God’s Disciplines


Mark 11-12 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He expects our lives to bear fruit for the kingdom

It seems that I have a knack for selecting the best fresh fruit at the grocery store, or at least this is what I’m told by family and friends.  I’m fairly certain this knack developed because I’ve been selecting fruit for about 150 years, but nevertheless, there are a few things that I look for when I’m inspecting fruit.   Weight plays a significant role in the selection – ripe fruit will weigh more for its size than what is expected because sugar increases the moisture content in the fruit making it weigh more.  Smell is important as well – no smell indicates that the fruit isn’t ripe and a moldy smell usually means it is overripe.  Well, I could go on, but much more important than my fruit selection is the lesson that Jesus taught His disciples about fruit inspection. 

@ Mark 11
“The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry.  He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs…Jesus said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat your fruit again!’” (11:12-14)  These were interesting observations for the disciples who were following Jesus that day.  We might think that Jesus was very hungry to be moved to the point of cursing a tree for bearing no figs, but the symbolism speaks too loudly for us to imagine it as only about hunger.  From the fig tree, Jesus moved to the temple and cleaned it out, cleaned out the scam artists and thieves.  Those things not producing fruit that day were addressed.  The temple had lost its function as a house of worship, and the fig tree had lost its function as a food source, and both were rebuked.

In Matthew 7:16, Jesus explained about false prophets, “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act…”  We often find ourselves as fruit inspectors of those who are professing Jesus as their Savior.  Through the years I have learned that any process of inspecting should always begin with me.  Am I showing the promise of fruit with my leafy show as a believer, yet bearing no fruit? Do I exhibit the fruit of the spirit in my life as well as the fruit of the harvest of souls?

A merciful Jesus may not curse me for my lack, but what have I done that marks me as a believer when I pray for anything in verse 24?  “I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.  But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”  Forgiveness – the precursor to answered prayers! Having inspected myself with an honest heart, I can then evaluate the actions of others, and their legitimacy as a believer should the need arise – are they good fruit or bad fruit? 

@ Mark 12
With clearing out the temple and remarks after that, Jesus upset the religious folks that day. The Sadducees believed only in the Pentateuch, Genesis through Deuteronomy, and did not believe in the resurrection because it was not addressed in those scriptures.  After the Pharisees failed to trap Jesus about taxes, the Sadducees attempted to catch Him regarding marriage in Heaven.

Jesus’ response was our perfect example of how to handle what I call professional unbelievers.  These individuals attempt to dilute our message with questions regarding what they consider inconsistencies in the Bible or difficult passages we may not fully understand until we get to heaven.  However, just like Jesus, we are wise when we go directly to the heart of the matter.  He knew their real hang-up was the resurrection – His resurrection.

Regardless of the arguments presented to us, in reality, we are addressing the struggles that unbelievers have with accepting Jesus as Savior and Lord.  Our best response is to sidestep the rhetoric and share the truth of the Gospel first.  We should never forget that there is an innate power to John 3:16 that convicts men of sin much more effectively than all of our debating or bloviating. When the dust settles, the Gospel will remain. 

Moving Forward: May I bear the fruit of the spirit as well as the fruit of the harvest, never disappointing my Jesus. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Corinthians 1-3

Jeremiah 17-21 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He desires to shape us into vessels of honor

Years ago I visited a potter who allowed visitors to take a stab at the potter’s wheel.  My attempt became a literal mud-slinging contest between me and the wheel – the wheel won.  The condition of my clothing testified to that fact.  One thing I learned that day was that the master skills of the potter are difficult to replicate by a novice, and the example given to Jeremiah by God at the potter’s shop in Jeremiah 18 became very real to me.

With the Master Potter willing to mold us into useful vessels of honor, why do we choose to allow novices to mold our lives?  We often let our own willful desires or those of others to influence and shape us. The results are never what God intended.

“[I] found the potter working at his wheel.  But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over.”(18:3-4)  As long as the clay was soft and moldable, the potter was able to crush and remold it; but in time, the clay became dry and ultimately hardened.  It was no longer possible to refine its shape into something useful.  Sadly, this was the shape that Israel was in. 

Repentance would have challenged God to start over with the nation that had not turned out as He had hoped.  He would have molded it into a nation of honor, but repentance did not come. So God allowed the hardened vessel to be smashed as foretold in Chapter 19 through the Babylonian invasion.

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.  They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water.  Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought.  Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” (17:7-8) While traveling the countryside, I’ve always been able to know where the rivers and streams are located by the outcrop of trees and shrubs that grow alongside them.  Their roots have reached into the water source.

When we make the Lord our hope and confidence rather than choosing the dictates of our own desires, our roots reach deep into the Source.  Instead of becoming dry and hardened, we remain fresh and supple, and our presence points others to that Source as they travel life’s countryside.  Even in this, we are useful vessels of honor for Him. 

