Go FIGure!

fig treeOn the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry. Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!”
Mark 11:11-14

Poor little fig tree! What did it do to deserve to be condemned to die? It wasn’t even the season for it to have any figs. So what if Jesus was hungry?” This is how I used to feel when I read about Jesus cursing the fig tree in the gospel of Mark. However, I have come to gain a deeper understanding of these and the following verses of Mark 11.

Jesus says in John 15:1-2,5-6, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit….I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.” There may be some branches of my life that need pruning, but I do not want to be cast out. So, I look to find out what kind of fruit I should bear. My answer is in Galatians 5:22-23, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” I would rather yield to my Heavenly Father’s pruning of the unfruitful branches of my life and allow for the growth of new fruit than to risk the curse of Jesus at the final judgment.  I don’t want to be like the fig tree Jesus cursed.

In Rev. Cheryl Schang’s book entitled Heal Them All, she makes an application of the withering of the fig tree to physical healing. She points out that since the fig tree was not useful to Jesus, He cursed it to die. Her analogy is that we can curse a tumor or unnatural growth in our bodies to die because it is not useful to our bodies. Like cleansing the temple, we have authority in the name of Jesus to cleanse our bodies of sickness and spirits that do not allow us to function as temples of the Holy Spirit. (“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you?”I Corinthians 6:19) This is definitely something for me to think about!

Then they came to Jerusalem. And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves; and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple. And He began to teach and say to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a robber’s den.”
Mark 11:15-17

According to notes I have read in the Life Application Bible, the withering of the fig tree is an acted-out parable of Jesus cleansing the temple which is recorded in further verses of Mark 11. The temple was supposed to be a place of worship but true worship was no longer taking place within the temple walls.

Jesus wanted spiritual fruit produced in the temple just as He wanted physical fruit produced by the fig tree. The leaves on the fig tree made it appear that fruit could be produced and the actions of these men in the temple looked good on the outside. However, Jesus saw more deeply into both the fig tree and the men’s actions inside the temple. Jesus wanted faith and fruit. If I relate this to my life, I need to look carefully at my life and evaluate if I am producing fruitful fruit for the Lord. If I appear to have faith without putting it to work in my life, I am like the fig tree that withered and died because of no fruit. Genuine faith means bearing fruit for God’s kingdom. James 2:17 says, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” As Jesus cleansed the temple, I want Him to cleanse my life of anything that hinders either my faith or my doing good works that would bless the Lord and further His Kingdom.

In the outer courts of the temple, doves were sold for sacrifices and money changers  cheated people who needed currency exchanged so they could buy the sacrificial animals. An angry Jesus threw them out because this was not the purpose of the temple. Jesus came to offer salvation to both the Jews and the Gentiles and the outer court of the temple was where the Gentiles could come to worship. The actions of the dishonest men offended Jesus. This causes me look closely within myself to see what I may be allowing in my life that is crowding out my time of worship. Am I causing Jesus to become angry? Jesus wanted “His house” to return to being a house of prayer. Making a personal application, I search my heart to discover what might need overturning in my life to allow me to be a person of prayer.

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”
“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered…. “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
Mark 11:20-22, 24

Reading further in the 11th chapter of Mark, I find out that the poor little fig tree did indeed die. It died because it did not produce edible fruit. The temple was cleansed because it did not produce spiritual fruit. However, Mark 11:22 reveals to me the solution for my being able to bear fruit for Him. I need to have faith in God. I need to believe in Him. If I have faith, then I will be fruitful in my prayer life according to verse 24. I will be a fruitful temple of the Holy Spirit.

Joyfully,
Cheryl

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A Fragile Word

All was quiet around me. I was in bed but not asleep. My mind was still drifting over thoughts of the evening’s experiences of the retreat I was attending. Then my spiritual ears heard the following words from the Lord. “I have entrusted My child, Adam, to you. He is fragile. Just love him. I am working. Walk with Me.” I felt like I was the boy Samuel fulfilling Eli’s instructions of I Samuel 3:9,”Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.” I was listening! In what I share in the following paragraphs, I have changed the name of this individual to Adam representing the first human being God created. Adam can be any one of us. I am not referring to a male or female person, but I have chosen to use the masculine pronoun. Although this was a very personal word, I think many of my readers will be able to insert the name of their own Adam into these brief statements. My Reader, search your life and see if you are called to apply these statements to a special someone in your life as I expand upon the insights I discovered.

fragile-birdsI have entrusted My child, Adam, to you.

