Monday, November 30, 2015

THE TRUE VINE

If you follow this blog, then you have read the odyssey of the potted rose bush. Initially, I had been prepared to toss the dead plant into the trash until I noticed two small buds clinging to one remaining green stem. As I pondered whether to keep or toss it, I heard God's urging, "Save the remnant and pray that life and growth returns." 

I pruned what was dead and repotted the remnant in a rich soil mixture. If we are planted in the richness of God's Word, we thrive and grow in wisdom, power, faith, and strength.

After weeks of prayer, feeding, and watering, new green shoots appeared with leaves. When my husband and I left for ten days, I asked God to protect it during our absence. We arrived home to find two more healthy shoots. 

Recently, I left for a ten-day visit with a friend. Fully expecting the plant to thrive in my husband's care, I was dismayed, upon my return home, to find a withered and very dead "rose bush." Unfortunately, there had been a freeze and my sweet husband had forgotten to bring the plant into the house. 


I asked the Lord why He had allowed my plant to die, after He had initially resurrected and protected it. God's gentle voice whispered, "Because it was not under the protection of its caretaker." I realized that God was purposely illustrating some very important lessons as they pertain to our relationship with Him.

God is The Caretaker and Creator of our lives. Unlike human beings, He never leaves us, nor does He withdraw His love, protection and guidance from us; it is we who separate ourselves from Him. Without remaining under His constant and protective care, we wither and die spiritually and physically. Likewise, as long as my plant received my constant, nurturing care, it thrived, but when that care was withdrawn, the plant succumbed to the harsh elements. We, like that rose bush, depend upon the nurturing care and love of The Gardener.

Jesus said, "I am the true Vine, and My Father is the Gardener. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful" (John 15:1-2).


Before repotting that one remaining stem, I had pruned all the dead stems and leaves, so that life wouldn't be sucked out of the new growth. Real joy and fulfillment will evade us, if we don't allow God to cut away those things that drain the very life from us. It could be a habit, an addiction, a past hurt or abuse, a toxic relationship, pride, rebellion, willfulness, unforgiveness, bitterness, sorrow, or resentment. The list is endless of those things that steal our peace and joy and prevent us from trusting God to bring us to that place of being all that He created us to be, so that we may bear much fruit for His Kingdom. Apart from Christ, we cannot live the life that God ordained for us nor can we enjoy His promises. 


Those who are engrafted into the Vine (Jesus Christ) are part of God's vineyard (His Kingdom) that He continually watches over, prunes, and waters. "A pleasant vineyard, sing of it! I, the Lord, am its Keeper; every moment I water it. Lest anyone punish it, I keep it night and day (Isaiah 27:2-3). How wonderful it is to know that "night and day," God watches and protects those who belong to Him. He doesn't take a vacation and leave us vulnerable to the elements.


How can we become separated from the Vine? The Word warns us not to love the world or the things in the world. Adam and Eve were enraptured with the forbidden fruit that God had warned them not to eat. That fruit represents those worldly pleasures and false promises that allure and pull us away from the things of God. "If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world - the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions - is not from the Father but is from the world. The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever" (I John 2:15-17).

Jesus said, "Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me. I am the Vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me, you can do nothing" (John 15:4-5). Likewise, God is calling forth a remnant (warriors in prayer and action who represent the heart of Christ). They remain firmly attached to the Vine, arising from their mediocrity and declaring God's truth to the world.

How do we declare God's truth? We speak and live God's Word through the gifts and talents that He has placed within each person. However, pride and vanity cause some to believe that they are the creator of their talents and successes. They fail to realize that it is our Creator who gives all ability and talent to accomplish His will on earth. Whether we see our potential as great or small, all matter to God. "Now it is required that those who have been given a trust (a gift or talent) must prove faithful" (Corinthians 4:2 NIV). We must be good stewards of what God has given us.

You may ask, "What is my gifting?" Some are gifted in showing God's love in helping and serving. Others can do volunteer work or help a neighbor by donating their skills as a carpenter, bricklayer, technician, teacher, domestic engineer, doctor, musician, singer, writer, speaker, seamstress, artist, babysitter, custodian, computer specialist, electrician, etc. We all have a personal journey with Christ to share as we use our talents and skills to help build the Kingdom of God.


