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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Have you ever had a season of life when every little thing gets you down? It feels as if life is going out of its way to kick you while you are down, and it does not seem to have an end in sight. It can be anything from a comment made by a friend that you took the wrong way, a social media post that put you in a bad mood, a bad report at work, relational tension…the list goes on and on. In full disclosure, I was in that same season recently. I would take everything as an insult, constantly wondering what people thought about me and struggling to find happiness in life. Suffice it say that I was not a fun person to be around.
I kept asking God, “What is wrong? Why am I feeling this way? Why aren’t You taking this from me?” I cried out to Him and heard nothing. It was in my darkest moment when I finally heard God speak these two words: choose joy. At first, I didn’t know what to think. Choose joy? Of course, that’s what everyone should be doing in life, if only it were that easy. As my mind began to race again with excuses, I heard the still voice of God say again: choose joy. It was time to finally listen. It is true, it is that easy. As I sat and pondered what all of this meant, I was overwhelmed with the thought of the lengths our Savior went to show us that He loved us. He chose to die for our sins because of His never-ending love for us. We did not deserve it, but He still went through with it. That alone should be enough to put a smile on our faces.
Life is hard; there is no getting around it. At times, there are situations completely out of our control. However, there is one thing we can control: our attitudes. We have the choice to look for the positives in those dark times. When you take this simple step, it will radically change your outlook on life and those around you. We can rest in the fact we serve a God who will never leave us or forsake us. Show the love that has been shown to you. Before we speak ill of another person, before we send a negative social media comment, before we make excuses of life around us, let’s remember God’s undying love for us and choose happiness and joy.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him,
so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Seek the Lord and his strength;
seek his presence continually!
Psalm 105:4 NLT
We sang a song at church this past Sunday called “Here Again” by Elevation Worship. If you weren’t here or haven’t heard this song, I highly recommend you check it out on YouTube (it hasn’t been released anywhere else yet). As I’ve been listening to this song over and over this past week, it has really caused me to think a lot about my relationship with God, and how patient, caring, and loving He is. He will meet me no matter where I am, time and time again.
The chorus of the song says:
I’m not enough, unless you come
Will you meet me here again
All I want is all You are
Will you meet me here again
Will you meet me here again? This line caused me to think about how I constantly come to God in the exact same place, asking for the exact same thing…asking for forgiveness for the same sin that I keep trying to stop doing. Sometimes I feel like a broken record, asking God to help me in the same areas over and over again…areas where I lack, areas where I fall short, or even just asking Him to heal my heart and to help me in the dark seasons. I know there have been multiple times in my life when I will in an apologetic way ask God to meet me in this place again. In the place of brokenness. In a place of despair. In a place I didn’t want to find myself in again. But His response to me is always the same.
God knows us well. He knows we are going to mess up. He knows we are going to struggle with the same thing time and time again. But I think that is where we realize His strength and His power working in us. I am so hard on myself, and always envision God is mad at me because yet again I have messed up. But what I have found instead is when I come to Him, I find grace, I find mercy, I find forgiveness, I find healing. I can go to God over and over again with the same thing, but He is a loving God who meets me exactly where I am. Even if I ask Him to help me with the same thing multiple times, He is there. He is there showering me with love, compassion, and mercy. He is there to remind me that I need His strength and His ability to walk through this yet again. He is there to remind me it is only through Him that I can conquer these places I find myself in.
If you struggle with this like I do, I want to remind you just how important it is to keep going to God. He wants to meet you right where you are, even if He has met you in that place before. He longs for you to reach out to Him, to seek Him, and to allow Him to move and work in those places. It doesn’t matter if you have asked Him to help you with this specific thing once or a hundred times, God’s response will always be the same. He will receive you, He will love you, He will shower you with grace, and He will help you. Just keep going to Him!
Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said,
“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”
So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses,
so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses,
and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ.
For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:8-10 NLT
How do you handle life when God doesn’t answer your prayer like you hoped He would? What do you do with that disappointment?
I’ve mentioned before the heartbreak and disappointment I have experienced with the unexpected deaths of my infant son in 2011 and then my mother this past year. I ran to God after we lost Jude because I had nothing left, nowhere else to turn. God carried me through and still does. I have to walk with Him every day because I can’t do it on my own! At first, I asked God to take the pain away because it was too much. For months, I begged for God to remove my “thorn.” The pain was overwhelming. But through His Word and prayer, God has revealed to me that the pain will not be as sharp as it was on day one, but it will remain because His grace is sufficient for me (2 Corinthians 12:9).
I’ve walked it out again this past year as we adjust to life without my mom. I’ve questioned God. “Why? Why do I have to walk this path yet again?” The walk has been similar because their deaths were both so unexpected. There was no time to process. But God in His love and mercy is so gentle and patient with me. He reminds us through His Word that He doesn’t like it either. Death wasn’t the plan. It grieves His heart just as it does mine! The hope I cling to is…God knew. He knew the plans, even though I didn’t see it coming. God wasn’t surprised, just as He isn’t with your life. The prayers you’ve asked for, the people you wanted God to heal but He didn’t…He heard you. He knows. It just isn’t always the answer we want. He doesn’t always heal in the way we desire.
I’ve been reading a book recently, “When God Doesn’t Fix It,” by Laura Story. She wrote the popular song, “Blessings.” It has reminded me of some powerful truths about God and His generous love for us. “If you find yourself struggling in a situation you didn’t see coming, consider it an opportunity to trust God. When we trust that God is for us and not against us, we can see our future as He sees it. It is a future filled with plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. And plans that will ultimately draw you closer to Him” (Pg.79). Isn’t that so powerful? Allow that truth to wash over you today.
