Climbing Trees

I just recently finished reading a book by Judah Smith called Jesus Is ______. In the beginning of the book, he points out something in the story of Zacchaeus that I would like to share with you in this post today. If you’re not familiar with the story of Zacchaeus, this is what Luke writes:

Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.” Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:1-10 NKJV)
Notice how Luke points out that Zacchaeus was of “short stature.” Because of this, he climbed a tree in order that he might see Jesus. I believe that every word written in the Bible is there for a reason. As Judah Smith points out, this story is a mere reflection of our stories today. Paul writes that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (See Romans 3:23). Because of this, we try to climb proverbial trees in order to get to Jesus. We climb the religion tree. We climb the money tree. We climb the education tree. We climb the career tree. We climb the status tree. We climb all kinds of trees in an attempt to get to Jesus. The only problem with this is, no matter what tree we climb, no matter how many trees we climb; we always end up falling short.
The truth of the matter is Jesus came down from heaven to earth, climbed a tree, died for us, and rose again providing a way for us to get to Him so that we wouldn’t have to keep trying to climb trees.
Just like Jesus called out to Zacchaeus to hurry down from the tree he was in, Jesus is calling out to you today to hurry down from the tree you have climbed. So hurry down from that tree of religion. Hurry down from that tree of money. Hurry down from that tree of education. Hurry down from that tree of career. Hurry down from that tree of status. Whatever tree that you may be in. Hurry down today.
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God’s Highway

Recently I was listening to a message by Pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Church. He was referencing the encounter of Moses and the Red Sea. He first points out something about God’s way that, if we are not careful, we would glance right over it. It’s found in verses 17 and 18 in Exodus chapter 13. This is what Moses writes:

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt armed for battle. (Exodus 13:17-18 NIV)

You’ve heard it said many times “God’s way is the best way.” Well according to these verses, I believe the Israelites would argue with you.

God’s way isn’t always the best way in terms of efficiency and convenience. God’s way is not always the shortest distance between two points. God’s way is not always all you want, when you want it, how you want it, where you want it, all the time. Sometimes the quickest way isn’t always the best way. Sometimes you have to go a little further out of the way because God has specific steps you have to take in order to get you where He wants you when He wants you there. God’s way isn’t always the best way in terms of convenience but it is always the best way in terms of your purpose.

In the latter half of verse 18, we see that the Israelites were armed for battle. They went out of Egypt thinking that they were ready to go through the Philistine country. They thought they were ready for battle. They thought they could handle the Philistines. But God knew that they weren’t prepared to face war. Sometimes we think we are ready to face what life has for us, but God knows when we are truly prepared for it. I heard it said “A blessing given before you’re ready is not a blessing at all but it is a curse.” God isn’t trying to hold anything back from us, but He wants to make sure that we are ready for it when He does give it to us.

We all know how this account ends. God opens up an interstate highway through the Red Sea, the Israelites cross over on dry land, and God drowns the Egyptian army behind them in the Red Sea.

If you go your way, it might be shorter and you might get where you want to be. But if you go God’s way, not only will you get to where God purposed you to be when He purposed you to be there, but He will drown anything in your life that was chasing after you trying to prevent you from fulfilling the purpose He has for you. God’s way is not always the best way, but God’s way is always the blessed way.

Just Dance

I’m not a dancer. Whenever I go to weddings, I always sit around and watch other people dance. I enjoy watching other people try to bust a move on the dance floor and make a fool out of themselves, but I’m not willing to look foolish myself. Plus I’m white and we all know white folk can’t dance.