Moving Forward: A cherished old hymn comes to mind, “Have thine own way, Lord. Have thine own way.  Thou art the potter; I am the clay.  Mold me and make me after Thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.” 

Tomorrow @ Mark 11-12

Job 31-32 (NLT)

Discover His heart: His wisdom is for young and old alike – ours for the asking

Our eyes are inundated with stimulating and suggestive sights just about everywhere we go, whether in public places, on the television or on our computers. We may be minding our own business, not seeking out anything questionable yet be assaulted dead on. We need to understand that we control how we respond to these visual encounters. I appreciate the wisdom of author Steve Arterburn who cautions men on this subject in his book, “Every Man’s Battle,” and encourages the bounce response.

Arterburn suggests that when the eyes encounter those things that are stimulating and suggestive, quickly bounce the eyes to something else rather than linger. In his day, Job wasn’t privileged nor was he challenged by the media we have at our disposal, but evidently he still was tested in this area and had his own method of dealing with it.

In Chapter 31, Job made his last appeal to the jury of friends about his innocence.  Although his defense had sounded arrogant at times, Job was a good man who loved God. “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look with lust at a young woman.” (31:1) Sin first entered the garden when Eve saw the fruit, lingered on it, and then considered it. With all that is thrown in our view today, oh that we will make a covenant with our eyes like Job did, men and women alike.

Job pleaded innocent to sins against God, to sins against other people and to sins against himself – but no one believed him. Job’s friends felt that all suffering was the punishment for sin. They deducted either God was wrong, or Job was lying, and God is never in error. The three tormentors gave up and finally shut their mouths…ahhhh.

Enter the smart young voyeur into this conversation, Elihu, the moderator in this trial.  While trying to find a solution to this ongoing dispute, Elihu had plenty of insults to pass around, first to the three friends that he thought unwise. Many things Elihu spoke were true, for example, “There is a spirit within people, the breath of the Almighty within them, that makes them intelligent.”(32:8) All wisdom comes from God and is available to all, but it’s usually our experiences in life that cause us to draw from that wisdom.

Naturally, older people have more experiences than do young people, and wisdom hopefully follows those experiences. However, I’ve known many young ones with wisdom beyond their years because they have sought the Source of all wisdom. We can also receive the gift of wisdom, supernatural wisdom that has no age boundary, and also the wisdom given freely by God to those who ask for it. (James 1:5) We really have no valid excuse for the foolish things we do at times.

Elihu concluded his speech explaining that he was like a cork ready to pop with all the wisdom he possessed. I would say that only the young could be so confident, and as we read over the next few chapters, we learn that he, too, was incorrect in his counsel to Job. Imagine.

It was wisdom that led Job to make a covenant with his eyes – an agreement, a treaty, a promise, a commitment – not to look with lust on any woman. Wisdom will always lead us to make right choices in life. I remember a little song we sang in Children’s Church when I was young that helped me to understand at a very early age that we control our steps and actions each day. “Be careful little feet where you go…be careful little hands what you do…be careful little eyes what you see…For the Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little eyes what you see.” Well, we never outgrow that need to be careful, and that is wise.

Moving Forward: I make a covenant with my eyes not to look at any person, place or thing with selfish desire. I seek His wisdom that He offers so freely in all that I think, do and say.

Tomorrow @ Jeremiah 17-21

Jeremiah 12-16 (NLT)

Discovering His heart: He longs for repentance rather than judgment

Remember being 13 years old? Help! I remember it well, and I would never ask God for a do-over because once in a lifetime is more than enough. Life was an emotional roller coaster, where one day I thought I was ready to take on the world and the next day I wanted to play with dolls. Laughing and carefree one moment, and crying and depressed the next. I’m not sure why God created us with that year of upheaval in our lives, but I’m sure of this — it’s only because of His mercy that we make it out alive! Jeremiah was just a few years older than this when he found himself prophesying in Judah, but he was flooded with emotions just the same over the assignment God gave him.

Jeremiah’s emotions during this time period seemed to run the gamut. When prophets speak the truth, listeners often get angry. After Jeremiah discovered the plot to kill him because of his truth-telling in Chapter 11, he was angered by these wicked men and called for justice. Why didn’t God just take them out? “Drag these people away like sheep to be butchered! Set them aside to be slaughtered!” (12:3) While swift justice seemed appropriate in this case, do we really want God to respond so quickly to all wrongdoing?

@ Jeremiah 14
Judgment was coming, but God gave Israel yet another opportunity to repent by sending a drought to the land. They responded by crying out for help to the God but did so without a heart of repentance for their rejection of Him. “Our wickedness has caught up with us, Lord, but help us for the sake of your own reputation.” (7) They took the first step by acknowledging their sin, but they did not follow through with repentance and refusal to sin. God wasn’t interested in saving His reputation; He was interested in saving their lives!

