Like Well-Watered Gardens: Isaiah 58

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Feed the hungry,
    and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
    and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
    giving you water when you are dry
    and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like an ever-flowing spring.”

Isaiah 58:10-11, NLT

This is the precise key many need for this moment. It just could be as vital as your next breath.

You see our faith was never intended to be a personal ‘spiritual make-over.’ Discipleship was not meant to be about becoming a ‘new-and-improved’ person. That simply is not the message. There can be an emphasis placed on a selfish preoccupation with becoming better (and nicer) and we miss out on God’s real intent for His redeemed people. The difference is subtle but significant. We cannot sanctify our selfishness— no matter how hard we might try. 

For years I travelled under a misconception that God wanted from me ‘a better Bryan.’ I felt like a juggler trying to keep the balls moving. But by making this my focus, and not on others, I only exacerbated my mental illness. For me, my depression is only intensified when I look inside. Often I can’t see the needs around me. All I can see are my own issues (which are formidable.)

Isaiah prophesies a spiritual ’cause-and-effect.” If a person will only reach out to others will there be a spiritual blessing. Often we struggle because we don’t realize the implications of being spent for others. We become ‘a well-watered garden’ if we will only reach out to others. If we would only learn that it is when we give out— we receive. The kingdom is reciprocal in the way blessings come.

“And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Acts 20:35

The entire chapter of Isaiah 58 makes it a vital point to the people of God. Our own healing is contingent on becoming a blessing to others. If we will pour out we will be poured on. We become ‘a well-watered garden’ when we begin to serve others. Our own ‘healing’ will come when we reach out to the desperate needs around us. After all, isn’t that what we’re supposed to be about?

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Under the Table, [Boldness]

But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”

Matthew 15:27, NASB

This woman has a quick and nimble faith in Jesus.  She will not let go, and the attitude of Jesus only enhances her faith.  She was more then willing to be a dog, if that is what it took.  The children would be served first, and then she could go and get the crumbs.

What is it that you want?  What do you need?  The humility of this woman was impressive.  It was not easily offended or misdirected.  In her desperate need she has no where else to go, and so she lingers, and refuses to be patronized.  She wants the crumbs; the crumbs from His table are far better than the extravagant banquets and feasts of the richest nobleman.

“Not worthy, Lord, to gather up the crumbs
  With trembling hand that from thy table fall,
A weary, heavy laden sinner comes
  To plead thy promise and obey thy call.

“I am not worthy to be thought thy child,
  Nor sit the last and lowest at thy board;
Too long a wanderer, and too oft beguiled,
  I only ask one reconciling word.”

 We are not fed with crumbs, but directly from the table of our heavenly Father.  The Prodigal discovered that his Father was outrageous in His love.  An incredible feast was just a manifestation of that grace.  The feast declares the depth and width of His love.

You and I have become the honored guests.  We do not get crumbs, but we feast at the table with the finest food and wine.  Do we belong?  Only you can answer that.  But access is open to all who by faith receive Jesus as their Savior.  When we do that we get the invitation to the feast.

“Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith!  Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.” 

Matthew 15:28

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The Apple Tree

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“Like the finest apple tree in the orchard
    is my lover among other young men.
I sit in his delightful shade
    and taste his delicious fruit.”

Song of Solomon 2:3, NLT

Jesus is the subject of many different metaphors. We know him as a shepherd, a door, and bread. There are many other ‘pictures’ in Scripture, that speak of his ministry and life. There is one that strikes me today, that of Jesus Christ as a life-giving tree— an apple tree. Song of Solomon 2:3 and Revelation 22:1 are the ‘roots’ of this wondrous thought.

“On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.”

Rev. 22:2

To think of Jesus as ‘the tree of life’ or an apple tree is both a honor to Him and a strength for us. We can swirl metaphors around all day and never exhaust their truths. Jesus (a.k.a. “the apple tree”) is seen imparting life and healing by his fruit. He is the source of everything good and grand in our lives. Eating his fruit is not only recommended, but  encouraged. (Like most things in God’s Kingdom.)

