Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Master Gardener

I look at the times when various types of trouble come to us as being "seasons" in our life. I believe that many, if not all of them are sent from God … the master gardener.

You may be going through a "season" where something has happened that brought you to a point of anger or distrust with God because He didn't give you the answer to prayer you thought you needed or wanted. It may be that you have lost a mate or child by way of death, and now you feel abandoned by God … you are going through a season of grief. Other things may have brought about an indifference to God, growing cold spiritually, being uncaring about other people's problems; maybe a season of complacency that says … what will be will be … being satisfied that this is as good as it gets, etc.

These things are all just seasons in your life. Winter doesn't last forever, spring comes followed by summer; in time it fades into autumn, which is a time of beauty both in nature and hopefully in your life … by growing older and a little wiser as we go through each season God prepares for us.

Spring … one of natures seasons brings with it new growth to plants; buds appear, leaves, flowers. It's God's way of saying to us, life is for the living … life is good. There is new hope all around us as nature blooms once again.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 … "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted …"

We need to pay attention to Solomon's words … there are seasons, times appointed by God for His purpose … times unknown to us when He may be planting or plucking up certain things in our lives. Why does He do that?

John 15:1-2 … "I AM the True Vine, and My Father is the Gardener. Any branch in Me that does not bear fruit (that stops bearing) He cuts away (trims off, takes away); and He cleanses and repeatedly prunes every branch that continues to bear fruit, to make it bear more and richer and more excellent fruit."

Do you know that with each new season, everything that grows and blooms needs to be pruned … including us. With each season.

Proper pruning enhances a plant’s beauty, while improper pruning can ruin or greatly reduce its potential. It is better not to prune than to do it incorrectly.

By using improper pruning methods healthy plants are often weakened or deformed. Proper pruning includes … to cut or lop off undesired twigs, branches or roots; trim to rid or clear away anything superfluous or undesirable.

Superfluous … being more than is sufficient or required, excessive, unnecessary or needless. Kind of sounds like a description we could use for man doesn't it? We like more than is required; big houses, big cars just to name two things in the material realm. Then there's our attitude, pride, how we act toward others, etc.

Flowers have different seasons, some in which to grow, blossom and produce new seeds; but at other times they set dormant through cold periods like winter. Man in the same way also experiences different seasons.

Jesus when talking about pruning the branches on the vine is very similar in meaning to what is found in the Book of Jeremiah when he speaks of the potter (God) reshaping the clay. They are basically saying the same thing.

Both are saying that we have seasons in our lives where we are reshaped and sometimes even made over on The Potter's Wheel or as the Gardener will do in the proper season of our life, at the proper time and for the proper reason … and that is … prune off undesired growth.

Many things that grow on our branches are fertilized by our fallen nature … spiritual pride and legalism … are just two examples. There are many more. So God snips and reshapes us till we look a little more like His Son. That's the goal of the master gardener … to have our branches produce the same kind of fruit that the vine (Jesus) produced.

A word of warning

Man can ruin what nature has created. When man, how ever well meaning they are, tries to prune someone else's branches, what is left of the branches are often left damaged, weakened and fruitless. It is best if left to God to prune off the undesired growth that just happens to us through nature.

Matthew 7:3-4 … "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?"

How can man (any man) remove the small speck in someone else's eye when they can't see clearly with a beam in their own eye? Only God … the master gardener … can truly reshape the branch so it will produce the best fruit.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Shadow of Peter

This event happened … but some question if there were results.

Acts 5:11-15 … "And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things. And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon's porch. And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them. And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women. Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them."

I have taken the following discourses from three highly thought of and honored Bible Commentaries. The arguments given are simply and plainly exactly what the Word states. Some have come away thinking the writer of Acts is giving a positive testimony that the shadow of Peter did indeed heal the sick.

But by close observation of what is actually written in the Bible … I can find no proof … of any healing in this manner. Besides, such healing by any man's shadow would bring attention to the man … instead of Jesus.

Read the conclusion all three of these old time men of God came to concerning … "the shadow of Peter."

