Source.

“But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8

To bear fruit, you first need a seed. That seed then needs to be planted in fertile soil. However,  that alone will not bring you a harvest. Without water, plants do not grow. Without a source of life, trees and vines cannot bear fruit. The same is true for us believers. We need a source that will continue to feed us until we bear fruit. Jeremiah says that source is the Lord. 

Trees draw water up from their roots and use some of the water, combined with sunlight and carbon dioxide to create plant food and oxygen. That’s called photosynthesis. The rest of the water is used in a process called transpiration. Essentially this means the water flows through the tree, ignoring pesky things like gravity, and hydrates its branches and leaves. Finally, the remaining water is released as moisture back into the atmosphere, where it becomes rain and restarts the cycle. Why am I giving you a science lesson? Because it can help us understand what happens when we draw from our source, God. 

The “water” that we draw from God is faith. Jeremiah said the one who trusts in the Lord is like a tree who spreads out its roots to the stream. When we pull that faith from the stream of living water multiple things happen at once.

  • Faith begins to rise in our life despite circumstance that should keep it down — the same way the water defies the laws of gravity during transpiration. 
  • That faith is a refreshment to our soul that brings us peace and confidence during the drought. The same way trees use that water to hydrate their leaves and branches.
  • Photosynthesis takes two essential elements of life (sunlight + water) and poisonous gas (carbon dioxide)  and turns it into food for the plant and oxygen which is used by all life around it. In the same way, when the water of our faith and the light of God’s grace mix with the toxic circumstances of this life, there is a hope that is created that feeds our soul and breathes life into a world that is gasping for air.

Without water there is no photosynthesis, there is no transpiration. Without those things, there will be no fruit. We need living water. That only comes from one source. Where are you drawing your faith from today? Is it in the world, yourself, or the Everlasting Stream?

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Soil.

This past spring my wife really wanted sunflowers in our backyard. So I set out to make her vision a reality. I went to the garden center and bought some seeds. I mapped out the garden and determined the best place to put them. There was a spot in my yard where they would get ample sunlight and would have an opportunity to thrive. So I dug up some holes and planted the seeds. I watered and waited; nothing happened. Not one of the seeds turned into a sunflower. What did I do wrong? Well, the one thing that I didn’t take into account was the soil. I planted my seeds in an area of my yard that was too close to a big tree. It was also too close to a patch of ground covering ivy. My seeds never stood a chance. From the beginning, they were in a constant struggle for water and resources. It was a battle they, unfortunately, couldn’t win. 

This happens in our lives too. In order to grow, the seeds that Jesus is planting in our lives need to be planted in good soil. Jesus talked about this in Luke 8 in the Parable of the Sower. He talks about three different types of soil. The first is rocky soil. Jesus says that these are people who hear the word and receive it with joy but fall away when the time of testing comes because they have no root. The second is among the thorns. These are the people who hear the word but are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they never mature. Last is the good soil. These are the people who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

We obviously all want to be the good soil. Our goal is to abide in Jesus, stay attached to the vine,  persevere and bear fruit.  But unfortunately, not all of us have good healthy soil. If we remain the same, the seed that Jesus is planting will either dry up or be choked out. The good news is that we don’t have to remain the same. God desires for all to come to a knowledge of Him. That means that we all can have good soil, with a little work. God wants to work with you to clean up your soil this year. 2019 will be the year that we stop getting distracted by worries and things of this world. Our focus will be on God, our all in all. What are the distractions in your life that are keeping you from producing fruit? If you don’t know then take some time today and ask God to reveal to you what your soil looks like. He will be faithful to respond.

Seeds.

At the center of every fruit is a seed. Go ahead, bust open that apple, banana, or orange you brought for lunch. At its center, there will be a seed. As believers, it’s our job to bear fruit; similar to real fruit, it starts with a seed. You won’t exactly find these seeds in an aisle of your local garden center, so what do we do? Well, Jesus tells us the answer in John 15:3.

