Growing Gardens

Recently I gave a message at the church I attend and I wanted to share it with you all. I hope it is an encouragement to you all. Blessings!

In 2019 a movie came out that would go on to be the highest grossing movie of all time. Any guesses? Avengers Endgame is the culmination of 22 Marvel Universe films over an 11 year period. All of those films built up to one peak moment. The villain, Thanos, was attempting to reset the universe by eliminating a third of all living creatures. His methods weren’t based on merit or the salvation of the righteous but solely on mass destruction to preserve those left behind.

Besides what some of us may think, we don’t live in a superhero universe. But we do have an endgame that all of life is building up to. So what’s the endgame? As believers in Jesus, what is all of this leading up to?Is it heaven? Is it something else? For all of my childhood and much of my adult life, I was under the impression that heaven was the goal. After all, we’re told that our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20) and that Jesus went away to prepare a place for us (John 14:2). But none of those things speak of our final destination. You see, heaven is just another temporary stop on our way home. To understand the end, we have to go back to the beginning.

“then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Genesis‬ ‭2:7-15‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The garden was created as a place for Man and God to coexist. It was a place where heaven and earth overlapped. God and His creation could experience and intimacy unhindered by brokenness and death. It was a place filled with beauty and purpose. The entire salvation narrative is imaged in these few verses. God forms us, He gives us life, and then he takes us to a home prepared for us. But it wasn’t to last for Adam and Eve. After an unknown number of years, they messed up and the result was exile. Refer to Genesis 3:23-24. Ever since we’ve been living in exile with a longing to get back to the garden. Throughout the remainder of the Bible our attention is constantly drawn to the Garden.

The tabernacle and the temple both contained illusions to the garden. The Gold and onyx, the lampstand, the flowers And vines, the olive oil used, etc. It was a place where God’s holiness resided. A place where a certain few could come and meet with Him. The promised land is also a picture of God bringing us back to Eden (Num 13 the fruit that the spies brought back). It was a land flowing with milk and honey. A place between the Great rivers.

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” Revelation‬ ‭22:1-5‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Tell me that doesn’t sound like a garden. Earth will be renewed. We are coming back with our Savior King. The Holy City will descend and Heaven and Earth will be one. Intimacy with God will be final and glorious.

Understanding our origins and our destiny helps us to know our purpose here and now.

Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19 and 2 Cor 6:16). So what does that mean? We have the garden living inside of us. Our hearts desire new things, eternal things. God resides within us. If the tabernacle and the temple were meant to be sanctuaries of God’s peace and love and truth, then that’s what we’re supposed to be. Christ’s sacrifice opened up a whole new intimate relationship with our God that hadn’t been enjoyed since the Garden. Even the tabernacle and the temple had a veil, but Jesus tore that down. So what does that mean for our purpose?

“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”” John‬ ‭7:38‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Our role is to water the soil of our surroundings and work to bring the kingdom of heaven to our place on earth. We are springs of living water and we are called to help perpetuate new life. Not that we can give life ourselves but that we show people the source of living water within us. The believer is a Gardner. Our homes should be a garden. Our area of the workplace should be a garden. Our relationships should be a gardens. Think of all the words Jesus spoke comparing us to the branches and Him the vine and how we need to remain connected to Him to bear fruit. Or later when Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit that all believers should be hearing. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and goodness should all be growing within us and spring forth into our homes and relationships.

Our words, prayers, and actions can bring about healing, encouragement, and hope. Our life should point others to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. The only way that’s going to happen is if our spring isn’t stopped up. My hope for you and me is that the springs of living water would break free within us.

Let’s go plant some gardens!

With every season

Seasons change and we’re not always ready for it. But the fact that they change is inevitable. Daughters become little girls overnight. The journey from the hospital room to your little boy’s one year birthday party seems like a flash. People come and go in our lives. Loss happens in an instant. Relationships change and evolve. Pandemics can sweep the world. It’s best to not fight change but to expect it. The only constant in life is the One Who originated life. He is who we cling to in the hard seasons of change. He is who we cling to in the celebrations of life.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭13:8‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Let Jesus be your constant in the ever changing seasons of life. Peace in Christ brothers and sisters.

Who is God for?

LetYourLightShine

Have you ever pondered the question of whether or not God was for you? What does that exactly mean? Are we asking if God is in support of what we want or how we would like our lives to turn out? How about during strife with someone else? Do we wonder if God would take our side in the ordeal? Maybe He’s for our career pursuits? In times of war, is He for our nation’s cause or the other?

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  Romans 8:31 NIV

I think its very important to understand the context of this passage in Romans. I hear or read people quote it often and quite a lot it seems to be thrown around pretty loosely to apply to almost anything. Yes, God is for us. But what does that mean? If you read the entirety of chapter 8 (enlight of all of the Book of Romans) we are being told that God is our spiritual transformation and our eternal destination. Those are the two things God wants more than anything for every person in His creation. No matter how much we run away, God wants us back. No matter how much we bring shame to His name or ridicule His holiness with our lives, He wants us back. God is for us in the best possible way. God is always faithful and God is always true. Instead of wondering if God is for us, we should focus on whether or not we are for Him.

