Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The Pruning

This morning I felt led to read Matthew 7:19. When I got there, this is what it said:
"Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

We live in what the locals call the Ozark Mountains. Coming from Eastern Oregon where there are huge rocky peaks that are rarely completely clear of snow, all I see around here are little bumps. But they're beautiful bumps full of gorgeous trees that turn a million shades of amazing in the Fall and then quickly become bare sticks as winter approaches. I never tell people I live in the mountains---I say I live in the forest. There's definitely no shortage of trees in my heavily forested neighborhood.

So when I read this verse in Matthew, I immediately thought about our neighborhood after a storm. In the winter and early spring months, it's easy to see into the forest the changes that happen to the "bad" trees. One storm might loosen them enough to begin leaning on others, another causes them to press their weight even more against the trees around them--- sometimes causing those to begin to lean as well. As time goes on, their own weight pulls those bad trees down, down, down further and further until finally the ground gives way and they tip all the way over. Sometimes they've loosened the trees around them so that, in the future, those will also come down. Sometimes they're fully unrooted but have been packed so densely in an area that they lean for season after season, totally dead but being upheld by the strong trees around them. The more weight they put on others, the more the entire area is stressed.

But what happens when those bad trees are cut down and cleared out? 

Suddenly the weight is lifted from those other standing trees. They're no longer being crowded by the ones that are not flourishing. The encroaching burden is lifted. On the ground, a smooth path is made. There is space to expand and grow. A better view is opened up so one can see a path through---it allows the light to shine in.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them." --Matthew 7:15-20

I used to read this as being about other people who would act as a false prophet to me---that I needed to be careful to watch out for false prophets. Today, I'm seeing it more as a warning to myself--that I should be careful not to be a false prophet and to be sure I am bearing the fruit that pleases the Father.

But even more than that, this morning I believe I'm seeing this pruning through the eyes of the Father. Some would say that God loves everyone and since He does, no one will face eternal separation from Him. They can't bring themselves to see how a good and loving God could pick favorites from His children like that. However, this passage and many others tell us that God does, indeed, separate the wheat from the chaff.

"His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” --Matthew 3:12

These are not the random acts of a flippant God. No, these are acts of preservation. Yes, all life matters to Him. However, He has made a commitment to those who will obey His commands and devote their lives to Him.

“But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the descendants of Abraham My friend. You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest regions, and said to you, ‘You are My servant, I have chosen you and have not cast you away: Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you,

I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.'" --Isaiah 41:8-10

Anyone who would call the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob their God and keep His commandments, they are Israel---whether by birth or by being grafted in, like many reading this have been. He has made a commitment to those who honor Him that we have His help and that He is upholding us.

In order to do this, He must clear out the "bad trees" around us. Often we sense this happening when we find certain relationships are subtly becoming more and more distant over time. Sometimes we are moved out of a job or ministry situation unexpectedly. Other times the activity we were involved in no longer seems to fit and we lose interest. Sometimes He moves us and other times He moves them but, what I have found to be true, is that the more I move toward Him, the more excess people, situations, and stuff seem to gently fall off. 

It's not that God wants us to hermit away somewhere with no relationships or hobbies---it's just that He wants to refine what we devote our time and, more importantly, our emotions to. He wants to make a healthier path for us to dig in our roots a little deeper, let the light shine in a little clearer. He wants to lift the heaviness off and release us from some of the deadness leaning on us that will eventually pull us down when it gives way and falls completely.

"...that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all…" -- 1 Timothy 2:2-6

All this dividing and refining and singling out and setting apart---these are not acts of a God who chooses favorites at random. He desires that everyone should come to Him. Although we see the separations happening more and more as we approach the time of His final judgement, we must remember that we are not yet at that day. Therefore, we need to be careful that we are allowing Him to do the separating when it comes to the people around us. Of course we need to be wise and not allow bad influences to corrupt good character, but we must be very careful when we are deciding who to "cut off". We must pray for wisdom and allow God to direct us because it may be that the person we think is too bad to save is the very one God would use us to help bring into wholeness in Him.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Ask, Seek, Knock -- A Testimony of the Ancient Paths

Many years ago, when I first started attending church regularly, (I was 18, maybe?) a woman came up to me after service and said she felt God wanted her to share a verse with me: "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you." (Matthew 7:7) Over the years, I've always valued that verse, of course, but I never really had a deep down in my gut, "this is it" feeling about it until I recently came across another verse from Jeremiah. 