1.) "As there must have been many diseased people, it is not likely that the apostles, who generally addressed such persons with prayer and the laying on of hands, could reach all those that were brought to them, as fast as their friends could wish.

As they could not get Peter or the other apostles personally to all their sick, they thought if they placed them on that side of the way where the shadow was projected, (the sun probably now declining and consequently the shadow lengthening), they should be healed by the shadow of Peter passing over them, in whose person they thought such miraculous powers were lodged.

But it does not appear that the persons who thus thought and acted were of the number of those converts already made to the faith of Christ; nor does it appear that any person was healed in this way. The writer simply relates the impression made on the people’s minds; and how they acted upon this impression.

I think there is not sufficient evidence here that Peter’s shadow healed any one, though the people thought it could; but allowing that it did, it was God that enabled even an apostle to work a miracle."
(From the commentary of … Adam Clark.)

2.) Concerning the shadow of Peter … "That is, they were laid in the path so that the shadow of Peter as he walked might pass over them. Perhaps the sun was near setting and the lengthened shadow of Peter might be thrown afar across the way.

They were not able to approach him on account of the crowd and they imagined that if they could anyhow come under his influence they might be healed. The writer does not say however, that any were healed in this way, nor that they were commanded to do this. He simply states the impression which was on the minds of the people that it might be.

Whether they were healed by this, it is left for us merely to conjecture. An instance somewhat similar is recorded in Acts 19:12, where it is expressly said however, that the sick were healed by contact with handkerchiefs and aprons that were brought from the body of Paul.

That his shadow "might …" Though there is no certain evidence that any were healed in this way; yet it shows the full belief of the people that Peter had the power of working miracles. Peter was supposed by them to be eminently endowed with this power, because it was by him that the lame man in the temple had been healed and because he had been most prominent in his addresses to the people. The persons who are specified in this verse were those who dwelt at Jerusalem."
(From the commentary of … Albert Barnes.)

3.) "Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets …"

"Such miraculous cures being wrought by the apostles, the people who had sick persons in their houses, hearing of it brought them out "into the streets" and laid them on beds and couches waiting until the apostles came by that way, that at the least, the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them.

Peter is only mentioned because he was most known, he being the chief speaker and actor. Who these were that fancied there was such a virtue in Peter's shadow and whether any were cured by it is not certain."

(From the commentary of … John Gill.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

It's Too Late

My wife and I walked into the hospital waiting room that had been set aside as a prayer room for family and friends to cry unto heaven on behalf of a young mother waiting to give birth again. She had previously given birth to a beautiful little girl who was at home eagerly waiting for the arrival of this new little baby that would make her a big sister.

We found the last two empty chairs left in the waiting room and sat down. There must have been ten, maybe twelve people praying silently for this precious gift from God. I noticed about three people reading the Bible; no, they were searching for any scripture they could find that sounded like it might be a promise in God's Word they could claim for this child.

A few days earlier this young mother received some bad news during her last check up. The baby's heartbeat couldn't be found. Maybe he was just turned wrong inside the womb not allowing the sound to be picked up, but for whatever reason it wasn't there. Five days before it sounded strong and healthy. Now … nothing … except worry and fear.

So this young mother, now in induced labor, had the church praying for the miracle of a heartbeat as she gave birth to her second child. Would God the Father or the Lord Jesus Himself through the power of His Holy Spirit answer all the cries sent up to His throne and start this small heart beating again?

I certainly didn't know what to do except pray. My wife and I went through this same situation years ago when our daughter was told her first baby's heartbeat couldn't be found. We prayed just like all these friends and family were doing … but it wasn't to be, he died in her womb. She had to deliver through her tears a dead baby. And now was this result going to be the same?

By now you may be asking … "Why is he writing about past history now?" I really don't know; I just felt prompted to. I believe it has to do with the thought behind the title of this article … "It's Too Late."

No, it's never too late to pray. You can always ask God for help. Who knows, He just might do the unexpected … like answer your prayer.

