Look! He’s Talking About Trees Again!

247-Bench-by-River-Fowey-at-ResprynOh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.  They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.

– Psalm 1:1-3

I know that I have posted things about trees a couple of times on this blog, and I would like to tell you it won’t happen again… That would be a lie.  Why you might ask?  Well, because as I look at God’s Word and at my own life, I see all of these amazing word pictures about trees.  They really are amazing things, and like the poet said,

“I think that I shall never see a poem (or story, example, or picture) as lovely as a tree.”

So, Where do I begin with this one?  Let’s start with the passage.  As I read these verses, I see the first two verses as a warning and an instruction. The third verse gives me the word picture that pulls me in and makes me think.

I like how the Bible is full of such great and practical information, and that God presents things in such a way that even the most dense minds among us can figure this stuff out.  (Lucky for me!) God gives us truth that we should be able to grasp, and when we read it, it makes sense, but our practical application gets a bit messy.  So,  the obvious first verse truth is this:

We are happier if we don’t follow the advice of wicked people, live our lives in sin, or hang out with negative people.

Makes perfect sense.  Not so easy to do.  We are called to be a light in a dark world, and that to reach people we must go to them, but we forget that we need to be on guard at the same time. Negativity pulls us down.  When we get around really negative people, we are with people that are putting their own thoughts, opinions,, and usually feelings ahead of everything else – including God.  That’s wrong!

Think about the people that you are in contact with.  How many of them do you leave their company feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and positive?  Probably not many. How many do you leave them thinking, “Well, I got through it without making them mad at me.”?  How many times do you leave thinking you just want to go home and take a nap because you are feeling a weariness in your very soul? Yeah.  Not people we want to spend a lot of time with.  Why?  Not a lot of joy there, but it seems like those are the people we end up spending a lot of time with.

So where do we find it?  Where do we find the joy that we are looking for to get through life?  To be able to reach out to the negative with God’s joy?  To find delight in the every day activities that we are involved in?

Our delight, joy, happiness, fulfillment is found in God’s Word as we think about it and apply it in our lives as we go through our day and even as we lay down at night!

This morning I went to work feeling quite sick.  I had no fever or other symptoms that would keep me from working, but I felt like garbage and it was affecting my outlook on the day.  I was sure that since I felt lousy, my day would be lousy, and all early indicators showed that I was right!  I was struggling and was ready to pitch the day.  I took a minute and talked to God about it.

As I prayed I realized it had been a couple of days since I had really read my Bible.  I had been doing my daily devotional, but I had not been in the Word.  I stopped what I was doing and opened my Bible to a place that I knew I would get encouragement – Psalm 1.  As I read and journaled, I felt my spirit strengthen.  I still felt like garbage physically, and that really hasn’t changed all day, but my outlook changed.  I was able to talk to people, and even encourage a couple of people today.  That was the truth of God’s Word in action!

(Wow, he still hasn’t talked about the trees.  Do you think he forgot?)

Avoiding the sin and negativity of the world is one thing we have to do. Meditating on God’s Word – really digging into it and using it to examine our lives and make changes in our attitudes and behaviors  – is the other part. The result?

We will be as strong, healthy, and fruitful as a tree on the banks of a river.  We will have what we need to grow and thrive year after year and we will be have a prosperous life.

(Nope, He didn’t forget.  Here we go…)

Interesting things about tree roots:

  •  They usually grow between 6 and 24 inches under the surface.  There are some that grow deeper, but as a rule only about two feet.
  • One part of the root is designed purely to seek out water, and these pieces tend to live only about a year and then they are replaced by new roots that do the same thing.
  • They like to have moisture, but too much moisture will result in their rot, and that can lead to the death of the tree.
  • Soil that is hard will keep the root from being able to thrive.
  • Roots will generally extend 2-4 times farther out than the branches of the trees.

We could probably make a few different applications to our lives from those facts, but I am going to settle on another one:

The health of the root system determines whether or not the tree will survive the deep cold of winter, the scorching heat of summer, the violent winds that will blow. 

The roots need to be deep enough to keep the tree from falling when the wind blows against it.  In the same way, our faith needs to be deep enough to shrug off the doubts that Satan uses to buffet us when we are feeling low.  We need to know that the truth of God’s Word will hold us when we feel that lack of security.