"This is what the Lord says: 'Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.'" (Jeremiah 6:16)

For almost 25 years I've wrestled with His word, trying to make sense of some things, trying to really "get" it. It's only recently that I feel I'm starting to have a real breakthrough into those "ancient paths". I've begged God for years to show me truth and lately, the more I've stepped away from the teachings of man and let my mind clear from all the traditions and distractions and trappings of "church life", the more I can clearly see the meaning of His word to us. Lately, as I read the Bible for myself and allow Him to interpret it for me as He designed it (as much as my feeble little mind can understand --- He is a pretty big God, after all!) I find that He truly has never changed. His ancient paths are His today paths. His truth is for all generations. 

I tapped for a really long time on that door---it's a big door with many layers of revelation of understanding and He was faithful to open it just enough to throw me a bone now and then. After many years of tapping, one day I started pounding. I started pounding and shouting and pleading and crying out---"I WANT TO KNOW YOU!" Desperation was deep down in my guts now and I was at a crossroads -- I was considering giving up. I was wondering if it was all even true. There were SO MANY unanswered questions, so many voices, so many options. I needed to know His truth.

And then one day, it was I who felt the tap. It was a still small voice, a whisper, and it spoke sort of sing-songy like my Mom used to before daylight on fishing mornings, "Sarah, it's time to wake up."

"Do you really want to know Me?" it said. "Then look to the ancient paths. You've asked, you've knocked, now seek and you will find me."

So I did. I went to the most ancient thing I knew to be true---the beginning of the Bible---and when I did, He began to reveal Himself to me in a brand new way. He began to show me His plan for His chosen people, Israel---that they were to be a light to the nations, His chosen missionaries that would reveal Him to every soul. He showed me how these ancient truths still applied in the New Testament when He confirmed the purpose of Israel through the words of Jesus, recorded by Matthew and other writers. He showed me that it was always His plan that the foreigner could be grafted in and adopted into the family of Israel by committing to follow their God and His ways. This was a concept I understood to be something Jesus brought, but didn't realize God had been doing that clear back in Moses' time and before. He showed me that because I have been adopted in through my faith in the Messiah, Jesus, I am now part of the family of Israel. Therefore, all the beautiful, wonderful promises God gave to Israel and all the loving and life-giving instructions He gave to them through the first five books of the Bible and through the prophets---that was all for me too! 

I have an inheritance! This concept has overwhelmed me for over two years now. All that God set up for His chosen people, the ones He chose to proclaim His truth to all nations, all that is for me, also! Not for me, instead, but for me ALSO! 

It is my belief that if one really wants to know God, one must look to the ancient paths. He tells us over and over that He never changes. The traditions and teachings of men have brought all kinds of changes to how faith is walked out over the years, but God and His ways have never ever changed---and they never will.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Taking the Lord's Name In Vain -- Josh Duggar

A very high profile court case was decided today in our area. The infamous Josh Duggar was found guilty of charges of accessing child pornography. This same man was outed a few years ago for using a site that gave him the opportunity to cheat on his wife and has also admitted to molesting five young girls when he was a teenager---four of them being his younger sisters. 

It's all very disturbing, yes, but this guy's misdeeds are affecting different people in different ways. Despite the fact that it's destroyed the reputation of his family, wrecked his marriage, and will likely have a lifelong detrimental effect on all who cared about him, it's also giving homeschooled boys a bad name and that's one thing that has me a bit fired up. Before you roll your eyes and think I'm petty, hear me out because there's a more important point to be made here.

I just read an article that stated his upbringing as "homeschooled and never went to college" likely meant he didn't have the intelligence or skills to cover up his online child pornography crimes. As a mom of three grown sons who is 18 years into this gig, with 10 years left to go, I'm offended. (Again, keep reading, important point coming up.) As far as I know, my sons walk with integrity and honesty and desire to protect young children rather than exploit them. They're also pretty intelligent and skilled in many things and the chill-out homeschooling life has only given them the opportunity to learn things like backdoor computer hacks---not kept them from them. If the defense thinks homeschooling is an excuse for stupidity, they've not met many homeschoolers. 

