right there watching it with them. The reason I think I enjoy this movie as much as I do is it portrays the classic theme of good and evil so well.
On the good side, you have Mufasa the lion king and Simba his son, who is set to be future king. On the evil side, you have Scar, who is Mufasa’s brother, and his hyena minions. Mufasa is clearly the dominate force, and Scar is well aware of this. In order to try and put himself in power, Scar devises a devious plan to lure Simba into an unsafe situation and force Mufasa to save his son by sacrificing his own life. It never really dawned on me until recently, when I was reflecting on 1 Peter 5:8, how much this story parallels the true story of good and evil we face every day. This verse says to, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
Scar must manipulate and devise evil schemes to gain power, and the power he does have was not rightfully afforded to him, but stolen by him through lies. You toss in a little fear, and instantly you have a recipe for disaster. A once-healthy kingdom becomes a barren wasteland. This is the same game satan will play in our own lives. He will prowl, roar, and seek to devour whatever is good in your life. He will steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10) with the hope that you will give in, give up, give away all power to him…and ultimately lead you away from the one King who can protect you and give you the full life you were destined to live. Satan, like Scar, hates the King, and will do anything to gain the power he thinks he deserves.
This is exactly why Peter tells us to be sober-minded and watchful. Satan hates the King, and therefore, hates the sons and daughters of the King as well. Just as much as he wants the King to come to ruin, he wants the children of the King to come to ruin as well. Therefore, we must be sober minded. We must be hyper-sensitive to the voices we are allowing to shape our views of life and faith. There are many voices we hear, both in our own minds and in the world around us, and these voices have opinions about who and what God is, and who and what we are. We have to be extra careful to test and approve (Romans 12:2) each of those voices we hear, and determine whether or not they are from God.
Satan will often use lies and manipulation to make you think or feel differently about God, and our minds are often the battlefield for those attempts. However, we have been given the Holy Spirit to keep us sober minded, alert, and watchful for the attempts to misguide and redirect us. Unfortunately, satan’s voice can become like a roaring lion above the voice of God if we let it, and it can make us feel like we are being devoured. So we must be purposed to regularly spend time in God’s presence, and become familiar with His character, His word, His will, and His voice. These foundations will combat any roaring we may hear coming from satan. Think of your time with God like a meal. During a meal, you are consuming food that will sustain you for the work you need to accomplish for that day. The same goes for your time with God. In order to stay sober minded and watchful, you need the sustenance of the Holy Spirit to fill you and protect your heart and mind from being led astray. This is the ultimate goal of satan, to lure you away from God so he can devour you. Don’t let him. Draw near to the King and let Him protect and defend you.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
Psalm 42:11 ESV
I don’t know if you’re like me, but I want to conquer life. I want to be strong. I want to accomplish and experience grand things. I want to drink life dry of its joy and gladness, and sit back and let out a great, “AHHH, that was good!”
And yet there is a part of me that feels overwhelmed and defeated from time to time. There are seasons, days, months, even years, when joy is a hard thing to come by. There are a lot of reasons why these seasons come into our lives. Sometimes it’s chemical and we just fight real depression, sometimes it’s situational and the circumstances of our lives take their toll (circumstances that even the most positive of us get overwhelmed by), but sometimes it’s because we have forgotten where to look for joy…it happens easily sometimes.
The psalmist talks about how the circumstances of his life are thrashing him, and he just feels overwhelmed. And through this poem, he writes about his experience and where he knows to look for his heart to be restored. He doesn’t look to his circumstances, he doesn’t look to experiences or memories, he doesn’t even focus on the positive things in his life…he looks to his source of joy.
When our hearts are cast down and life is overwhelming, our eyes need to look at the source of life, joy, hope, and peace. We need to remember that God, no matter what we feel, is the place where we can go to find everything we need. And when we hit seasons when we are cast down, He is the one who can once again restore our souls.
As many of you know, my family walked (okay, probably limped) through the loss of our daughter, Vera. In such a difficult time of not understanding what had happened, what was happening, what was going to happen, having so many doctors in and out in such a short period of time, and then the final heartbreak of “There isn’t any brain activity,” we had to make a decision fairly quickly about whether Vera would be an organ donor. My husband and I both agreed if her donation would help prevent any other family from feeling the way we felt in that moment, then it was worth it, so we agreed to organ and tissue donation. The doctors with Lifeline of Ohio said they would have to do some testing to see what she would be capable of donating. Tissue donation was guaranteed but major organ was not.
But let me back up a second. Vera had stopped breathing while taking a nap. She went a period of time without oxygen, and upon arrival at the ER, the head of pediatrics came to us to give us an initial update. He wasn’t hopeful, but said if she would pull through, be prepared for her to have a lifetime of medical problems from her internal organs being deprived of oxygen for so long. He said kidney and liver issues for sure. They were prepping her to be life flighted and allowed us to see her before the life flight got there. I laid my hands on her and prayed for the Holy Spirit to flow through every vein in her body. To heal every organ that experienced any damage in any way from the lack of oxygen. To make her whole again.
