If you’re not a fan of snowboarding or skiing or ice fishing, chances are you are pretty much done with winter by now! The beauty of the first snow is gone, the charming lights of Christmas are past, and cabin fever with its “winter blues” is setting in! Winter is really here and it’s starting to feel like it – blustery, cold, and harsh. But even when it isn’t technically winter, all of us will end up going through “wintry seasons” in life. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t great benefits to it! James 1:2-4 put it this way:
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."
When James talks about trials of various kinds, I think we can consider those wintry seasons – seasons that are cold, harsh, and on the surface appear to be fruitless. But ironically, there is a lot we can learn from winter and its effect on fruit trees. Just as the wintry trials of life produce a perfection and completeness in us, so winter is necessary for many varieties of fruit trees.
Every fall, a fruit tree loses its leaves and enters dormancy. What is interesting is that this is not just to protect them from the winter temperatures but is also necessary for some fruit tree varieties to bear fruit again. Many fruit trees actually won’t bear fruit until it has met the minimum “chilling requirement” followed by a certain amount of heat.
This means that without the seasons of summer and winter, many varieties wouldn’t bear fruit more than once! If you planted some trees in a very comfortable climate year-round, they wouldn’t bear fruit because they wouldn’t meet the chilling requirement to start producing new buds and bear fruit again. They need cycles of every season!
One tree nursery website wrote about this:
“If a fruit tree is grown where winter cold is insufficient to satisfy the variety’s chilling requirement, blooming and foliation will be delayed and erratic; fruit set and fruit quality will be poor.... A fruit variety’s chilling requirement is a key determinant of where it will consistently produce satisfactory crops of fruit."
I think you get the point by now – like the trees, seasons of winter are necessary for us to bear fruit. As a church with a vision of “deep roots. bearing fruit.” this is crucial to remember. There are no wasted seasons with God. The long, cold blasts of trials and the seemingly barren seasons are exactly what can lead us into seasons of fruitfulness if we respond appropriately. I bet you can personally attest that without the hardest, maybe even the most depressing times of life, you would not be who you are today and would not have the testimony of God’s grace that you do. Even though my teeth want to clinch a bit when I say this, I will personally go on record saying that the hardest seasons I have went through have become the greatest, most fruit-bearing graces in my life today. Strangely, they are the seasons we come to appreciate the most because they shaped us into who we today – men and women of character and persevering faith that glorify God in a world where many are tempted to quit on Him in the winter.
I happened upon this quote this week from Charles Spurgeon, who had a knack for saying things best. When like Job, we ask God, “Why do I face trials?” Spurgeon answered with this:
“Perhaps, weary soul, the Lord is doing this to develop your graces. There are some graces that would never be discovered if it were not for your trials. Do you not know that your faith never looks as good in summer as it does in winter?... For how can you know you have faith until your faith is exercised? Depend on it—God often sends us trials so that our graces may be discovered and that we may be convinced of their existence. Besides, it is not merely discovery; real growth in grace is the result of sanctified trials.”
When God sends or allows seasons of trial and difficulty to enter into our lives, remember that He has not forsaken or abandoned you but put His hand on you, to grow you and to see to it that you might bear much fruit. In this, you can rejoice – count it all joy – as James said. God can hardly use a man until that man has been through every season. No winters can mean no fruit.
So, God bless you, even in the winter,
Choose Life That You May Live!
When someone is nearing the end of their life on earth they usually have a few, but simple and wise words to share with their loved ones. There’s something about being close to death or having a near death experience that those in that condition are able to boil down in just a few short lines, some of the greatest advice and fundamental ideas that will help their loved ones really live well. Maybe you can recall some of those wise words yourself. This is where we’re at when we come to Deuteronomy 30:15-20.
After leading Israel for 40 years in the wilderness and just before the next generation of Israelites were about to cross over the Jordan River into the promised land, Moses summoned all to come and renew the covenant that God gave them on Mt. Sinai. That’s why Deuteronomy is called Deuteronomy – it’s Greek for “second law giving”. Moses is at the end of his life and will not be crossing over with them so it’s time to pass on new leadership and renewed principle. At the end of the reading of the Law, he boils it all down with some wise last words. He gives them a choice between two destinies: blessing and life or cursing and death.
