We were studying Luke in our Wednesday night home group, and it was Josh Howard’s turn to teach. He made the point that Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus had cast seven demons, was at the cross with Jesus. Then she was at the tomb on Sunday morning to anoint his body, but instead she saw the risen Jesus. Josh told us, “Jesus healed a lot of people. But Mary was there at the end for the Lord.” The thought occurred to me, “If every person who had been healed or delivered of demons or saved by Jesus had come to the cross, there would not have been room for them.” And then I thought, “Why weren’t they there?” Well, the same reason why I am often not ‘there’ for Jesus when he is being persecuted today. I am afraid to speak up, or ashamed to acknowledge, sometimes, that yes, I do believe Jesus is the Son of God. And that I do believe he is our hope for salvation, and that there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Paul may have struggled with this sometimes; I’m not sure. But I know he asked the church at Ephesus to pray for him, “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.” Have you ever put that on your prayer list? Let’s agree to pray that for one another this year.
I was reading in Isaiah and saw where God called his people obstinate. He actually said they had iron necks and brass foreheads. Does anybody besides me resemble that remark? I have a hard head and a stiff neck. A hard head is marked by stubbornness, thinking you’re always right, with a very slow trigger on asking for any help thrown in to boot. A stiff neck keeps your hard head right where it is, so you won’t turn your face to the Lord, and to your brothers and sisters. As I pondered that, I wrote down two things I think we can all do to be less hard headed.
The first thing is to learn, and really receive, the truth that God loves you with a perfect love. That means he also likes you, and his love and his like is not dependent on you or on your family ’getting it all right.” You say, “I thought people who are hard headed are that way because they are proud of how much God loves them, even thinking God loves them a little bit more than the next guy.” I don’t think so. I think the hardest heads belong to those who do not receive his love or fully embrace his grace. They still think they can earn it through hard work and by keeping their lists of doing all the right things. The truth is, understanding God loves us and likes us frees us to love him more. It also frees us to love our wife or husband more, and to love our children more, regardless of whether they get it all right. The hard-headed way of thinking, “I have to get it all right” is legalism. Legalism will lead to either one of two things. It will produce bound-up, fearful people who simply walk in lockstep to what they believe will make God or others around them happy. Or, it will produce rebels, who eventually throw off all restraints and run headlong into sin. God. Loves. You. Period. Believe it, receive it, and then practice that kind of love with everybody you know.
Here’s the second thing. Once the thinking is right, start the practice of admitting when you are not in the right place or the right mind. Not just to yourself and to God. But practice admitting that to a trusted brother or sister in the Lord. Not one of us can do this Christian walk by ourselves. Admitting we need the church is an act of humility, and that takes care of a hard head in short order.
I hope this will encourage you on your journey through the new year.
Since when do we need to “make the Bible relevant?” I hear those war-drums banged by hipster pastors those in trendy churches, and I just don’t get it. Either the Bible is true, or it’s not. If it is true, then “salvation comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God,” not by entertainment or cultural relevancy or even by storytelling. You cannot “make” the Bible relevant. It is or it isn’t. If you believe the Bible is relevant, preach it.
Someone sent this to me from a church in another state: “We do not allow children between the ages of three months and fifth grade in the adult worship service.” Note: It is not a preference there, it is the law! The message went on to explain that adults will “worship better” without distractions. Two questions: when did training our children to worship with us become a distraction? I thought it was a privilege and a responsibility. Secondly, when did “personal comfort” become our highest goal at church?
Since we are on the subject of our children, let me encourage you Dads to hug your children every day. Tell your daughters and especially your sons, that you are proud of them. Their souls will bear that imprint throughout their lives.
If you are having trouble with boomerang children, you might laugh (or cry) when you hear Paul Shanklin’s classic song from a few years back, “Can’t Fit the Cradle.” It is set to the tune of the classic Harry Chapin song, but the chorus goes, “Well, he can’t fit the cradle and he sleeps ’til noon. The boy’s 42 and he don’t have a clue. When you gonna leave son?” ‘I don’t know when. We’ll have a good time til then, Dad, we’ll have a good time til then.’” At the end of the song, the boy finally gets married again and moves out. The dad sings, “And as they drove away, it occurred to me, the boy had a front door key, yeah, he still had a front door key!”