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters

The salvation equation

 

Have you ever tried to “add” to our salvation? What I mean by that is you think you need to accomplish something in order to seal your salvation. There’s a stark contrast between adding to our faith and adding to our salvation. Passages like 2 Peter chapter one and James chapter two can make people think that somehow there’s an equation associated with salvation. Something like Jesus plus…(you fill in the blank) equals me being saved.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

For me, I struggle with a perfectionist mentality. I can’t stand doing something less than extremely well. When I don’t, which is often, I feel a sense of failure. When it comes to my relationship with Jesus, I’ve based my sense of well-being on how well I’m doing as a follower. Some of the factors that affect my perception are things like how often I’m serving those in need, how much prayer time I’m devoting, if I’m keeping up on my Bible plans, if I’ve devoted a lot of time to worship or not, and how well I’ve treated others. No one would argue that those aren’t all great things, right? But nowhere in the Bible does it say that my salvation is based on my relationship with Jesus PLUS how many times I pray or sing worship songs or serve the homeless.

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Acts 4:12 NIV

All of us have been guilty of pursuing holiness as a means of being in the presence of Jesus. All that amounts to is self-righteousness which is no righteousness at all. The only true righteousness is that which is imparted by faith in Christ. Everything else is but filthy rags according to scripture. It’s being touched by God that makes us holy and it’s because we’ve been made holy that we start acting accordingly. Isaiah, a devout man of God, (probably far more than any of us here tonight) knew that nothing he had done could possibly warrant Him being in the presence of God’s holiness in the temple. That privilege had to be granted by God alone. The same goes for Moses before the burning bush as he stood on holy ground.

“Holiness is not the way to Christ, Christ is the way to holiness.”

Charles Spurgeon

We need a humble heart that knows our need, not a puffed-up spirit built on the backs of all we’ve accomplished. We have to stop thinking that we add to or earn our salvation in any way. And we also can’t be people who seek to push a similar agenda on innocent believers and non-believers alike. The Apostle Paul was appalled by such people. There were those in the first century, and every century since, who were pushing a message of “now that you have Jesus you still need all of these other things in order to be saved.” Paul rebuked these people. Just check out Colossians 2, Galatians 1, and 2 Corinthians 11 if you want to see exactly what I’m referring to.

Jesus *said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

John 14:6 NASB

It all boils down to this: if we say, in any way, that Jesus plus ___ equals salvation, we are devaluing Jesus. His sacrifice is all-sufficient. His blood cleanses us from sin. His life gives us life. He makes us children, and heirs. It was Him who ransomed you and me from the grave and In the end, it will be Jesus who ransoms this world. That is the message we carry and we need to share with the world, and with ourselves.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

2 Corinthians 5:21 NASB

Jesus plus NOTHING equals salvation. Walk in that freedom brothers and sisters.

Christ-like, not us-like

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

It is, always has been, and always will be the purpose of God to mold His creation to be more like His Son.  In allowing God to do this for us we must die to ourselves. That’s a concept that is both strange and frightening at first. We must live this life from the perspective of who we are in Christ. We are either taking steps towards this or away from it. We know the general direction God wants us to go and He is forever doing His part by guiding us in that path. But it’s up to us to stay on that path. As Ephesians 4:15 says, we are growing in every way like Christ. That means we can’t have areas of our lives that we tell God that we don’t want Him to mess with. We have to refuse to hold back parts of our lives and must be committed to allowing God to have every aspect of our lives to transform us into the likeness of Jesus. Once we became believers the “self” died and Christ lived in us. This is Christ’s life, not ours and just as He died for us we too must sacrifice our selfishness out of love for Christ. We don’t do this as an obligation but as an opportunity to serve our Savior and show our love and affection for Him. The more we make life about Him and about others the more joy we experience in this life and the more our life begins to make sense on a cosmic level.

Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. Ephesians 4:15 (NLT)

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters!

ALL unto Jesus

1280x1280

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Colossians 3:23-24 (NIV)

Often times I have to examine my life to see if I am really doing everything to the best of my ability. That is about more than just my effort, it’s also about my attitude. This includes work, ministries, marriage, family, and friends, and most importantly: our relationship with Jesus. I think it’s important to remember that all good and pure things we do, we need to do with all our hearts as though we are doing it unto the Lord. It’s far easier to devote our time at church, our time in worship, and our time serving others to the glory of God, but how about the routine things of life? How about our jobs, or hobbies, and even the things we do want to do? Those things can equally be a form of worship if they are done in a way that brings attention to the person and character of Jesus. If we devote all areas of our life to God then imagine how much of a blessing we’ll be to others. If we can approach the tasks of life with a high level of gratitude and humility I think we’ll be amazed at just how much we can do all things unto the Lord.

Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” John 6:27 (NKJV)

God bless loved ones!