In 2 Samuel 6, we see this account of David dancing before the Lord. Let me set this up for you. The people of Israel had just came from a great victory and they were bringing the ark of the covenant, this represented the presence of the Lord, back to their city. So there was need to celebrate. There was an excuse to rejoice. The Bible records that David, the king, was dancing “with all his might” in front of the ark of the covenant (See 2 Samuel 6:14). David was leading the charge. Here is the king, the person who probably didn’t need to be making a fool out of himself in front of everyone else, dancing like a mad man. David didn’t care how ridiculous he looked. He didn’t care how foolish people thought he was. He didn’t care what others thought of him. He was more concerned about what God thought of him. So he danced. He even said this when questioned why he was doing what he was doing:

David said to Michal, It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor. (2 Samuel 6:21-22 NIV)

I believe a lot of times in our lives we refuse to dance because of what others may think about us. I know this because I’ve been there. I got the hat and t-shirt. There has been areas of my life, and there still are, where I haven’t danced when I should have danced. I haven’t celebrated where I should have celebrated. I haven’t rejoiced where I needed to rejoice. Because I was to worried about the opinion of everyone else. I was focused on the applause of man rather than the approval of God. But I was recently hit with this: Opinion is what others think of you. Forgiven is what God thinks of you. The bible says that God dances over you (See Zepheniah 3:17). So why not dance for God?

So where in your life do you need to start dancing? Are you more concerned about the applause of man rather than the approval of God? Is there any area in your life where you may be dancing but not with everything you have?

Hands Team

Ever since I could walk, I fell in love with the game of baseball. I played it all the way through Little League up until college and even traveled the country trying to make it on a professional baseball team. I was a pretty good baseball player. Even though I was good at baseball, a baseball bat in my hands is not as dangerous as a bat in the hands of Josh Hamilton. A bat in my hands might be worth whatever a bat is sold on retail these days, but a bat in the hands of Josh Hamilton is worth a couple hundred dollars. A bat in my hands won’t make me any money, but a bat in the hands of Josh Hamilton has made him millions of dollars.

We find a similar illustration of this in John chapter 6. This is what John writes:

After these things Jesus went over the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. Then a great multitude followed Him, because they saw His signs which He performed on those who were diseased. And Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples.
Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near. Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.
Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.”
One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” Then Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted. So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.” Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten. Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” (John 6:1-14 NKJV)

Side note: The first thing that Jesus does is ask Philip “How much and where could they buy bread for the people to eat?” Jesus didn’t ask this because He didn’t know. He asked to see how Philip would answer. Philip’s response is typical of how we respond to Jesus today. So many times we want to give Jesus our plans and not our hands. Jesus doesn’t want the qualified, He wants the available. If we would offer Jesus our hands in surrender rather than our plans in suggestion, we would be able to turn this world upside down. So the next time Jesus asks you for your plans give Him your hands.

The point I really want to press down on in this well-versed and well-known passage is that the five loaves of bread and two fish in the hands of the little boy may have fed him and his family that he was probably bringing the food back to. But when the boy was willing to place the fish and loaves in the hands of Jesus, it went from feeding a family to feeding a multitude. It went from being enough for a handful of people to being more than enough for thousands of people.

What you have can only go so far while it’s in your hands, but it can do immeasurably more when placed in the hands of Jesus. Even the little can become much when you place it in the Master’s hands. Paul said it this way when he wrote to the church in Ephesus:

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us. (Ephesians 3:20 NKJV)

So what is it that you have in your hands that doesn’t look like much that you need to place in the hands of Jesus? Are you giving Jesus you plans or are you giving Him your hands? What is it that you need to surrender to Jesus instead of suggest to Him? If Jesus can take a little boy’s happy meal and turn it into an all you can eat buffet, what can He do with what you have? He can take what you have and take it a lot further faster than you ever could. Let go of what’s in your hands and give it to Him today.

Fear Factor

Fear, when it’s all boiled down, falls into two categories. You either fear man or you fear God. You either please man or please God.

We classify it differently today. We don’t really address it as being fear. When we are younger we call it peer pressure. When we are older we call it people pleasing. But it’s really based around fear. Do we fear man more or do we fear God more? Solomon writes in Proverbs 29:25 that the fear of man is a snare. In other words, it’s a trap that we fall into. We replace God with people. Instead of fearing God, we fear people. Therefore, our worth and joy is tied to what someone says or thinks about us.