Speaking of keys, get a copy of Rosaria Butterfield’s book, “The Gospel Comes With a House Key.” If you don’t know anything about Butterfield, you should Google her and read how she came to Christ as a radical feminist English professor at Syracuse University. Or read her first book, “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.” Her latest book is an invitation to ordinary Christians like you and me to practice what she calls “radical, ordinary hospitality.” It challenges us to be more intentional about opening our home, our dinner table, our hearts, and our lives to those around us.
As we take the next few steps into a new year, let me remind you that actions can become habits. Habits shape character. Character helps determine destiny. Put some actions into play this year with these four “starts.” Start reading the Bible. Start going to church. With over 400 in the county to choose from, there is no excuse. Find one that still believes the Bible and darken their door every week. Start eating dinner together as a family. And start telling people in your life that you love them. Why wait until you’re on a ventilator and they won’t believe you then, anyway?
Dave Barry wrote several years ago about the increase of political correctness we find in our culture surrounding Christmas: “To avoid offending anybody, the schools dropped religion altogether and started singing about the weather. At my son’s school, they now hold the winter program in February and sing increasingly non-memorable songs such as ‘Winter Wonderland,’ ‘Frosty the Snowman’ and, this is a real song, ‘Suzy Snowflake,’ all of which is pretty funny because we live in Miami. A visitor from another planet would assume that the children belonged to the Church of Meteorology.” I don’t know about “Suzy Snowflake,” but I do know that when angels appeared 2,000 years ago to poor shepherds on a Judean hillside, they weren’t there to talk about the weather.
Luke tells us that the shepherds were outside, watching their sheep, and an angel appeared to them. Let me ask you: what would you do if an angel showed up at your workplace? I am not talking about your wife, men, though I don’t doubt that she is angelic. No, this was an angel from heaven, not a redeemed sinner from earth. The shepherds went from calm to terrified in an instant. The Bible says they were “greatly afraid.” JB Phillips translates it, “terror-stricken.”
Luke was a historian, and was not given to exaggeration. If anything, he understated the case. The shepherds were terrified and part of the reason was that the angel just appeared, out of nowhere, without warning. Perhaps that’s why the same angel said, “Do not be afraid,” nearly every time he showed up.
God turns the great fear of the shepherds into the greater joy of the shepherds. How? How do you go from fear to joy? By hearing and believing good news. Think of a person waiting for the doctor to come in with the test results. He has been diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer. Now the surgery and the treatments have been done, and test results will reveal the truth. The patient is filled with fear as he waits to hear from the doctor. He goes from great fear to greater joy instantly when he hears the good news: “Your cancer is gone.” The angel says, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy…for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Heaven has come down; God’s glory has come to earth. Great fear has been replaced by greater joy because of the greatest news the world has ever heard. The bad news for healed cancer patients is that they are still going to die. The good news for redeemed sinners is that though we die, we will live again because of the news the angels proclaimed on a Judean hillside two millennia ago. Are you looking for joy this Christmas? Then believe and receive the good news.
You can sing about the weather for the next few days if you like. Since God is the weatherman, only he can “let it snow.” I would rather join in the angels’ song, translated by Charles Wesley this way: “Hark the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King; peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled! Joyful all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies; With the angelic host proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem! Hark, the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King.”
May you have a merry and joyous Christmas!
During this time of the year, when my favorite foods are so plentiful, I can go on a sweet-eating binge as fast as you can say “homemade fudge.” Which brings up the question I ask my wife every year: “Why do we need to make fudge?”
“It is a Christmas tradition,” she says. To which I reply, “So is gaining five pounds. Some traditions we could do without.”
We have lots of things we like to do around Christmas, just like you. We read through the Christmas story, starting Dec. 1, and follow the story of the Messiah’s birth as it was foretold centuries before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. We participate in Operation Christmas Child. More than the socks, toys, and candy, a local church delivers each shoebox gift, and the pastor there will share the Gospel message that God sent Jesus “that the world through Him might be saved.”
We sing Christmas carols to neighbors or to shut-ins from our church, and sometimes take them a basket filled with goodies. We write a Christmas letter. On the night we decorate the Christmas tree, we make cookies, watch “The Christmas Carol,” or my new favorite Christmas movie, “The Nativity Story.” On that night, the kids (and their kids) sleep with the tree. Ma in her kerchief and I in my cap … do not.
On Christmas morning, we gather in the living room and read Luke 2 together, sing a Christmas carol, and pray. Then after breakfast, we gather again in the living room to open presents. The iPhone cameras are rolling, the kids and grandkids are at the top of their game with funny comments, and the love that we share as a family is sweeter than the chocolate chip pie from Christmas Eve dinner.
