Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Fruit of the Heart


When the ground soaks up the falling rain and bears a good crop for the farmer, it has God’s blessing. But if a field bears thorns and thistles, it is useless. The farmer will soon condemn that field and burn it. Hebrews 6: 7-8

Each time I come across this passage I am often left asking a few questions of my heart. If I am a follower of Christ, if I have been enlighten by His truth does my life show it? If I have experienced and tasted the goodness of God do others see His goodness in and through me? Does the ground of my heart soak up His truth? Do I allow His word to penetrate all of my life so that a good fruit can bear forth?

As I sit here asking myself these questions once again I can't help but think now is a good time to really reflect on the state of my heart before God. After all, for the most part, life has stilled. We have no place we must run off too. We have been "forced" to stillness. So, honestly, what better time to ask God to show us where we are lacking the fruit of the Spirit? What better time than now to ask God to show us the thorns and thistles of our hearts?

So are you willing to join me? Can we go before the Lord and honestly ask ourselves these questions?  Does our life produce the fruits listed in Galatians 5:22-23 or are there more thorns and thistles than we care to admit?

We all will have thorns growing from time to time but there should not be field of them. Why not sit before the Lord today and ask Him what kind of “fruit” your life is truly producing. If you are walking in the Spirit of God then you life and your fruit will show it. Let's journey together and pray for one another as we allow God to create in our hearts a willingness to allow His fruit to grow.

A prayer: Oh Father how we desire a heart that so pliable and ready to sit and soak up your Words of truth! Show us those areas that the ground of our heart might be hard. Help us to give you access to all of our heart, all of our weakness, sins, and even our strengths so that we can place them at Your feet to do with them as you will. Father show us the areas of my lives that are producing thorns and thistles instead of the fruit of Your word. And show us those places in our life where we are reaping Your fruit so that we might thank and praise Your name! May our life reap love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal 5:22-23) Father we know that apart from you we know we will produce just the opposite of these, so Father once again we can lay our lives down at your feet. That we would surrender all that we are…help us to surrender it all into Your hands. Amen

Monday, March 9, 2020

Come To The Table

Growing up in a family steeped in Italian traditions meant sitting at a table for a five course meal on Sundays. Each of us kids was very intentionally seated between two adults. This strategic placement was meant to ensure that we ate every serving of food that was heaped on our already burgeoning plates. In between courses, while my Nona, Gran and the aunties and the mothers washed dinner dishes and BisNonnel and the Uncles sipped grappa, we children were given a reprieve to run and play in the back yard. Unless it was raining this left us shrieking and playing tag and making as much noise as possible so we would be prepared to return to the table to be seen but not heard.

 Each Sunday the requisite family members would make an appearance, the only time a person missed dinner at Nona’s house was if they were in the hospital or had found their place in the grave.

 There were always extra chairs. Despite being about to set platters of steaming food on the table, were someone unexpectedly to walk through the door, there would be a place. Silverware and plates would be pushed a little closer together and an extra place setting would be set, a chair pulled up.

 Countless childhood Sundays. The promise of family recipes and homemade pasta. The invitation was always extended. The table. Always set.

 My BisNonnel and Nona’s Sunday dinner table makes me crave with the earthly imaginings of The Table, that eternal place, that God has set for me.

 The Table is set both during the worst and the best of times. As God promises in His Holy Scriptures in Psalm 23 verse 5, He goes so far as to set a table in the midst of my fiercest enemies, when my life is fraught with unsettledness or danger or deepest gnawing sadness. He says come sit with me, dine with me. Find peace at my table. I promise you this peace always if you come to my table. And you can come to The Table at any time, there is no need for call ahead seating because God says we have to access to His Table and its offerings at all times (Ephesians 2:18).

 Not only am I always welcome - as are you - at The Table, but I am a part of the family. There is no rearranging of plates or setting the wine goblets aside. My place is set prior to my ever arriving. Because, according to the word of God in Romans 8 verse 15 I have been adopted into the family of God. I belong, as do you sweet sister. Not only have we been adopted by God, we are joint heirs with Jesus Christ His Son (Romans 8:17). We belong.

