Well what do ya know.

I learned a bit about trees while reading through the book of Ezekiel. Who would’ve thunk it?

Here’s what I read:

“This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will take a branch from the top of a tall cedar, and I will plant it on the top of Israel’s highest mountain. It will become a majestic cedar, sending forth its branches and producing seed. Birds of every sort will nest in it, finding shelter in the shade of its branches. And all the trees will know that it is I, the LORD, who cuts the tall tree down and makes the short tree grow tall. It is I who makes the green tree wither and gives the dead tree new life. I, the LORD, have spoken, and I will do what I said!”

Ezekiel 17:22-24 NLT

Well, wouldn’t you know, we’ve got three cedar trees in our front yard! That was my first thought.

My second thought went something like this: “Is this true? Could I really take a branch from the top of one of our cedars and plant it in the ground??”

So since I like to find answers to my questions, I went searching. Here’s what I found out:

  1. Yes, you can plant cedar trees native to North America from cuttings. It takes a little work and a lot of patience, but it is possible. (Check out Sasha Degnan’s article on SFGate, or Mike’s Backyard Nursery for a few tips.)
  2. My cedar trees are imposters. They’re not real cedars at all! If I’ve identified them correctly, they’re called Northern White Cedars, but are actually included in the Cypress tree family.
  3. The cedar trees Ezekiel would have been familiar with were the Cedars of Lebanon, vastly different from the “cedars” I’m familiar with. They are extremely challenging (but not impossible) to grow from cuttings, so are usually grown from seed instead.

“But,” you ask, “what does it all mean??”

There’s a lot to dig out of this passage from Ezekiel, but I’ll just touch on a few things.

  1. We are reminded that God is able to do what is nearly or completely impossible for us mere mortals. Yes, this is a figurative passage, but if God wanted to do it, He could!
  2. This passage looks forward to Christ, the new Branch spoken of by both Isaiah and Jeremiah. What a great reminder as we near the Christmas season!

Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot—yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root. And the Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. He will delight in obeying the LORD. He will not judge by appearance nor make a decision based on hearsay. He will give justice to the poor and make fair decisions for the exploited.

Isaiah 1:11-4 NLT

In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

Jeremiah 33:15 ESV

3. Christ is for everyone, the world over (“birds of every sort“). No one is exempt from calling on his Name.

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the LORD: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him.

Psalm 91:1-2 NLT

4. God is faithful to his promises. Not seeing it yet? You will! He will do what He said. Maybe now or maybe later, but it will happen. Just you wait! This promise in Ezekiel was fulfilled when God sent his own Son to reconcile us to himself.

And one final thought. This passage reminded me of another verse which says,

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.

2 Timothy 3:16 NLT

Scripture is useful . . . even when learning about cedar trees. How much more useful might God’s Word be when applied to our spiritual lives?

What Are You Talking About?!?

Social media is quite the platform, isn’t it? The topics to get all riled up about over the past months have swirled and turned at a dizzying pace. Everyone’s got an opinion, which is fiercely touted as established, irrevocable fact.

But to what end? What is all the blustering really for? Is it really to help others?

Here’s my opinion–it all reeks. Underlying all of it is thinly-veiled pride.

My insight is deeper and more thorough than yours, and I must enlighten you.”

My sources are better than yours, so I know better than you do.

But what does the Word say?

Here’s something I came across in my reading this week in Paul’s letter to Timothy:

Remind everyone about these things (listed in verses 11-13), and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them.

Avoid worthless, foolish talk that only leads to more godless behavior.

Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights.

2 Timothy 2:14, 16, 23 NLT

Ouch. That leads me to ask:

  • Are my words (spoken and posted) ruining others’ lives in some way?
  • Are they leading to more godless behavior, such as “bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander,” as spoken of in Ephesians 4:31?
  • Are they starting fights?

Friends, let’s return to humble obedience.

Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude.

1 Peter 3:8

Let’s remember that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. None of us is better than another, and none of us deserves preferable treatment.

To top that off, we’re all severely lacking in the wisdom department compared to the God who holds the universe together!

So the next time you see something online that you think is absolute garbage, “Stop . . . avoid . . . don’t get involved!” Most folks these days aren’t going to change their views by reading your well-phrased, exceptionally clever response anyway. Instead,

Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.

Colossians 4:6

Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

Ephesians 4:29

How will you respond with words this week?

May we follow this encouragement Paul wrote to Timothy:

Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.

1 Timothy 4:12

The Root of the Problem

The doorway trim in our house was painted long before we bought it a few years ago, and again before we moved in. Since it was built in the 60’s, it was probably painted several times before we ever laid eyes on it!

No matter how many layers of paint cover the wood, these knots have a stubborn way of bleeding through.

There is a process for prepping knots before any paint is applied, but regular paint primer by itself isn’t enough to keep them hidden. Why is that? The knots in the wood are filled with sap, which continues to ooze long after the tree has been cut down and turned into lumber. Over time, it oozes right into and through to the surface of the paint.

The root of the problem is unseen for a little while, but eventually becomes visible.

We can be living examples of the same process!