There are two instances of this found in the Bible. The first is found in Acts. Peter and John have just healed a man who was born lame. Because of this a great crowd gathered and so Peter took this opportunity to proclaim the name of Jesus to them. But the captain of the temple and the Sadducees didn’t like this. So they arrested Peter and John. They brought them in front of the council for questioning, the next day, and commanded them not to preach in the name of Jesus. Peter and John responded:

Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard. (Acts 4:19-20 ESV)

Peter and John were standing in front of a group of people who could have had them killed. But they chose to fear God rather than people. They chose to listen to God rather than to them. They chose to obey God rather than man.

The second instance is found in Matthew 4. Jesus has just been baptized and has been led into the wilderness to fast for 40 days. While He is there, the devil comes to tempt Him. The devil takes Him to a very high mountain and shows Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. The devil offers to give them to Jesus if He will just fall down and worship the devil. Side bar: The devil will always offer you something that you already have in Jesus. Ok so with that said, this is how Jesus responds:

Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” (Matthew 4:10 ESV)

The verse that Jesus is referring to here is found in Deuteronomy 6, but instead of the word “worship,” the word “fear” is used in this verse (See Deuteronomy 6:13). So, in other words, what Jesus is saying the root of fear, when it’s all boiled down, comes to worship. So if you fear man, you worship man. If you fear God, you worship God.

So in conclusion, there are two questions that you have to answer when it comes down to dealing with fear. The first is “Where have you worshiped created things rather than the Creator?” And the second is “We will all worship, who or how will you worship?”

Identity Thief

God proclaims to everyone that Jesus is His Son in Matthew 3 (See Matthew 3:17), not even a chapter later, the devil challenges Jesus’ identity (See Matthew 4:6). Six short verses later after God tells Jesus his true identity, the devil comes to question and try to steal it away.

The devil still tries to do this today. He still is scheming and devising ways he can challenge and get you to question your identity. John tells us this about the thief:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10 ESV).

The devil tries to take something from you but Jesus wants to give something to you. The devil tries to get you to place your identity in your condition rather than your position as a son or daughter of God. He tries to get you to put your identity in your career rather than in Christ. He tries to get you to think your identity is found in your finances rather than your faith. He wants you to believe your identity is in your education rather than in the everlasting love of God. He wants you to trust in what you see rather than what God says.

The truth of the matter is that your identity is not found in who you are but in whose you are. Your identity is found in Christ and Christ alone, not your circumstances. Your identity is found in the Savior, not your situation. Because you belong to Jesus, your identity is found in Him. Just because circumstances and situations in your life may change, your identity remains the same because Jesus never changes.

Don’t allow the thief to steal, kill, or destroy your identity any longer. Stand firm in the truth that your identity is in Jesus.

Some of you reading this may find yourself still searching for your true identity. You have placed it in your career. You have placed it in your education. You have placed it in your bank account. And when those things fade away, because they will fade away, you find your whole world crashing down on you. Place your trust in Jesus today and find your identity in Him.

Procrastination

We all do it, have done it, or will eventually do it. Why is it that in our instant messaging, instant coffee, instant breakfast, instant everything world do we tend to put things off? Most of the time it’s the important things that we seem to delay.

I used to do this all the time when I got a project or homework assignment in school that wasn’t due for a couple of weeks. I would put it off and put it off till eventually it was the day before the project or homework was due and I hadn’t done anything. I still find myself falling into this trap today sometimes. Instead of doing it today I’ll find myself saying, and you probably have found yourself saying this as well, “I’ll do it tomorrow.”

Perry Noble, Senior Pastor of NewSpring Church, said this about procrastination that I believe is essential to understanding the weight behind this: “Procrastination is assassination to the purpose that God has for our lives.” The more and more we put off what God is telling us to do, the more and more we delay the purpose that He has for us. If you can’t be faithful in what God has for you now, He will never give you what He has for you next. Noble went on to say “Delayed obedience is immediate disobedience.” Don’t put what God has for you off any longer and continue to live in disobedience. Start listening and obeying today.