The roots need to be close enough to the water to give the tree life and to produce fruit!  As I read the Bible and meditate on it I grow and change in order to be what God wants me to be.  As I continue to grow and follow the example of Christ and reach out to others I produce fruit in their lives as well.

The roots are a storehouse for the tree for the hard times.  There are times in my life when things look quite bleak.  I feel like I have nothing left to give, but so many demands are being made of me.  A tree cannot pick up and move when there is a drought, and I can’t just pack it in and walk away when things get too hot or cold.  Those are the times when all I can do is pray those verses of promise that tell me that God is in control and that He will bring things about in His time for a fruitful harvest.

I think God speaks to us through His creation every day, and at least for me, He speaks very clearly through trees.  So many lessons are there, and if you stick around with me, I am sure we will cover some more of them in weeks to come.  (If you get tired of it, let me know.  I will see what I can do about using lichen or fungus if that is what works for you.)

No matter what God uses to speak to me or you, His Word will always be the best source.  That was the whole purpose for this post.  I wanted to tell you about the truth that He showed me.  I need my roots to grow deep in Him.  I want to be fruitful for Him. I want people to see how He has helped me and how He can help them too.

My purpose as a believer is to bring God glory.  If I am going to do that, I am going to have to be intentional about how I do things.  Reading God’s Word, meditating on it, allowing it to work in me and reveal the things that need to change, and then making those changes is the process in which I can bring that glory back to Him.  He makes it all possible.

Grow Deep!

If this has sparked an interest in you to really get into God’s Word, I would love to hear from you.  I hope at the very least that it has offered an encouragement that God is there and that He wants to show you His love and care for you.

In His Grip,

Tom

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Hello, My Name is Church

Great post!

The Unappreciated Pastor

 

Hello my name is church,

I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about me. I have no shortage of critics. Perhaps you have heard that I am…

Boring

Shallow

Cheap

A waste of time

 

You’ve heard that I am full of

 

Hypocrites

Clowns

Greedy people

The self- righteous

 

Maybe you have visited me before and discovered

 

Horrible music

Passionless singing

Dry preaching

Rude congregants

 

Maybe you needed me and I was

 

Too busy

Too “righteous”

Too broke

Too blind

 

Maybe you joined me and found I was

 

Distant

Demanding

Dull

Preoccupied

 

Maybe you tried to serve in me but were caught off guard by

 

Business meetings

Committees

Teams

Bureaucracy

 

Maybe you left and were surprised that nobody

 

Called

Cared

Noticed

Invited you back

 

 

Perhaps your experience has driven you to

 

Speak negatively of me

Swear…

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My Goal? Smarter than a Donkey!

SI ExifHear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! This is what the Lord says: “The children I have raised and cared for have turned against me.  Even the animals – the donkey and the ox – know their owner and appreciate his care, but not My people Israel.  So matter what I do for them, they still do not understand.”

 – Isaiah 1:2-3

 We have horses and dogs at our house, and during the summer we even have pigs.  So, we definitely have a working understanding of the care of livestock.  When my daughter goes outside at night to feed the horses she gives a little whistle, and you can hear her colt whinny back at her.  He knows that she is coming to give him food – and he likes it!  It is not only a time that he gets to eat, but she also will spend some time with him rubbing his back and talking to him.  She is developing a bond with him as an owner.  He knows her, and he trusts her.  As the guy who fills in for her from time to time, I can tell you that he does not trust me.  I am not his master.

Our dogs are very much the same way.  I am amazed at the way our cocker spaniel, Charlie, is attached to my wife – and her alone.  On a Saturday morning (the only day we have ANY chance of sleeping past 7:30am) the kids and I can be up for a couple of hours while Charlie sleeps peacefully in his locked crate.  During that time he will not make a sound.  Then he will hear it, the fan that is in our room for white noise will turn off, and that sets him into an absolutely obnoxious whine to get out of the crate to be with my wife.  He knows that she is the person that gives him attention, and he craves it from her. (And the fact that he knows she is going to feed him soon.)