 As my Nona would say, “Venite como siete.” Come as you are, just as you are, come to The Table for God in His greatest and grandest providence has a perpetual place for you. The invitation is always extended, no matter what hill or valley you find yourself in because “You are beyond condemnation” (Romans 8:1) and welcomed with grace.

 So, come, come, come to The Table.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Finding Joy and Success in Our Service


Throughout her lifetime, my wonderful Mother modeled for me the importance of serving others and demonstrated that a life well-lived fosters insight and inspiration among those who we serve. In support of her children and her community, she used her talents to serve as a Girl Scout leader, as treasurer of the DuBois Little League Auxiliary, in our church’s Children’s Ministry, and as a member of the Junior Women’s Club. Because of the impact she made, Mommy was celebrated with an award for her service.

 Throughout my lifetime, I have sought to follow her footsteps by being dedicated to serving others in my profession, my church, and my community. Unfortunately, I failed to realize that we become highly effective and efficient and we find joy when we collaborate with others in our service. So often, I would assume that I wasn’t an effective servant when I wasn’t handing all the load by myself.

 Reading Exodus 18:17 – 18, I hear the Lord counsel me that this is a mistaken view as Moses’ father-in-law counsels Moses about his workload as a judge for his people.

Exodus 18:17-18 
Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.” 

Moses father-in-law then recommended that Moses choose effective, trustworthy, and talented collaborators to serve with him. In verse 23, he said the following:

Exodus 18: 23 
If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”

God’s counsel in these verses demonstrates that when you collaborate you bless yourself, those with whom you partner, and those whom you join in serving. You also will complete an extraordinary workload.

My proneness to not inviting others to join me in serving was demonstrated when Susanne and Chuck Spiezio agreed to help me lead Cornerstone’s DivorceCare ministry. I was so grateful that they were willing to join me in continuing this ministry, and I was determined not to burden them. So these amazing facilitators didn’t leave me, I was resistant to allowing Susanne to make treats for our participants. Finally, the Lord spoke to me that my decision robbed the two of us of the joy of collaborating and was a barrier to Susanne feeling joy. Now, our participants receive diverse yumminess from both of us, my load is lightened, and Susanne feels my gratitude for her collaboration in leading this ministry.

 Moses’ collaboration with Aaron and Hur in supporting Joshua and his fellow defenders of the Israelites, when they were attacked by the Amalekites, shows the power of collaborating:

Exodus 17:11-13 
 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword. 

 These verses demonstrate that collaboration is a key to our success in serving others. God will bless us and further our success as we join in serving Him. In fact, Jesus urged us to serve in Mark 9:35.

 Mark 9:35 
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

Amen!

Sunday, February 23, 2020

"Gardening"

I have never had a green thumb. I am fond of saying I have the ability to make silk flowers wilt! But even with my notorious limited knowledge on the subject, I understand the necessity of "weed and feed" for best results. The more I have attempted to keep my plants alive, and the more it becomes a desire in me, the more effort I put into making this a reality (if only limited at present to marigolds!).

One of my favorite passages which I have been meditating upon lately is ” the parable of the seed and the soils " in Mark chapter 4. In this passage, Jesus describes a sower who sows good seed on four different types of soil and the outcome each soil produced. The first soil is simply along a path with no real depth to it at all. Not surprisingly, the birds quickly ate this seed and there was nothing produced. The second soil was full of rocks with only a little soil. It quickly sprang up but because there was no depth, the plant quickly withered in the heat of the day. The third soil had many thorns which choked and suffocated the plant so it yielded no harvest. Lastly, the seed was sown into what the Amplified Bible calls “good, well-adapted” soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing, yielding some 30 times as much, some 60 times as much and some 100 times as much.

Obviously the parable is explaining how the Word is sown into people’s hearts and how that Word is received and the results it produces. But verse 24 is the climax to this passage that challenges me everyday. In the Amplified Bible it reads, “And He said to them, “Be careful what you are hearing. The measure [of thought and study] you give [to the truth you hear] will be the measure [of virtue and knowledge] that comes back to you--and more [besides] will be given to you who hear. For to him who has will more be given; and from him who has nothing even what he has will be taken away [by force].

When Jesus began teaching this parable he said in verse 3, “Give attention to this!” He knows the Israelites are “ever hearing but not grasping the truth” verse,12.

