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Monday, April 5, 2021

God Speaks About Faith

Gerd Altmann
Got Faith?  Those who are old enough will remember the commercials from a while back: "Got Milk?" This phrase became somewhat of a novelty and derivatives of it are still used to this day. At the time, I had written a little play for a local Christian school at which I taught. The play was entitled "Got Faith?".  Faith is defined as "complete confidence or trust in someone or something". To a lot of people, faith is a word often associated with religion/Christianity. Mainstream scientists and non-Christians will "fuss" with Christians about how they can believe in God of have faith in the things of the Bible when there is no proof. First, let me say, there is a lot of proof and it is becoming more and more evident everyday. Second, yes it is faith that allows us to believe in these things; however, those who believe in evolution and other non-Biblical science ideals must also have faith in something with little to no proof. They must have as much, if not more, faith to believe that all of the known processes in the world came about by chance, rather than by design of a Creator. 

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Everyday examples of faith, listed on Quora.com, include: buying products on-line without trying them first; many entrepreneurial endeavors; choosing a mate; and choosing a career with no previous experience in the field. Quora.com also says, "Faith is baked into how humans make decisions. It’s also baked into values, beliefs, and actions regarding the future". Additionally, "These are the acts of the courageous in history—these are the decisions about which the greatest acts in the history of humanity have been based." We can see that faith is involved in many things in life. I was listening to a local Christian radio station the other day and heard a song that I had heard many times before, but this time a particular phrase jumped out at me. The song was "Resurrecting" by Elevation Worship and can be heard here.  One of the stanzas in this song is "The tomb where soldiers watched in vain was borrowed for three days".  I have since seen this phrase (borrowed tomb) used in other songs and references and it really struck me. How much faith Joseph of Arimathea must have had to give his pre-purchased tomb for Jesus' burial knowing that he would not have to purchase another spot for himself and possibly his family too. 

The Bible tells us that Joseph was a rich man and a member of the Sanhedrin; however, he was also a secret follower of Jesus and was in fear of being persecuted by the fellow Sanhedrin. Some scholars suggest that he may have been a relative of Jesus as well. Whoever he was, we know that he was an avid follower as all four gospels mention him. We also know of his faith. The Bible tells us that Joseph asked Pilate for the body of Jesus after He was dead and that Joseph and Nicodemus took Jesus down from the cross and prepared His body for burial. They placed Him in the tomb that Joseph had purchased for himself (and maybe his family) and then rolled the stone in front of the tomb. Joseph must have known that this wasn't the end. As a member of the Sanhedrin, Joseph was likely a Rabbi and was well-versed in Scripture. He likely knew of the prophecies about the Messiah and knew and believed that Jesus was Who He said He was....the Messiah. This means Joseph also knew that Jesus would rise again on the third day. Because of this, Joseph was willing to LOAN Jesus his tomb for a few days.  He knew he would get it back and be able to use it for himself later or maybe even a family member. May we all aspire to have the faith of Joseph of Arimathea!


Friday, March 19, 2021

God Speaks Through Peach Trees

Kari Farnell
Spring! If you are like me, you get excited when you see the purple and white crocuses start peaking through the ground. To me, it means Spring is right around the corner. Thoughts of Spring also remind me of peach trees. My family has grown and harvested peaches in some form or fashion since 1985 or so. Every year, usually in March, the buds begin and soon there are delicate pink blossoms all over the trees promising great-tasting fruit in a few months. It occurred to me that living a Christian life is a lot like the life of a peach tree. 

1.  Peach trees, as do many trees, require pruning. Pruning is cutting back overgrowth or bad limbs to create better growth. When peach trees are first planted, they are often pruned almost down to nothing. It appears that they will be useless and die, but the next thing you know, branches begin to take off from the trunk and within a few years time, those branches bear fruit. Every year, the trees go through a
Kari Farnell

period of pruning and every year after looking at the "carnage" of limbs and branches, the thought passes that these trees will be of no use, but every year that pruning benefits the trees and wonderful fruit is produced. In the Christian life, we often encounter pruning. Our bad habits and sinfulness must be pruned so that we can produce better fruit.  Sometimes it may seem that an awful lot is being pruned away, but it will be beneficial in the end. 