Likewise our outside dog Molly.  When I go out to her kennel to let her loose in the morning she cannot just run off and play.  She will not allow herself to do anything – even her “morning routine”- until she gets a pat on the head, and a scratch behind the ear.  She knows we care about her, and that she belongs to us.  She wants to be with us.  I personally believe she is the finest dog alive!

When I read this passage in Isaiah, I immediately thought of our relationships with our animals.  There is a bond there, and I can see that they know us as the people who care for them.  I know that I may ruffle the feathers of some by saying this, but even though I know that animals are not capable of actual thought, when I look into the eyes of our lab, Molly, I almost hear her saying to me, “Thank you so much for letting me be a part of this family.  I love you and I am so happy to just have an opportunity to be with you!”  Gratitude!

These verses were written to the kingdom of Judah.  Change a few of the names around, and you could easily read this as being written to America.  Change them again and you could see it written to the church.  Change them again, and I can say they were written for me.  Not feeling any pride in that.  Just looking at what is being said and being honest enough with myself to admit it. I am so thankful that God saw fit to give us a book that warns us about how God deals with sin that is allowed to rule our lives.  I miss the mark on my gratitude to God.

God gives us the word picture of a donkey and an ox.  These are not animals that we have ever looked at with high regard when it comes to advanced thought processes.  “Dumb as an ox.” Or  “Stubborn as a mule.” (Cut me some slack, I know a mule is different than a donkey, but for the sake of my point they are pretty interchangeable.) The idea is that they just don’t know anything.  They are dumb animals…  Are they?  I agree, they are not capable of higher thought.  They do not think, they do not have souls.  In the eyes of our Creator, they are lesser creatures.  The thing is, they understand gratitude.

I struggle with it.  I get to a point in my life where I have given enough.  I have done enough.  I am lacking enough.  It is time for mine!  It is time for me.  I forget to stop and think about what I have because I am too concerned with what I don’t have.  There is no gratitude because there is no understanding of what I really have.

I’m not saying that I need to live a life of poverty.  It feels like it sometimes, but I know I am not there.  I just need to be more aware of what I do have and where it came from.  That is where this understanding of God comes in.  Acknowledging that the good things I have in my life are from Him, and showing a grateful heart and attitude.  Not just when I am praying for the next thing I want, but all the time – even when I lost something.

I am trying to look at things in a new way.  I’m starting to ask myself, “What did I do to deserve this?”  when something elicits an emotional response from me.  What I am finding is that I rarely have much to do with the good things that have happened to me.  They are something that comes from another person, and I am choosing to see God’s hand at work through them to reach out to me.  They are moments of beauty in creation that just make me pause and thing of how God made all of this for me to enjoy.  They are the moments that I see my wife look at me with that loving look in her eyes that remind me of the good thing God has given me in her.  They are the moments of pride at seeing my kids master some new skill or make a wise choice in a tough decision that tell me that God is working in their lives.

“What did I do to deserve this?”  When the bad things come I see moments that I acted out of pride or selfishness.  I see a broken world that I could blame on others, but that would be fooling myself into believing that I would have done everything right.  This world is broken, but that does not mean we have to live a broken life.

There are times I wish my kids could understand the love I have for them.  I would like them to understand the work that I have put into things so they can have the things they do, go to the places they go.  I would like them to understand the sacrifices that Tammi and I have made, and would do all over again for them.  If they understood all of that, then I would see more gratitude.  Maybe it is better that they don’t, because if they did my pride would probably really get out of control!

The difference is that God is perfect and He has done so much for us. His love for us is perfect.  His work in our lives is for our good.  His sacrifice for us gives us life.  Should I not at least give Him the same gratitude that an animal would give its master for caring for it?  Does my ability to think and reason make me exempt from have a grateful heart?  Is it a simple-minded thing to be grateful?

No.  It’s not.  It does not require a simple mind, but a mind that is focused on the simple thought that relationships matter, and there is no relationship more important than the one we have with God.  If we are honest about that relationship then we should always approach Him with such a heart of gratitude for all that He has done, and all that we have.