Ok, so I'm not really offended. This is the way the world thinks---they don't know any better. But...

All this brings up a deeper issue: reputation. We've always taught our kids that their behavior not only dictates how people feel about them as individuals, it reflects on Jamie and I as parents, our family as a whole, and ultimately it influences how unbelievers feel about the God we serve. 

In Exodus 20, God tells us not to take His name in vain. It's the third of the 10 Commandments. Many people believe this refers to cussing and using God's name in a vulgar way, but it's actually way bigger than that. When viewed in the light of the rest of Scripture, it's the taking of the name that we must focus on. 

You see, we believers are headed for a marriage relationship with our Messiah. We are preparing for an eternal covenant in which we are forever called by His name. If I choose to take His name now, I am aligning myself with Him, with His ways, with His cause. I am saying I represent Him. In Exodus 20:7, God warns us that He will not hold guiltless the one who takes His name in vain. It's a big deal. It's more than cussing---it's a complete misrepresentation of who He is and what He stands for. 

Josh Duggar's garbage lifestyle not only runs the name of Duggar into the ground, nor does it merely make others think homeschooled boys grow up to be closet perverts---Duggar, who has publicly claimed the Holy God of Heaven and Earth as his God, has profaned His name and taken it in vain. Not by accident. Not in a rash act of later-regretted passion. But deliberately and repeatedly for years. This is a big deal. Let's pray his earthly consequences are harsh enough to finally lead him to the repentance that will keep him from the eternal ones.

And Father, help me to always represent Your name with integrity; because the root of all sin is selfishness and for that, I'm as guilty as anyone.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Is Torah Really Relevant for Today? What Does that Even Mean? #torahobservant #messianic

This morning as I was praying about what to read for my Bible study, I felt led to read Leviticus 19 and then 1 John. As I began reading through the moral and ceremonial laws, (much of this chapter is the 10 Commandments Expanded Version) I was immediately reminded that many of the people to whom the Lord was speaking were getting to know Him for the first time. They'd been in Egypt for quite awhile---how many of them remembered the God of their fathers or remembered His ways? By reading the whole story of these early Hebrews, we find the answer is not many

Surely they had kept some sort of national identity---but their set-apartness had become perverted over time, tainted by the culture around them. Removing them from Egypt and taking them to the wilderness was only the first of many steps God took to bring this people back into right relationship with Him. 

Multiple times in this chapter, Yahweh reminds them, "I am the Lord, I am Yahweh, I am your God." We can overlook the power of those statements because we already know this to be true and we figure they did too, but let's imagine for a minute that they didn't know the God of the Bible that we know. Let's imagine they'd been living outside of relationship with Him for so long that they didn't remember Him at all. Let's imagine they'd been living in a world tainted by the enticements of gods who require ceaseless worship but offer nothing to nourish one's own soul. They knew their fathers had served the One True God sometime back in their history, but who He was and what He required was lost to them. His ways were mixed with Egypt's ways to make a confusing, messy way of life where everyone lived under the oppression of man-appointed rulers, yet somehow also did whatever he deemed right in his own eyes.

But watch---as the light shines in the darkness...

"And the Lord spoke to Moses saying, 'Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy."

We often read that and figure we can stop right there. "Ok, God told them to be holy. So now they just gotta start being holy! I know how to be holy---it's right here in my....oh wait."

With an open-eyed reading of previous portions of the Old Testament, we can see that Yahweh had given at least some of his instructions to His people already, but much of these ways had been lost over their time spent as a no longer set-apart people. They were brand new at this "following Yahweh" thing. So He needed to teach them. 

As we read on, we find He gave them His Torah to teach them. But not only that, He also promised them a Deliverer, a prophet likened unto Moses; someone who would one day help them walk out Torah more fully and on another Great Day, establish them in a forever kingdom where they'd be with Him for eternity.

Imagine being that person receiving clear instructions from the One True God for the first time. 

"Be holy, for I am holy." 

"Ok God, how do I do this?" 