“You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” – John 15:3

The seed at the center of our fruit is the word of God. Our lives will be barren without the word of God. A couple of quick things to note:

  • First, Jesus is the one who plants the seed. This takes a lot of weight off of our shoulders. To bear fruit worthy of a holy God, we need a seed that is holy. By our own merit, we could never plant that seed. Thankfully, Jesus takes that responsibility for us. He plants a word of life, that can produce fruit that is pleasing to God. His blood is speaking a “better word” in our lives, that purifies us and makes us clean.
  • Second, Jesus has already planted the seed. Which means we’ve already been given what is necessary to produce fruit. We cannot earn it or work for it. Jesus has freely spoken that word in our lives, that we would be made clean.

There are a couple of ways we can apply this as we pursue fruitful lives in 2019. (1) If we want to be actively producing fruit, we must be actively seeking out the word of God. Let’s dig deeper (pardon the pun) in the word this year. Let’s seek Him while he may be found and watch as we reap a harvest in our life that is one hundred fold. (2) In our life, we are meant to bear fruit but we aren’t meant to do it alone. That means that we must help each other. The only way we can do that is by keeping the word of God at the center. The word of God must be at the center of teachings, encouragement, rebukes, and corrections. If we can do that, we will establish ourselves as a church that bears fruit. Then we will experience an outpouring of God’s spirit like never before.

Bear Fruit.

2019 Theme

Our theme for 2019 is Bear Fruit. It is a commonly used phrase in both the secular world and the church. It comes from a passage in John 15:1-8, in which Jesus gives us an illustration of the relational roles that belong to us believers, Jesus, and the Father. Jesus says, “I am the vine, my Father is the gardener….you are the branches.” (v. 1; v.5 NIV). His illustration creates an incredible picture of a vineyard. Have you ever visited a farm or property where everything, as far as you can see, belongs to the farmer? You look out and see fields of corn, or beans, that stretch across what seems like thousands of acres. This is what I picture in my mind. A vineyard that is never-ending, and in that vineyard there is one vine from which all things grow. One vine that connects every branch; one vine, intertwined with the foundations designed by the farmer.

In Jesus’ illustration, Jesus is the vine whose job is to grow.  The Father is the gardener, his job is to prune and maintain the vineyard. We are the branches, our job is to bear fruit. Both the Farmer and the Vine will do their jobs. They will never fail. However, the branches can fail. Not every branch on the vine will bear fruit, which leaves the branches with two possible outcomes. (1) Bear fruit and be pruned back for more growth or (2) fail to bear fruit and be cut down from the vine. If we are the branches, that leaves us with two possible results for our lives. We can bear fruit and stay within the fold of God or fail to bear fruit and be separated from the presence of God for eternity. The reason our theme for 2019 is Bear Fruit, is because nothing could be of greater importance. Our goal,as believers and as a church, is to stay connected to the vine. To do that we must do one thing and one thing alone: Bear Fruit.

During this Week of Prayer, our focus is on the factors that contribute to fruit bearing. In order for a tree or plant to bear fruit, all of the conditions must be right. Anybody with a garden will tell you that. If one element is off, it could result in a barren tree. Our devotional this week will highlight a couple of key factors for a fruit-bearing life. During your prayer time this week, take an inward look at your life and determine if you are, indeed, bearing fruit. Then, follow along with us as we study the essentials of a fruitful life.

Valleys.

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The other day I opened my Bible to do my devotions and I had no idea what to read. I’m pretty sure this happens to every body at some point. Some days we open the good book and we know exactly where we are going. Maybe a verse had been on our hearts or we had been thinking of a particular story. Maybe you open the Bible and God just begins to lead you to a chapter and verse that is just what you needed to hear. That’s not how it was this time. I had no clue; and normally when that happens I try to read a passage or book that I wouldn’t normally go too. I love seeing the heart of the Father in the book of John or unfolding the theological truths in the book of Hebrews. I even love diving deep into the Old Testament narratives; watching the stories come alive, as I see the glimpses of Christ that are scattered throughout Israel’s history. Sometimes reading the OT can be like searching for Waldo. If we look close enough we can see Jesus hanging out in the background shifting, moving, and interceding on behalf of the people of God. Those are my “go to” choices when it comes to reading the Bible. Rarely do I jump straight into a minor prophet. But the minor prophets are also the inerrant, God-breathed words of the Father. So I jumped into the book of Hosea chapters 1 & 2.