So God rejected them. Jeremiah went on, “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Do not pray for these people anymore. When they fast, I will pay no attention…Instead, I will devour them with war, famine, and disease.’” (11-12). It seems to be human nature to run to God for help with our problems, but then refuse His Lordship in our lives. This is where mercy is valued over swift justice when we think of those we love who are in this place of disobedience. Unfortunately, God’s patience and mercy for Israel had ended and judgment was finally at the door. It could have been stopped had they been willing to repent. Hopefully, we understand the value of this lesson.

Jeremiah’s anger now turned to compassion as he appealed to God on behalf of Judah and Jerusalem, God’s Holy City, but God’s mind was set. Jeremiah’s response was to become filled with remorse and self-pity. Was all the pain and rejection he had endured for nothing? Now these evil people would take him down with them. He felt like God had rejected him too.

God called Jeremiah to come up higher, “You must influence them; do not let them influence you!” (15:19) He also offered restoration to Jeremiah and promises of protection for him. Because of God’s mercy rather than swift judgment, Jeremiah was given the opportunity to change his attitude. He then prayed with confidence, “Lord, you are my strength, and fortress, my refuge in the day of trouble!” (16:19)

There are times when my emotions can run this same gamut over a situation – all in one day! But, I cry for mercy for myself and for others, not swift justice, repenting when needed and relinquishing my thoughts and cares to Him. I join with Jeremiah, “Lord you are my strength and fortress, my refuge in the day of trouble!”

Moving Forward: Regardless of the situations I face today, I’ll guard my emotions and trust the One who is my strength.

Tomorrow @ Mark 9-10

Psalms 39-41 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He gives mercy and strength in our trials

Much of the discipline of my children was done through the look rather than through corporal punishment, and I think this is true for many mothers. My children often said I was scolding them even though I hadn’t opened my mouth, and trust me, I am not a ventriloquist. This technique was especially handy in church and in public places, and although I wasn’t really aware that I was giving the look, it certainly was effective.

Even in working with youth and young adult leaders, I was told that they knew things were not right with the world when I gave the look. Nowadays I’m doing my best to keep the look under control around my grandbabies – I gladly have left their discipline up to their parents. In our reading today, David understood all too well the look of discipline from God and how to respond to it.

@ Psalms 39
“I said to myself, ‘I will watch what I do and not sin in what I say. I will hold my tongue when the ungodly are around me.’ But as I stood there in silence—not even speaking of good things—the turmoil within me grew worse.” (1-2) Few of us have experienced the pain that David felt – anointed as king of Israel, yet running for his life from Saul and from his own son, Absalom, and betrayal by his closest of friends and family. David had a lot to complain about.

David believed he was being disciplined by the Lord and chose not to broadcast his complaints to the world but instead went to his only Source of help. Wisely, he didn’t want to be embarrassed later by his fretful words when he had passed through his trials. Complaining to others certainly didn’t work well for Job. When as believers we relay all our sorrows and complaints to those around us, we have no idea how our words may hinder or discourage those who are doing their best to trust in God through their own situations.

When God finds it necessary to give us His look of discipline, it brings us to our knees, “Hear my prayer, O Lord, And give ear to my cry; Do not be silent at my tears…Remove Your gaze from me, that I may regain strength.”(12-13) It’s on our knees where we can seek God’s forgiveness when needed and cry out for help in our struggles. We will instead find strength and mercy in His Presence rather than filling the ears of all those around us with constant words of complaint during our brief time on earth.

According to David, life is just too short for that. “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is. You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath.” (4-5) I close my mouth.

Moving Forward: During this time of year when we celebrate the living Christ, I pray that my words broadcast the Good News of God’s blessings and that my words encourage others to trust Him through their trials.

Tomorrow @ Job 27-28

Jeremiah 1-6 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He fills our mouths with words of hope for the lost

Artists are generally sensitive individuals. Having dabbled in oil painting through the years, I know that my best work is done when I’m not distracted and when I stay focused on the scene I’m painting. When I allow the beauty of the landscape or the drama of a scene that I’m painting to touch my heart, the feelings that are stirred end up on the canvas. They tell a story while leaving room for the viewer’s imagination to fill in the blanks, and that is the goal of any artist.

We begin the Book of Jeremiah today, a book filled with warnings and judgments from God for Judah and Israel through His prophet, Jeremiah. Fortunately, Jeremiah was a sensitive guy and an artist of sorts in the way he delivered God’s word. By using word pictures throughout the book, Jeremiah painted many pictures of warning for the Israelites, but sadly, they didn’t appreciate his work.