John 15:2 says, "My Father examines every branch in Me and cuts away those who do not bear fruit. He leaves those bearing fruit and carefully prunes them so that they will bear more fruit"

2.  Similar to pruning is something called thinning. This occurs after the blossoms have turned to fruit and the fruit has started to grow. I'm sure each farmer is different, but in my family the process has been to take baseball bats out to the orchard and hit the tree branches. Not hard enough to hit a home run, but hard enough to knock some of the baby peaches off. Some folks may question this process as well. Why would we want to knock some of the fruit off?  Isn't the idea: the more the better? No, not in this case. If the farmer lessens the amount of baby peaches on the tree, the remaining peaches will grow larger and stronger. They are able to gather more of the tree's nutrients because it is being shared by fewer fruits. This process also knocks off bad fruit or fruit that won't last. In our Christian lives, our bad habits and sinfulness must be thinned out, so that our good habits and Godliness can gain more nutrients and thrive. The less "bad" fruit on our tree, the "good" fruit can grow bigger and stronger and our trees can be "good" trees.

Matthew 7:17 says, "Good trees bear beautiful, tasty fruit, but bad trees bear ugly, bitter fruit."

3.  A couple other little known facts about peaches is that they can rot quickly if left in a paper bag too long and too much water is a bad thing.  Peaches ripen VERY quickly in a paper bag. Although my family sells their peaches in paper bags, they encourage customers to remove them quickly as keeping
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them in a paper bag builds up gasses that cause the peaches to go from firm to rotten within a day. It's good if you want to ripen 1 or 2 quickly but not the whole bagful. Additionally, too much water is bad for peaches.  Most people like to water their plants and trees and for most trees it's a great thing, but for peach trees, too much water causes the fruit to lose its taste. The fruit becomes waterlogged and loses much of its sweetness. In our Christian lives, too much of the world or being cloaked by the world as in a paper bag, is harmful to us. By the world I mean the sins in the world and the things that are not Biblical and things that God would not approve of. If we have too many of those things in our lives, the "sweetness" of our Christian lives cannot be noticed or may even rot away.

1 John 2:16 says, "All the things the world can offer to you—the allure of pleasure, the passion to have things, and the pompous sense of superiority—do not come from the Father. These are the rotten fruits of this world.

4.  There are many different varieties of peaches that vary slightly in use, taste, texture, etc. Most of these trees have been produced by grafting different "parental" varieties together. What is interesting is that because of this grafting, if you plant a peach pit in the ground and it grows into a tree, it likely will not produce the same variety of peach that the pit came from. Sometimes the tree itself doesn't really bear fruit or doesn't bear good fruit. Just like these trees, our Christian lives are not based on our parents' lives.
Kari Farnell

Just because parents in a family might be Christians or Godly people, this does not automatically translate to the children. All family members must make their own decisions about Christ, Christianity, and things of the church. There is no osmosis in being a Christian. YOU must decide where YOU are going to be rooted.

Joshua 24:15 says, "But if you don’t want to worship the Lord, then choose right now! Will you worship the same idols your ancestors did? Or since you’re living on land that once belonged to the Amorites, maybe you’ll worship their gods. I won’t. My family and I are going to worship and obey the Lord!

  5. As mentioned earlier, one of the great things about peach trees and Spring is the beautiful blossoms that come out at this time of year. It is always so pretty and encouraging. Of course, not every blossom will produce fruit. Some will die off, some will be thinned off as baby peaches or some other occurrence will destroy them.  I had a few trees in my yard that produced beautiful and sweet-smelling blossoms, but when it was time for the fruits to develop, not a single fruit could be found on the trees.
Kari Farnell

As Christians, we should produce good fruits, or good blossoms. Some may call it good worKs. An important thing to remember is that our blossoms, or works, should not be merely outward appearances. Our blossoms should produce fruit and should be based in our faith. Without our faith, our blossoms do not produce the desired fruits. People can see beyond the "pretty" outward appearance. Another important concept is the realization that we are not saved from Hell by our works or blossoms. We are only saved by our belief in Jesus' sacrifice for us. It doesn't matter how many beautiful blossoms we produce. If we are not rooted in faith and belief in Jesus, we are still doomed to suffer and be separated from the tree.