Our purpose is to bring God glory.  One of the ways we do that is by showing Him our gratitude.  It is a discipline that requires us to be intentional in how we approach it because it is not our normal nature.  It is a process that we will improve on through trial and error, and through that we can give God the glory.

I’m going to work at taking 5 minutes a day to think about what God has done for me in the last 24 hours. What has He brought me that was good?  What has he protected me from that was bad? What lessons did he allow me to learn?  Wanna join me?  I think that by doing this I will start to see fewer things that I lack, and more of what He has given me.

I should. After all, I would like to be at least as smart as a donkey!

In His Grip,

Tom

 

I’ve Got a Secret, Cap…

thCA3H7K34I went to a soccer game Tuesday night.  I wasn’t very happy about going to the game, and not because I didn’t want to see my son play.  I love to watch him play.  He’s getting better all the time, and I think he has a lot more potential than I did.  He already has a lot more lung and leg power than I did when I was his age.

The reason I wasn’t excited about going is because I knew the kind of team we were going to play.  They are a tough team.  They have some decent skill.  There are some fast guys that are strong, and they have some really big guys too, but that was not the reason I didn’t want to see our team play these guys.  The real reason is that these guys just flat play dirty.

Let me be clear.  I like a good, physical game of soccer.  People should get pushed, and people will fall down.  There will be twisted ankles and bonked heads.  This is part of good, hard game play, and I not only expect it, I love it!  It is an all out competition, and that is one of the best things about the sport.  What I have a problem with is this team’s “Win at all costs” attitude.  Slide tackles from behind, elbows to kidneys and lower back, kicking at the knees, and full contact body checks from behind.  That is not soccer.  Heck, it’s not even hockey!  At least they wear pads!

I got a little vocal at the game.  I yelled at the refs and told them to start showing a yellow card at this one guy in particular.  I probably embarrassed my wife.  I know that there were a couple other dads there that felt the same way, but they were happy to let me wear the “obnoxious sideline parent” shirt for the night, and since it fit so well, I kept it on.  The calls were terrible and the risk for injury was high, and I felt quite justified in my behavior.  At one point I even said that I wished I was able to suit up and take one kid out “Kobra Kai” style – “Sweep the leg!”

What was it that had me so fired up?  I know that during the game I was concerned about the kids.  I’m a Dad now, and my son was out there with this guy, and he was pretty big.  I was afraid that Zach was going to get frustrated and put himself in a position where this kid was going to hurt him.  Zach was playing hard, and he was not backing down from anyone.  Some might say I am crazy, but after I had that thought, their big guy did hurt one of our guys with a cheap kick to the back of the ankle.

I wasn’t mad about the bad calls.  I expected them.  I knew that the refs were going to be people in the employ of the other team.  We actually heard one of the parents remind the ref to call their way because the ref “need(s) to remember who his boss is.”

After we got home and the night went on, I started thinking more about where this anger was coming from, and I started to really think about my years playing the game.  I loved it!  I played hard, and I played hurt.  It was my favorite thing on earth to do.  Nothing was better than walking out onto the field and getting ready for battle, and we looked at it as battle.  That was our way.  The older players taught it to the younger, and the coach reinforced it in all of us.  We were there to win.  That ball was ours, and we must win.  We usually did.  The longer I thought about it, and I had to come to grips with something…

I played a lot like that guy did.

I didn’t sweep people from behind or do all of the illegal stuff, but I played as closely to it as I could without getting tossed from a game.  I hurt people.  Almost every game.  I did it in different ways, but always with the same goal.  They were my opponent, and in my thinking, if there were fewer of them we would win.  If I saw someone pull a dirty move on one of my teammates I would target that guy and try to take him out.  There were ways to do it “legally”, and I knew them.  I used them. I hurt people.

Today as I have been thinking about this, I wondered what has changed that I would look at this guy who was playing a lot like I did in such a different way.  I’m seeing now that the “competitive fire” that I have in common with that kid on the field is not based on a good thing.  It is an ugly thing. He and I allowed it to fuel our game play, but it is still an ugly thing.  Also, as I thought about my desire to get in there and take that kid out, I had to come to grips with something else…cm-25452-050739a6e3eec3

That anger that fueled me then still resides in me.

