What is your favorite kind of tree?

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Trees are one of the most common elements of great mythological stories. Somehow they show up in stories from nearly every culture. Perhaps it is because they are so prevalent across our world. I expect you can find trees on every continent except Antartica (and I would not be surprised if someone had a small bonsai tree in an office down there. Literature is full of them in prominent roles from the Garden of Eden to the mythology of the Vikings. From the Redwoods of California to the maple saplings that get trampled underfoot, trees surround our lives everywhere.

We eat their fruit and build our homes from their bodies. We enjoy the shade of their leaves and admire the beauty and scent of their blossoms… well, some of them anyway. We decimate them and repurpose their particles into paper, which has held out hopes and dreams, our histories and debts for centuries. Nations and have risen and fallen with ink on paper, through the life of a tree.

At the end of time, when the world is finally fully judged and redeemed, Revelation tells us that there will be a tree whose leaves will bring us healing. I have wondered if this is the same tree that was in the Garden of Eden. This could be a contender for one of the best trees. Maybe you have a tree of your own that is your favorite – perhaps one you climbed as a child or that holds a hammock you enjoy reading in. Maybe your favorite tree is an evergreen that you decorate in these winter months, or a fruit tree you harvest in the late summer months.

Sometimes we ascribe thoughts and feelings to these trees, or a sentimental value that cannot be scientifically proven. Some people may toss this out as nonsense, claiming “a tree is a tree”. However, there is enough evidence to at least recognize the presence of trees in important parts of our lives, even if we cannot know what thoughts and feelings they might have, if any at all. They are there, as a part of God’s plan, in our lives.

I leave you today with a video that shows my favorite trees, perhaps some of the most important trees in my life.

Rote

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“The Lord said:

Because these people draw near with their mouths

and honor me with their lips,

while their hearts are far from me,

and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote;

so I will again do

amazing things with this people,

shocking and amazing.

The wisdom of their wise shall perish,

and the discernment of the discerning shall be hidden.

Ha! You who hide a plan too deep for the Lord,

whose deeds are in the dark,

and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”

You turn things upside down!

Shall the potter be regarded as the clay?

Shall the thing made say of its maker,

“He did not make me”;

or the thing formed say of the one who formed it,

“He has no understanding”?

Hope for the Future

Shall not Lebanon in a very little while

become a fruitful field,

and the fruitful field be regarded as a forest?

On that day the deaf shall hear

the words of a scroll,

and out of their gloom and darkness

the eyes of the blind shall see.

The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,

and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.

For the tyrant shall be no more,

and the scoffer shall cease to be;

all those alert to do evil shall be cut off—

those who cause a person to lose a lawsuit,

who set a trap for the arbiter in the gate,

and without grounds deny justice to the one in the right.

Therefore thus says the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob:

No longer shall Jacob be ashamed,

no longer shall his face grow pale.

For when he sees his children,

the work of my hands, in his midst,

they will sanctify my name;

they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob,

and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.

And those who err in spirit will come to understanding,

and those who grumble will accept instruction.” Isaiah 29.13-24 (NRSV)

What do you think about memorizing scripture? I struggle with it.

I learned scripture first in Sunday school, where we were taught it by rote – that is, a repeated exercise or ritual meant to help you internalize something. Some of the first scriptures I learned through song (a kind of rote). I remember learning Proverbs 3:5-6 as a song that blessed my life many years later and helped lead me to God.

In between that first lesson and the moment I decided to surrender my life to God, there was a lot of unfaithful living and outright running from God. There is very little unique about this part of my story… most of us have been there/done that. However, what I have noticed is that it was during these very rebellious years that I could probably recite the most scripture from memory. I knew the bible – I just did not follow it with my life at all.

20 years later, I find that my memory is not quite as sharp as it was back then and I stumble over the words more. It’s not near as impressive. Yet my understanding of those scriptures has grown deep and wide. I may not be able to recall the specific words, but I often tell you who wrote them, who they were first written to, why, and how they apply to us today. Even more than that “preacher knowledge” I can give personal testimony about how they apply to my life today as a personal witness.

My wonderful teachers, taught me to memorize the scriptures, but only half the job was done. I’ll claim it was because of my own stubbornness. What I needed, more than rote memorization was a relationship with God. Perhaps my teachers thought I was too young to have a relationship with God, so they gave me rote instead. Maybe they just did not know how to explain it. Or maybe I was not listening.

It was during the year of Christ’s birth, we are told, that those who had memorized the scripture missed the Messiah. They knew where to find Him… indeed they knew enough to send the Gentile Magi to meet Him, but they would not follow the scriptures themselves. For them, knowing the bible was enough. They did not think they needed to know God.

Regardless of what happened in my own life, God makes it clear that our connection with him needs to be deeper than something we just memorize and recite. There needs to be a spiritual understanding underneath and through it all. As Isaiah wrote: we need to do more than memorize the commandments. We need to trust and obey our commander.

  • What spiritual lessons did you learn by memorization?
  • How have they blessed your life over the years?
  • How has God brought deeper meaning to them ?

