A Generous Vine

“The most generous vine, if not pruned, runs out into many superfluous stems and grows at last weak and fruitless: so doth the best man if he be not cut short in his desires, and pruned with afflictions.”

–Joseph Hall

“The agony of man’s affliction is often necessary to put him into the right mood to face the fundamental things of life. The Psalmist says. “Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now I have kept Thy Word.”

–Oswald Chambers

 

 

 

Cities Without Walls

“A man without self-control
    is like a city broken into and left without walls.”

Proverbs 25:28

The writer of Proverbs can be blunt. He makes the cold observation that people can often be like a city that has no walls.

The city he alluded to was completely defenseless, vulnerable and wide open to a marauding enemy. It no longer is protected. It can be assaulted from outside and is no longer safe. It can be easily defeated by its foes.

The description is used to describe a spiritual condition of danger and defeat. A real potentiality exists of a helpless invasion by evil forces. It has no protection to speak of.

Proverbs uses this imagery to state a fundamental truth about some people.

We live in an age when everything is “open.” Seldom do we see protecting walls around the perimeter of our lives. We are open to the demonic forces of darkness. We move from crisis to crisis because we are not protected.

Nehemiah faced the stark reality of Jerusalem without walls of protection. His first order of business (before anything else) was to rebuild them. He mobilized work crews that immediately went to work restoring the cities safety.

“I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Dragon Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire.”

Nehemiah 2:13

He knew what he was up against; a discouraged people who were extremely vulnerable. It’s also interesting that the cities enemies resisted at this crucial time. They wanted the people to fail so  they would continue to defeat them.

Our culture today is no longer protected by the evil of the day. We’re victims for the most part by Satan’s tactical assaults. A generation has come and gone that has not known the defense of personal walls.

We are desperate of the ministry of Nehemiah. He is a type of Christ. Protection can only come from faith and blood of Jesus. He alone is our safe place. He alone can defend us from this present darkness.

If your life is characterized by oppression I urge you to erect a safe place for yourself and for your family. Being specific in prayer is very often your sheltered place. Take a stand and drive the enemy away. Resist him and he will flee from you.

“The world’s battlefields have been in the heart chiefly; more heroism has been displayed in the household and the closet, than on the most memorable battlefields in history.”

–Henry Ward Beecher

 

 

Our View From the Tree

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.

3He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

 5When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

 7All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’ “

Luke 19:1-7

This particular story is one of my personal favorites.  Zacchaeus faced with the chance of missing Jesus shows his resourcefulness by running ahead.  He positions himself up in a tree that grew by a busy road.  Climbing up he placed himself where he could see Jesus.

I can see Jesus stopping under Zacchaeus’ tree, looks up and calls him to come down. “I must stay at your house today”, Jesus declares.  Now there is some serious protocol issues here.  A guest never invited himself to dinner, that just didn’t happen.  Also Jesus, as an esteemed religious teacher/prophet/messiah was supposed to set an example and not to associate with “sinners”. Rules are being broken.

There are many lessons here for the modern disciple.  We would do well to meditate on the many issues imbedded in the text.  The graciousness of Jesus is profound.  He is kind and yet assertive at the same time.

Imagine if this account was all  the New Testament we had, what would our mindset be like?  I think we’d all have to make some adjustments. To put it simply, Jesus is not normal.  He touches peoples hearts in unorthodox ways.

I think what blesses me the most is Zacchaeus’ decision to climb that tree.  He is a man who is “vertically challenged.” But basically he overcomes his liabilities when he commits to climb up into the branches.  He positions himself to see Jesus, and you can’t say a thing against that. Zacchaeus’ adventure is just now begun.

But isn’t that is what we do as Christians?  We put ourselves in a place where we can be close to him.  Think about the ‘disciplines’ of the Christian.  Disciplines like prayer, fasting, Bible study, tithing, baptism, serving and worship.  All of these are like branches on the Sycamore tree.  Ascending we put ourselves in place where Jesus is coming.  It is a way of seeing Jesus. But, that is surely enough.

When I pray, I do so in order to see Him more clearly.  

I can get it all confused and see it as an end in itself.  This is a common flaw in our thinking.  We forget that all these disciplines do is to help us see Jesus. Nothing more– just to see Jesus, and to be seen by Him.

Zacchaeus did not stay in the tree, you might say the tree accomplished its purpose when Jesus drew close.  Zacchaeus did not say, “Jesus, I have this wonderful spot, and it took ‘effort’ to get here. I think I will stay right here.” No, he didn’t just want to climb– he wanted to see Jesus.

“Sir, we want to see Jesus.”  John 12:21

 

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When You Need to Cover Nakedness

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“And don’t build an altar that requires steps; you might expose yourself when you climb up”.

Exodus 20:26

“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.”

1 Peter 4:8

While I lived in the SOS Ministry house in the Mission District of San Francisco a dear brother taught me this principle.  Living in Christian community is a really wonderful thing.  But it also could be a challenge at times.  What Michael shared, allowed my understanding to grow to meet the need of the moment.

The principle is this:  

We are called to cover up our brother’s nakedness.

 Throughout the scripture “being naked, or nakedness” is always a shame.  It comes welded to the concept of being vulnerable or exposed to the sight of everyone else.  It also carries the idea of sin; it is sin that everyone can see; it is very obvious.

For those of us who often sin, we evolve the idea of keeping a lid on it, and being secretive with it.  There will be people who will never know.  Often sex sin, drug and alcohol sin, both are kept hidden from view of family and friends, and the Church.

Noah and His Nakedness, Genesis 9

“Noah became a farmer and planted a vineyard. When he drank wine made from his grapes, he became drunk and lay naked in his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, looked at his naked father and told his brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth got a coat and, carrying it on both their shoulders, they walked backwards into the tent and covered their father. They turned their faces away so that they did not see their father’s nakedness.”  