Don’t be a rotten fig tree

“On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.” Mark‬ ‭11:12-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This has been one of the oddest stories in the New Testament, for me, for so long. It just seemed out of place. But knowing that God has a unique design for everything that’s in the Bible I still knew that there was a deeper meaning that I was missing. When it finally dawned on me I became extremely convicted. That seems to happen a lot when reading the Bible.

Jesus used the symbolism of the withered fig tree to teach His disciples that the nation of Israel had become as spiritually fruitless as the tree Jesus cursed. The same lesson is important for today’s followers of Jesus to understand as well. A person can look spiritually healthy on the outside just as the fig tree looked good for bearing fruit. But the best indicators of spiritual health are a person’s faith in God and love for others (see vv. 22-25). We can certainly look the part and not be the part. More than anything Jesus renounced and rebuked hypocrisy in people who claimed allegiance to God.

“As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots.” Mark‬ ‭11:20‬ ‭ESV‬‬

For all the people walking into churches and going to Bible studies yet aren’t producing faith and love and change in their lives are but a tree withering at the roots. We have to guard against complacency and apathy. We have to let Jesus keep our hearts soft and tender and open to others. We have to continue to grow in love and goodness. Let’s move forward loved ones. Let’s produce the faith and joy and wonder that this world longs to see.

“”You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew‬ ‭5:14-16‬ ‭ESV‬‬

A new path

Look back over the last year and a half is someone depressing when it comes to taking care of myself. I’m not huge on New Years resolutions but something has to change. I could make excuses all day. We had a new baby join the family, my business has taken off, my two older children are in school now, I have lots of new responsibilities at work, etc…But when it all comes down to it, I’m just not making it a priority to take care of myself. I don’t want to be dramatic but if I want to make it 50 I better reverse course immediately. I’m driving myself into the dirt and not feeding myself with the right fuel. Too much soda, sweets, and fast food and not enough vitamins, nutrients, water, rest, and exercise. I get lazy with taking care of myself when I’m busy taking care of my family, business, and over 160 high school kids. But laziness will be the death of me.

I’m putting my foot down. Enough is enough. I’m tired of feeling drained and depleted. My life won’t be slowing down any time soon but I can make the choice to refill my body and soul with the right stuff to keep running strong. I will choose to study and meditate on the Word more. I’ve already started studying the book of Mark and a memorization of scripture with my good friend Matt. I will work out consistently, eat better, stop and rest more, do more of what I enjoy with those random minutes of free time. I will do better in every area.

A man without self control is like a city broken into and left without walls. Proverbs 25:28 ESV

A year from now I hope to be celebrating with all of you are fighting the same fight. The fight for self control. The fight to no longer be controlled by indulgences. I hope to celebrate victory through more health and wholeness. That is my new path. One that I hope to never leave.

Jesus said GO, not stay

whoWillGo

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.

Mark 16:15 NIV

So many of us are spending our lives staying put, waiting on something or someone, working away through the drudgery of life. When we live that way, we are ignoring the life mission that our Savior has given us. Our life mission is to be on mission, wherever we are, and whenever there is an opportunity. Jesus tells His followers to go, not to stay. That warrants the question: what does it mean to ‘go’? Well, I would say that depends on several things. What are your passions? Are you using them to make Jesus known? Where do you work? Is the gospel proclaimed there? Who is in your sphere of influence? Do they know Jesus? What’s your financial situation? How can your possessions and/or money be put to use to further the mission of Christ? Where are the hurting and needy in your community? How can you come to their aid?

Going means knowing the needs of those around us and doing what we can to fill those needs. The world needs Jesus. The world needs genuine love. The world needs a truth that is unwavering and doesn’t bend to cultural pressures. The world needs to value life and human dignity. We can, and should be bringing those things to our home, our work, our schools, our community, and beyond our shores. Whatever we do, we cannot waste this life we’ve been given by staying where we are, emotionally, physically, or spiritually. Stagnation always leads to regression. The call to “go” beckons us to move forward…to progress. Jesus didn’t say, “wait until I call you.” We’ve already been called. Let’s make Him and His love known. The world awaits us.

…but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.

Acts 1:8 NASB

You’re Being Read

preach-reconciliation

Very few people in the world today actually read the Bible. The above image was taken from Christians….CHRISTIANS! More than 50% of Christians are not familiar with the Bible. Only 20% have actually read the entire thing. This is God’s story. This is the story of humanity. It’s the story of redemption, past, present, and future. It’s the most valuable information we could ever gain. It’s universal in application. It’s faultless. Yet, for so many, it’s collecting dust on people’s shelves or sitting as an unused app on their phones. If this is the case among Christians, you know that far fewer non-believers are reading it. But do you know what they are reading? You and me. If people aren’t reading about who Jesus is, we need to show them. We may be the only image of Jesus they get. What message are the people in your life getting? The message of Christ is not contained when it lives in and through His followers. Let’s show the world the contents of the Bible by how we live and love and the truth that is the banner of our lives.