The first word that caught my attention was entrusted. It was humbling to think that God was investing me with responsibility for someone’s life. Then I remembered Paul’s words in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” I praised the Lord that He desired me to partner with Him for the fulfillment of His plans and purposes for this individual.

fragile-roseHe is fragile.

Since the Lord chose “fragile” to describe this particular child that belonged to Him, I pondered the meaning of the word. Two characteristics came to mind: vulnerability and the ability to be broken.

If a person is vulnerable, he is susceptible to being wounded physically, emotionally and spiritually. There is most likely a weakness within the character and personality of this person. I want Adam to know that according to II Corinthians 12:9 the Lord says to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” My husband and I often watch Antique Roadshow on TV. There is a commercial of an active boy running back and forth in front of a table where an expensive vase is placed. Hands come and grasp the vase to keep it from falling and being broken. To me, this depicts the vulnerability of the object to be broken. I apply this to Adam. Paul says in II Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” As I think about a person being breakable, I sense both the negative and the positive possibilities. When something is broken, its original condition is lost. The specific vase in the TV commercial could never have been replaced if it had broken. However, when thinking about a person being broken, it can be a good thing. The Lord is able to take the vulnerability and weakness of a person and repair him to be better than he was previously. David says in Psalm 34:18 NLT, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” Also Psalm 51:17 NLT says, “You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.”

loveJust love him.

When I first heard the Lord’s words regarding Adam’s life, I was overwhelmed. However, then the Lord gave me guidance as to what He wanted me to do. Love is a simple four letter word but it not necessarily an easy task to fulfill. I turn to the love chapter of the Bible for guidance. I highlight words from I Corinthians 13:4, 7,8, and 13, “Love is patient, love is kind….It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails….And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” I am particularly assured and strengthened by the fact that love never fails. I have heard it said that love is wanting what is best for the other person. Yes Lord, help me love my Adam!

handI am working.

The Lord has entrusted me with a responsibility for this Adam but I am not alone. God said to Moses in Exodus 3:14, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” For me, I AM is one of the greatest names of God. In my particular present situation, I AM is working with me. I rely upon Psalm 147:3 that says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” God is doing the work – not me. All God asks of me is to love my Adam. I can say to Adam the same words Moses spoke to the Israelites, “I AM has sent me to you.”

footprints-in-sandWalk with Me.

The the last words the Lord spoke to me that evening were words for my personal guidance. I was assured of His presence and help as I accepted the call He spoke to me. With the writer of Psalm 86:11 NKJV I say, “Teach me your ways, O LORD; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to Your name.” May I fulfill the directive of Galatians 5:16, “Walk by the Spirit.”

I have embraced the words God spoke into my spirit that evening. I am now in the process of partnering with the Lord for His work in Adam’s fragile life. As God entrusts me to walk along side Adam, I strive to “Trust in the LORD with all my heart And do not lean on my own understanding. In all my ways I acknowledge Him, And He will make my paths straight.” according to Proverbs 3:5-6. (italics are pronouns personalized by author)

My Reader, do you sense the Lord calling you to love someone who is fragile? Remember, the Lord will walk with you wherever He leads you.

Joyfully,
Cheryl
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Riding the Bicycle of Faith

bicycle

While watching a young boy attempting to ride a bike with the help of his father, I realized how learning to ride a bicycle and learning to walk by faith have similarities. Hebrews 11:1 NLT says, “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” As I continued to watch the young boy, he did not give up his hopes of successfully riding his bike alone. I am challenged to have a similar confidence in trusting the Lord with my life if I am to attain a walk of faith. In the beginning, the new biker may not reach his goal, but with practice he will triumph. Regarding the walk of faith, I may not initially be aware of all that the faith lifestyle entails, but as I grow in my faith, the Lord’s plans and purposes will become a reality.

When thinking back to when I first learned to ride a bicycle, I remember that I did not have the luxury of training wheels. However, I did have the steadying hand of my father. With my hands on the handlebars, I would frantically jerk the front wheel to the right and to the left trying to gain my balance while Dad’s hand stabilized the bicycle. I compare this to the scripture of Isaiah 30:21, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” While walking by faith, I need to listen for the Lord’s voice rather than rely upon my own strength. Just as my dad held on to the seat of my bike so I would not fall, my Heavenly Father holds my hand so I will not stumble as I walk by faith. Isaiah 41:10 assures me, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Just as a bicycle has two wheels to create movement, so I imagine a bicycle of faith having two wheels to live by. I define these two wheels as trust and obedience. If I trust and obey the Lord, I will be able to confidently move forward. I will ride upon a bike of faith.