We make a choice to clean up our lives, make good decisions, and become “good people.” We slap on a bunch of paint, and we look good for a while!

But then our sap starts showing. What’s on the inside starts oozing out.

We haven’t dealt with the root of the problem.

Here are a couple of roots that may start showing themselves when we’re under pressure:

Pride

We tend to see ourselves through rose-colored glasses, but everyone else as severely lacking in ____________________. We know it all, and we’ve got all the answers! Those poor blokes need to be set straight, straighten up, and start thinking and acting right! Never mind all of the mistakes we ourselves make in word and deed . . .

We forget that we are but dust (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7). We forget that we are often blind to our own shortcomings. God told Jeremiah, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT).

The answer to that question comes in the next verse: “But I, the LORD, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve” (Jeremiah 17:10).

We need to come before our Creator in humility, open to the fact that we are sorely lacking in all areas when measured against His righteous, perfect standard!

Fear

Have you noticed the amount of anger bubbling over in society these days? I tend to think that the root of most of it is actually fear. Fear of the future. Fear of evil people. Fear of loss. Fear of being controlled.

Something in us thinks that if we lash out strongly enough, it will make the scary things run away! But that doesn’t happen. Fight or flight just doesn’t work with the majority of fears swirling around in our minds.

We forget Who has brought us this far and will continue to carry us. We lose sight of Who knows the number of our days as well as the inheritance waiting for us after our last one on earth. We forget the temporary nature of this life (Psalm 39:5), and the eternal nature of the next (1 John 2:17).

What to do?

What should we do when we start noticing our inner sap bleeding through the paint we’ve tried to cover up with?

First of all, we need to once again set our sight where it belongs: on Jesus! Just like the song says,

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”

Stop being so swayed by circumstance! I promise you that whatever your circumstance is, it’s going to change. But “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He’ll never change.

Secondly, we need to ask God to heal our hearts. He knows all that’s inside of us, and He knows how to fix it (Exodus 15:26)! He cares deeply for us. “He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).

You are deeply loved, my friend! Even when your sap starts showing . . .

Fruitful Focus

Just look at all of those beautiful red berries! What a lovely bush . . . from far away.

Barberry

I’ve written before about the barberry bush (Barbs or Blossoms? and Planned). It really isn’t one of my favorites, with its long, sharp thorns lining each branch. Sure, it’s got cute little flowers in the spring and lovely shades of red in the fall, but getting close to it can be a bit painful.

Although it’s not really near and dear to my heart, this shrub makes an excellent example of being fruitful! Let me show you what I mean.

Someone needs to do a fall cleanup around here . . .

Pictured above is the area just in front of the barberry bushes from the first picture. Let’s zoom in just a little bit more.

It’s a jungle out there!

They aren’t all the same color, but there are at least five new barberry plants in this photo that have popped up where they shouldn’t be! Those cute little berries have done their job.

I may not like the plant itself, but I’ve recently learned that the berries themselves may actually have some health benefits (as opposed to the burning bush that I like, which has poisonous berries)! Maybe I’ll be brave enough to cook some barberries from the bush behind my house into our rice tonight. I’ll let you know tomorrow if we survive!!

Left: Poisonous Burning Bush berries; Right: Edible Barberries

Fruitful Lives

Christ followers are called to be fruit bearers. Following is just a short collection of verses from Scripture, beginning with words straight from Jesus:

Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing . . .When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.

John 15:5 & 8

Paul wrote a few times about fruit, as well.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Galatians 5:22-23

May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.

Philippians 1:11

So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.

Colossians 1:9-10

Did you notice in these verses that fruit is a byproduct of something else?

  1. It is a result of abiding in and remaining attached to the vine (Jesus Christ), drawing strength and life from Him.
  2. It comes as we submit to the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.
  3. It is produced in our lives by Jesus Christ, in the form of righteous character (see #2).
  4. It is a natural effect of increased knowledge of God’s will, tied together with spiritual wisdom and understanding.

The barberry bush isn’t out back all year thinking, “Oh, I hope I make some berries this fall! I wonder how I can make more berries. Will my berries be any good?” It just grows. Its roots grow down into the soil, its leaves make energy, and its branches grow ever higher toward the sun. And voila! Berries appear!

Our focus should be first and foremost on our relationship with our Heavenly Father, who gave us the gift of salvation. He adopted us as his own children, has promised to never leave us, and has an inheritance waiting for us when we leave this life. He is always good, He is always loving, and He is always faithful.

The deeper our relationship grows with God, the more we will start to look like Jesus. He will begin to work in us and through us, causing our lives to bear fruit and bring him glory.

And what is the natural outcome of bearing fruit? Fruit contains seeds of new life! The fruit we bear can lead to others coming to know Jesus. The fruit is not our focus, but it is a natural result of a life lived close to God.

What is one thing you can do today to invest in your relationship with your Heavenly Father?

*I know you’re wondering, and it’s kept you awake at night…we all survived dinner!

Incognito

Look at this beauty! Our burning bush is a lovely accent of bright red every fall. At over nine feet tall, it’s quite an eye-catcher! Who knows how long it stood there before we bought our house a few years ago.