At only 20 years old, Jeremiah received this word from the Lord, “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.’ ‘O Sovereign Lord,’ I said, ‘I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!’ The Lord replied, ‘Don’t say, “I’m too young,” for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!’ Then the Lord reached out and touched my mouth and said, ‘Look, I have put my words in your mouth!’” (1:5-10) And so, the painting began…

“The heavens are shocked at such a thing…For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me—the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!” (2:12-13) Picture a dry and thirsty nation leaving a life-giving fountain of water for cracked empty pots in the ground, forsaking the true and living God for dead, useless idols. Jeremiah’s illustrations showed the shocking foolishness of Judah’s behavior.

Jeremiah painted pictures of the unfaithful wife, the thief, the crooked road and wayward hearts, stalking lions, destroyed vineyards, storms, playing children, plowed ground and so many more vivid pictures. All were painted by a yielded artist who used the words that God had placed in his mouth to tell the story of judgment that would come if Judah did not repent. Each picture was worth a thousand words, but at the moment, Judah wasn’t into art.

“My heart, my heart—I writhe in pain! My heart pounds within me! I cannot be still. For I have heard the blast of enemy trumpets and the roar of their battle cries.” (4:13) We would expect this anguish from the heart of one so tender towards God. Jesus had much the same response to the condition of Jerusalem in His day, “But as He came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, He began to weep. ‘How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes.’” (Luke 19:41-42) However, all those who accept Him today joyfully celebrate the way to peace during this Easter Season.

Reading about the life of Jeremiah should be a wake-up call for us. For over 40 years he faithfully spoke the message God had given him although no one responded to it. Ever mindful of the task set before me, I am challenged to paint the picture and tell the story of Jesus to a world that is in much the same shape as the world in Jeremiah’s day. Will I be faithful regardless of the response? Am I so broken by all that I see around me that I weep for those without hope and those in need of a Savior? Before it’s too late…

Moving Forward: I pray today that I will share His message from a broken heart, painting a picture of hope for each lost soul. And as the Lord was with Jeremiah, I know He will be with me.

Tomorrow @ Mark 5-6

I Corinthians 9-10 (NLT)

Discover His heart: His Word about the past provides protection for our present and our future

When we acquire a new book to read, most of us do not spend a lot of time reading the front matter, as it’s called. These are pages that may include the endorsement page, title half page, the full title page with publisher information, the copyright page, the dedication page, the acknowledgment page, the contents page, the foreword page and the introduction page. Whew! No, we want to get right into the good stuff, the heart of the book, Chapter One.

From the viewpoint of an author, I believe those front pages are relevant and should be read. In many cases, it’s the only opportunity for authors to express their purpose for writing, their gratitude to others and their credentials. As a reader, I appreciate knowing these things. They add validity to what I’m reading and an understanding of what the author intends for me to glean from the book. The pages that follow are their heart and soul, and I don’t want to miss a beat. I think this is somewhat how Paul felt about Israel’s recorded history. The Corinthian Church was living in the here and now, but he desired for them to reread the front pages of their history because they were written down for a purpose by the Author.

@ I Corinthians 10
“These things happened to [the Israelites] as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.” (11) The Corinthian Church was struggling in many areas of conduct and dedication to the Lord, and Paul’s purpose for writing this letter was to address these issues. Paul gave a brief summary of Israel’s past blessings from the Lord, but to keep history from repeating itself, he also gave a brief account of Israel’s past mistakes.

“I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud… all of them walked through the sea… all of them were baptized as followers of Moses… All of them ate the same spiritual food… and all of them drank the same spiritual water.” (1-4) Obviously, God is an equal-opportunity provider! But here was the glitch, “Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.” (5) Help. Provision is not necessarily an endorsement of our behavior.

In response to all this supernatural provision from the Lord, most of the Israelites decided to “crave evil things…worship idols…engage in sexual immorality…put Christ to the test…grumble.” (6-10) And God responded to their sin by sending a plague where 23,000 died in one day, allowing some to die from snakebites and others to be destroyed by the angel of death. “These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did.” (6)

We love the New Testament message of grace, mercy, and blessings, but those front pages, the Old Testament, are vital for us to understand so that history does not repeat itself in our lives. Just as with every author, when the Author wrote the Bible, every word was intentional and carried with it His heart on the matter.

Wise one that he was, Paul added this caution because he understood the hearts of those he ministered to, “If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.” (12) In other words, if we think we would never do such a thing – we would never crave evil, worship idols, commit sexual sin, tempt God or live a grumbling lifestyle – watch out because that attitude sets up a fall through temptation.

To this heavy message, Paul added a word of comfort for his readers, “And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, He will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (13) New Testament grace through the Holy Spirit for an Old and New Testament challenge! I once read, When you flee from temptation, be sure you do not leave a forwarding address behind. That should cover it.

Moving Forward: Learning from the past, applying to the present, protection for the future. Join me tomorrow for a little Old Testament…

Tomorrow @ Genesis 48-50

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