Which brings me back around to eating too much during the holidays. I will exercise more this month in an effort to fight back, but in a way that’s like building a hospital at the bottom of a mountain instead of adding guardrails at the top. I need to send my will to the gym. The truth is, many of us simply have weak wills that need to be trained, not just for portion control at the table but for every other area of our lives. Our minds are quite capable, and we know much more than we have ever lived out. Our emotions are fully operational and ready to take over at a moment’s notice, and for many of us, lead the whole time. But our wills are puny, malnourished, 90-pound weaklings. That is why I can stand in front of the dessert table and have this conversation.
My mind: “I just ate four thousand calories. I don’t need dessert.” My emotions: “Oh, good grief, it is once a year. Besides, take a look at that pecan pie.” My will: “Uh…umm…well…”
You get the picture. My will can be an absolute wimp, which is why I need to develop it. Here are some tips from a book written by Helen Andelin in the 1960’s. She gives three steps to take every day to help in training our wills, which I have adapted:
Do something unpleasant — take a cold shower, exercise, or eat health food you don’t like.
Do something difficult — do a hard job, stick to your diet, work on a difficult goal.
Demand quotas of yourself — get up at 4:30, get a specific job done at a given time, put your finances on a budget, read a book every month, have exercise goals.
I need this advice, and maybe some of you do as well. Merry Christmas, and pass (up?) the pecan pie.
When I was little, around this time of year, I would be almost beside myself with anticipation. I could not wait for the day to finally arrive. You know which one I’m talking about. My brothers and I would try to be on our best behavior, for one month out of the year, at least, because the day was coming. We didn’t want to lose out on anything that might be under the tree or in our stocking on the day. So we kept our rooms clean. Kind of. I mean, Mom was happy as long as she didn’t open my closet door. You know, my skateboard, which I stuffed in the closet last, could fall from the top shelf right onto her head.
But we cleaned a little, and we even asked Mom if she needed help with cleaning the kitchen as she prepared for the big day. We were like little angels, my brothers and I. We would even strike up a peace accord during the month, and agree not to shoot our BB guns at each other, until after the day. There was nothing more important than the day, and that’s why, on the Eve of the Day, for one night, we three brothers would sleep in the same bed. It got to be pretty cumbersome when we were 17, 15, and 11. But it was worth it, for Christmas.
Which leads me to a question: When did Christmas begin? Was it sometime around 4 B.C., in the dusty little town of Bethlehem? Or did Christmas emerge from a pagan holiday in Rome in the first century? Maybe Christmas was created when Nicholas was a bishop in Turkey in the 4th century. Perhaps Christmas doesn’t exist at all, and we should resign ourselves to wishing each other the more benign “Happy Holidays.” One note of irony is that even the word, “holiday” is a contracted form of “holy day.” The next time the clerk wishes you one, with a smile thank him or her for helping you keep this season holy.
The truth is, Christmas did not begin in a manger in Bethlehem, but long before that. In fact, Christmas had no beginning. It always was. If we define Christmas as the coming of the Messiah, the incarnation of the Christ, the time when God took on human flesh and dwelt among us for a while, then there was never a time in history that Christmas did not exist. At least, not in the mind of God. In fact, even before time existed, Christmas was. You could go back one hundred million years before the birth of Christ, and Christmas was there.
How do we know that? Because the Bible speaks plainly on the subject. Peter wrote of Jesus, “He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for you who through him believe in God.” In other words, it was in God’s mind to send Jesus to the earth long before God ever formed the world. He knew we would need a Savior, and there was only one available.
Remember, love is an action, a commitment of the will that results in one sacrificing for another. The Bible says that Jesus is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Do you want to know what God gave you for Christmas? Before the world was ever spoken into existence, God gave His son, Jesus, to die for you and for me. What else can He do for you? And how do we respond to such a gift? The songwriter said it this way:
What then can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb, If I were a wise man, I would do my part. What then can I give Him? I must give my heart.