You most likely know of what is going on in Hosea. God is displeased by Israel’s idol worship, so naturally He tells the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute named Gomer.

Side note. I can’t imagine being that guy. Elijah called down fire from heaven, slaughtered the priest of Baal, and was carried off into the sunset on a chariot of fire. Hosea gets to marry a woman, knowing full well that she will be unfaithful to him. Yikes. He definitely drew the short straw. But hey, we’re just the clay and the Potter can do whatever he wants with us. Jeremiah was given an elaborate vision so that he could teach us that…Hosea’s calling still seems unnecessarily bleak but I digress. 😉

Gomer has three children. The first is a son, and he is given the name Jezreel. Jezreel represented the destruction that God was about to bring upon Israel. Jezreel was a city in Israel, known as the place where Jehu executed a massacre on the idolatrous King of Israel and on the children of Jezebel. Unfortunately, Jehu’s bloodline takes over as the Kings of Israel and they become just as unfaithful to the the God of their forefathers. This symbolic name that Hosea gives to his son is essentially God saying, “I am going to destroy the house of Jehu and the kingdom of Israel the same way Jehu destroyed the house of Ahab.” Yikes. #therewillbeblood.

Gomer’s second child is a beautiful baby girl, so Hosea names her Lo-Ruhumah (which means “not-loved”). Double Yikes. Clearly, God is pretty serious about Israel’s infidelity.

The third child is a boy and he is named Lo-Ammi (which means “not my people”).

Hosea’s children are the product of Israel’s unfaithfulness. They are the coming judgment that God will unleash on the nation that He once claimed as his own. So God will begin his act of “Jezreel”. He will tear them down, strip them of everything they know and love. Their wine, oil, clothing, and grain. It’s all gone. And when they reach out to the idols that they have given themselves to, they will receive nothing. In fact, God says that He will, “put a thorn bush in their way.” Meaning, if they keep seeking comfort from these idols, they will experience even more pain. However…

When everything has been stripped away and the praises to the Baals (idols) has been removed from their lips; after God has led Israel into the wilderness, He will only then give them back what He had taken from them. Once the people of God realize that it was better when they worshipped God alone, God will bring them out of the wilderness. God will redeem his people and they who were called “not loved” will be loved by God. They who were called “not my people” will declare that they belong to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God will reclaim his people. God declares in Hosea 1:11, “…great will be the day of Jezreel.”

What an incredible passage of scripture.

God’s plan was to bring Israel into a valley. They needed to be in the valley because they needed to learn a lesson. Lessons can only be taught in valleys. In fact, “Jezreel” actually translates to “God plants” and the city of Jezreel gets it’s name from the fertile valley it is near. Israel was like a garden that was full of weeds. Nothing can grow in a garden that is full of weeds. The weeds will inevitably choke out the good plants. Trust me, its currently happening in my own garden. Those weeds must be pulled before anything can be planted. That is what Jezreel is. It is God pulling the weeds in your life so that the new seeds he plants can be fruitful once again. Sometimes we need Jezreel. Sometimes we need to be led into a valley because valleys are necessary for growth. 

This passage got me thinking…What are the different types of valleys we go through in our life? What are the reasons for these valleys? Are they all the same? and how can we get ourselves out of those valleys?

This passage in Hosea is just one type of valley. This valley was caused by sin. It was caused by allowing idols to take the place of God. This could easily happen to us. We start to prioritize money and our job over God, and He has to remove those idols from our life so that we return to Him. This isn’t the only type of valley we go through though, here are some more that I thought up:

  • Silence from God
  •  Feeling stuck in life
  • Being attacked or persecuted
  • Financial hardships
  • Declining health
  • Death/loss of a loved one
  • Divorce
  • Doubt
  • Spiritual Identity Crisis
  • Bitterness

Each one of these life situations can feel like a valley. Yet, not all are the result of sin. And not all of those situations can be helped by turning from our wicked ways. It is important for us to realize that in order to get out of a valley, we must first identify which valley we are in.

