Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Fruit On Your Own Tree Is Always Sweeter

     The picture is of a tree a friend of mine grafted and gave me a few years ago. These persimmons need another tree to pollinate, but if a skillful arborist grafts two trees together it will self-fruit, pollinate itself. There's a whole spiritual application there about us being grafted into Christ, but that's not what I'm thinking about this morning as I write. 
     I planted that tree, watered it, fertilized it, weeded it, sprayed it for bugs, and was terrifically excited when, after two years of potential fruit, I finally saw those little green orbs forming on the branches. This Fall, if the opossums don't get them first, I am going to pluck those persimmons when they become perfectly ripe and enjoy the sweetest, bestest, most awesome persimmons I have ever had.
     Those persimmons will be better than any I have ever tasted, for one reason alone. They came off my very own persimmon tree in my very own orchard. If you have an orchard, or grow a vegetable garden, you know something other people don't. The fruit off your own tree and the vegetables out of your own garden are far more satisfying to eat than anything anyone can buy in any green market or store. 
     You really need to get that truth. There is a lot of sweet fruit in this life. There are worship services that lift our sous. There are teachers and preachers that stimulate our minds. There are books and studies that open our eyes to tasty Biblical truths. There are conferences we return home from that we think everyone else just absolutely must attend when they come around again. Mimi and Paw-paw have such a genuine faith, and we are so blessed when we are around them. That child's response to the children's sermon was so precious. It is all so good, but none of it is as sweet as the fruit on your own tree.
     While the world needs to see the fruit of God in and on your life, it's there for another reason. It is there for you to enjoy, realizing how sweet it is that the great and gracious Creator has grafted you into Christ through faith in Christ, placing His Spirit within you so that you will bare fruit.  But, that fruit does not grow unless you water the tree, fertilize the tree, spray the tree for bugs, nurture the tree, protect the fruit from predators, and do all of that continually until the fruit is ready to eat. 
     You must believe in Christ. You must choose to surrender your life to His plan and process. You must abide in His Word, prayer, worship and service. You must obey. You will never experience the joy of the abundant life, never joyfully taste the sweet, sweet fruit of Christ if you don't.

Please, take time to read more: John 14 & 15

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Last Sunset

And just as it is appointed for people to die once - and after this, judgment - so also Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
Hebrews 9:27-28

     We were fishing with friends and a strange thought drifted through my mind. That's not unusual. Many strange thoughts drift through the vast empty space between my ears, but this one continues to remind me it's there. "This could be the last sunset I ever see." 
     A few days after that sunset, the mother of a friend of mine died suddenly. I had coffee with her only a week or so before. The next day his mother-in-law died. They had both lived full lives in the faith, but those days were numbered. A couple of weeks ago a pastor friend of mine who had recently moved back into the area was struck and killed while jogging. I had seen him at a prayer breakfast just three days before. He was 46. In the last few years I've lost several good friends -  some young, some old. We had our last conversation, prayed together the last time, enjoyed a last supper.  
     Sometimes we get angry with God because someone dies. That's understandable, but unfair. He did promise, after all, that there is a final day appointed for each of us. None of us knows the day, but we know it's coming. Whether it's a sunset, a fishing trip, a cup of coffee, a breakfast, or a special time with family or friends, one of those will be the last one of those.
     Each of us will have a last dance, a last sunset. That's reality and so is what comes on the other side of our last sunset. If we believe in Jesus and follow him here, we'll enter eternity with him by our side. If, however, we haven't followed him here, then we'll will face the judgment with him as our opposition. 
     I'm glad for that sunset and the thought that continues to echo in my mind. It, along with God's Word, reminds me that he's never lied, even about death. He hasn't promised earthly immortality. How awful would it be to have to live forever in this world, forever dealing with its mess?  He's promised that one day all this will end and our joy will be full. That's only frightening if we don't know him. It's only unfulfilling if we think this world is superior to the one that's coming. 
     So, until that day, let's live as if we were already there. Let's patiently await his perfect timing, holding onto him while we make our way through this life. We're here for a purpose, whether we can figure it all out or not. We're here to glorify God, to make Him, His love, and His gospel known until He calls us home. So, let's dance while we can, but let's always remember that nothing here is as wonderful as everything there will be. And, above all, let's believe in Jesus, follow him, and give thanks that meeting him face-to-face will be the best part of life on the other side of the last sunset.  

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Does Father Know Best?

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Ephesians 6:1-4

     Sunday is Father's Day, and since I'm a preacher I'm expected to say something about Fathers. Preachers are warned not to use paternal holidays to lay into mothers and fathers. That's good counsel. The flipside, however, is to pour on the schmooze. Being a father makes that a bit awkward, kind of like me preaching how great pastors are on pastor appreciation Sunday.
     Did you know Father's Day was an afterthought? One story says it was begun in 1909, the year after a mine explosion in Virginia that killed 361 men. Grace Golden Clayton suggested to her pastor that a special service should be held in honor of fathers. The other story of its founding says it was begun in 1910, the year after Sonora Smart Dodd heard a Mother's Day sermon and suggested to her pastor that father's deserved at least a mention. Either way, thank you for the day Grace and Sonora.
     I've been reading a lot about parenting recently. Guess I'm having flashbacks to my good old days working on my family ministry degree. It's interesting that the debate hasn't changed much. Parents are still the most important people in society.  There's apparently an entire generation that hasn't been parented well, since we now have to have "Adulting" classes for young adults. 
     Some say that most of society's problems should be laid at the feet of parents, particularly, it seems from popular opinion, fathers. There's the movement toward more authoritarian parenting, lauded by some and villainized by others. There's a more tempered approach, labelled "authoritative parenting". Parents become more deal-makers than rule-enforcers. Then there's the egalitarian approach, where who knows who's in charge. 
     I can show you scientific research supporting every side of every issue. By the way, scientific research isn't all it's cracked up to be (there was a good article about that in 2013 in in The Economist). The science you trust today will very often be proven inaccurate tomorrow. 
     So, how should you parent? Does father really know best? Whoop (that's spank for those of you who know no rednecks), don't whoop, play let's make a deal or tell them "because I said so", dress boys as boys and girls as girls or let them choose the too-too or the gladiator outfit, make them go to church or let them choose, think there are gender-specific roles or not, father is head of the house or mom is or the three year old is . . . seriously, what do we do?
     Well, I don't know what you do if you're not a follower of Jesus Christ. Punt, I guess. Join the parenting-philosophy-of-the-month club. Do it like your parents because you thought they did great, or don't do it like them because you think they were idiots. I don't think anyone intends to be a bad parent, but, how do you really, honestly, know what a good parent is? Is a perfect child the product of perfect parenting? If it is, then any imperfection is the result of failed parenting, and that's just not entirely true. Both great and totally dysfunctional young adults come from the same home. 
     Here's what you do if you're a follower of Christ. First, stop evaluating your parenting solely on current fruit in your kids lives. You should take an honest look at your parenting, but good parents can have rotten kids. It's the Holy Spirit who produces fruit in your kids' lives. You are just one of the tools he uses. 
     Then, pick up the Bible and read all that God says about parenting, but before that read all it says about being a parent, and before that read all it says about being a child of the Heavenly Father. Who you are in Christ, how you are following Him, is far more important than what parenting method you used. Focus on your own childhood as a child of God. 
     Finally, love learning. Read, learn, evaluate, but don't live your life by the observations and ideas of the world. Live and parent by the design of the designer. That won't make a lot of people happy, but following Jesus never does. 
     Earthly fathers don't always know best, but there is a father who does. . . "our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name."