And if you’re in that place today, can I tell you how sorry I am? Loss of loved ones is so difficult for us! The heartbreak of moving on with life without people who are so important to us is difficult. Finding the new normal can take some time. Allow God to have your pain and He will restore you. I am telling you this because I have received it. The pain still hurts, but I am still following God because I love Him and trust that He has this all under control. The plans for my life were put into motion even before I was a thought. Let the Bible guide you and your life, and when life’s devastating events come, it will be your anchor in the waves. He will be your anchor when life doesn’t make sense.
Through this process, God has revealed to me so much of His heart. He never leaves me! He sustains me. He keeps track of every tear I cry. All I can do is continue to lean on Him and continue to trust He knows what He’s doing. We can’t understand His ways, because if we could, He wouldn’t be God, the Alpha and Omega, the only One highest and deserving of all glory!
But he said to me, “My grace is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak.”
So I am very happy to brag about how weak I am. Then Christ’s power can rest on me.
2 Corinthians 12:9
But you, LORD, are a shield around my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
I call out to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy mountain.
You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.
“In the drama of life, God is the Director behind the scenes.” I read that quote one day last week and wrote it down. I found it this morning as I was doing some planning for the week ahead. I don’t know about you, but I am pretty good about including a cry to God as I experience the “drama of life.” What about the other less climactic, non-dramatic parts of life? Do you allow God to direct those, too?
I had started working through the book of James a couple verses at a time about the same time Pastor Matthew started the teaching series. James is blunt, isn’t he? I’m always that diplomatic friend who doesn’t like to see her other friends be offended, so I’m often the one saying, “What he/she really meant to say was...” I feel if James were alive today, he’d give me a run for my money. I can almost imagine him looking at me and saying, “What I really meant to say is exactly what I said!” No sugar coating, soft edges, or ruffles allowed.
James totally convicted me as I read through his teachings and dug into the Word with my study tools. (I’m often equipped with a concordance, my study Bible with a commentary, and at least one other translation of the Bible while I study. Thanks Pastor Chris, for that advice!) I was reading James 4, and in the last section of that chapter, I saw my name written virtually in big neon letters between the lines.
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there,
carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.
What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
James 4:13-14 NIV
Ouch. That was difficult. I am a planner. Even now, while I’m in the midst of a career transition (read: unemployed), I have very detailed notes of tasks, appointments, and errands for each day. I ask God every morning about the dramatic parts—to guide me in my job search, to make it clear if I should pursue a position in a certain company, etc. That’s not hard, because I am totally clueless and at His mercy in this situation. I have no idea what’s next, and I have to lean on Him to show me.
The “easy” stuff, however...wow. I am totally guilty about filling up my time with menial tasks, etc., without going to God first and asking if there’s something He wants to use me for that day. Should I be volunteering somewhere? Taking someone a meal? Writing a devotional? Visiting a sick friend? I think you can see where I’m going. Totally convicted.
I wrote down these two pieces from my commentary so they really stick with me. They hit me HARD. They made me immediately ask God for forgiveness and ask Him to help me do better. The first: “A clear characteristic of having an affair with worldliness is making plans without consulting God.” The second: “Sin is not only actively committing evil deeds, it is also passively failing to do what you know God wants you to do.” An affair with worldliness. Passively failing. Powerful phrases!
My prayer for you as you fill your schedule with summer vacations, bucket list check- offs, and other fun adventures, is that you remember to seek God in the small stuff, too. He’s there —we just need to be obedient and ask Him to participate, too. Ask Him to be at the center of your plans and include Him in your day!
“…But now, O God, strengthen my hands.” Nehemiah 6:9b
I am reading through the book of Nehemiah right now in my personal devotions. It’s about a man who was so moved by the state of his people (the Jews) and his city (Jerusalem) that he left what he knew (a successful career as a cupbearer to the king) to go and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. It was an arduous task. Nehemiah not only has the struggle of rebuilding destroyed city walls, but he has to motivate the people to join him in the task and on top of that there are those who don’t want him to succeed. All in all, you may say Nehemiah has a pretty “big” task ahead of him. Something that was outside of his capabilities to handle. And yet he was called and responded to that call.
I often find myself in a lot of similar scenarios. No, I am not repairing battle damaged walls, but as I follow Christ and as I heed His calling on my life I more often than not find myself in situations “bigger” than me. Being a Pastor, building a house, installing and running AVL for a church are all things I have never done before, all things that are “big” and arduous tasks. My role at the church calls me to things that are “bigger” than me all the time.
This call is not just relegated to biblical characters and pastors. The calling of God is on each of our lives and at times that calling is “bigger” than us. The call to be the husband/wife God wants us to be, the call to be the parent God wants us to be, the call to love our physical neighbor or co-worker, the call to overcome an addiction or change a bad habit in our lives, or see our marriage restored. All these things are “big”, all of them are hard at times, all of them are a great calling. And all these things require something more than we have inside of ourselves to do...
Nehemiah’s story goes on to say that in 52 days he and the people of Jerusalem finished the walls.
How? Well, throughout the entire book, runs the theme of God’s hand being on Nehemiah, God’s strength providing for Nehemiah…God providing, protecting, and sustaining them. There were trials and there were set backs…but through it all Nehemiah trusted that God would see the mission through.
That same promise holds true for us as well. Following God will inevitably lead us to situations that are “bigger” than us. And in that moment, we have the choice to shrink away or trust and rely on the promise that if God has called you to it…He will see you through it. He will be the hand that guides you and comforts you and strengthens you every step of the way.