Here are a few “types” of valleys that I have identified in Scripture:

Jezreel – As stated before, God has to strip the Israelites of everything they have so that they can learn to appreciate God for everything He is. This was caused by sin and only changed when the lesson had been learned.

The Wilderness – The Israelites wandered  around a literal desert for 40 years. Why? Because when God led them to the land he had prepared for them, they lacked the faith needed to rise up and take it (Numbers 13).

Egypt – Joseph was given a dream in which he ruled over his family. He then spends a large part of his life going through awful, unfair situations. However, without being stripped and beaten,  sold into slavery, and falsely accused and imprisoned, He never reaches his destiny of being second in command under Pharaoh (and eventually ruling over his family). God can sometimes lead us into a valley because its the only way to our calling.

Prison – Paul was persecuted and put in prison. There was no special reason behind this. God didn’t lead him into prison. He was thrown in prison because of his faith and while there, God was able to use that time to inspire epistles that still shape our idea of theology today. Paul didn’t sin, he didn’t need prison to reach his destiny, and he certainly didn’t lack faith. He just experience an unfortunate reality of life. Sometimes bad things happen to us. They may be unfair but God can use that time to teach us and use our lives to show the love, hope, and peace that comes from God.

These are not the only types of valleys described in Scripture, just the first ones that come to mind. We must learn to dissect our own lives they same way we dissect these Bible stories if we want to eventually make it out of the valley and spend a little time on the mountain top. To do that we must understand what type of valley we’re in, the reason for the valley, and what we can learn in the valley.

Understanding our valley is pretty easy. Everyone of us know what our current struggles are. Whether it is depression, doubt, finances, or silence in our prayer life; we know exactly what we are going through at all times. The tricky part is understanding why we are in the valley. Just to be real, sometimes we don’t realize why we’re in a valley until we’ve spent some time wandering around. That period of time can be pretty tough. Some people beat themselves up over sins that they haven’t committed. While others aimlessly sit waiting for God to move on their behalf, but He won’t because they haven’t acknowledged the error of their ways. Discovering the reason for your valley takes honest introspective examination of your life. It also takes a lot of prayer. The old saying goes, “God works in mysterious ways.” While incredibly cliché, it is also true. There are many things we will just not understand on our own. Fortunately for us, we serve a God who is the “revealer of mysteries” (Daniel 2:28). In Psalm 119:32 the psalmist declares, “I run in the path of your commands, for you have broadened my understanding.” Our prayer in the valley should that God would broaden our understanding so that we can see and understand the unseen. This doesn’t always end up with us having a clear picture of everything God is doing. In fact, I’m not sure if it ever does. But God will open your eyes to little pieces of information at a time.

A couple years ago, after 6 years of struggling with infertility, my wife, Ramona, and I took a trip to Colorado. We had felt like God was pushing us toward adoption for a long time, but we were resisting. I can’t speak for my wife, but I know my own insecurities played a large role in my struggle to accept God’s plan of adoption for our lives. I didn’t want to feel like I wasn’t a “real” dad. I didn’t want to feel like I was raising someone else’s child, fearing that someday they would come back and take them away from me. I had read horror stories that are plastered all over the internet, and I was scared straight. However, while in Colorado, Ramona and I took one day to climb this mountain trail. It was the dead of winter and Colorado had just had a huge snow storm. We followed our friend Michelle up this mountain. It was a rough climb to say the least. A couple times we would step off of the trail and fall chest deep into the snow. About three quarters of the way up my wife started to struggle with the atmosphere change. She was feeling sick and having a hard time breathing the cold, thin mountain air. We both felt like quitting but we pushed on with the hope that the view from the top would be worth it. When we reached the top, we just stood there holding each other, staring at God’s incredible creation. In that moment, I relented to God’s call to adopt. Unbeknownst to me, my wife had reached the same place. We didn’t vocalize it until the next day, but we both knew that we were going being this journey that God had prepared for us.

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When I got home, I prayed a prayer. My prayer asked for a connection to a “perfect” birth mother. I didn’t want to deal with drugs, or mental health, or other family members that are fighting us for that baby. If I was going to do what God was asking me to do, I needed God to give me the easiest road to the end. I capped it off by saying, “God you know I can’t handle anything more than that.” Not exactly a prayer of faith.

