Monday, February 16, 2015

Lesson from the Oak Tree

Flanking our clubhouse entry sidewalk stand two oak trees. Oak trees have a unique characteristic that sets them apart from the other deciduous trees in our area.
In fall, we enjoy the changing colour of  leaves, but we know they will shortly turn brown and fall off.   All the trees follow that set pattern every year,  except the oak tree.  Their leaves turn a brilliant colour, then turn brown but the leaves do not fall off. They cling to the branches all through the long winter months inspite of storms and strong winds.
But then in spring a wonderful thing happens.  As the new leaves begin to push their way out in fresh growth responding to awakened life in the tree,  the old dead leaves are forced to give way to the new and one by one they fall off.

What a wonderful spiritual lesson for us to see and learn.
Believers, in scripture, are compared to a tree "planted by the rivers of water" - Jer. 17:8 - our leaves are not to be withered but they are to stay green even in times of drought.
But wait ...  most of us turn to the Lord at a time in our lives when we have come to the end of ourselves - when we are in trouble,  finally aware of our failings and sinfulness and our need of a Saviour.  We come already a 'tree' with brown, dead leaves.

We eagerly embrace the life giving promise of hope in 2Co_5:17  Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.  Promised new life has sprung up with us and we look forward to walking in that life.

Then, oft to our disappointment, the 'old dead leaves' don't just fall off, but they cling to us , old habits, sinful thoughts and ways. Our actions and reactions don't always look any different, and others looking at us do not see the new life we know we have tasted of. The more we try to rid ourselves of the 'leaves' of our old life, the more they seem to cling to us.

So what do we need to do ?

What is the secret of the oak tree ?  Can it get rid of its old dead leaves?  No, they cling, they remain ..... until when ??    When the new growth pushes them off the branches !

Too often our focus is on overcoming our 'sinful habits'... we focus on the things we want to change in our character or life and though we struggle valiantly, nothing changes.

But if we, like the oak tree, focused on what we wish to be -  focus on the character traits we desire, the 'fruit' of the Spirit we wish to grow on our branches ....  then,  the old  just falls off because there is no longer any room for it.

The 'old' has to fall off, when we 'put on the new' .... as we are taught in Eph. 4:21-24
 ......This truth is in Jesus:  
 that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind,   
and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, 
in true righteousness and holiness.
 thereby putting off , concerning your former conduct, 
the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Wishing everyone of you, my dear readers,
 a very
We are starting a new year -- again!!  It seems we hardly have time to get comfortable with writing one year and the next is upon us.
New Year's resolutions are still being made but I have noticed that for most people they are not made with the same zealous intent to keep them.  Seems we have all been there and failed too many times.

Today, I came across some notes I made last summer that made me think about how important it is to know who we are.
We have all heard the phrase "Know Thyself".  It is an ancient Greek aphorism that is  inscribed in the court of the Temple of Apollo. So from ancient times we know there has been a recognition of the need and importance of knowing oneself.
How many religious thoughts or paths start or focus on self,  understanding the world from a self-perspective, finding the god within?   How many ad campaigns are successful because they convince us of some self-need?  How many self-help books feed that inner pride that we can do it ourselves, be self-sufficient, self-reliant, self-driven, self-aware. Do you know there are 113 English words prefixed by self ? see a list here.

Yet for all our self-focus, can we really ever know ourselves by looking within ourselves?
It is so easy to delude ourselves into seeing ourselves as we wish to be seen rather than as we are.  Scripture refers to what happens when a man looks at himself in a mirror.   "....for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was." (James 1:24)
Until we are willing to see ourselves through God's eyes, see ourselves as He declares we are,  we cannot truly 'know ourselves'. As Jeremiah astutely notes ...  "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?" (Jer. 17:9)

Even when we give mental ascent to the 'wicked' tendencies of our heart we are far quicker to see those tendencies in others than ourselves. And while we would not define self-awareness as wicked, does all sin not start with a 'self-focus' ?

I recognized an example of that in myself this summer when I made the notes I came across this morning.
I was following the US Open Tennis tournament where I knew most of the major players.  One afternoon I was in the kitchen multi-tasking - baking and watching a match where one of the players was Roanic -a fellow Canadian. The match was a tight one with winning points going back and forth. All three sets were won by tie-breakers.  While I was watching the match, I realized I was not enjoying the match as much as I had the others and emotionally wanted to turn it off.  I had enjoyed all the previous matches - but this one was different.

Reflecting on the question, I realized that there were two reasons.
One -  in all the other matches I was simply enjoying the games, noting the great shots and cheering for the best man to win. But in this match I had a 'personal' interest.  I wanted one man to win, not because he was playing better than his opponent but because of what his win meant to ME. I wanted a Canadian to win.
Two - Some of the other matches I had watched were taped and I knew the outcome of the game, so the stress level in watching the game was much relaxed.  The game with Roanic was live, the outcome to me was unknown and it was stressful to watch, especially because I knew who I wanted to win the match. I wanted to control the outcome and couldn't.

Isn't that how we walk through life ?   We are quite objective and reasonable in how we judge the things that we encounter UNTIL we have some personal issue or involvement or interest.
I'm not saying that is wrong -- I don't think it can be avoided.  But recognizing that that is what we do can help us to not fall into the traps a self-focus lays to ensnare us.

How often are our prayers formed/worded from our own perspective or desires?   Do we really want God to choose the best solution/answer or do we want Him to answer according to our own desire?  Do we already know how He should answer ? Do we want to be in control? Do we want the answer to fit in with our own desired end?