Okay, now fast forward 24 hours, and that is where I left off. In just a little over 24 hours after I had prayed for her, they were testing her organs to see if they were healthy enough for donation. We were told as soon as testing was done that she was a go for everything except her heart (only because she went into cardiac arrest from not breathing). Less than a month after her donation, we received a letter from Lifeline of Ohio with a little update. Her liver was given to a 3-month-old boy who had gone on the transplant list the same day she passed, and her kidneys went to a 17-year-old boy. The 17-year-old expressed he had never felt that good in his entire life and was so thankful to be given this new life. I cried. Lots and lots of happy tears. God heard my prayer. He healed Vera, and not only healed her, but had in mind how to heal many others in the process. I prayed for those recipients, that those Holy Spirit-soaked organs they received would lead them to do something great for the Kingdom.
Our story doesn’t stop here. We continue to support Lifeline of Ohio. We participate in Dash for Donation and other fundraising opportunities every year. But what God has brought to my attention recently is their slogan “Donate Life.” Donate, a verb, has two definitions according to Merriam-Webster: 1-to make a gift of; especially: to contribute to a public or charitable cause, 2-to transfer (a particle, such as an electron) to another atom or molecule. What if we applied our gift of salvation in this way? What if we used it as a way of making a contribution to someone else? What if we donated the Word of God, our testimony, our salvation to the betterment of the lives around us? Couldn’t we say we are called to donate life in this way right now? Scripture gives us many examples of sharing testimonies, witnessing, loving others well. Let’s choose to donate life…Christ’s life, that was transferred to us for eternal life.
And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus,
and great grace was upon them all.
And my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
1 Corinthians 2:4-5
And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
1 John 5:11-12
The nightlight in our hallway was unplugged a few nights ago. I got up early in the morning to wake my kids up for school, and it was still dark outside and very dark in our hallway. Even though I knew my surroundings, I still was uncomfortable walking down the long stretch of the hallway because I really didn’t want to bash my toes into something or step on something like a lego. Any of you know what I’m talking about? Funny how just a little bit of light (or lack of it) can make a difference.
The Bible talks a lot about light and darkness. Jesus says in John 8:12: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Only true life comes from the light that Jesus offers. The things of this world cannot provide that fullness of life. When we are actively pursuing a life that models the character of Jesus, we not only experience the fullness of life but we become a light to others. What kind of environment are you in on a daily basis (work, home, gym, neighborhood)? Are you in a place where people need light? All of us should answer “yes” to that question because every environment needs the light that a relationship with Jesus offers! Every single relationship can benefit from the light of Jesus!
So how do we have the light of Jesus in us? In John 15:5 we see Jesus saying, “I am the vine and you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is who bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
We have the light of Jesus in us by abiding in Him and Him in us. This means we spend time with Him and discover His character. We can do nothing if we aren’t “connected” to Him, just like a branch can do nothing if not connected to the vine. As we spend time with Him (reading the Bible, listening to sermons, praying, worshiping), we learn His character and we allow Him to change our character. As our character is changed, we are a light to those around us. Even when we are a work in progress (which we all are!), being a light matters! I was thankful when that nightlight was back in working order the next morning. My unbashed toes were thankful, too. Take time this week to abide in Jesus and allow Him to shine through you. The people around you will be thankful for the light of Jesus that you bring to their lives.
No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing:
Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on
to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God,
through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
Philippians 3:13-14 (NLT)
Paul tells his readers here that he has yet to achieve “it.” What is the “it” to which he is referring? Perfection. Paul tells us prior to this passage that he gave up his former life of influence and wealth to follow Christ and, at times, to suffer for His name. Through that obedience and facing of adversity, he knows he is being made whole and perfect through the power of Christ.
In this passage, we are given two incredible pieces of advice as we fight to persevere through the difficulties of this life. First, forget the past. Let go of the things you need to let go of. If you have surrendered something at the foot of the cross, don’t repeatedly pick it back up again. It is no longer your burden to carry. Second, look forward to what lies ahead. Focus on the promises of God and the ways in which He is changing your heart, mind, and life. The prize is Christ and eternity, not the temporary difficulties and distractions of this world.
My daughter is playing softball for the first time this summer, so we have been practicing as the weather allows. She is already tired of hearing me say certain coaching phrases, one of which is “your hands will go where your eyes tell them to go.” It’s another way of saying keep your eye on the ball. You cannot consistently hit what you cannot see. The same simple statement holds true in our everyday lives as well. We will not achieve all God wants for us if we do not keep our eyes on Him.
My simple prayer this week is that we will focus our sight on the prize of Christ. That we will, once and for all, lay down the disappointment, fear, mistakes, and hurt of the past so our present is not clouded by it. That we will face adversity with the firm knowledge that God is using it to shape us and use us for His glory.