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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Title: It is Well
Author: Natalie Widener
“It is Well” is a beautifully written song by Bethel Music, a song you may be familiar with. When you sing the lyrics, how does it stir you?
“And through it all, through it all
My eyes are on You
And through it all, through it all it is well
And through it all, through it all
My eyes are on You
And it is well with me.”
(Excerpt from It is Well, by Bethel Music)
If I can be honest with you, it depends on my day. Some days I can sing it with confidence, while other days I sing it accompanied with tears. You see, none of us are going to get through this life without heartbreak. It happens every day and to everyone, regardless of their walk with God. My family is very familiar with tragedy, as we have had to walk through the toughest losses this life can offer, the unexpected death of our infant son, and the sudden and untimely death of my mother. I still remember the stings of those first days and weeks of my new realities…realizing how quickly life can change in an instant. During those difficult times, God pursued me.
My husband and I weren’t in a real relationship with God when our son died in 2011. We said we were Christians, but we weren’t doing it right at all. We tried to go on with life in our own strength, and we failed miserably. After we found our way back to God, things began to change. We got connected at The Tree (formerly Lancaster Community Church), and through the teachings, our Connect Group, and lots and lots of prayer, we started to see God’s hand in the situation. Finally, our eyes were opened to what suffering was about. God allows suffering! I know reading that you kind of think, “Really? A “good” Almighty God allows His children to go through horrible stuff and heartbreak??” It’s true, and it’s all throughout the Bible.
The Bible tells us Paul, David, Job, and many, many more devoted Christians suffered. They went through difficult times, endured false accusations resulting in prison time, lost beloved children, and walked through situations I’m sure they deemed unfair. Thank goodness for Jesus! Through Him, we know that yes, God allows suffering, but it’s always for something better. His plans are for us, and He won’t leave us there in that pit of brokenness and despair. Through our suffering, my husband and I have both grown spiritually. We take what God has allowed and we press in to Him, knowing He has a plan and a greater purpose for our lives. That doesn’t mean we don’t hurt, or that our life is now all neat and tidy, wrapped in a bow. It’s a journey we walk with God right beside us every single day. I am completely and totally dependent on God’s strength.
I will continue to sing, “It is Well,” even when it hurts. I’ll sing even when I can’t feel His presence, or when my mind takes over and satan attacks and tries to remind me of all my past mistakes and failures. I’ll sing because God is good, and even if He allows suffering, I can remember how He is holding me through everything and has a plan for me. I’ll still sing because God has sustained me through the darkest valley and never left me for a minute. I’ll sing because He is worthy of all praise.
God knew these awful events would be the very things that would bring my family and me closer to Him. As we pressed in to the only One who could help us, our relationship with God changed. I started to see God as my helper, defender, and loving Father, refining my family and me to be more like Jesus.
We chose Jesus, even in our hurt and pain and complete brokenness. We will worship even when it hurts because we know that God is in it. He has brought so much healing already, and blessings after blessings. Yes, there is a really awful part in my family’s story, but we allowed God to have His way…and if you do, you won’t be disappointed! God does the most amazing good works in the brokenness.
Scripture: Matthew 5:10-12 (NLT)
God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.”
Explanation: These two verses follow seven verses straight from Jesus’s mouth, describing how to be blessed. Do you want blessing from God? He helps us understand something that is totally counterintuitive as a human…to do something pure and right, to be treated very badly for it, and be happy about it.
God does hurt WITH us when we stand FOR Him. When we share His marvelous love, and people twist our words or tell lies on us, He remembers how it felt when they did it to Him during his earthly life, and He strengthens us. The blessing that comes with being faithful far outweighs the angst of persecution.
Hebrews 12:2 says Jesus endured the cross because of the joy set before Him. That joy was our salvation. He was able to withstand the lies, deceit, and abandonment by friends that led to a painful death, because He wanted to give us eternal life.
“Sometimes God allows what he hates to accomplish what He loves.” (Joni Eareckson Tada)
He needs us to be willing to suffer so He can save others. We are the tools He wants to use to get the message of love and salvation to others, and He needs our surrender. It will make some people mad, but He needs us to be good with that.
There is a qualification in these verses...being persecuted for doing RIGHT! If you cut someone off in traffic and are the victim of road rage, that is not persecution for doing right. If you stand up for orphans and refugees, and acquaintances get mad, that is suffering for doing right. (See Leviticus 19:33-34, Matthew 7:12, Exodus 23:9, Malachi 3:5, Matthew 25:25-36.)