So...here’s the challenge: If you are feeling spiritually empty, powerless over sin, not making forward progress in your faith and discipleship of Jesus Christ, etc., let me ask you: What is the condition of your soil? Have you obeyed the Word of God that you DO know so that the Word can grow deep roots that results in fruit? Are we comfortable with boulders and thorns as long as we see a “little” green here and there? I decided for myself that “a little green” was not enough. I got busy getting some boulders out of my heart. (By the way, bitterness is one weed that will take root in ANY soil so I am vigilant now to be on guard for it and get that weed “outta here” pronto).

I am challenged and blessed that Jesus has promised to increase my understanding and fruit as I give His Word the priority and authority it should have in my life. The scary part? There is an equal promise that if I do not pay attention to His Word….what little knowledge I have ‘will be taken by force”.

I know someone who has walked away from following after the Lord and said they never understood the Bible and God never talked to them. I also know that this person spent very little time reading the Word and when it came to follow the Word or the world, the world won. What little this person had seems to have been “taken away” and I NEVER want to be like that.

I may never have a pretty flower bed or voluminous garden, but this I want with all my heart: a harvest of righteousness produced by being a listener and a doer of the Word of God.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Desperation and Hope In Times of Severe Famine

Have you ever experienced severe famine … or even famine of any degree?

 I know I haven’t. We read in the Old Testament that the Egyptians, in the time of Joseph, were well acquainted with this terrible plight. They experienced such tremendous famine for seven whole years that even the neighboring nations were affected by this serious shortage of food. In fact, the Bible reports, “the famine was severe in all the earth” (Gn. 41:57). People far and near were desperate for life-giving grain in order to survive. All their personal resources were exhausted and there was nowhere to turn. They were desperate!

 But…they heard there was grain in Egypt. Because Joseph had stored grain throughout the land during the seven years of abundance, there was plenty of grain during the years of desperate need. There was hope!

 As I read through this account of how Joseph, through God’s providential hand, had been elevated by Pharaoh to distribute life-giving grain, I was struck by the desperation that existed among the people. If it weren’t for this “severe famine” that reached to “all the earth”, people would not have made the arduous trek to Egypt. If they had not heard the good news of grain in Egypt they would not have come to Joseph. It was the extreme desperation of their situation and the hope that lay ahead that finally drove them to the only One who could supply what was necessary for life.

 What a beautiful picture of the Gospel! Life-giving food was desperately needed and there was no way for people to come up with it on their own. This was bad news! They were incapable, during this time of severe famine, to produce what was necessary themselves. They had no control over the weather conditions and were completely unable to provide what was required for survival. Without the grain from Egypt, people would starve to death. Their physical condition parallels the spiritual condition of all who are without Christ.

 But good news spread throughout the land … there was food in Egypt! There was hope! They must go to Egypt to get grain from Joseph! When the people cried out to Pharaoh, he pointed them to Joseph, a picture of our Lord Jesus Christ, the bread of life. Only Christ can supply what we need for spiritual life and we must come to Him.

 I have several loved ones who don’t yet know the Lord and I’m sure you do too… unsaved friends and family who are in severe spiritual famine but they may not even realize it. They likely are still looking to what the world can offer or are deceived into thinking they can somehow meet that deep internal need themselves. So many are without hope. As I meditated on this passage, I was prompted to start praying more intentionally along these same lines…that my loved ones would come to a place of desperate need and come to realize there was hope. Hope in the only One who can supply what is necessary for spiritual life. In their desperation, I want hope to drive them to Jesus, to know Him and to love Him. I want them to realize what Christ suffered on their behalf to make a way for true abundant, everlasting life and to place their hope in Him.

 “Lord, create a “severe famine” in the life of _______ to draw them to Yourself. Help _____ see the emptiness of what the world offers and the futility of their own efforts. May _____ see You as their hope...that You are loving and kind and waiting to give what they desperately need for life, not just here and now, but for all eternity.”