The greatest single life event that has ever happened to anyone is when Christ gives the gift of faith, and the grace of God changes a man or woman from darkness to light, from dead to alive, from lost to saved. But what are we to do, then? How do we respond to this personal life-quake that rearranges everything in our hearts, and turns everything in our minds right-side up for the first time? Here’s one thing we should not do. I heard about a college coach years ago that got saved. Great! So he decided to buy a boat, leave his wife, and sail around the world, telling people about Jesus. Not great. That’s called zeal without knowledge, friends. It’s also called disobedience, not just for the obvious fact that he left his wife, but that he left the place where he was when he became a follower of Jesus. New converts often feel like the only way they can serve God is to become an evangelist, a pastor, or a career missionary. But Jesus calls people in all kinds of vocations, and he uses those whom he has called in those same places. That means of course that we are called to be Christian fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, singles, sons, and daughters. It also means that we are called to be Christian students, or homemakers, Christian business owners or teachers, Christian truckers or carpenters.
What does the Bible say? “Let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him.” Literally, “walk in the way” the Lord has assigned. Christians have two vocations, if you will. We are, as Martin Luther liked to say, “genuinely bi-vocational.” The first calling is vertical, a relationship with Christ. It is paramount, and it nourishes and sustains the second. The second calling is horizontal, the vocational calling to manage our time and resources and abilities to the glory of God in a place of work. Both are necessary, and both are God-given. But, here’s an important truth: You and I do not receive our identity from what we do, but from who we belong to. Christ. That means that you are a Christian realtor, a Christian homemaker, a Christian brick mason, not a realtor or homemaker or brick mason who happens to be a Christian.
That also means your work is not meant to provide ultimate fulfillment. God gave Adam work, but it wasn’t the garden that was Adam’s treasure; God was. It was those long walks in the cool of the evening with the Lord that defined who Adam was, even as he worked to tend and to keep the garden that had been assigned to him. What happens when we flip that on its head, so that we see our job as our identity, and therefore the ultimate source of our fulfillment? We get off the rails, because we put the vertical relationship in second place. We look to our jobs, our income, our position in the company, or our status in society to fulfill us. It cannot do it, so we get frustrated. We flounder. We become anxious, or depressed. We end up hating our job, or going from one job to another. Perhaps that helps explain recent data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that 91% of millennials stay in a job less than 3 years, and will have 15-20 jobs over the course of their working lives. Of course, they are not much different from many Boomer parents who also lived for their jobs.
What is the answer? Lead the life the Lord has assigned to you. Make knowing him your first calling, and your most important job. Then, commit yourself to being the very best at your second vocation, for his glory.
We have all been to a wedding, at least one if we are married. We have seen a bride almost faint or fall right out because she locked her knees. We have seen the groom struggle to get the ring on the bride’s finger, or the other way around. We have sat in the freezing cold or the sweltering heat. In our wedding, Cindy and I knelt on a kneeling bench to take communion together as our first act as a married couple, and when I stood, the knees of my tuxedo pants were pasty white from the talcum powder that my groomsmen had so helpfully put on the bench.
We all have stories about weddings. But at the end of the day, as long as both bride and groom showed up and made vows to one another in the presence of God and those who witnessed the event, at the end of the day they are … married. No longer single. The two had become one. In this biblical math that refers to marriage, one plus one equals one. God said it in the creation account of the first marriage, “A man shall leave his father and mother, hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” It is a profound mystery, isn’t it? That God would join a man and a woman together and transform not only their lives, but the lives of their children, and the lives of those in the church and community where those two put Christ’s love affair with his church on display.
Though the mystery is profound, it is not always permanent. It is always two sinners who marry, and even though they may be saved by grace, not only husband and wife in this life but brother and sister for all eternity, marriage is difficult. I believe it is at the same time the hardest and the most glorious thing we do this side of heaven: to stay married to the same person for a lifetime. I also understand that there are times when it is good to separate, as in the case of abuse or other dangerous circumstances. The exceptions do not change the norm, however, which is to stay together.
Jesus repeated the founding principle for marriage in Matthew 19, and added, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Paul repeated the same principle at least twice. What’s the point? The biblical foundation for marriage between one man and one woman for life could not be clearer than it already is.
Have you ever seen a video review of a play on an NFL game? The catch was called a touchdown, but the opposing coach throws a challenge flag because he thinks the receiver stepped one toe out of bounds as he raced for the end zone. You see the replay 50 times, and there is no question that the receiver was in bounds. So the referee finally says, “After further review, the calling on the field is confirmed.” That’s what the Bible says about marriage for a lifetime. God said it more than once. Jesus said it more than once. Paul said it more than once. After further review, the calling on marriage is confirmed: what God has joined together, let not man separate.