The last line in these two verses asks us to use reflection to bolster our boldness. He suggests remembering the prophets (just google Jeremiah’s suffering).
I want to end with a New Testament example. Acts 5:29-33, 40-42 is a tremendous example of response to persecution:
Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by hanging him on a cross. Then God put him in the place of honor at his right hand as Prince and Savior. He did this so the people of Israel would repent of their sins and be forgiven. We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.”
When they heard this, the high council was furious.
They called in the apostles and had them flogged. Then they ordered them never again to speak in the name of Jesus, and they let them go. The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus. And every day, in the Temple and from house to house, they continued to teach and preach this message: “Jesus is the Messiah.” (Emphasis mine)
You probably don’t stand a chance of being flogged for your faith in the US, but:
Be happy. Jesus is pleased. You will be blessed.
Title: Look to the Eternal
Lyric: And far be it from me to not believe
Even when my eyes can't see
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV)
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Explanation: Paul faced an amazing number of trials in his life. He was shipwrecked, stoned, beaten, left for dead, imprisoned, and bitten by a snake. But the greatest suffering Paul endured was the rejection he faced from the very people he would give his heart and soul for…his churches. In Second Corinthians, Paul lays out this hurt for the Corinthians. He starts by proclaiming that his weaknesses are not disqualifiers for ministry. In a time when facing trials would have been seen as a curse from God, Paul stands up and says no…we are not cursed; our weakness legitimizes our calling. He goes on to say that, though our bodies waste away, our spirits are being made new every day. The reason why he can say this is because he looks forward to a future reward. Something is coming that is greater than even the trials he faces. But the key to holding to this hope for Paul is looking to the eternal, to the hope that he will share in Jesus’s resurrection one day. This is the hope we have in our suffering. Despite how tragic our circumstances may be, nothing compares to the reward of sharing in Christ’s life.
Title: It is Well
Lyric: It is Well
Scripture: Romans 5:1-5 (ESV)
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Explanation: Jesus’s death and resurrection changes everything. We were enemies of God, but because of Jesus, we are now made right with Him. Because of Jesus, the things in our lives that cause us pain and suffering now become things that can bring about good in our lives. Suffering, instead of bringing death, brings growth and hope. Much like exercise hurts at the moment but is the catalyst for growth of our muscles, suffering becomes the catalyst for growing in our dependence and trust of God. And the more we trust God, the more hope and joy we will have as we face the trials of this earth.
Title: Taking Thoughts Captive
Lyric: Peace when my thoughts wage war
Peace to the anxious heart
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (ESV)
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.
Explanation: We may not always be conscious of it, but we face battles every day of our lives. Some battles come from the outside world, as the Apostle Paul is referencing in today’s reading, but we also daily face battles in our minds and hearts. These can be some of the more frequent and difficult battles that we face. In both cases, it is necessary to be prepared to know how to fight. Paul refers to the battles that we face as war, and anyone who knows about war knows it can be brutal. Therefore, Paul makes it clear that it is important for us to be purposed and diligent in how we fight. Thankfully, all of our battles are never to be fought alone. In fact, we have “divine power,” the truest and strongest of all powers, to help us in the fight. Paul reminds us that, although we are experiencing things in the flesh (physical), we must fight them with the spiritual. So, what does this look like on the practical side?
Like war, every battle we face is unique, and therefore requires unique tactics to overcome our adversaries. However, there is always a spiritual solution to help us overcome. Paul mentions in verse five that a great starting place is taking our thoughts captive. This truth cannot be emphasized enough in the Christian world, because battles are most often lost or won in the mind, even before anything physical ever happens. To win a battle properly though, we must be willing to open ourselves up to the divine power that God offers. We must be willing to humble ourselves, surrender our thoughts, emotions, urges, bents, anything of the mind and heart. We must look to His Word, seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and take the time to attentively listen to His voice. We must worship, spend time in prayer, get the wise counsel of those who are faithfully pursuing Christ as well…and through these weapons God has given us, we can properly fight our battles and destroy strongholds in our lives. So, whether we are facing outside opposition or experiencing some opposition in our minds and hearts, we must not wage war using our own physical strength, but lean wholly into the divine power that God so graciously offers us.