What I mean by … it's too late … is covered in the story of the ten virgins found in Matthew 25:1-12. It's the parable of the ten virgins, five of whom were wise and five foolish, teaching the necessity of being constantly prepared not just to meet the bridegroom as in the parable … but I believe teaching to be prepared for anything that confronts you in life.

Prepared for anything … can we be? Take the case of this young mother. With out judging anyone (for only God knows where we are at spiritually) friends and family were praying, searching the Word looking for anything that resembled a promise they could hold up to God and say … "Lord, You said this … please honor your Word."

I realize this sounds hard and perhaps even judgmental … I don't mean for it to be. But I don't know how to say it any other way. It was too late. It was not too late for God to answer out of His grace and mercy; He can do that anytime He so chooses. But it was too late to try and fill ourselves with God's Word. It should have already been there. It should have been part of who we are as God's people. I am also including myself with the others who were praying.

I'm sure each one of us on a daily basis tries to follow what we believe the Word of God instructs us to do. Things like the following …

Mark 12:30 … "And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment."

John 15:7 … "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you."

1st John 3:22 … "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight."

1st Peter 3:7 … "Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered."

Now, setting aside for a moment "God's Will" concerning the outcome of this baby … I sincerely believe many of our prayers are "hindered" just as Peter stated. They can be hindered in many ways, not just from things done or not done in the marriage relationship. There may also be things done in word or deed that even "hinder" God from answering like He wants or as soon as He wants.

Our attitude, pride, sin, anger, indifference to God, growing cold spiritually, or maybe just being uncaring about other people; all these types of things and many more like them can cause our prayers to be hindered or worse yet, in some way hinder God from answering them. No, we aren't perfect … God takes that into consideration, which perhaps is one of the reasons why the writer of the Book of Hebrews says … "Jesus ever lives to make intercession for us." We need it.

I want to ask you … would I be wrong in saying if you don't love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength; if you don't have God's Word abiding in you, if you don't do those things that are pleasing in his sight … then your prayers are going to be hindered. I don't believe I am. Does weak faith result in weak prayers? You decide.

If I am right, then at crunch time when it really matters … "It's Too Late."

Now back to "God's Will." I'm so thankful that the answer, the result we receive through prayer is not 100% dependent upon only us. I don't know about you, but I am up and down sometimes in my faith level or what I can really believe in.

Dr. Del Tackett in "The Truth Project" asks this question … "Do you really believe that what you believe is really real?" Think about that.

In this hospital waiting room was God dependent on our faith? Was His answer hindered or changed because of our faith or lack of it? Was "His Sovereign Will" performed in spite of what we believed? I don't know. I do know God is not dependent on anyone, nor does God owe anyone anything … not even grace or mercy. When given it is always from the goodness of His heart.

What if some of those in the room realized that we needed more of God's Word in our lives as we prayed for this baby? Was it too late right then for more? Were some making new promises to God? Were some trying to talk God into moving? What if some in the room could not or would not believe?

The Apostle Paul gave us the answer to this last question in Romans 3:3 … "What if some did not believe and were without faith? Does their lack of faith and their faithlessness nullify and make ineffective and void the faithfulness of God …?"

He also wrote in 1st Corinthians 1:9 … "God is faithful … and can be depended on."

It's almost a paradox … I believe God wants to work "with" our faith but has not limited Himself to only work "through" our faith. Quite frankly, if God could only work through our faith not much would ever get done. But He has chosen to partner with us through prayer to accomplish … "His Will" on earth.

And so we pray.

But having said that, God has also reserved the right to step in or step out … any time … He so chooses. He can heal, save, restore, bless or answer any time … if He so chooses.

He can also start a little baby's heart beating again. But in this case … for what ever reason … God chose not to; even with all the prayer that was sent up to Him.

Even so … all is just and right.

"The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Night is Coming

These are the words of Jesus; heavy words, words that should trouble us, words that should cause us to prepare for the night.

John 9:4 …"We must work the works of Him Who sent Me and be busy with His business while it is daylight; night is coming on, when no man can work."