May I suggest to you what you already know if you are married? Divorce should not be an option, should never be discussed, or threatened, or hinted at, or even thought about. My wife of 36 years told me recently that she determined early on not to allow herself to ever even think about separation or divorce. That’s what I call, “taking every thought captive to obey Christ.”
If you are ready to throw in the towel, it’s too early to quit. Get help from biblical counselors. Cry out to God. Speak and do what communicates love to your spouse.
Marriage is hard. But it is worth the fight to stay together.
God calls everyone to singleness for a season, and some to singleness for a lifetime. In either case, singleness is not a mistake or an aberration, and single Christians are not second-class! Vaughn Roberts writes, “A friend of mine once belonged to a young adult church group called ‘Pairs and Spares.’ Single people can be made to feel like spare parts in their families, social groups, and churches. One man was so fed up with being asked ‘Are you still single?’ that he began to respond, ‘Are you still married?’”
Singleness is a gift from God. That’s what the Bible teaches, and you can see it for yourself in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. However, singleness can only be received by those to whom it has been given. Many do not have that gift, but remain single because God has simply not provided a mate for them yet. That begs the question, what about those who are choosing to remain single, for reasons that are not good? Marriage is defiled in the minds of many by Hollywood, the media, and fairy tales. Some cannot find the “perfect mate,” so they keep playing the field. Not to mention that they are nowhere near the “perfect mate” themselves, for that person does not exist. Tim Keller writes, “There are two factors for having this so-called new idealism. The first is physical attractiveness and sexual chemistry. In other words, the other person (you would marry) has to be extremely physically attractive. Secondly, compatibility. Compatibility means ‘you want someone who has the willingness to take you in as you are and not change you.’” That sounds like narcissism, not a desire for compatibility.
Another unbiblical reason for staying single is simply because you don’t want to be bothered. You cherish independence more than anything in life, and simply do not want the hassle of accommodating another person who might, God forbid, interfere with the way you live to please yourself. By the way, that happens too often in marriage. A woman said to her husband, “Bob, the problem in this marriage is that both of us are in love with the same man.” In order to be the single or married person God has called you to be, you have to lay down your independence altogether.
The single man or woman is in the unique position to only be concerned with how to please the Lord. And those folks are greatly used by God. I think of John Stott, single his whole life, pastoring and writing books that shaped the Christian landscape until his death in 2011, at 90. His message and ministry still speak. I think of Gladys Aylward, tiny little lady, never married, who served as a missionary to China in the 1900’s. She shared the Gospel with untold thousands, rescued orphans during the Japanese invasion, and traveled the country to let women know that the barbaric practice of foot-binding was no longer the law of the land.
Singleness requires self-control. Those with the gift of singleness are not extra-terrestrials who have no desire for physical intimacy. They have been given a different gift from God, and with that, abundant grace to be able to live celibate lives. Paul adds that those who cannot exercise self-control, should marry.
Finally, John Piper has this encouragement to single Christians: “As long as you are single, this is your calling: to so live for Christ as to make it clearer to the world and to the church: That the family of God grows not by propagation through sexual intercourse, but by regeneration through faith in Christ; that relationships in Christ are more permanent, and more precious, than relationships in families; that marriage is temporary, and finally gives way to the relationship to which it was pointing all along: Christ and the church — the way a picture is no longer needed when you see face to face; and that faithfulness to Christ defines the value of life; all other relationships get their final significance from this. No family relationship is ultimate; relationship to Christ is.”
Some church people were reacting to the stain of sexual immorality that saturated the culture by saying, “Ok, that’s it. Sex is bad, so we will abstain from it in marriage.” In other words, in order to avoid the ditch of licentiousness, they ran into the ditch of ascetism, which is severe self-discipline to the point that you deny yourself any self-indulgence. But, dear readers, sex is not bad. People are bad. Sex in marriage is a good and holy creation of God. Sex is not just a good idea in marriage, it is required for a healthy marriage. That’s why Paul responded to them with this: “each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.” In that one sentence, he said no to polygamy, yes to monogamy, yes to healthy sexual relations in the marriage, and no to the Shakers, who must have been distant descendants from some of these ascetics. The Shakers were founded in the 18th century, and were also known as the Shaking Quakers, because of their ecstatic behavior during worship. Very early on, women assumed the leadership roles in the group, and one of the tenets of their faith was that everyone, married or not, must practice celibacy. As a result, they slowly died off because, well, no sex equals no children.