 

It doesn’t show its head as much as it used to.  As my sister-in-law and I joke, for the most part “I’m a really nice guy!”  The anger that comes up in me now is generally an anger born out of a need to see things set right.  I know the world is not fair, and I’m not trying for that, but as close to justice as possible would be great.  When I can’t get that, I get angry, and when I get angry, I get ugly…

It’s never that bad on the outside, but on the inside… I’m ashamed to say how often this happens.  So the key is to figure out the why.

Things in the past are a part of who we are – good or bad.

In the last year or so, I was exposed to a phrase I had never heard before, “Spiritual Abuse.”  To make for a very short and user friendly definition, that is any time that someone uses the Bible in a way to push their own agenda rather than God’s agenda even to the point of twisting God’s Word.  This often results in a person who will walk away from God and His people and leave them angry for all the hurt and pain that religion brought to them.  Just like anyone who has been abused, they are very sensitive to it, and see it very plainly where those who are in the middle of it might not.

There was a lot of that in my childhood.  We were made to feel that our performance was the key to favor in God’s eyes, and we needed to show that top performance in every aspect of our lives.  It was drilled into us that those of us in our school were superior to those in the public school.  We were only allowed to associate with schools that also felt they were superior to anyone in their community school district.  When we got on the soccer field, we had to be superior to everyone.

That was wrong.  So very wrong.  The only difference between us and most of the high school kids is that most of us knew we were Christians – even when we weren’t acting very Christ-like.  That was it.  If anything, most of the public school kids probably were better sportsmen than we were!  There was nothing in me that was better, but I acted like it.  I see that now.  I see that I was wrong back then. So what about now?

I don’t have to be that guy anymore.

That angry dude in me is going to raise his head from time to time.  He is a part of me, and he had control for a very long time, but that has changed.  As I spend more time in God’s Word and prayer, as I read books to help me see the errors in my old ways of thought, as I spend more time with people who live out God’s grace for His glory, I see that angry guy losing control.  He is decreasing.  It’s not so I can increase though. Christ is gaining control over both of us!  It’s not easy.  We kick and scream and rationalize our thoughts, but at the end of the day when we look in the mirror we see that Jesus is right!  He shows us the areas that need to change. Then we just need to let Him do it.

I also need to model that attitude of a life in process with my son.  We have talked about the game the other night and how I reacted to it.  It was a good discussion where I was able to show him my failure along with my heart to do better.  I was able to talk to him about the importance of giving your all rather than trying to be better than someone else.  That is the distinction.  Give everything in everything for God’s glory.  I hope he sees that rather than remembering how I acted the other night.

Tonight there is another game.  Tonight I get a chance to keep the angry guy in check.  Tonight I get a chance to let Christ rule my heart rather than allow the anger to take control inside.  My purpose here is to bring glory to God.  I want to be intentional about that by committing myself to the process of growth in Him.  It’s a tough walk sometimes, but well worth the journey.

In HIS Grip,

Tom

What Scares Me

halloween-scary-houseI used to really like watching horror movies. I hate to admit that out loud, but it’s the truth. It was never to see the blood or gore or anything like that, I liked it for the suspense and the fear. Instead of sitting there dreading the moment that the bad guy would jump out, I was eager for it. I liked the adrenalin rush that fear would bring.

Over the years I began to lose interest in those movies. Some of it was because the filmmakers were adding so much blood to the movies. It got to the point that it was just ridiculous and in a way, comical. The real reason that I stopped was that it got to be predictable. I knew who the bad guy was, who was next, when it would happen, and often the bad pun that would come with the death of the unsuspecting victim.  It just got boring. No fear = No fun.

I believe God gave me the gift of an analytical mind. It comes in handy most of the time. I look at a problem and see the options, the possibilities, and somehow I can usually put together the outcome.  As a result, I have really come to depend on that ability as I go through the “routine” of life.  Problem comes up, weigh options, formulate and apply solution, move on. Most of the time it works. My life has a lot of routine, so the formula works for me. Even when things are crazy, the things I face are part of a period of routine craziness.

Sometimes though, things break from the routine. The thing that does that the most is the future. It is unpredictable. Too many variables when you start looking out more than a few weeks. Too much could happen. Too many people might be involved. Too much of it ends up out of my control or my sight. Then it happens. The fear sets in.