We are to manage our gifts and talents under the direction of God and know that these skills have been given to us for His purposes and not for our own. Therefore, in order for us to use our giftings, according to His will, we must abide in Him. Apart from Him, we can do nothing. If we do not remain in Him, then we are like a branch that is thrown away and withers. Those branches are picked up and thrown into the fire and burned. However, when we abide in Him and His Words abide in us, we may ask any request, and it will be done. This is to the Father's glory, that we bear much fruit, showing ourselves to be His disciples (John 15:1-8).

God keeps us in perfect peace if we keep our minds and hearts fixed on Him (Isaiah 26:3). How do we keep our minds on God and remain in Christ, who is the TRUE VINE? We read His Word, memorize scriptures, and speak His Word into our lives. God tells us that in everything, approach Him with prayer and supplication and thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6-7).  

God used a simple rose bush to show me the power of faith and the importance of remaining under the watchful care of our heavenly Father who is the Gardener and Caretaker of our lives. If we safely abide in the true Vine, we will become joyful and "faithful" advocates for the Kingdom of God.




Monday, November 23, 2015

GIVE THANKS

Thanksgiving is a time when we gather together with family and friends and enjoy a bountiful feast of our favorite holiday foods. This American tradition is in remembrance of the 101 Christian men, women, and children who made the perilous 66-day journey across the Atlantic Ocean, seeking religious freedom. Only fifty-one survived that harsh first year. In gratitude for God's provision, they shared their harvest table with the Indians who had taught them how to fish and grow corn. Interestingly, it was President Abraham Lincoln who, during the Civil War of 1863, wrote a proclamation to establish a  special day to give thanks to the Lord in perpetuity:

     The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the    blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come; others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart, which is habitually insensitive to the ever-watchful profidence of Almighty God.
     No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.
     I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. In testimony, whereof, I have hereunto, set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Lincoln understood the importance of I Thessalonians 5:18, which says, "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." Giving thanks acknowledges our trust and faith in our Creator. In other words, we say, "Lord, I may not understand, but I praise You in the midst of this circumstance, and I choose to trust and give thanks to You. For You are a good God."

In 1973, I was caught up in circumstances that were beyond my control. The country was going through a rapid and alarming downturn in the economy. I was a divorced, single mother of a three-year-old son. Multiple companies were firing huge numbers of employees. Rumors swirled that our company planned to fire several hundred people; however, God's peace was with me as I continued to trust and praise Him.

The day before Thanksgiving, my boss called me into his office. He relunctantly informed me that the company had determined my job was superfluous and that I was being terminated. I assured him that God had a plan for my life and that everything would be fine. Of course I didn't have a clue what that plan was, but I was confidant that God would make it known to me.

God often uses people to reveal His plans. I had a very good friend who kept urging me to return to college and finish my degree. My confidence level was at an all time low after having been in an abusive marriage. Yet I knew that with God, anything is possible. So, I pursued the possibility of taking classes, and within a very short period of time, God made a way. My tuition and books were paid through a scholarship fund, and I obtained employment through the campus work-study program, which allowed me to work around my classes. The Lord took care of every detail including daycare.

Psalm 37:25 says, "I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread." My son and I always had food to eat, and I was able to pay my bills each month.

God's provision is limitless. His storehouse never runs out to those who have surrendered their life to Him.

The Puritans had lost half of their comminity, yet they gave thanks to Almighty God for what they did have. President Lincoln, in the middle of a Civil War, called a nation to give thanks for God's blessings. There were many who viewed my firing as a disaster, but it was one of the greatest blessings in my life. It enabled me to complete my degree with honors and eventually teach college.

God wants to do great and marvelous things in our lives. All we have to do is trust, believe, give thanks, and receive. Proverbs 3:5 urges us to trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding. For the Lord says, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). God looks for those who will trust Him to meet their needs.

Every day is an opportunity to give thanks to God. Let us, at a time of such great uncertainty in our world, show our gratitude for what the Lord has done for us and place our hope and trust in Him whose storehouse is able to spill its abundance into our lives.

I pray that each of you will have a very blessed Thanksgiving.



Monday, November 16, 2015

GOD'S DISCIPLES


"The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing [Jesus] asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times" (Matthew 16:1-3).   This was a morning sky.

Jesus tells us to discern the signs of the times. He warned, " ...you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows..." (Matthew 24:6-8).