Paul continued his instruction to married couples with this encouragement: “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.” The operative word in that sentence is “give.” The husband should give and the wife should give, even though each has been given authority by God over the other’s body in marriage. The key is giving of yourself, not taking what is yours. If you just focus on the word “rights,” you will get all twisted up and turned inward. You start thinking about your rights and your desires and your needs and your feelings, instead of how to give to your spouse. What makes a marriage work? It is not a demand for rights that brings a blessing, but two people with a heart to give to one another. It is there that God commands His blessing. I can hear someone say, “I just don’t feel like giving myself to my wife, or to my husband!” C.S. Lewis wrote this: “Though natural likings should normally be encouraged, it would be quite wrong to think that the way to become charitable is to sit trying to manufacture affectionate feelings…The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will probably come to love him.” In other words, if God has told you to give to your spouse, don’t wait until you feel like it. Act yourself into a way of feeling.
One thing we know for certain, that it is rare that both in the marriage have the same level of interest and passion about intimacy, or the same comfort level. And we know that the level of interest and passion changes over time for husband and wife, but often at different times. Tony Reinke says, “Both have authority, but what do you do if the desires or how they call the shots are not the same? Any simple formula will not fit reality, and Paul knew he was dealing with complex, emotional moments. In a Christian marriage, where the couple is growing in grace, they will figure this out. (As the Bible says), ‘Outdo one another in showing honor.’”
Finally, I know this is a complex and difficult area for many. What if there is brokenness in the marriage or in the past of one or both partners? In her book, “Rethinking Sexuality,” Juli Slattery writes this: “How to move forward: Tell the truth about your experiences, past and present. All progress begins with telling the truth. Pursue God’s truth. Apply God’s wisdom. Use a biblical counselor if needed. Don’t put it off.”
Mostly, become a giver.
I noticed a few days ago that there was huge hole in my backyard where a tree used to be, a sugar maple that we bought and planted this week. Then on my way to work, I saw the tree in my neighbor’s yard! There it was, and you could see from the fresh dirt that it had just been planted. Or…transplanted. On my way home from work that night, I saw the tree again, on the side of the road, making its way slowly to another neighbor’s yard. It kind of threw a wooden look at me as I slowly drove past, like, “Yeah? Do you have a problem if I want to try a different place?” I just shook my head and drove on, watching this tree struggle to drag itself down the street, leaves falling off, roots dragging behind … it was a pitiful sight.
By now you know I am pulling your collective branches … er … legs, right? Of course the tree didn’t uproot itself and move to another place. Trees have this very consistent habit of staying where they are planted. That’s a constant in the universe: where you plant a tree is where it will grow. In fact, the quickest way to kill a tree, or to at least hinder its growth and fruitfulness, is to transplant it. Trees grow best in their natural habitat.
Christians do, too, and a Christian’s natural habitat is the house of God. That’s where we grow the best, in fact that is where we flourish. Psalm 92:13: “They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God.” Then the Psalmist says, “They still bear fruit in old age.” I like that part.
Sadly, Christians are too often like that rogue tree I was telling you about. They move from place to place, never taking root downward to grow upward, never really getting established anywhere so they can truly be used by God to do what Christians are created by God to do. Read Psalm 92 and see how the believer is compared to two specific kinds of trees, the palm tree and the cedar. Palms flourish and cedars grow.
Palms are extremely durable during storms because of their spongy wood; they will bend during a hurricane and not break. That’s a picture of the followers of Christ. They endure. They are still standing after the storm. Besides endurance, palms also represent refreshment and rest. People love to be near palm trees, don’t they? They travel miles to sit under them, soaking up the warm sun beside the blue ocean. Christians are like palm trees, the Bible says. Refreshing. Drawing others to them. Inviting and gracious. Paul commended a man by the name of Onesiphorus for being a brother who refreshed him, for taking initiative to find ways to serve others.
Cedars grow in four ways, just like Christians. They grow downward, sending roots deep into the soil for nourishment and stability. They grow upward. Cedars in Lebanon can grow to more than 130 feet at elevations of over 6,000 feet, literally piercing the clouds, reaching for heaven. They grow outward, spreading their huge branches more than 30 feet from the trunk, providing shade and shelter. They grow onward, some cedars living hundreds of years.
Here’s what we can take from Psalm 92, then. Settle in a good church and grow there. Send roots deep into Christ and into his Word. Reach for things above, not the temporal stuff of life. Reach others with your life and message. Enjoy the assurance that your life will bear good fruit that remains long after you are gone.
And if you see one of my trees on the road, send it home.