My grandfather, to this day, has a magnet on his refrigerator that says “Do it today.” One thing that I’ve come to know about my grandfather is, that if something has to be done, he doesn’t put it off till tomorrow he gets it done as soon as possible. This truth became evident to me no greater than on the day my grandfather took me to get my driver’s permit. I was extremely excited, even though we were waiting at the DMV. I had passed the learner’s permit test. All that was next was the eye exam. They had me look into this machine and asked me to read a specific line. The only problem was I couldn’t make out the letters on the line that they had asked me to read. I found out that day that I couldn’t see things in the distance. I was so distraught and disappointed. I thought for sure I was going to be able to drive away from the DMV that day. But my grandfather saw my disappointment and he wasn’t willing to accept that I had failed the eye exam. So he took me to the eye doctors that day, got me glasses, we went back to the DMV the same day, and I got my driver’s permit.

So what is it that God has told you to do that you have been putting off? Maybe it’s to forgive somebody. Maybe it’s a leap of faith. Maybe it’s asking Jesus to be your Savior and Lord. Whatever it is. Don’t procrastinate any longer. Don’t put off to tomorrow what you can get done today. Don’t delay! Do it today! Do it now!

God Can’t

I know what you’re saying to yourself right now. It’s probably something like “Come on AJ. God can’t? God can do anything. There is nothing that is impossible with Him.” I know. I know. God is omniscient. God is omnipresent. God is all powerful. God is all sufficient. God is God all by Himself. There is none above Him. There is none beside Him. There was none before Him. And there will be none after Him.

With that all said, I believe there is three things that God can’t do.

1) God can’t fail.

God always comes through. It may not be what we want and when we want it, but it is what is best for us at just the right time. He is a good God that wants good things for His children. Even though we fail, He never does. Paul says it this way in his second letter to Timothy:

If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself. (2 Timothy 2:13 NKJV)

No matter how many times we screw up. No matter how long we stay faithless. No matter the amount of moments we fail. God doesn’t make mistakes. He remains faithful. And He can’t fail.

2) God can’t lie.

God’s word is true. When He says something it will come to pass. He cannot go back on His word. Moses wrote this in Numbers:

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? (Numbers 23:19 NLT)

If God says it, you can take it to the bank because it is going to happen. He is true to His word. You can count on that.

3) God can’t stop loving you.

The apostle Paul writes this to the Romans, the very people that were responsible for killing Jesus:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 NIV)

Nothing you could ever do or have done. Nowhere you could run or hide. Nothing that is or was done to you. No sin. No screw up. No mess up. No mistake. Could ever stop God from loving you. His love never fails. Never runs out. And never gives up on you. His love is unconditional. He loved you before you were ever born. He loves you now. And He will continue to love you no matter what. He knew and knows everything about you and He still loved and loves you. He can’t love you anymore and He can’t love you any less. God’s love reaches to the heavens. His love endures forever.

Surfing

I heard this quote and I thought it was pretty good, so I’m going to write a post about it.

If you ride the wave it will only take you so far but if you find ways to build the wave it will always take you further faster.

So many times in life we get caught riding the momentum instead of building a movement. And once the momentum dies down we are left stranded where the wave came crashing down instead of reaching higher heights and continuing the movement.

If anyone could have ridden the wave of momentum it was the apostle Paul. He came along after the Holy Spirit had showed up on the day of Pentecost, after 3,000 people were saved on one day, and after the church had been established. He could have ridden that momentum as far as it would have taken him, but he didn’t. This is what he writes in Philippians:

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14 NKJV)

Because Paul wasn’t satisfied with riding the wave he went on to establish 14 churches, write two-thirds of the New Testament, and is probably the most influential person in history outside of Jesus.

If this is what one person could accomplish that wasn’t satisfied with riding the wave. What could happen if a group of people got serious about finding ways to build the wave and create a movement? If one can put a thousand to flight, two can put ten thousand to flight; what kind of wave could be built if a group of people went all in?

No longer settle for riding the wave, but find ways to build the wave and there is no telling how far you will go.

 

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