What does "Thy will be done" really mean?   Can we really bring a burden or a need or a worry or a request to God and with a calm heart say,"Thy will be done" ?"   Can we from our heart pray .. " I leave my request entirely in your hands knowing that my own intense desire in how I want my prayer to be answered is based on my limited vision and knowledge.  I thank you for understanding my human weakness and I willingly give you the right to overrule my own self-wisdom."

Can we 'watch' what God will do simply from a trust-perspective that He will of course do the best thing, the right thing?  Do we recognize that holding tight to our own self-focus interest in our requests may actually 'hinder' God's best for us and for others rather than make room for God's best?

It is not an easy thing to do, is it.... to lay down the way we KNOW a prayer answer should come, but we can grow more and more into that kind of trusting place where our prayers simply bring to God's throne the things that are on our heart.

As the world around us reflects less and less of God's wisdom, God's children have the opportunity to show a world of lost souls  that we have Someone we can trust... the Unchanging One who is all wise - our Eternal Father, who has only our good in mind even when at first it seems to be contrary to what we think is clearly best for us !

Would it make a difference in how 2015 ends if all God's children lifted their eyes off of 'self' and looked more and more  to Him in childlike trust - knowing that in everything we ask we can trust God to do what is best?  He is the God who hears and acts - always - in answer to every prayer.
One of my favourite shows of this season is It's a Wonderful Life.  Wouldn't it be fun if we could see a movie that would show the differences that would happen  in 2015 if more and more of God's people forgot about 'self-interest/focus and turned their hearts and eyes to a God-focus?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Born to Die

We are in the most celebrated season of the year.
While I love Christmas,  the lights, the glitter, the celebration with family and friends, I know that for those 'on the outside' Christmas can be a time of acute loneliness and pain.
I think we often forget that Jesus Himself came to be on the 'outside' - He was born to suffer and die. As He lay in the cradle, the cross hovered nearby.

We too know that death is a given that we will all one day experience, but we are also called to a 'living' death.  We are called to crucify those things that are of self  so that we can shine forth the love and life of Christ that indwells us.

The devotional for today from a book gifted to me by a friend was very insightful and I share it with you here - food for thought and self examination.
It was written by Thomas Watson who lived from 1620-1686.

Love Crucified 
"I have been crucified with Christ , it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."  Gal. 2:20 NKJV

He who loves God will have nothing to do with sin unless to give battle to it. Sin strikes not only at God's honor but also at His being.
Does he who loves his prince protect a traitor to the Crown?
Is he a friend to God who loves that which God hates?
The love of God and the love of sin cannot dwell together. A man cannot love health and lvoe poison, too. He who allows any secret sin in his heart is as far from loving God as heaven and earth are distant one from the other.

He who is a lover of God is dead to the world. He who is in love with God is not much in love with anything else. The love of God and ardent love of the world are inconsistent. Love  to God swallows up all other love. When a man's heart is raised above the world in the admiring and loving of God, how poor and slender are those things on earth below!

Will God ever bestow heaven upon them who so basely undervalue Him, preferring glittering dust before the glorious Deity? What is there in the earth that we should so set our hearts upon it?  The world has no real intrinsic worth; it is but paint and deception.

Thomas Watson (1620-1686)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

"Our hands have handled"

my family - daughter, granddaughters and son-in-love

We recently celebrated the wedding of my son in law's sister.  My granddaughters were bridesmaids and my husband took the above photo of our daughter and family.  We have always lived near enough to each other that our close relationship was one we have treasured but also taken for granted.

Now things are about to change.
My  older granddaughter, who graduated from high school this summer and just celebrated her eighteenth birthday has chosen to go to school in Australia and will be leaving in a couple of months.
 I am happy for her to have the experience attending a Christian music school,  but my heart is also painfully aware of what separation from her will feel like.
I was thinking about it the other day and thought how fortunate we were to have so many ways to stay in touch with someone far away - e-mail, Facebook and Skype that allows voice/sight connections.   Yet somehow it didn't feel 'enough' in my emotions and I questioned myself, "Why not?"
The answer came almost immediately -- because as much as our technology offers, it does not allow 'hands on'.    I won't be able to touch her, hug her, kiss her, see her 'face to face'.

And suddenly I had a deeper insight into one of my favourite verses. -
I John 1:1 -  "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled..... "

This verse speaks to relationship with Jesus.
For some people it is only a very vague sense, or none at all, of some historical figure named Jesus.
For some, they have heard of Jesus' and  have some knowledge of His story.
Some have actually 'seen' Him as in recognizing that Jesus was born as a baby and grew up to give Himself in death on a cross to provide forgiveness of sin.
Then some have actually 'looked upon' Him, accepting Him as their personal Saviour so they can go to heaven when they die.
But then, there are those who 'handle Him' - they make Him their 'hands-on' focus on a daily basis. He is their go-to source of wisdom, of comfort, the one they depend on and trust  for guidance and direction. Their fellowship with Him is real and intimate.

None of the progressive levels of awareness of Jesus are enough  until there is the 'hands-on' relationship. Nothing less will satisfy.  Even so the beloved disciple, John, articulated in his letter. He 'handled' the Word. The Word took on flesh, became Jesus, like unto man, and John had the privilege of being so close to Jesus that he could touch Him and love Him and know Him in an intimate way - heart to heart, mind to mind, Spirit to spirit.

I am not satisfied with anything less either.