Month: October 2013

At a Texas Winery

My son and daughter-in-law took me to lunch at a winery outside of Austin, Texas for my birthday.  As we were waiting for our reservation, we wandered up and down the rows of harvested vines, enjoying the sunshine, and marveling at God’s handiwork. We also marveled at whatever it was that was coiled around the support wires.

I have to confess, it took us a few minutes to figure out what we were looking at. Coming from Illinois, we’re familiar with barbed wire, but this wasn’t barbed and it wasn’t wire. It was coiled and it was hard, woody even. We finally realized it was the hardened leftover tendrils that had connected the grapevine to the support wires.

 These tendrils were really interesting. Some of the tendrils were multiple coils a couple of inches long, and some were just one or two coils. The tendrils were so hard you couldn’t pull them off the wire, but clearly, they were at one time a part of the vine.

When the tendril was attached to the vine it was flexible, strong, and green. It had use, purpose and worth: it attached itself to the wire supports, fence posts, or whatever else was around, pulled the branches toward the sun, and lifted them up so that the grapes could hang down. It was a necessary part of the grape vine.

However, once the harvest was complete, the tendrils were left behind, separated from the branches and from the vine; useless, worthless and purposeless.

As Christians, attached to Christ, we have use, worth and purpose, but apart from Christ, we can do nothing.

John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

We think we can do things apart from Christ. We have ability, education, great insights, personality, creativity, and generosity. We understand things and teach others, we might even talk to people about Jesus; but our work has no eternal value.

When it is tried by fire, it will burn up, and we will stand before Christ as one escaping the flames with only the ashes of our life’s work to place at his feet.

However, if we remain in Christ, and he in us – not next to him, not drawing our strength from him – but allowing him to live out his life through us, we will continue to bear spiritual fruit that will last for all eternity. Apart from him, we become a hardened, useless, purposeless, worthless piece of dry tendril reminding ourselves of who we used to be, and what we used to do.

Colossians 2:6-7 “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

The tendrils were interesting, but that is all. Apart from Christ, would we even be that?

A Tree-Climbing Tree

MarciaNiece2013

This tree is in the side yard of my son and daughter-in-law’s house in Texas and I am fascinated by it. It’s a ‘live oak’. Live oaks are rightly named because they live a long time. I’m not sure how old this one is, but it is huge!

I wonder over the past hundreds of years how many children have played on this tree. Did pioneers sit under its shade? Did it provide shelter from rain? Will it one day be a piece of furniture?

And, just in case you’re wondering, that’s not Zacchaeus in the tree, it is my niece. Zac climbed a sycamore tree. Zacchaeus was a wealthy, hated, tax collector who happened to also be short.  Zac (I think I can call him “Zac”, we’ll be friends in heaven!) didn’t know at the time that God had big plans for him; he just knew that this new superstar, Jesus, whom everyone was talking about was coming his way.

So this tax collector, this wealthy, hated, small man, ran like a child to get to the head of the line and climbed a tree just to see Jesus. He was working hard, in his own effort to just get a glimpse of Jesus. He didn’t ask for help. He didn’t climb on anyone’s shoulders. He just did what he thought he needed to do.

But, he didn’t need to work so hard, the One he sought was seeking him. When Jesus reached the spot where Zacchaeus was, Jesus look up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” (Luke 19:5) Jesus didn’t climb the tree; he called Zac to come to him. And Zac came down and welcomed him gladly!

Then, Jesus went home with Zacchaeus, which angered a lot of people! How could Jesus hang out with such a sinner? But this wealthy sinner had become a saved soul who was willing to give away everything for Jesus. Zac had found the greatest treasure; salvation in Jesus.

Philippians 3:8 “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.”

Zacchaeus was a little man who climbed a tree. To what lengths are you willing to go to see Jesus? Are you willing to run in public? Climb a tree? Or, in other words, make a fool of yourself?

If Jesus were to come to your house today, is there anything that you’d be embarrassed for him to see?

Is there anything that you are not willingly to give up to know Christ more? What if giving it up meant someone else would come to know Christ as the Savior.

When Jesus calls, will you come down from your perch? Out of your hiding place? Are you willing to step into a low position and serve others? Or are you afraid? Do you prefer looking at him from up in a tree?

What Did You Ask For?

When our grandson, Jacob, was two he went to see Santa. The ‘elves’ took his picture, gave him an ornament, and he walked back toward his parents. My son lifted him up and asked him, “What did you ask for?”

Jake got a puzzled look on his face, looked at his ornament, and replied, “I don’t know. I guess an ornament.”

While we laugh at this memory, I wonder what Jake was thinking. Did he know he was supposed to give Santa a list of things he wanted? Did he ask for anything? Was he too intimidated?  Did he think Santa would already know what he wanted? Did he assume Santa would just give him whatever Santa wanted him to have? Did he expect anything? He seemed OK with the ornament.

It’s interesting how many conversations I’ve had with people about prayer that sound really similar to this. We often wonder: if God knows everything, doesn’t he know what I need? Why should I ask? Shouldn’t I just be content with what he gives me? Prayer intimidates me. I don’t know what to ask for.

We are to pray because God ordained prayer as one of the means to accomplish his ends. Jesus prayed. The disciples wanted to know how to pray. And the Bible tells us to pray for everything.

Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

We can ask God for everything we need! It’s interesting that the verse says ‘with thanksgiving’. When we go to God with our list of needs and wants, but begin with thanksgiving for all that we have, all that he has done, and will do, our list of requests often seems to become unimportant. When we start with thanksgiving, we see things more clearly from God’s perspective, and we see that he is already about the business of answering our prayers even before we pray them. But that doesn’t mean we don’t pray, or that we don’t give requests. The verse says, “present your requests to God.”

Unfortunately, sometimes we pray such non-specific prayers, that we aren’t sure if, or when, God does answer. For example, do we even know what we’re asking for if our prayer is just that we want to be a better Christian? What would that look like for you? What one thing do you need from God, this week, which would make you a better Christian? Have you thought to ask for ‘that thing’ specifically? Would you ask for it today?

However, there can be times when we’re so overwhelmed with the events of life that we can’t formulate a prayer. That’s when the Holy Spirit prays for us:

Romans 8:26 “…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”

God wants us to ask, so that when he gives, we see the wonderful gift he’s given. What are you specifically asking for today so that you can tell others exactly what God has given you!

Compelled to Share

Hello. My name is Marcia. I’m a mall-walker. I’m not alone. There are many of us; we arrive before the stores open and we barrel briskly down the mostly empty hallways for exercise. The mall is great for walking, there’s security, heat in winter, AC in summer, it never rains, you don’t have to jump out of the way of a bicycle, and you’re never too far from a bathroom.

A few months ago my friend, who’s also a mall-walker, and I were speeding along when a young woman came into view heading straight toward us pushing a custodial cart. She made eye contact and with a huge smile on her face, as if she knew us, she headed in our direction. The second she was close enough to speak, she said, “I just got promoted! I’ll never have to push this cart again!”

We clapped! We hugged her! We congratulated her! We had no idea who she was! After a minute we resumed our walk; smiling and filled with joy. What a moment. She had great news to share and it didn’t matter who she shared it with. It was as if she was compelled by some inner force to share. We were privileged to rejoice with her.

I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul who said in 1 Corinthians 9:16, “For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” When it came to the gospel, Paul was like this young woman, he had to share. He had to preach. He was compelled by God’s Holy Spirit to share what God had put in his heart and mind.

Do you remember what it was like to feel that way about Jesus?  Can you recall when your salvation was new and your joy was overflowing and you just had to tell everyone about this great new adventure you were on with God?

What happened?  Did the walk with God grow old?  Did it prove to be more difficult than you thought?  Did other people’s reaction drain the joy out of your testimony? Did church get boring? Did Bible study fall by the wayside?

King David prays in Psalm 51, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.” Is that your prayer? Should it be?

Perhaps we’ve lost our joy because we misunderstood our responsibility. We are not to save others, but to teach them God’s ways. We learn God’s ways by studying his word and applying it. We teach others when we tell them what God has done in our own lives.

That’s what the young woman did. She inadvertently shared with us what God had just done in her life! It gave us all joy. What has God done in your life? Who needs to hear it?

The Pillow Fiasco

This afternoon I boxed up my most recent new pillow. It was supposed to be the perfect pillow. I’m returning it. It’s not perfect. This is the fourth pillow I’ve returned in four weeks. Tonight, I’ll be fighting my old pillow again.

Why is it so difficult to find a good pillow? I’m not that picky; I just want one that’s not too firm, not too soft, not squishy, and not crunchy. My current pillow started making crunching sounds a few weeks ago. Trust me, that is not good for sleeping through the night.

I just want to be comfortable. I want to sink my head down into the perfect pillow at the end of the day, and sleep all night without having to flip or squeeze the pillow into shape. Is that too much to ask?

When we stop to think about it, it’s amazing how often we use comfort to make decisions in life. We buy clothes based on comfort. We place our sofas where we’re most comfortable watching TV. We choose friends based on who we’re most comfortable to be around. We go to restaurants where we feel the most comfortable. We avoid people, things, places and situations where we feel uncomfortable.

This morning during my quiet time, I read in Luke 9:57-58, “Someone said to Jesus, ‘I will follow you no matter where you go.’ But Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but I the Son of Man, have no home of my own, not even a place to lay my head.’”  I wonder if that person followed Jesus. Or did that sound too uncomfortable? Even today, we decide where, when, and how to serve the Lord Jesus based on our comfort.

Would you follow Jesus if you knew it meant being uncomfortable? The disciples did. They left everything. They didn’t know where their next meal was coming from, let alone where they would sleep at night, and I’m sure they didn’t carry along a pillow.

Are you willing to be uncomfortable to follow Jesus?

Would you give up a seat in the pew and serve in the nursery? What about the book club that meets at the same time as the Bible study you were invited to? Would you give up sleeping in on Saturday to attend a Leader’s Meeting? Are you willing to walk into a nursing home and spend time with an elderly or infirm stranger? And, how uncomfortable would it be to volunteer at hospice?

If God is calling you out of your comfort zone, isn’t it worth it? Isn’t it worth trusting him to overcome your fear, complacency, laziness, busyness, introverted personality, or whatever else it is that keeps you from serving him? Isn’t it worth allowing him to remove the idol of comfort in your life?

You may even have to give up some sleep, but it probably means you’ll sleep better when you do sleep, even if your pillow is crunchy.