The young maiden in Song of Solomon has given us her take on Jesus— her shepherd, lover, and king. She sees him as the finest in the forest. He provides shade to her, as she eats the fruit of his branches. Oh what a worthy picture of Jesus our savior. We can look at this all day. As we come to him we can see One who is gifting each of us of his blessings. We do well to consider him this way.  The first few lines set the tone for us.

The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.”

 

The song, based on an anonymous poem, first appeared in a New England hymn collection by a New Hampshire preacher in 1784, so it has a history. Many people sing this as a Christmas carol, although there is nothing in the words that refers to Christmas. Go through each stanza. See if it fits for you. Perhaps it will cause you to see Jesus in a new way. Here is the poem in its entirety:

Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree

The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.

His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell,
His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell,
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all; but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

 

“Consider Jesus. Know Jesus. Learn what kind of Person it is you say you trust and love and worship. Soak in the shadow of Jesus. Saturate your soul with the ways of Jesus. Watch Him. Listen to Him. Stand in awe of Him. Let Him overwhelm you with the way He is.”   

John Piper

 

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Something Out of the Ordinary

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“You feed them from the abundance of your own house,
    letting them drink from your river of delights.”

Psalm 36:8, NLT

God is the exclusive source of everything good. His goodness is quantified in the word “abundance.” We have made the discovery, that the spring from which all want to draw from is actually a full fledged river full of wonderful things. We come thirsty for something, anything that will quench our terrible yearning for the real and true.

God’s extravagance is unduly excessive it seems. It is limitless in scope, and endless in imagination. There is food and drink (of the Spirit) that constantly pours out on His people. All we can do is to revel in His grace, and receive from His mercy.

The children of Israel was supplied with manna while in the wilderness. Our Father provided for them, and provides for us as well. Let no one leave His pantry without filling their pockets with His outrageous grace. We receive all that He gives.

“And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.”

2 Corinthians 9:8

Imagine winning the Lottery, a phone call tells you that you’ve just won 325 million dollars! If it was me I suppose, that once the shock wears off, I would be ready to be a financial blessing to my friends, family and Church. Having been the recipient  of incredible wealth, I want to share with others. However wonderful that might seem, we really shouldn’t put God’s grace is such worldly concepts.

Yet sometimes we need to step back and look again at God’s generosity to us. Sometimes we lose track of all that He has done. It is good to reacquaint ourselves to this incredible thing He has done on our behalf.

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”

Ephesians 3:20

We have been internally altered by the presence of God. Our genetic code has been changed. He has done something amazing in our hearts. What He has done is described as ‘infinitely more’ than our wildest dreams. I believe that some have ‘hijacked’ these kind of verses to teach that “God wants you rich.” This is called ‘the prosperity gospel’ and it really can be a bad thing. I believe in His prosperity, but it certainly isn’t linked to my material possessions. To do this distorts the message of the Gospel.

Our blessings come, and come some more, and keep coming. Everywhere we look we should see a spiritual blessing. It’s like we live with a God that can’t contain Himself. He rushes to pour out on us significant promises. My Bible becomes a ‘treasure map’ leading me to my true destination.

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My Comfort Food

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Lord, you know the hopes of the helpless.
Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them. Psalm 10:17

Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me. Psalm 23:4

You will restore me to even greater honor
and comfort me once again. Psalm 71:21

When doubts filled my mind,
your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer. Psalm 94:19

Now let your unfailing love comfort me,
just as you promised me, your servant. Psalm 119:76

My eyes are straining to see your promises come true.
When will you comfort me? Psalm 119:82

These are the verses that speak of a Psalms comfort,

  • comfort sought
  • comfort given
  • comfort strengthening

Undoubtedly we have a God who comforts His people. That is his favorite thing to do, it is like the “special of the house.” He cooks up five-star entrees, and these all meet us on a seriously high level.

