Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Think Fruit

In 71 verses, we find fruit/s 82 times in the New Testament. I think that makes understanding “Why?” rather important to Christians, don’t you?

The first usage is an excellent place to start, with John, the Baptist. I suggest reading Matthew 3:1-12, then coming back to concentrate on fruit:

Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: (Matthew 3:8 KJV)

Luke uses the same quote:

Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, (Luke 3:8a KJV)

My favorite scripture that describes these fruits is:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 KJV)

(Note the fruits begin with ἀγάπη – that beautiful Greek word (one of four translated as “love” in the New Testament) that means the unconditional love between God and man. Christ used it twice in speaking to Peter in John 21:15-17, though Peter didn’t use it to answer Him.)

The first fruit we should display is God’s love.

The second usage of “fruit” may be just as important:

And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. (Matthew 3:10 KJV)

Much later, in Matthew 21:18-22, we see Jesus’ response to a fruitless tree. A bit earlier than that, Jesus used John’s words in describing what happens to trees without good fruit:

Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. (Matthew 7:17-19 KJV)

Back to Galatians to see descriptions of evil, corrupt fruit:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 KJV)

There are God-promised consequences for specific deviations from God-given commandments. To believe these have changed, I would have to be shown a scripture reference. As I continue to read and study the Bible, I do not find where these scriptures are shown to be in error. Feel free to point out to me my error.

The last reference in the New Testament is one I’ve used often:

And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1-2 KJV)

That scripture takes us back to Genesis 2:9, the tree planted in His garden:

And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:9 KJV)

Please note that the tree of life was not included in the “Do not eat”:

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (Genesis 2:16-17 KJV)

The tree of life fruit is freely given. Please, take some time to become a knowledgeable fruit inspector:

Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Matthew 7:20 KJV)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Is He Enough?

Looks like something from a cave’s wall – or modern art, but it’s not. It’s a photo from an electron micrograph of an ebola virus. Amazing that something that small has nations responding around the world. Scary, as headlines focus on death statistics as well as the number of people in quarantine. Those numbers grew exponentially, from a small family, through hospital contact and travel interaction.

Yet – in America one man was diagnosed, and died. Two people fighting the illness were brought from west Africa and were cured. Two nurses, infected while caring for the dying man, are being treated at the same facilities where two people were cured. Those statistics are pretty good, aren’t they?

While checking a number of resources to verify just how concerned we should be, within an hour’s drive from Dallas, I not only discovered we’re just fine (and so is everyone else) but learned from one of the patients.

I read a quote from “Ebola survivor Nancy Writebol, an unassuming Christian missionary”:
“The night that they put me on the airplane to evacuate me and bring me back to the U.S. … I was very, very ill and not sure that I was going to make it across the ocean — not sure if I would see David again or our [two sons] again,” Writebol said. ”And I remember, as they put me on the airplane, that I just told the Lord, ‘Lord, I don’t know what’s going to happen and I need your help.’”
And that’s when she said she felt God responding to her with an important question:
“Nancy, if I take the boys, if I take David away from you and if I take your life and you are with me, am I enough?”
What an answer! Is God enough at any time in our lives? I remember what Esau said to Jacob who offered riches as he returned:

And Esau said, I have enough, my brother; keep that thou hast unto thyself. (Genesis 33:9 KJV)

Or Isaiah’s description of those who never have enough:

Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter. (Isaiah 56:11 KJV)

What God offers is much more than enough:

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. (1 Corinthians 2:9 KJV)

If God took our loved ones, and us, to be with Him, is He enough? Consider what He has offered?

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? (Luke 11:13 KJV)

Believing in Him, Nancy Writbol tells us:
“I just rested in God’s arms and in his presence and in his peace that he was enough,” she said.
Do we? No. We read headlines and are concerned for ourselves and our loved ones. We do not consider asking ourselves, is He enough? I believe He is when we follow His instructions:

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 KJV)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Thanks For Participating

I want to thank everyone who participated in last Saturday’s craft bazaar. All the different activities provided over $5,000 for specific mission programs this coming Christmas and we are grateful. Two bed sets were donated for a drawing, one is today’s graphic.

All of this was a lot of fun, some hard work, considerable time spent – but the result is funding for three specific mission projects that will help them in many ways.

Physically closest is a church’s mission to assist the homeless. The pastor was once told that it would be impossible to fund a church for homeless people who have no income. Regrettably, they forgot the one Man who founded His church:

And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. (Matthew 8:20 KJV)

That was His answer to a man who wished to follow Him – a reminder that on this earth, He had nothing – but His life to give for us.