What I used to seek out and enjoy now unsettles me. It steals my sleep, clouds my mind, and isolates me from others. It takes up my time in thinking, planning, protecting, strategizing, and evaluating.  I will look at what I want, what I need, what I can do, what I need others to do, what the effect could be for myself and others, who I will anger, who I will hurt, who I will disappoint. I see so many possibilities for good and for things to go wrong, and I feel terrified.

There are things I am working on in my career right now that are full of variables. There are choices that we are looking at regarding where we might live in the future. There are decisions to be made on our finances that are the result of past mistakes. Then there is the thing that really unsettled me. I am the leader of my home. I have a wife and two teens that I am responsible for, and those kids are getting uncomfortably close to getting ready to fly. Are they ready? Did I do enough? Have I hurt them?

These are things that are much more terrifying than a crazed, knife-wielding maniac. This stuff is important! These things matter in ways that affect future generations and kingdom work as well. They cannot be ignored, but they also can’t just be figured out.

So, there I am. Walking down the gravel road in the middle of the moonlit night. I’m looking around. I’m checking for escape routes. I’m taking inventory. What have I got? What is at my disposal? In a word, what I have to bring to the table is nothing.

Paralysis starts to set in, the sweats take over, and I get that clench in the gut that just makes me feel sick.  I think that if someone were to look at me at that moment they would see that same wild-eyed look that a horse gets when it has been spooked.  Then I hear the words in my heart:

“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” – Psalm 27:13

God brings this verse to my mind now whenever I feel that fear.  Fear is the first step to despair when it comes to a lot of the matters I am talking about here.  It is fear unchecked that takes us to the place that we enter into despair.  We can’t see a way out in spite of all of our plans and we feel that we flounder in this place until we lose hope.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”  – Proverbs 3:5-6

Here is the hard part – trusting God.  The struggle with faith in the face of an overwhelming feeling of fear.  God tells is that He will lead us, but it takes trusting Him.  It takes saying to Him, “I’m scared!  I don’t know what is going to happen with the finances!  I’m not sure if I am doing a good job as a husband or as a Dad!  I’m scared about the lack of momentum I am seeing in those who are in charge of parts of my career!  God! Where is this going? Please, I’m asking You to show me!  I need to know that You are there and that You care!”

“For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10

God wants good things for me.  I know He does.  He tells me over and over again that He cares for me and that He will meet my needs.  He sent His Son for me and anyone else to receive the gift of salvation.  God is a loving Father who wants to give His children the things they ask for, to see us blessed so we can tell others about how great He is.  He just wants our focus to be on Him.  That is where I fail – where many of us fail.  We see inside and horizontally, but we are not looking up to God the way we should.  It’s hard.  I want what I know about, the things I see.  I fear the things that are crowding around me, the unknown, and the unreachable dreams.

“Lord, all my desire is before You; And my sighing is not hidden from You.” – Psalm 38:9

“Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart.” – Psalm 37:4

And there it is.  The thing I want to do, but the thing I struggle so much with.  My desires are known to God.  He hears my sighs and my frustrated cries.  He knows every thought in my head even better than I do.

He wants me to put Him ahead of it all.

He wants me to be fulfilled in Him.  He wants me to want nothing but Him. He wants me to be so close to Him that the things around me that bring me the fears and the frustrations fall so far away in comparison that they cannot touch my spirit with their power.  There is the place that I will find the desires of my heart – as mine grows closer to His.  It is there that I will see His hand at work in the things that have brought me fear as He works them out for His glory.  It is there that I may see my desires change to bring Him glory.  It is there that I may see Him bless me so I can give Him glory.

Then, after I think about all of these things, I feel the fear recede.  I wish I could say it goes away.  Some people might look at me sometimes and think it has, but I can assure you it hasn’t.  It just lessens as I learn to trust Him more.  It is a process, and it must be done on purpose, for a purpose.

The purpose is to believe the goodness of the Lord will be seen!

I hope sharing this little insight into my struggles with fear and despair will help someone else.  If it has, I would love to hear from you.

In His Grip,

Tom