Saturday, September 5, 2015

I Ain't No Sweet Orange Tree Apart from Him

Orange trees bear oranges. Banana trees produce bananas. Raspberry bushes grow raspberries. Though I realize I'm only stating the obvious, I must say it: A TREE BEARS FRUIT, REVEALING THE TYPE OF TREE IT IS. Scientifically proven, it's a law of nature. With certainty, I can know the grapevine in my back yard will never burst forth with apple blossoms!

Let's look at a different kind of "tree". Our lives. I will love because I am loving. I will be joyful because I am joyous. I will have peace because I am peaceful, kind because I am kind, patient because I'm patient, self-controlled because I know God is in control. This is the Fruit of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-23)

But what if I produce anger, jealousy, drunkenness, or immorality? What if the thing that hangs from my "tree" is bitter and thorny? The answer is just as obvious as the orange tree that bears oranges - it's just more uncomfortable to look at because, well, it's painful. Like anything in life, we can't fix it if we don't acknowledge it's broken. We may be shouting to everyone around us, "I'm a sweet orange tree! The only reason I'm like this is because YOU make me get like this!" That's a lie, but it's an easy one to believe. Unfortunately, it's obvious to everyone else except us: We ain't no sweet orange tree!

Blame. It's the oldest mind game in all of human history! Beginning in the Garden of Eden, the first episode of The Blame Game played out when God asked a very direct question: "Have you eaten of the tree that I command you not to eat?" Adam pointed at Eve and told God, "This woman YOU gave me, SHE handed it to me and then I ate it." As if on cue, Eve answers, "The Serpent deceived me and then I ate," or more plainly, "The devil made me do it!" I know some of you mamas out there are sighing as this is the story of your everyday life when you ask one of your kids a simple question. The finger pointing starts and the blaming flows like a river. Oh,  if only we could get a straight, honest answer!!! It's not just the kids though, right?

I lived blaming others for too long. It was yucky. Thorns and bitterness, anger and judgement grew out of blame. Through tears, I'd tell Daryl after a fight, "I don't know why I am so angry. I just am. I only do two emotions well, so you either get Happy or Angry." When things were good, it was easy to be happy, but if things got tough, I'd blow a fuse. Truth is, when the heat of life turns up, what we're made of gets revealed.

In John 15, we read familiar words spoken by Jesus: "I am the vine. You are the branches. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me." Outside of Him, I can't do it! Let me lay it out on the table; my bursts of anger we not Jesus'. They were mine. Flesh of Candi. It was not a pretty sight. Just call it verbal vomit. No one wants that spewed on them! I didn't know how things would ever change because in those days, I was still playing the blame game. I would think, "It's 'your' fault I'm mad." Here's a secret: If all those who make us mad would change, behave perfectly, or move out of our lives, we'd still be mad. THEY are not the problem. The problem resides in us. What do we do though? I'd just vow to myself, "I will try harder next time not to get so angry." I'd fail. Sometimes I still  do!

Let's go all the way back to the Garden again. We see that everything God offered gave us Life. He WAS Life! He still is. The Lie the Devil pitched lead to Death. What was the Lie?

     "Did God REALLY say..."

Knowing and listening to God's truth is where we must start. God is the truth teller. God is the truth revealer. God is Truth! And His truth produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. But when I walk in the flesh, I've turned my ear away from the Life-giver and taken a bite of the same lie the Enemy has been whispering since mankind walked the earth... "Candi, did God really say love is patient? He didn't mean all the time. Nobody is perfect. You have every right to be sharp-tongued sometimes! That wasn't fair. Who could be expected to be gentle under those circumstances? You were just being honest!" Whew! It makes me sweat just to type those words. Have you ever eaten that one? Boy, I have! It was a bitter, rotten piece of something! 

Just as Adam and Eve pulled their Life-line from God back in the Garden, I do the same thing if I pull my vine from His branch and expect to do anything apart from him. This makes me want to do a whole study on what it looks like to Abide in Christ. Let's finish on a sweet, a truly sweet bite. A bite we can sink our teeth into, whole-heartedly. God will never lie to us. He will always tell us the truth. Don't you love that?

Do you remember in Math class, the word IS and equals were interchangeable? For example, 4 + 4 = 8. Or we'd say 4 plus 4 IS 8. It would only work to insert the equals sign when the equation had the same amount on both sides of it, making it TRUE. Look at a few verses through that same lens.

God is Love. Jesus is Truth. He is Life.
God = Love. Jesus = Truth. He = Life.

Yep. It is what it is. Or better yet, He just says, I AM. Period.