“See I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other god and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jorden to enter and possess it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and length of days…
How simple! How profound! It’s refreshing, isn’t it? If you love God and follow His ways, you’ll be blessed and you’ll really live(!) both now and in heaven. But if you don’t love God and follow His ways, you’ll find adversity and cursing in this life, and in the end, an ugly death that results in separation from God. Then he says, “Choose.” Specifically, “Choose life in order that you may live!”
We must make the same decision today in our lives. We are either going to obey and find blessing or disobey and experience consequences. Of course, this is not teaching some sort of shallow prosperity theology or works-based legalistic salvation where if you just put a couple dollars in the offering plate God will give you everything you want or allow you to earn heaven by your own righteousness. God is not a genie and our obedience to God is not cold ritualism. The obedience called for here comes from an authentic love relationship with God. Notice how Moses points that out twice that you should “love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways” and “by loving your God, by obeying His voice.” Love is always the primary motive for obedience that He desires and when that’s the motive, duty becomes desire. This is what John meant when He said, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.”
But here’s the thing: we cannot love and follow God on our own any more than Israel could. Today, we need hearts renewed by the Spirit of God through faith in Christ. I think Moses was anticipating the New Covenant even at the renewing of the Old Covenant when he told Israel that they too needed new hearts. Moses told them in chapter 29 that even though they had witnessed God do great things for them since leaving Egypt and provide for them miraculously, they still didn’t have, “a heart to know, eyes to see, nor ears to hear” (29:4). They were still spiritually dull. It’s interesting that even though Moses gives them two options and tells them to make a choice, he prophetically foretells them what they will choose: disobedience. He says they won’t keep the Law he just read. What a way to end a sermon!
In reality, it is a good reminder for us. After every challenge from the Word of God to live for Him, we’d better know we cannot do it on our own but only through Christ and the Spirit of God. And when we mess up like the Israelites, we should remember what Christ has done for us in the New Covenant.
In those moments, we too, need to repent and “renew” our own covenant with God as His covenant people.
In verses 1-5 of chapter 30 he tells them that curses are going to come upon them for their disobedience and they’ll be dispersed throughout the world, becoming outcasts at the ends of the earth. But then says that’s exactly what they’ll need because only when experiencing the consequences of God are they going to turn back to Him with a genuine repentance, receiving a new heart (v. 6). And just like them, that’s exactly what some of us need. Sometimes it’s only when we’ve royally blown it by doing our own thing that we realize His way is better and His blessings are not because we deserve them! Then, we will blessed and He’ll enjoy the fruit of our obedience now being compelled by love (2 Cor. 5:14-15).
Notice that even though God blesses them, their descendants will be blessed as well – “choose life that you may live, you and your descendants.” Elsewhere, it says the nation will be blessed as a head and not a tail in the world (28:1-2, 13). That’s one of the things about doing things God’s way: those who are around you and follow after you are blessed. Just as Noah obeyed God and blessed all of us (Gen. 9:9, 12) and Abram obeyed God and was a blessing to all nations (Gen. 12:1-3), so we bless others by our obedience. I think it was E. V. Hill who said, “When God blesses you, He rarely has you in mind.” God loves to bless us, but it’s not only about us. God wants to bless us in such a way that when He pours out His blessings on our head, they splash onto others shoulders standing near us. When we live, others start to live.
But we have to make a choice: Life or death? Blessing or cursing? Moses’ suggestion: Be a blessing for life!
“Choose life in order that you may live!”
In conclusion, I just want to share with you some of my favorite lyrics from a song called The Blessing by John Waller. I listen to this song on occasion to remind myself that my obedience to God is not just about me (and it’s okay to need that reminder daily). This is about God’s glory and others who follow after us: our kids, our relatives, our nation, our onlookers – those who are looking to see if this Jesus thing is really real… Please take the time to read these lyrics. Better yet, look the song up and listen to them!