"Here child, I will give you my Torah instructions so you can be sure of what I require of you. Now you no longer need to be confused. Now you no longer need to wander aimlessly from this fix to that fix, searching for the ultimate fix. Here, let me shepherd you into right relationship with Me."

This is why Torah is relevant today. It is just as essential now as it was then. Sure, there are parts we can't walk out right now---there is no temple at this point, no established Levitical priesthood, no ability for every believer to "go up to Jerusalem" (thanks, COVID)---but there is still a lot, a majority, that we can follow. 

The Torah wasn't just for a certain people for a certain time. Did you know Jesus said this:

"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law (Torah) or the Prophets (God's instructions given through the Old Testament prophets). I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle (tiniest markings in Hebrew text) will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men to do so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:17-19)

That's a pretty important warning, I think.

Many people think the God of the Old Testament is different than the God of the New. That He's mean, judgmental, and full of fiery wrath; whereas somehow Jesus calmed Him down after He became a man and made Him a God who tolerates a whole lot more than before. This is very much untrue. That merciful and patient God can be found all over the Old Testament and that God who brings final judgement is very present in the New. John beautifully ties together the God of the Old with the God of the New in his first epistle. When you read this, imagine it being written by a descendant of those Hebrews who left Egypt and met their One True God at the mountain; and, imagine it being written as a personal letter to you:

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life---the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us---that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full." (1 John 1:1-4)

He's saying, "Yes! All those things that were promised through the Law and the Prophets---we have seen and touched in the flesh! Our Messiah, our hope, He is real! He has come and is coming again! Yahweh and all that He is is manifested before us! Come, have fellowship with us! Learn His ways so your joy may be full!"

And that's what I want to say to you today. There is so much more to living a set-apart life than attending Sunday church and Wednesday church and praying at dinner time and playing Christian radio in your car. There is the opportunity to know the Holy God who manifests Himself to us repeatedly in every portion of His Word. There is the opportunity to throw off everything that entangles us and run freely to Him and then with Him, but you first must know Him. That is not found by saying the sinner's prayer and sitting under the teaching of a human, usually the same human, once or twice a week. It's found by opening up the book of Genesis and reading it slowly, line by line, stopping often to pray for understanding and to contemplate and look up words and chew on stuff. Then move on to Exodus...and on... Read His Torah, read His Old Testament. Learn how He manifested Himself to our fathers. Then when you go back and read the New Testament that you think you know so much about, you'll find that you see it with completely new eyes---and you'll find that you're truly getting to know Him.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Basic Breakfast Casserole Recipe --- Use What You Have

I really love the idea of breakfast casserole (or strata, if you prefer) but the recipes I've tried have been hit and miss with my family over the years. I've found that the ones they love best are the ones I just put together with basic ingredients I have in the fridge. Today I'm sharing the basic recipe for breakfast casserole and you can choose whatever ingredients your family loves! This is perfect for using up smaller amounts of leftovers, so get creative!

Breakfast Casserole

8 c. cubed bread (I've used leftover challah, garlic toast, french bread, whole wheat, hoagies, etc.)

1.5 c. grated cheese (or more! Any kind of cheese you love is great. I usually use sharp cheddar**)

8 eggs

1 c. cooked meat (I use ground turkey, smoked beef sausage, or non-pork bacon)

2.5-3 c. milk

2-3 TB dijon mustard (this changes everything!!)

seasonings (I usually do 1.5 tsp. salt; 1 tsp. pepper; 1 tsp. thyme; 2-3 TB chives)

other fillings (about 1.5 c. total): onions, garlic, tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, salsa, etc.


Begin by cooking your meat completely and set aside. Whisk the eggs, milk, and dijon mustard together and set aside. In a large bowl, add the cubed bread, grated cheese, and any other fillings and seasonings. Stir well before adding in the cooked meat and liquid mixture. Stir everything together and pour into a 13x9 baking dish. Preheat your oven to 350 and leave the dish on the counter or put in the fridge for 30 minutes. Then bake it uncovered for 50-60 minutes. Let it sit about 10-15 minutes, then cut and enjoy!

**Lately I've been buying sharp cheddar any time I need cheddar. Since grocery prices are skyrocketing, I'm looking for ways to conserve. I find that I can use less (in some recipes) when I use a richer cheese and get the same flavor.