I examine these two wheels more closely by looking at a couple of scriptures. I named the front wheel trust. Trust is defined as a firm belief in the reliability, truth or strength of someone or something. In this case, I am referring to trust in the Lord. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.”  Trust involves a commitment of the heart. When I trust the Lord, He will give me a straight path to ride my bike of faith upon! I named the back wheel obedience which is defined as submission or compliance to one in authority or to instructions. Making a specific spiritual application, I refer to obeying God and His written Word. II John 1:6 says, “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” By trusting and obeying God, I keep moving by faith and drawing closer to the Lord.

When learning to ride my two-wheeled bicycle, I fell numerous times but my dad was always there to pick me up and encourage me to try again. The same thing occurs as I ride upon the bicycle of faith. My Heavenly Father is always there to pick me and set me back upon the wheels of trust and obedience. He is there encouraging me to keep going. The Psalmist says in Psalm 84:11b “No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” I move forward when I stay upright whether it be riding a bike or walking by faith. It takes time to learn to ride a bike proficiently and it takes time to learn to live a life of faith without stumbling. In fact, a person is never assured that one will not fall off a bike if a wheel unexpectedly hits a large stone in the wrong way. One just needs to get up, get back on the bike and continue down the path. Neither should I be discouraged if I stumble upon a stone of sin and need the help of the Lord to get back up and continue my journey with Him.

I like the verse of Galatians 6:9, “Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” As I unpack this verse phrase by phrase, I make an application to my bicycle of faith with the wheels of trust and obedience. “Let us not grow weary while doing good” is obedience in action. The concluding phrase of “if we do not lose heart” is an example of trust. The result of obedience and trust is to “reap in due season” a harvest of deeper faith as referred to in the middle phrase. My goal in life is to trust and believe what God says in His Word and then obey and do what I have learned.

My Reader, in conclusion will you join me in singing the refrain of the old familiar hymn Trust and Obey by Samuel Stammis? The words are, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

Joyfully,
Cheryl
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Fire with a Purpose

fire-hs2fire-bonfireRecently I attended a Christian women’s retreat and our evening session was held around a bonfire. While the speaker shared what had happened in her life that caused her to feel like trash, many women threw their own garbage into the fire. What happens when the worthlessness of our lives is combined with fire?

The most obvious answer is that all the trash and garbage is burned up. However, ashes remain. Ashes often symbolize sorrow and repentance for sin committed. Job 42:6 NLT says, “I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” When we toss our garbage into the fire, flames are kindled that burn up the useless things that have happened to us.

Malachi 3:2 describes God by saying, “For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.” When we leave our rubbish and rubble at the feet of Jesus, He becomes our fire who refines us to be pure like silver and gold. In Isaiah 48:10 the Lord says to us, See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.”  This concept is expanded in I Peter 1:7 NLT that says, These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold–though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” Once again we see how God uses everything in our lives for good. (see Romans 8:28) Although we may mess up when difficulties arise in our lives, God will refine our trash into treasure when we throw it into the heat of the fire. God has a flame of forgiveness for us.

I Corinthians 3:15 says,If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” Then Paul goes on to say in verse 16, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” This is possible because of another function of fire. Acts 2:3-4 describes Pentecost and the descending of the Holy Spirit by saying, “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” The Holy Spirit sets us on fire to serve the Lord.

In Daniel 3, we read the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego being thrown into the fire by Nebuchadnezzar, but upon closer look there were four in the fire because God was with them. My Reader, I want to assure you today that if you are in the fire for any reason, God is with you. He will burn up your trash and receive your ashes of repentance. He will turn these ashes into beauty by refining you into someone more precious than gold or silver. He will set you on fire with the Holy Spirit and will live within you. II Timothy 1:6 says, “For this reason I(Paul) remind you (Timothy) to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” I remind you to do the same. Fan the flame of fire within your heart and also fulfill I Thessalonians 5:19 that says, “Do not quench the Spirit.”

The bonfire I experienced at the retreat helped to keep all of us warm on a chilly evening. However, it also provided us with a powerful picture of what the Lord was doing in our spiritual lives that evening.

Joyfully,
Cheryl
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