“Comfort food is traditionally eaten food (which often provides a nostalgic or sentimental feeling to the person eating it), or simply provides the consumer an easy-to-digest meal, soft in consistency, and rich in calories, nutrients, or both. The nostalgic element most comfort food has, may be specific to either the individual or a specific culture. Many comfort foods are flavorful; some may also be easily prepared.” From Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comfort_food.

My comfort foods are Wisconsin based and farm fresh.  Favorites are pan fried blue-gill, 0r perch, and fried potatoes. Honey glazed carrots, and homemade white bread, with real butter and jam. Whole milk straight from our cow, and cream two inches thick from a gallon jug. Very sharp Colby cheese with hot homemade apple pie, with an open lattice crust. And coffee, of course, with cream.

These dishes comfort me on some basic level, and I’m sure you have one or more favorites. Simple, but satisfying dishes made by a loved one. They are far more than mere calories, they provide things greater than you can see. “Mom’s home cooking” plain with no pretense.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.
    Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!” Psalm 34:8

God feeds us comfort food.  A true easiness and calm, imparted by Grace to our hearts. The Holy Spirit has a title on His desk– “The Comforter.” Why is He called that? Because that is what He specializes in and masters. He is our dear sufficiency and satisfaction, freely set on our tables.

Don’t just look– eat up (just like mom insisted we do)!

3 “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 5 For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. 6 Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. 7 We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.”

–1 Corinthians 1:3-7, NLT

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God’s Hamburgers

 

 “So the people left the town and went to see Jesus.

 31 Meanwhile, his followers were begging him, “Teacher, eat something.”

 32 But Jesus answered, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

 33 So the followers asked themselves, “Did somebody already bring him food?”

 34 Jesus said, “My food is to do what the One who sent me wants me to do and to finish his work.  

John 4:30-34, NCV  

  

 Jesus was amazingly attractive to people.  With an almost magnetic pull, they were drawn to Him.  He connected to each one in a powerful and intimate way.  In our time, and in our way,  Jesus continues to have this incredible appeal.  People are quite attracted to Jesus, and continue to be. They deeply respect and esteem Him. They maybe turned off by the Church, or by doctrine, but they are amazed by Jesus.
  
As disciples, there was a general consensus that Jesus had become a little too popular–to the extent that He wasn’t taking care of Himself.  The thought was that He need sustenance–calories, they hadn’t seen Him eating.  They were concerned that Jesus was “spreading” Himself far too thin.  But this concern was not valid.  Jesus tells of His “food” that the Father was giving Him.  Nourishment was something that Jesus didn’t have to worry about.  The Father took responsibility for Jesus’ hunger.  And Jesus trusted His Father implicitly.
 
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Often our physical needs become our central issues, taking a consistent center-stage.  We start to make eating to an fairly elevated importance. We aren’t just eating, we become gourmets. We will follow Jesus, but only if we can bring our refrigerators.  It may seem subtle, and unimportant, but our stomach can be diverting.  Our appetites subtly encroach on God’s claim on our lives.  The story of Esau in the book of Genesis is a warning for us today–he traded his birthright for a bowl of savory stew.

Whenever Jesus comments deeply, He will clarify much.  He is not worried about His physical needs, that it the Father’s concern.  Instead we see Jesus focusing, with almost pinpoint precision on the Father’s will.  Such focus seems fanatical, way too zealous for us.  It seems that we have exalted culinary excellence, and have been gastronomically led to a place where are palates and stomach’s start to rule.
 
“My food is to do His work.”  Jesus had a focus, that took Him into a way of life we admire, but don’t ever attain.  We certainly will never diminish or minimize Jesus.  But I think we do this when we just gloss over verses like this, and try to ‘side-step’ the obvious meaning with an interpretation that removes the stinger.  We must arrive at this point.  It’s the place were our physical hunger for “good food” is replaced by a strong appetite to do the will and direction of our Heavenly Father.
 
What do you intend to do now?  Will you trust Him to meet your physical needs?  Will the active pursuit of God’s will nourish you completely? You need to figure that out for yourself.  All I can do is to lay this before you so you can make a decision.