The Blessing by John Waller
Praying that you choose to be a blessing for life!
Everyone knows that in order to get the job done right, you need the right tools. Having the right tools will make the job go faster, smoother, and produce the best finish results. The same could be said for the way we live our lives. We need to be equipped with the right tools for handling all the situations life throws at us. Do you have any need for some divine tools in your life? Any loose fittings that need snugged up? Any relationships that need fixing?
In 2 Timothy 3, Paul gives his disciple Timothy the tool belt we need for every situation in life. As a young minister in a church, Timothy is going to need that tool belt because as he points out in the 1st half of the chapter, this world is full of folks with problems that need fixing! Paul begins describing the perilous times in verse 1:
“But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…”
Reading through this at our Men’s Fellowship Group this last Friday morning, one of the men said, “This could’ve been written yesterday!” We all agreed. And sadly, none of it describes a full and satisfying life. Notice what word brackets both ends of that ugly list: the word love. People have misguided love of self which means that all of our relationships are going to be disastrous -- from our relationship with God, to parents, to spouse, to children, to money, and well, you name it.
So what is the answer? Where’s the handy tool belt to fix this? Well, it’s revealed in the 2nd half of the chapter. The contrast to a misguided world begins in verse 10:
“You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work."
Paul is in essence saying to Timothy, “Timothy, if you are going to be effective and carry out your ministry in this world, you’ve got to stay committed to the Word of God. The Word of God will give you the tools you need for ministry and for life!”
Paul makes a BIG deal out of the Word of God. He calls the Bible the sacred writings. That means they are special. They are different. They are holy, meaning they're set apart from any other writings. They are anything but ordinary because God has communicated to us in them. The NIV translates “inspired by God” as “God-breathed” (theopneustos) – breathed out by God! I like that. It reminds me of 2 Peter 1:20, 21 where Peter says, “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” in writing the Scriptures. Like a ship’s sails filled with the breath of God, men were carried along by the Holy Spirit in writing them, without destroying their personalities or literary style. The technical term for this in Bibliology is inspiration. Read 1 Thessalonians 2:13 for why Paul could praise God for the Thessalonians’ reception of the doctrine of inspiration!
If the Bible really is God’s Word, how could we ignore it?! He created this world and through His Word has given us the wisdom we need to know Him and His purposes and desires for it. Paul reminds Timothy of the two-fold power of the Scriptures. They have the powerful wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. And they are powerful enough to adequately, or fully, equip us for every good work!
The fact that this Book equips us for every good work means that, like one men in our men's study said, it’s not just for the minister in the pulpit on Sunday morning. It is for everyone at all times! The reason why so many are struggling today with marriage, raising children, handling finances, and all of life’s trials, is because they’ve disregarded the Bible as an ancient, ordinary book that just isn’t relevant for them! But I would challenge everyone reading this to pick up the Bible and read it completely through this year. Read the book of Proverbs and see if it doesn’t apply to your life! I think you’ll be surprised!
The God who created you longs for you to know Him and to live a full and satisfying life, free from addictions, broken relationships, and other unnecessary hurts (John 10:10; Matthew 11:28-30). But you’ve got to use the tools that He has given you in His Word. There is no man of God without the Word of God.
Charles Stanley writes in his Life Principles Bible about this passage:
“The Bible is...profitable and nourishing. It provides us with an advantage in every department of life – family, business, and personal relationships. It is profitable because it reflects the wisdom of God; and when we abide by its teaching, we learn to live in His peace. As we meditate and consider its truth, our spirits and souls find nourishment. We become established and enriched in every experience of life by living according to God’s perspective.”
Get in God’s Word today and share God’s Word with others. Make sure they know that this is not just any ordinary book but that it is inspired by God and gives them the answers they need for every walk of life!
A Throne Set in Heaven
This week I wrote up an annual report for our church that reflected on the year 2020. In the beginning of the report, I half-jokingly and half-seriously said that I’m sure that most of us would rather not reflect on 2020! To say the least, we weren’t impressed! All of the events that took place reminded us of something out of the book of Revelation. It has left many Christians weary, tired, and struggling just to make it through each day. Like we studied last week, we need to remember that Christ is busy building His Church where Satan’s throne is (Rev. 2:12-17)!