Genesis 9:20-24

It’s hard to process this patriarch’s gross sin.  But in all fairness Noah had lost everything in the flood, so perhaps we should be gentle with him. On the other hand, people who cover up the nakedness of others seem to be gentle and humble.  They would never, ever dream of making a scandal.  They are trustworthy and understand to a great degree the things that make a man or woman of God.

Leviticus 18 is the “magnum opus” of nakedness. We are pretty much told over and over in this chapter, not to ever uncover another. Actually is pretty emphatic and somewhat redundant. But I think the Lord wanted it repeated this way.

Our vulnerabilities are there for all to see.  But there are also men and women who go out of their way to protect and shield.  They are safe people, in the classic sense of the word.  They cover-up, but never in negative or criminal way, but in love and blessing. (If it is a serious crime, the police should be involved.)

Mature believers will step forward and protect the open areas of others. 

Quite often we are exposed, open to attack on our weaknesses.  Mature believers will step forward and protect the open areas of others.  They will refuse to judge or point out sins.  But they will stand in the gap, shielding and protecting.

God’s final word on nakedness is in Revelation 3:18, and this is a good place to conclude this post,

“So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see.”

*

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A Towel, Not a Title

There are no shortcuts in discipleship
“Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. 4 So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist.”  

John 13:3-4, NLT

Jesus was always constant.  Nothing could erode His place or position.  The authority had been His Fathers, and it had been given to Him.  He carried it as a special burden, treasured and separating Him.  Jesus had the freedom to act like the servant.  It didn’t bother or confuse Him, He understood perfectly who He was.

With the supreme authority given to him, he got down on His knees, and began to wash dirty feet.  I can offer no magic or flair to adjust this scene.  He washed off dirt, cleaned between toes, making filthy feet clean.  And all of this ‘as God in human flesh’.  This staggered the disciples, perhaps a baseball bat on the side of the head, would’ve been more compassionate.

This was revolutionary, it completely devastated the disciples.  They just couldn’t grasp what was happening.  Jesus, who was ‘God in flesh’, had decided, in a moment of time, to clean their feet.  Outrageous!  Not really happening!  No way! Never!

The reality.

This spun them around.  They tried as fast as possible to process what had just happened, and ‘who’ it had happened from.

Essentially, it buried them.  Jesus Christ, as Servant pounded them into the ground.  Servanthood was to take the supremacy from this point forward.  Becoming an indentured slave was now the way of Christlikeness.  This servanthood was to now guide us to a point of slavery.

Gone are the days of Zebedee, when one can ask for a position, on the right or the left.  We can ask, most certainly, but we haven’t been the first.  We can ask but the sheer weight is against us.  So very many have gone before us.  We must become a people who accept, and then presses into His grace, His specialness, His presence.

Today, more towels are what we need.

We have got to turn over our ‘need’ for recognition and pick up from the pile the rag of servanthood, we must ‘ask’ our brother/sister if we can scrub their feet.  We must get on our knees and do the unspeakable.  We must find a way to clean off their feet. This dear one, is what you’ve been told to do.

“There are many of us that are willing to do great things for the Lord, but few of us are willing to do little things.”   D.L. Moody

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Can You Say No? [Getting Negative]

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11 “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”

Titus 2:11-12

My life runs better when I learn to say “No”.

I can’t make it any simpler. We have become part of a culture that almost always says yes. To deny ourselves the fulfillment of our particular desires seems impossible– considering our track record. We pretty much seek out our particular pleasure, and then take our lumps and absorb all the consequences.

Things then, digress and “solidify” from this point. Deeply ingrained habits become almost impossible to break. We are now being held in a very certain bondage. And all because we can’t say “no”.

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Perhaps this will become a learning point, when we start to say “no” to our desires. We can’t let temptation have its way, we must stand and say “no!” It is no sin to be tempted, Jesus was tempted, and did not sin against His Father. In Psalm 40:8, we come to a certain understanding.

“I take joy in doing your will, my God,
    for your instructions are written on my heart.”

The deep and earnest passion of our Father is that we learn this. To joyfully each morning to find ourselves excited about being “will-doers.” And also “no-sayers.” When Satan tempts us, we must object. We may still get confused, and sin. But we will also taste victory.

Will you just say “no?”

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Making Time Count, [Five Minutes]

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“There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.”

Genesis 12:8, NIV

“Serve God by doing common actions in a heavenly spirit, and then, if your daily calling only leaves you cracks and crevices of time, fill them up with holy service.”

–Charles Spurgeon

Many believers desire to have a daily time with God, praying and reading His Word. It so happens that many Christians are distracted by the cares of this world. They can never seem to be able to carve out a devotional life out of a busy day.

Oswald Chambers once wrote of the transforming nature of just five minutes in the presence of the Lord. This small effort for just a brief moment can change the course of a busy day.

Five minutes with the Lord can alter ones walk and certainly one’s perspective. Powerful results can come from just a brief connection. These moments can be the most significant of your entire day. It can stabilize your walk and daily lead you straight toward Him.

Sometimes our life is filled with busy demands– we hit the ground running just to keep up.

Remember there is no condemnation in this, but there is lost opportunity. It is wasted time that we will miss; it’s something we can grow to regret.

Abraham found time to build an altar to the Lord. Perhaps that act was a turning point for him. A heavy door just needs a little hinge on which to turn. Maybe constructing an “altar” can make a difference for us.

If you’re having a struggle in your daily walk, just start with five minute with Him.

You will be pleasantly surprised with what happens. Just five minutes can stabilize your soul. Our God longs to meet with us and to show His power in our lives.

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