Why should we look anywhere outside of the one who IS the truth we seek? If something is missing in your life, much like a mathematical equation, you need to look for the answer to missing the variable that will make your life-equation equal the truth. Stuffing anything (and everything) into the equation won't make it add up to truth. It only IS, when the equation is True. 
                            "His name is Faithful and True." (Revelation 19:11)

More, if you want it:
     Galatians 5
     John 15
     Romans 6-8

Friday, September 4, 2015

Irreversible Transformation

     I can't un-learn to play the piano. I could concentrate on being ignorant to my skills but it's impossible. I could try to convince myself "I don't know what to do" but my brain still understands it. I can never go back to not understanding the keys of my piano.

     You can't un-learn to ride a bike***, therefore the expression, "It's just like riding a bike." There are things that we all "just do" because it's impossible to turn off the know-how once we've got it.

     Yesterday, I told a little story about experiencing truth. Today, let's focus on the miracle of the transformation that takes place when understanding and believing truth changes us. Much like the bike, transforming truth is something that once you learn it, you can never go back and un-learn it. The change is complete. Permanent. Actually, when the Bible speaks of being transformed, it's the same word as metamorphosis - A change from one form into a completely different form! Caterpillar to butterfly. A heart of stone to heart of flesh. From dead to alive.

Just as a wooden match, once struck, becomes carbon, it can't go back to being wood. The transformation is complete. Permanent. It's changed from one substance into an entirely different one with new qualities. It is what it is.

So, what about our lives? Why don't we see change? Why do we go back to our defaults? Could it be, perhaps, we haven't fully understood where that transformation comes from? Transformation is supernatural. The biology of the butterfly is miraculous! The
                                                                                   chemistry of the burning match is marvelous!

The metamorphosis of a sinner to saint is God's work. Transformation doesn't come from trying harder. Trying to change is as real as a caterpillar wearing a butterfly costume. Trusting to change is the real deal - from the inside out. Look at this evidence:
     " is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." Philippians 2:13
     "I am convinced of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:6
     "After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you." 1 Peter 5:10

     Just like salvation, this handiwork isn't a partnership of God and I toiling together. He does the work. I do the trusting. It's the kind of believing (experiential understanding) that I can never un-learn. It completely transforms me. There's no going back. It's the kind of trust that can tell my mind to not worry because "I KNOW whom I have believed in, and am persuaded that He is able." The kind of belief that can put my heart at peace  though I've heard the C-word, cancer. The assurance that I can hope in a God who hears and loves me.

     If you feel stuck in the same rut, striving to change, vowing to never-do-that-again, maybe there's some area of your life that is like that wooden match, just waiting to be struck and ignited, ready to morph into the new. There's no going back once the transformation is real. But it's entirely God's work in you. Remember, the Fruit of the Spirit is NOT a to-do list in our lives. You possess them already if you belong to God. They flow from you but are not produced by you, but by the Spirit. Ask God to help you trust Him in that area of life you're struggling - to trust with your whole heart. He is able!

     "I have been crucified with Christ; and it no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." Galatians 5:20

Images from

***Just for fun, I'm leaving a link to a cool video about a guy who DID try to unlearn to ride a bike.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Story of The Best Steakhouse Ever - Know the Truth!

     "I'm going to take you to my favorite steakhouse for lunch. I know you love a good steak, so this place is perfect for you! I'll pick you up at 12:00.  It's not far from where you work. It's on 10th Ave North." 
     My stomach rumbled. I'd skipped breakfast that morning and was starving. I loved it when Carrie and I could catch up over the lunch hour. And Carrie had excellent taste in food so I was eager to try her favorite steakhouse. My husband, Jack, called minutes later wondering if I'd like to join him at his office for lunch. 
     "Sorry. I just made plans with Carrie to go to some awesome steakhouse on 10th Ave North. Let's do it another day," I explained. 
     Jack paused. "Uhm...There's no steak joint on 10th Ave North. Better have her check her directions before you go. I've been all over that street and I know there's no steakhouse there."
     "Carrie said it's where she always goes for her favorite steak." I had no reason not to believe her. 
     "I'm just saying, there's no steakhouse on 10th Ave North. But I know you'll have a good time with Carrie, wherever you end up eating. " 
     "Thanks. Love you." I hung up my phone wondering if Carrie maybe just had the address wrong. Guess I'd find out soon enough. 

     Carrie showed up at the curb right on time. I jumped in, more curious than ever about this steakhouse she'd bragged about. "I'm starving! I can't wait to eat." 
     "I know! Me, too. I'm glad it'll only take us a few minutes to get there," she replied. Moment of truth. Would we drive to a steakhouse on 10th or was Jack right after all? Lo and behold, we turned the corner of 10th Avenue North and she pulled the car into the parking lot of Hank's Steaks. 
     "We're here!" 
      Sure enough. We ate delectable steaks with all the trimmings. We left, stomachs full and my mind convinced, there was without a doubt, an amazing steakhouse on 10th. 