This week, I want us to be encouraged by another throne! A throne that is established in heaven and is above all thrones! What makes this throne so special is the One who is sitting on it – God the Father, with the Son at His right hand. In Revelation chapter 4, Jesus allows John to enter the heavenly throne room!
“…and behold, a throne was standing in heaven and One sitting on the throne. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and sardius in appearance and there was a rainbow around the throne like an emerald in appearance. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads. Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder."
If you’ve wanted to get a glimpse of what heaven is like, this is for you! How incredible it is for John to speak of these unspeakable things! John describes how in heaven, God the Father is sitting on His throne (Rev. 6:16-17) and tries to describe for us what His appearance is like at this moment. Now, because God is a Spirit, it’s difficult for us to imagine, but there is a lot we can learn. He says His appearance is like pure jasper. According to Revelation 21:11 that’s like a crystal clear diamond! He’s a stunning diamond refracting unapproachable light! On top of that, He is described as a fiery-red sardius color. These colors signify to us God’s holiness and purity, but as well as His fiery wrath that is about to be poured out on the Christ-rejecting world during the tribulation period in chapter 6-19.
The tribulation period as you know, if you’ve read Revelation, is an awful time. It’s not pretty. It’s so dark and so ugly during this time period on the earth that it makes you grovel just thinking about it.
During this time, the despotic world ruler known as the Anti-Christ starts to consolidate power to himself. War breaks out, famines, pestilence, wild beasts lose their tameness, great earthquakes take place, cosmic disturbances are occurring, the earth is scorched, the sea is turned to blood – it’s a time of utter devastation.
Now I believe that as the Church, we are not destined for this time of God’s wrath known as “the day of the Lord” (1 Thess. 1:10; 4:13-5:11). Christ took the wrath we deserve, and we have the hope that Christ can come at any time before this 7-year period of God’s wrath (Rev. 6:16-17). The word church is used 20 times in Revelation 1-3 but “after these things” it is not mentioned again until after the tribulation period is over (See Rev. 1:19 for the 3-part outline of Revelation). The tribulation is a time where we could say God’s program resumes with Israel (See Romans 11). It is a very Jewish time period (See the Olivet Discourse of Mt. 24-25) known as Jacob’s Trouble where great world events center around Jerusalem and this terrible time causes the hearts of Israel to accept Christ as their Savior (Mt. 23:39).
But even though I believe we have the blessed hope of not undergoing God’s wrath, we will still face much of man’s wrath and Satan’s wrath in this world until we get to heaven. We will suffer like our Savior as we see in Mark. But I want you to notice a wonderful detail about God’s throne that those who go through the tribulation period will be greatly comforted by: the 360 degree emerald rainbow around it.
When I was in Santiago, Chile I personally took this title picture between the skyscrapers of a solar halo rainbow around the sun. It was one of the neatest things I’ve ever seen because it took me right back to the throne of God in Revelation 4! There is a rainbow around the throne and not just any rainbow – a light-green rainbow that symbolized God’s mercy and coming peace and prosperity when Christ returns. The idea of a rainbow itself reminds us of the temporal nature of God’s judgment and His promise that He would never flood the world again (Genesis 9). It’s a promise that every storm, with its “flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder” eventually come to an end. Storms never last forever!
So there you have it folks – even at the beginning of God’s wrath He wants everyone to know that it will be tempered by His coming mercy. Always remember that even when it seems like this world is falling apart and crumbling to pieces, the mighty and merciful One sitting on the throne! God is in the control room behind it all. John’s original readers under the gun of persecution needed to hear that. Those who come to faith during the tribulation period will need to know that. And we must remember it as well! Don’t let the evils of this world make you cynical and fearful! Trust that God is still on the throne and those who overcome through trusting Him will sit with Him on His throne (Rev. 3:21)!
With credit to Dave Wyrtzen, Truth Encounter Podcast, A Glimpse of the Throne.
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