Burning Bush

Our property has a variety of large, colorful landscape bushes, each showing off in its own season. Along the edge of the property that lines the road, we have a long row of forsythia that brightens the view in the spring.

Each year I spend time cleaning up one area, wrestling my way through the mature (read “overgrown”) shrubs. The next year I’m off to another area.

We’ve got one corner I haven’t spent too much time in yet. I thought it was just a jumble of more forsythia and a wild rose plant. But I was wrong! There was an imposter hiding . . .

In the spring and summer, the imposter just blended in with the forsythia beside it. Look at the leaf shapes. The two left leaves are forsythia, and the two right ones from a burning bush. It’s hard to tell a difference between them if you’re not looking carefully! I just figured this one didn’t want to bloom for some reason.

But fall has arrived, and the evidence is clear. That is not a forsythia. That red is just too bright!

So I cleared up the area just a bit to see what we’ve really got.

Wait a second, what is that peeking out from behind? It’s another one!!

The tiny, bright red leaf gives it away.

I must add this disclaimer: our state, among several others, prohibit selling or planting Burning Bush plants because they are so invasive. They may be pretty, but they can quickly spread, crowding out native species.

Our big beauty gets mowed around often enough that I never saw suckers growing up around the base. I’ll have to keep my eye on these two new discoveries to make sure they don’t take over the woods next door.

These bushes got me thinking about our Christian walk. Are we living incognito?

Do we blend in with our surroundings? Or do we stand out? If folks discover that we are followers of Christ, are they surprised? Or does it explain why we behave the way we do?

Here are a few verses from Scripture to ponder.

So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy.

1 Peter 1:14-15 NLT

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

Ephesians 4:21-24

Holy: different, set apart because we’re special to the Lord. As we allow the Spirit to renew us, is our difference apparent to others?

We can’t be true followers of Christ in name only. Our lives need to be increasingly submitted to God. That growth, in turn, will produce fruit:

A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad.

Matthew 12:33

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

These days make for a wonderful season to show our true colors, my friends. Take some time to contemplate how you can follow Christ in obedience today, letting His character shine brightly through you.

Hollow

Take a stroll through the woods and discover beauty just waiting to be found! (Just be sure to wear your bright orange during hunting season.)

This hollow log was silently screaming to have its picture taken, so of course I obliged. How long had it lain there on the forest floor before the moss took up residence and the inner core rotted out? It was lovely to look at, but not good for much else.

Quiz time! Do you know another name for that inner core?

It’s called heartwood.

Heartwood is the central, supporting pillar of the tree. Although dead, it will not decay or lose strength while the outer layers are intact. A composite of hollow, needlelike cellulose fibers bound together by a chemical glue called lignin, it is in many ways as strong as steel. A piece 12″ long and 1″ by 2″ in cross section set vertically can support a weight of twenty tons!

Arbor Day Foundation

Twenty tons. That’s quite a lot of weight. That’s three and a half adult elephants, 30 cows or 40 grizzly bears. The tree depends on the strength of this heartwood in order to remain standing.

How’s Your Heartwood?

In much the same way as the heartwood of a tree, your heart supports your life both physically and spiritually. As it is vital to life, it needs protection just like the inner core of a tree.

Physically, your heart is located inside your ribcage to protect it from damage from external forces. A good diet and exercise help it to stay strong.

Your heart also needs spiritual safeguarding in order to avoid the process of spiritual decay. How do we go about setting up a system of defense? I’m glad you asked! Here are a few pointers from the Word of God.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

Colossians 2:6-8 NIV

How can we guard against “hollow and deceptive philosophy”? By remaining true to the faith and investing time in our relationship with Christ. That includes prayer, praise, and spending time reading and studying His Word.

Prayer

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Ephesians 3:16-19 NLT

There’s a whole lot of power and strength in those verses, isn’t there? This prayer of Paul’s is a wonderful prayer to pray over yourself and your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Truth

Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:31-32 NLT

Truth is the best defense against hollow and deceptive philosophy. Where do we find this truth? God’s Word!

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.

2 Timothy 3:16 NLT

Stay in the Word! Read it, study it, memorize it, and put it into practice. Then when you hear some “new” teaching going around, you have a standard of truth to compare it to and judge it by.

Praise

Do you need a starting point for praise? Read these verses from Ephesians 1.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

God has now revealed to us his mysterious will regarding Christ—which is to fulfill his own good plan. And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth. Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.

God’s purpose was that we Jews who were the first to trust in Christ would bring praise and glory to God. And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him.

Ephesians 1:3-15 NLT

Amen and amen! Let those verses be a springboard of praise to God from your heart, my friend!

You are blessed, you are loved, you are chosen, you are adopted into the family of God, you are holy and without fault in Christ, you are free and forgiven, and you have an inheritance waiting for you. And there’s so much more!!

Today is a wonderful day to improve your heart health, my friend! A good diet of Bible reading and study, along with exercising your prayer and praise muscles will go a long way toward spiritual strength and protection.

What steps will you take today to implement or improve your spiritual diet and exercise regimen?