     Later that evening, Jack got home and asked about lunch. "So? How was lunch with Carrie?"
     "Great! And the steak was so good! I'll have to take you there sometime on a date. I'm guessing, it'll become a regular date destination from now on. It was that good," I smiled. 
     "But where did it end up being? I know it wasn't on 10th, right?" 
     Jack had always been so good with directions I couldn't believe he'd gotten this one wrong. I raised my eyebrows and smiled again. "Actually, Carrie drove right to it, on 10th. I saw it with my very own eyes. I assure you, it's there."
     He replied slightly puzzled, "Honey, I know there's no steakhouse there." I shrugged my shoulders and told him I'd take him there on a date. Soon. He obviously wouldn't be convinced until he'd experienced it for himself. Regardless, there was absolutely nothing he could say that would un-convince me that I'd eaten an incredible steak with Carrie, on 10th Avenue North.

This is a story. I retell it as an illustration of the difference between intellectual belief and experiential belief. I believed Carrie, that there was a steakhouse. I had been given knowledge that she passed on to me. I believed her...INTELLECTUALLY. But once I had actually been there and eaten, I believed...EXPERIENTIALLY. They are different. One is not right and the other wrong. (Actually, we can intellectually believe something wrong. We can also experientially believe something wrong but that's for another blogging time.)

PLEASE HEAR THIS: Experience does NOT equal truth! But when we DO experience the truth, (as in this story) we can NEVER unbelieve it! No amount of talking could un-convince me because I knew it to be the truth. 

      "Now, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." 
                  Hopeful Assurance   &    Blind Conviction
                                    Hebrews 11:1

      Clearly Confused
      Virtual Reality   
      Turkey Bacon 
      Short Sermon

Do you see the oxymorons in this verse? The bible tells us we can have hopeful assurance and blind conviction. Assurance and Conviction in the steakhouse story, came when I experienced it to be true. Up to that point, my belief was only hopeful and unseen. 

Let's look at another verse this same way. The first verse many of us memorized. JOHN 3:16
     "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him, shall not perish but have eternal life." 

Intellectual: I read (even memorize) John 3:16 that says that God loves me. I grow in knowledge of the Bible. 

Experiential: I believe John 3:16 in my heart (experience) and am saved. 

Problem: Knowledge alone does not transform us. Intellectual belief can make us smarter, but does not guarantee or constitute faith. Look at the Pharisees. Actually, look at being a little child and memorizing John 3:16. That wasn't saving faith. That was just knowledge. Knowledge isn't wrong, but it doesn't transform us until our belief is there.  That's when we know the truth. Faith isn't only knowledge. Paul wrote to the Ephesians about this he said he prayed for them " know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God." (Eph. 3:19) 

Sometimes we wrestle with these two things, believing something in our head that we KNOW to be true, but believing something in our hearts that isn't true. This is why we can say with our mouths, "My God will supply all my needs..." while fretting about finances during the night. Remember, Jesus said, "And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free," NOT "if you memorize the truth, it'll set you free." Head knowledge and heart knowledge do different things in our lives. If those beliefs are in conflict with one another, like the finances example, it's called being double-minded. 

James 1 says "...he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. He is double-minded, unstable in all he does." Read all of James 1 sometime. Actually, if you're going to read the first chapter, you might as well just read it all! It's so good!!! It's only 5 chapters. Ask yourself this question while you read it: Do I believe this to be true, so much so, that nothing in the world could un-convince me of it's truth? This is the kind of faith God has called us to have in Him and His Word. Remember... 
     "Now, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Heb. 11:1

If you feel like the person who's more like the wave, being blown and tossed with the winds of life, maybe it's time to sit down, in the quiet and ask yourself, "What do I really believe?" If you've never experienced the kind of faith that's active and more than head knowledge, a faith in God that makes you a new creation, a transforming trust in the only One who saves, Jesus, then today is a good day to ask for this kind of belief. "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life," Jesus says. Read John 3 and James and ask the Lord to come, to lead, to show you. Much like that steak, once you've "tasted and seen that the Lord is good," there's no going back. If you're a follower of Jesus, he doesn't want you to just believe in him, he wants you to believe him. Believer, read John 16 and 17. These are the final things Jesus was saying to his friends before his death. In John 16:33, he said these things, "so that you may have peace." If you don't have peace today, this may be just for you. Your intellectual belief won't bring you peace. You must believe him in order to experience life changing peace. 

When you believe, brace yourself. True transformation begins...

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test adn approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will." Romans 12:2