Well God gave us exactly what I prayed for. The birth mother we were connected with was what I perceived as a perfect situation. The only problem was that it wasn’t what God had wanted for us. The birth mother backed out of the adoption plan the day before the baby was due. We were 16 hours away from our home, waiting for the baby and we had to drive back empty handed.

The coming months were tough, I was angry with God because He didn’t come through for me. “You asked me to do this.” I said, ” I didn’t want to but I did anyway for you.” That was pretty much how all my prayers went. Until finally God started to reveal to me my lack of faith. He showed me that I wasn’t really doing what he called me to do. Sure I was trying to adopt but I didn’t trust that he could use a broke situation to fulfill his promise. So, Ramona and I opened up our adoption to all babies. Any type of drug addiction, any race or ethnicity, and any broken background. Within two weeks of us finally trusting God, we received a call about a baby. The birth mother wasn’t perfect. She definitely had her flaws but who doesn’t. The most important thing was that she truly loved and cared about the baby she was carrying. She chose us, and we got to know her over 7 months of a connection. By the time the baby came, we already felt like family. On July 4, 2018 when I met my son, Archer, God’s plan was complete. I had climbed out of the valley, scaled the mountain side, and had reached the top. I wouldn’t have reached that place if God wouldn’t have led me into the valley, and then showed me the way out.

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There is always a way out of a valley. We just have to trust that God knows the way.

In the wilderness, the Israelites needed more people like Caleb and Joshua before they could take the land that was promised to them. They needed people who believed that if God was for them who could be against them. And so they waited until the older faithless generation died off. Then, behind Joshua’s leadership they took the land that God had promised Abraham 400 years earlier.

In Jezreel, once the people of Israel realized that God was the only God worthy of praise, God would began to give them back everything that he took from them.

In Joseph’s life, God’s plan was always leading to the mountain top. Joseph only had to continue to be the righteous man that God had called him to be, and eventually God would fulfill the dream that He gave.

In prison, God gave Paul rest from his constant travels and gave him enough time to write the inspired Word that has given billions a vision of God’s own pastoral heart. Paul just had to know his purpose, and live in prison with joy and peace. He did just that and God brought him to the mountain top.

We all find ourselves in valleys. Some time we are led into the valley, and sometimes we lead our selves into the valley. But regardless, God has a plan to get us out. We just have to trust him. So if you are in a valley today, take a look at your life and your situation. What type of valley are you in? Who led you into that valley? and are you willing to trust God’s plan to get you out? If I could give you a piece of advise, cherish the lessons you learn in the valley. And when you reach the mountain top, share those lessons with those of us that are still trying to climb out.

You never know how God will use your story.

Going Deeper on Becoming Barnabas

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In my message Wednesday night I talked about the Ministry of Encouragement and the role it will have in the Church’s growth.

The truth is no other ministry may be of more importance.

Those whose choose to take up that mantle of Son/Daughter of Encouragement will be instrumental in building and sustaining the leaders and future leaders of the Church.

For every Paul, there is a Barnabas.

My question to you is, if you are a Paul, who is your Barnabas? And if you are a Barnabas, who is your Paul?

You see the church can only operate with heavenly efficiency if everyone is doing their part. As they say, a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link. In order to do that we must be able to identify our strengths and weaknesses and we also must be able to identify the area that God has called us to. You see, our strength isn’t always was God calls us to. In fact, He normally finds a way to stretch us; calling us to a place/ministry that is way out of our comfort zone. The good news is, God doesn’t call us to what we are, He calls us to what we can be.

Just look at Peter. That guy was a mess. He couldn’t control his temper or his tongue. He was the picture of instability, and yet Jesus called him Rock (Peter). We can take solace in the fact that God knows who we can be. We must trust that He knows best and we must be careful to listen to His instruction.

One way we do that is by growing more sensitive to the spirit. Here is an article that lists Seven Ways to Cultivate Sensitivity to the Holy Spirit by Charisma News. Check it out!

Stay blessed and see you Sunday!

Pastor Seth.