  James 2:20 says, "The fact is, faith has to show itself through works performed in faith. If you don’t recognize that, then you’re an empty soul."

Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and [l]this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not a result of works, so that no one may boast."
 

   Just as peach trees need full sunlight to thrive, prosper, and produce delicious peaches, we need "Sonlight" to thrive, prosper, and produce our fruits. The good news is that sunlight and Sonlight are free.  It doesn't cost us anything. All we have to do to gather Sonlight is to accept the invitation that God has extended to us. We just need to tell Him that we know the sacrifice He made on the cross for us and that we are ready to accept His light today.




Wednesday, March 10, 2021

God Speaks Using Animals

 

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash
Have you ever seen those video clips of animals that talk?  Of course we know that many bird species will mimic human speech sounds, but these videos show dogs, and occasionally cats, that sound as if they are speaking. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. Did you know, however, that there are several instances in the Bible where God did speak through animals? Most of these occurrences were based on lessons learned from the animals, but on one particular occasion the animal actual spoke.

When Noah was in the ark and the waters had started to receded, Noah sent out a raven and later a dove to determine when to leave the safety of the ark. Once the birds did not return, Noah knew it was time to disembark. In the book of Exodus, we read about the plagues that were sent upon Egypt in an effort to get the pharaoh to release the Israelite slaves. Through the devastation of infestation, as well as, the death of much livestock (among other things), the pharaoh finally relented and freed the Israelites. The prophet Elijah was the recipient of the influence of animals. God sent Elijah to confront King Ahab and Queen Jezebel with a prophecy. God was going to put the land into a drought. He told Elijah to go east and Elijah was supplied water by a brook and God directed ravens to bring food to Elijah. Consider further Daniel in the lion's den. Here God used the animals to "speak" to King Nebuchadnezzar. Because Daniel was faithful and refused to bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar, God caused the lions to leave Daniel alone when he was thrown into the den thus proving Who should be bowed down to.  When Jesus entered Jerusalem in Palm Sunday, God had provided a young donkey to carry Jesus into the city. These stories show that God can and will use anything and anyone to His glory. He can use circumstances, other people, and even animals to speak to us and to show us His will.

Photo by Gary Whyte from Pexels

Animals being used by God is not too uncommon, but perhaps these next two circumstances show uncommon ways that God uses animals. This first occurrence was mentioned in an earlier blog post. In that post I had written about how even nature will cry out to and praise God.  In the following video, Louie Giglio has recorded the sounds from pulsars that are made by stars and planets and put them together with whales singing. Once it is put together, it is possible to hear the song "How Great is our God" being performed.  (Find his video here)

The last occurrence of God speaking using animals is a time when God literally spoke through a donkey. In Numbers 22, we read about the prophet Balaam who has been called upon by the Moab king to curse a nation that he is afraid will take over his land. Three times King Balak asks Balaam to come and curse the enemy nation. Each time, Balaam asks God what he should do and the first two times God tells him not to go. By the third time, I can imagine God is a little peeved with Balaam for asking a third time. God has already told him what to do twice and yet he continues to ask. So the third time, God tells him to go to King Balak. If you are a parent, I'm sure you can relate to this type of situation...a child who continues to badger you about something and finally out of frustration you give in, but with anger..."OK, FINE, DO IT!"  I imagine this is how God is feeling about now.

Photo by Daniel Fazio on Unsplash

The Bible tell us that even though He tells Balaam to go, he is angry at Balaam for going. In fact, He sends a messenger to block Balaam's way with intent to kill Balaam. Although Balaam can't see this sword-carrying messenger, his donkey can. Three times Balaam beats the donkey for stopping on the road and refusing to go. Finally the donkey actually speaks to Balaam and says, "What have I ever done to you that you beat me three times?" About this time, Balaam's eyes were opened and he sees the sword-wielding messenger ready to kill him. Balaam finally puts two and two together and Balaam repents. Spoiler alert:  The story ends with Balaam returning to his home having given the enemy of King Balak a blessing rather than a curse because they are the Israelites.

I can't imagine how I would have reacted had an animal turned around and spoken to me. I think it is obvious to say that God will get our attention no matter what it takes.  The next time you encounter a talking animal, please take heed. It may have a very important, life-changing message for you!