Geographically a little further away is the Blessed Hope Boys Academy in Alabama.
Blessed Hope Boys Academy is a program that is a minimum of 1 year requirement. In this 1 year, young men receive schooling through our A.C.E. Curriculum, hear preaching, learn how to work, memorize Scripture, learn songs, build character and are away from all of the distractions of the world.
Several of the boys visited our church this summer and were such a blessing to us as we listened to their stories and heard their testimonies. They reminded me of the Bereans in their descriptions of searching for truth:

These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. (Acts 17:11 KJV)

Third, and half a world away, is a project very dear to our hearts – orphanages in a war-torn country. I won’t draw attention to the location, but assure you it provides what John describes as pure religion:

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. (James 1:27 KJV)

There is something I really do appreciate about our church – missions is a top priority. One quarter of our tithes go directly to missions, including the three mentioned here. Missionaries we support come visit us, as do others seeking support. We get to meet them, shake their hands, hear their testimonies and their stories of working in fields that are white:

Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. (John 4:35 KJV)

It is a blessing to be a part of their ministries. They could not be in the fields without our support. We could not be in those same fields without their calling. Together, we work on the Great Commission:

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:19-20 KJV)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Self-Inflicted Wounds


Mark Dohle is a blogger who left me with a question, his answer and some continued thoughts:
What happens to our hearts when we mock, gossip and belittle others? It is a self inflicted wound that will only bleed and become more infected until the time we seek forgiveness and mercy for the damage done.
It’s not just forgiveness for what we said or done that makes us uncomfortable, it’s understanding that we’ve wounded people with our words or deeds and we need forgiveness for those wounds. Without that understanding, we’re simply wanting forgiveness from God for our own good without seeing the wounds that need healing.

Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. (Matthew 5:23-24 KJV)

When we come to our Lord with our gifts is when we’re most apt to remember our failures. Here brotherhood goes much beyond our siblings to include our fellowman. We have inflicted wounds.

Note that we’re not to remove our gift from the altar. I see good reasons for leaving it. It was ours, and is no longer – we gave it to God when we took it to the altar, just as we gave ourselves when we made our profession of faith. To take it away is tantamount to removing it from God’s presence. That we do not wish to do. Leave our gift, but go to do what must be done.

Be reconciled. Not an ongoing process, but an active command, an accomplished act to be done first. That’s often much more difficult than it sounds. Especially if the other person has no desire to be reconciled. Often it’s more than a one trip, one effort. The gift remains in God’s hands, but we must return to make the offering complete.

These simple verses are part of what Matthew wrote of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount:

And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: (Matthew 5:1 KJV)

I wish there was more description. I can visualize Jesus walking upwards, seating Himself and His disciples gathering around. Did the multitude gather, too? Were they close enough to hear this teaching? It really doesn’t matter, for it was given to His followers, and that’s what I’ve chosen to be – so the message is for me. For sharing, too, as God inspired Matthew to do.

So, how do I apply this lesson to my life? Remember my gifts to God, but also be aware of wounding people in my life. I must recognize when I fail to be the person I’ve committed to God that I am. It’s up to me, not God, to request forgiveness and redress wounding I’ve done. Or, perceived wrongs done to me.

How can I request forgiveness from perfection if I’m not willing to forgive?

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. (Matthew 7:2 KJV)

Why forgive? Because of God’s love:

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 KJV)

Heal wounds, even self-inflicted ones.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

I Miss Her

I’ve mentioned the fact that my husband was adopted, and that he and his siblings were reunited after being separated 35 years. It hardly seems possible that was thirty years ago, too. Time flies. We grow older. Most, but not all of us.

One of us stopped growing older October 18, just three years ago, and I miss her very much. Long before the reunion, she married the third brother. We didn’t know about their wedding, their three children or her husband’s service to our country. By the time we met, we were already grandparents.

We had already determined service to our Lord was really the most important thing we had to share. In addition to being sisters-in-law, we were also sisters in Christ. I miss her.

She loved our Lord enough to share Him with others, even when they failed to believe. She helped teach me to accept that, but to continue in prayer and love for each and every one that still need Him.

She knew her heart was failing – it had failed before, a consequence of radiation treatments that beat Hodgkin’s. Each time there was a treatment, a doctor, perhaps even a miracle along the way that gave her years to enjoy her family, her children, her grandchildren, new brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews.