Monday, January 27, 2020

Having Jesus Is Better

Before I begin I just wanted to share that what I am about to write is not something that I consistently live out. I haven’t arrived. I struggle day to day to live here, sometimes moment to moment. But I so desperately want to move this truth from a head knowledge into my heart so that I live it consistently. But I need reminders from God and His people. Just last week I was reminded of a truth I had long buried somewhere. A truth I had walked in before but now it was gone. It was the truth of 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 which reminds me that Jesus is sufficient for all my weaknesses, distress, and difficulties. When I am weak, He is strong.

 I know this verse, I have read it, studied it, quoted it and shared it, but the thing is I am now learning to apply it into my life in a new way. Friday night I sat with two friends and shared my health struggles. I was honest about the depths of pain, both emotionally and physically. These two women have been where I am, they are were I am. Both live with chronic illness and pain. They were encouraging, pointed me to Jesus and then prayed with me. During prayer one of them said something like, “help Sharon see that You are better than her health.” That changed something inside me. Kind of a refocusing of my thoughts. Jesus is better, He is sufficient, He is more than enough. If I never go into remission of Graves Disease, if this life is my new normal and there is no healing here on earth, Jesus is enough.

 Let’s be honest, many reading this are struggling in some form or another. It might not be with your health, but it could be with any number of trials, heartbreak or suffering. When sin entered into this world along came much pain and suffering. Suffering that we can not endure on our own. We need to invite Jesus into our suffering, for He alone will be our strength. “His grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness...Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9-10)

 This is not easy. We like to be comfortable. We do not like pain or suffering. We want to be healed. We place a high priority on being healthy and pain free in this life. But we need to recognize that having Jesus in our life is better than all these things. So even if God does not heal you, or rescue you out of your current circumstance He is still good. He is still faithful and He is, with a doubt, enough!

 One final though, while Jesus is enough, we must also remember that He never intended us to walk through suffering or life alone. We need our brothers and sisters in Christ. There are so many verses in God’s Word that remind us that we need to share our burdens with one another. Honestly, this is another hard area for some of us, but I pray that we learn to not only remind one another that having Jesus is better than what we are going through, but that we are there for one another for support and prayer.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Believing the Best of One Another


A number of years ago a dear friend said something that hurt me.  When I ask her about it I realized that I had misinterpted what she said. Once we talked it out she said something to me that has stuck with me in the years since. She said, “why don’t we just believe the best about one another? Assume that we have one another’s best interest at heart.” It made sense after all we love each other, want what is best for each other, and we had almost a lifetime of friendship behind us.Thinking that way has caused a lot less hurt feelings. It has made me stop and evaluate things that have been done or said to me. I mean why is it that I always am inclined toward believing the negative? Surely I am not the only one! It is so important to our relationships though to believe motives and intentions toward us are good. There would be a whole lot less hurt feelings.

Recently I saw something on social media that reminded me of this very thing. Someone had shared about something that they had done and how God had blessed them for it (no one from Cornerstone Church). It was praiseworthy. A testimony to what God had done in their life. But a few commenters took it as bragging and what followed just got ugly. There were all kinds of hurt feelings. Y'all these people were Christians. They were people who are called to love one another, build one another up and to preach the gospel. Sadly they failed in that moment. Please hear me, I too fail miserably at times. I can be just like them, maybe I don’t actually write it but I can surely think it! I can judge motives just like you can. I don’t think I miss speak (or write) when I say that we all have done it at one time or another. But as I read these comments I thought of my friend. I thought “Why can’t we assume the other person's motives are good? Why can’t we just believe the best of her?” Why must we think the person is bragging or whatever might come to your mind.

Luke 6:31 reminds us that we should do to them as we would want them to do to us. Phil 2:3-4 reminds us to put others above ourselves and to look out for the interest of others. I don’t think judging others’ motives is fulfilling either of these verses. Why don’t we begin the New Year with thinking the best of your spouse, your friends, family, the person in the pew next to you, your co-workers and that stranger you just met on the street? Let us try to assume that what others say or do are for the right reasons and with the right motives. Yes, some might prove not worthy of assuming good but why not assuming the good until they prove otherwise. I am sure we all have been wrongly judged for our motives. We know the hurt it causes. So from now on, why don’t we believe the best about one another just like we would want others to think of us.

Father, When I begin to assume wrongly about another person please remind me to think of whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, or worthy of praise. (Phil 4:8)