Surely goodness, surely mercy

right beside me all my days

and I will dwell in Your house forever

and bless Your Holy Name

Thursday December 22, 2016

Forward

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“Bind up the testimony, seal the teaching among my disciples. I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him. See, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion. Now if people say to you, “Consult the ghosts and the familiar spirits that chirp and mutter; should not a people consult their gods, the dead on behalf of the living, for teaching and for instruction?” surely, those who speak like this will have no dawn! They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry; when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will curse their king and their gods. They will turn their faces upward, or they will look to the earth, but will see only distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and they will be thrust into thick darkness.

But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish.” Isaiah 8.16-9.1 (NRSV)

We look to the past for wisdom and for answers, but God sends often sends us signs in unfamiliar promises for the future. The signs in Isaiah are centered around a child named Immanuel, the hope of Israel – but what can a child do? Is it not wiser to seek out the counsel of the great leaders of the past than to hope that this child will somehow lead us into a better future?

Children are untested, underdeveloped… there are too many uncertainties with them. We certainly want them in our life, but we do not want to hand them the keys to our cars, our credit cards, or the mantles of leadership in our businesses. No, children need to know their place until we deem them worthy of the role reserved for adults. We prefer them seen and not heard. They are, and may always be, the greatest perpetual minority group in our world.

Our battles over rights regarding gun laws, marriage laws, rarely take into consideration the voice and effects on children. With minds like thirsty sponges, they soak up everything we show and tell them because they just want to know – and we take advantage of that to download our own points of view onto them, the ways we wished we viewed the world instead of helping them to safely see the messy world for the way it is.

Every generation bears its own blessings and curses and finds ways to separate and dinstinguish themselves from those who go before them. Ultimately, I think it is a miracle we have not completely messed up an entire generation yet… and therein lies Isaiah’s point. Try as you might, you will not take control back from God… indeed the tiny mouth you are spoonfeeding today, will be spoonfeeding you tomorrow. Can we see God working in and with them today?

  • Who are the children in your life?
  • Where do you see God in them?
  • If they are messengers of hope from God, what should your response be to them?

This one is just for fun!

Monday December 12, 2016

Leadership

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For Jerusalem has stumbled and Judah has fallen, because their speech and their deeds are against the Lord, defying his glorious presence. The look on their faces bears witness against them; they proclaim their sin like Sodom, they do not hide it. Woe to them! For they have brought evil on themselves. Tell the innocent how fortunate they are, for they shall eat the fruit of their labors. Woe to the guilty! How unfortunate they are, for what their hands have done shall be done to them. My people—children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, your leaders mislead you, and confuse the course of your paths. The Lord rises to argue his case; he stands to judge the peoples. The Lord enters into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: It is you who have devoured the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor? says the Lord God of hosts. Isaiah 3:8-15 (NRSV)

Those who seek authority find themselves contending with God. There is good reason that we preach that our hope is found in God and not in people. That statement holds both a promise and a warning.

The promise is that God will always be there for us, no matter who we are our where we’ve been. In some ways, it may actually be argued that the lower we find ourselves, the more God watches over us. Those who avoid taking up authority gain no special blessing, as authority and responsibility usually go hand in hand. Dodging responsibility does not put you in God’s good graces. But those who remember that we all will stand in judgment before God one day, regardless of our status today.

That is the warning as well. We will all answer for the leadership we give as lords and ladies, preachers and teachers, mothers and fathers… Every honor we receive brings us closer to the throne of God which brings its own honor and joy, but God expects us to share his own heart for the least, the last, and the lost, the more of them he brings under our care. Christian maturity certainly brings with it honor and wisdom, but the cold-hearted cannot be mistaken for elders of the faith in God’s Kingdom. For God so loved the world… and woe be upon the man or woman who thinks they know better than the love of God, which did not hold back His only begotten Son. No fire burns hotter than the love of God for his people, and that fire will burn right through us to warm if we stand in the way of it bringing warmth to God’s lost children.

  • Whom has God put into your care?
  • How well do you reflect God in your leadership over them?
  • What do you need change today to allow God to lead through you more?

I wanna set the world on fire

Until it’s burning bright for you

It’s everything that I desire

Can I be the one you use?

I wanna feed the hungry children.

And reach across the farthest land

And tell the broken there is healing

And mercy in the Father’s hands.

Friday December 2, 2016

Your Godless Utopia

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What is a god?

Bright-eyed sprouts,

their clumsy dissertations

in primitive dialects

striking profoundly;

Tell’s arrows

plunged deep into

the heart not there

moments before.

Such fragile fingers

whose snowflake touch

emasculates all darkness

fear and loneliness –

Who can stand against

their innocence?

 

Only the dead

remain unscathed;

untouched.

No light to burst

a dry husk;

unbreathing,

ghastly grips

and warm steel

still smash sprouts –

But…

 

Sprouts will see

roots will grow

blooming fire

sharp hard hate

traded innocence

for killing cold

to see you burn.

 

This is your Godless Utopia