The night is coming … Christ is the light. When the light is withdrawn, night comes, when no man can work. Night is coming for each of us. No man can do any thing toward working out his own salvation after this life is ended. Yet Christ can still work in us today through His Holy Spirit. But He was not to work upon the earth forever, only during the day or season which was appointed for Him.

John 12:35-36 …"So Jesus said to them, You will have the Light only a little while longer. Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness may not overtake and overcome you. He who walks about in the dark does not know where he goes. While you have the Light, believe in the Light, that you may become sons of the Light and be filled with Light."

Jesus before His death encourages and urges His disciples to follow His light while He was among them. It is true that His Spirit would always be with them; but He would not always be visible to them. When He leaves, the light as they have known it … will leave with Him. What was this light that was going to leave with Jesus?

As John pinned the first few sentences of his book he told us just what the light was. "In him (Jesus) was life; and the life (that was in Jesus) was the light of men. And the light (the life in Jesus) shineth in darkness …"

I believe what the disciples were going to miss more than anything else was "the life" that Jesus had within Him. They would miss the real man, the real person they had come to know.

It was true that darkness was to come upon the Jewish people when they rejected Jesus as the Messiah; and it is also true that God leaves a sinner in the same darkness he was in when he has rejected the light of the gospel.

John 12:37-40 …

"Jesus said these things, and then He went away and hid Himself from them.
Even though He had done so many miracles before them, yet they still did not trust in Him and failed to believe in Him
So that what Isaiah the prophet said was fulfilled: Lord, who has believed our report and our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been shown?
Therefore they could not believe.
For Isaiah has also said …
He has blinded their eyes and hardened and benumbed their hearts, to keep them from seeing with their eyes and understanding with their hearts and minds and repenting and turning to Me to heal them."

Verse 40 is taken from Isaiah 6:9-10 … and perhaps refers more to the judgments which God determined was going to come upon Israel as a nation after they rejected Jesus than it does concerning their salvation. To suppose that this means that God was unwilling that they should turn to Him for salvation is unsupportable by scripture.

When it says … "He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart" … it must be stated that God did not blind or harden them by any act of His own; but it was done by leaving them in the blindness and hardness of their own personal hearts, and by denying them the grace for them to see.

Remember, God is not obligated to give His grace to anyone; which was the very reason the Jews as a nation was never to see the light and be converted.

After Christ's death, the Gospel was preached to the Jews first; but as history has shown, the Jews rejected the Gospel and so the apostles as they were ordered, brought the light of the Gospel to the Gentiles.

John 12:46 …"I have come as a Light into the world, so that whoever believes in Me, may not continue to live in darkness."

Man without knowing it lives in darkness and will continue to live in a state of darkness unless he receives the light of the Gospel of Jesus.

Even after being with the light, Jesus gives His disciples a warning that we should also heed … "Walk in the lightso that darkness may not overtake and overcome you …"

You may have a good part of your journey yet to travel. We cannot travel safely except in His light … and if you look at the world around us today, it seems as though His light is almost gone. Therefore run to the light … so that the darkness cannot overtake you; for if it does … and you are caught in it … you will stumble and fall.

The Apostle Paul also gives a warning to the church in
2nd Timothy 3:1-5 …

"BUT UNDERSTAND this, that in the last days will come perilous times of great stress and trouble, hard to deal with and hard to bear.
For people will be lovers of self and utterly self-centered, lovers of money … proud and arrogant … They will be abusive, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy and profane.
They will be without natural human affection … they will be slanderers, intemperate and loose in morals and conduct, uncontrolled and fierce, haters of good.
They will be treacherous betrayers, rash, and inflated with self-conceit. They will be lovers of sensual pleasures and vain amusements more than and rather than lovers of God.
For although they hold a form of religion, they deny and reject the power of it … Avoid all such people … turn away from them."

Many years ago Adam Clarke made this plea in his Bible commentary …

"Reader, is thy journey near an end? There may be but very little time remaining for thee. O, run to Christ, lest the darkness of death overtake thee, before thy soul has found redemption in his blood."

Darkness is coming again … maybe sooner than you think.