Through the years she explained what I later recognized as part of Pascal’s Wager:
Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. 
Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (...) There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.
That’s not the way she said it, of course. She made it much more personal and easier to understand:
I’d rather live my life believing there is a God and die to find out there isn’t than to live my life not believing there is a God only to find out there is.
She believed. She believed, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelations 22:21. She didn’t understand all of it any more than I do, but she found love, comfort, peace that passes understanding. Before her last surgery, knowing it might not be sufficient, she shared that peace with us. But, I miss her.

We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8 KJV)

There are verses that comfort me as I plan a picnic with her in a specific place:

And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-5 KJV)

A picnic beside the river of water of life under the shade of the tree of life with God-given light, where we can once again sing the praises of our Lord, glorify His name and I will not be missing her.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Have A Blessed Day

Mat 5:2  And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
Mat 5:3  Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Mat 5:4  Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Mat 5:5  Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

And the verses continue, beginning with μακάριο, blessed. Strong’s has one of the best definitions – there are some others – of how this word is applied when we say, “Have a blessed day.” What we’re passing along is a bit more than a simple greeting, it’s a wish that people we meet really are fortunate and happy.

What I did not realize until a day ago is how that is received by some people. One person that I know. They find it offensive.

Why? Because it is said by Christians. Believers in God. And the people complaining about it are not. They find our good wishes offensive because we believe God exists.

I wish I could point you to the original Facebook post, but like many others, I couldn’t find it. I did find several results when searching for “atheist have a blessed day” in Google. One, an atheist site, basically told complainers to chill out, that it’s not a big deal. Another was a letter to Dear Abby, and her answer to a complainer what just about the same.

The Dear Abby writer expressed a desire to return the greeting with a Zeus blessing, but that would not indicate either his personal belief nor a true desire that his greeting is expressing happiness. When I hear “Have a blessed day,” I think the person made a statement of faith and I appreciate the thought they wish me happiness.

I can’t help but wonder, though, why someone would be offended by another person wishing them happiness. Or, are they offended by an individual’s belief in a supreme being? Or, is it Christianity itself that causes offense? It has before. What Jesus said offended people:

And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? (Matthew 15:10-12 KJV)

He also spoke of a time when people would be offended, and hate:

For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. (Matthew 24:7-10 KJV)

But the one that gives me the greatest sadness is:

And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended. (Mark 4:16-17 KJV)

Yes – the ones who heard God’s word, received it with gladness but were hurt, and were offended. Offended enough to find that another person’s belief continues to offend.

However, their feeling offended is insufficient cause for me to cease to greet people with “Have a blessed day,” or the coming season’s “Merry Christmas!”

Receive them as you will.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Everything, Lost


April 27, 2014, Vilonia, Arkansas

I’ve mentioned Horatio Spafford before, a man who lost his “sizeable investments” in the Great Chicago fire, a son to disease and four of his daughters in the sinking of an ocean liner – who could still write: “It is well with my soul.”

Paul listed things that appear to have been important in his life, but eventually he would “count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ.” That’s the same knowledge he spent most of his life sharing with others, truly giving his life to do so.

But I was struck most with Paul’s understanding of his own righteousness:

And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: (Philippians 3:9 KJV)

I recognize that concept because I know the only righteousness I have comes through faith in Christ’s life, teachings and specifically through His death, proven in His resurrection. Through that righteousness by faith, we understand as Paul:

That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; (Philippians 3:10 KJV)

That I may know Him, too, and trust the power of His resurrection is not nearly as difficult as being prepared for the fellowship of His sufferings along with the knowledge that some – and Paul did – will follow Him in death for being faithful. We’ve seen that occur this summer.

Verse 13 was used by a missionary during Sunday School:

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14 KJV)

He reminded us that everything we’ve experienced is in our brains. When we recall a previous event, it brings with it sensory perceptions, even emotions. Some are pleasant, some not so much. None of them are where we really want to be. Thus we do need to forget those things that are behind and continually reach for the things before us.

Paul called it pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God. Where we have failed is an opportunity to go forward with a bit more information than we had before. The knowledge of a pitfall we can now miss. We can learn from others’ experiences, too, discerning before making the same error. We strive for a perfection we cannot achieve here, but that we do see in our Lord:

Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. (Philippians 3:15 KJV)

I hadn’t paid close enough attention to the last two-thirds of that verse. I focused on being perfect, and thus minded. But if we are otherwise, we can depend on God to reveal this to us.

How? I see it as growing into a close relationship to Him. Spending time in prayer, in Bible study, learning about Jesus through the gospels and about the men who followed Him, writing about their experiences. Every single day.