The world groans with violence and we wonder if life, as we once knew it, will ever return. America, a nation founded on godly principles, has slipped into a morally corrupt abyss that affects our credibility and strength as a nation.

According to a Gallup Poll, 78 percent of Christians are not happy with the moral decline of America, but what has that 78 percent done to make a difference? What was once considered morally wrong is now acceptable. The Word gives us a warning, "Woe (great sorrow) to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight!" (Isaiah 5:20).

Too many Christians have become apethetic towards their moral responsibilities in making a difference for God's Kingdom. Sadly, an astounding 42 percent of Christian voters stayed home from the voting polls in the last presidential election. If God's people want to see a genuine change that restores America to her original Christian roots and moral integrity, then their voices must be heard through their votes and prayers.

Christians can make a difference with their prayers, for we know that "the prayer of a [morally right] person is powerful and effective" (James 5:16). Prayer has the power to change the direction of this nation. God's Word says, "If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14). What are those "wicked ways?" Anything that opposes the Word of God.

People fear the future and struggle with the present. The hopeless are looking for hope, but where will they find it, unless Christians share the hope of Christ. When we open our hearts to the Holy Spirit's leadership and guidance, He provides those windows of opportunity, thus enabling us to become conduits of His transforming power, which then brings hope and healing to those who are hurting, broken, confused, and lost.

Sharing the Gospel is as simple as sharing the heart of Jesus with the heart of that person whom God places before us. Jesus said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this, all will know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another: (John 13:34-35). To have love for one another means that we do not want anyone to be separated from God. For that reason, as benefactor's of eternal life with Christ, we must share that gift of life with others.

The following scripture has settled deep within my heart: "If the watchman (Christian) sees [judgment] coming and does not [give warning], and the people are not warned, and the [judgment]comes and takes any peson from among them, he is taken away in his [sin]; but his blood I will require at the watchman's (Christian's) hand" (Ezekiel 33:6). This scripture motivates me to walk in faith and obedience when God orchestrates a divine appointment with a person, whether it is a stranger, neighbor, friend, or family member who needs an encouraging word, hope, and Truth.

Jesus commissioned us as His disciples (Christ followers) to go and make disciples of all the nations (cultures), baptizing them in the name of the Father. the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that the Lord commanded us (Matthew 28:19-20). Sadly, the Church has failed in its mission to evangelize. Few pastors evangelize from the pulpit and open their altars to those who want to receive the gift of eternal life. 

What is a disciple? A disciple is a follower, believer, admirer, devotee, student, supporter, advocate, proponent, and apologist. An apologist is a defender, supporter, advocate, champion, and campaigner for what that person believes. Is a Christian really a disciple if he or she is not an advocate, supporter, campaigner, and champion of Christ and His Word? Jesus is calling His followers to make disciples of others who have not heard the Gospel. That is how God's family grows. The work of evangelism can no longer be left solely to pastors, evangelists, and missionaries.

Last April, God awoke me at 2 a.m. and said, "Write this word, so all the world will see it." I sat at my computer, meditating on what He had just spoken. Then, like the ebb and flow of the oceans' tides, His words began to fill my mind. The result is in the following poem...a poem that will forever solidify my resolve to share the gospel in these last days:

Write This Word

I awake and Your voice speaks to my spirit,
"Write this word, so all the world will see it."
"What word, Lord?" as I wait with joyful anticipation.
"Listen, and I will guide you in this holy collaboration."
Thoughts begin to form, as truth flows across the pages.
Wonderment fills my heart, as I listen to the King of Ages.

"My Church runs from truth and plays a game of fates;
Sound the alarm now, before it is too late.
As in days of old when My prophets gave warning,
The signs are in motion that point to My coming.
Look to the sky for you know not the day or the hour
When I will appear in majesty and with great power.

Sound the alarm that many will receive;
Redemption is theirs if only they believe.
Shout, 'Hallelujah! The Lord God Almighty reigns!'
Tell them the enemy is defeated; God has broken their chains.
Church! Look up, for your Redeemer is nigh at the door.
You, who are my hands and feet, can play church no more.

Fear not, for I will give you words to boldly speak for Me.
I will lead and guide you as I did Moses through the Red Sea.
Be my watchman who stands vigil and cries aloud,
'The King is coming! Look! He is coming with the clouds.
The harvest is ripe; the sickle is poised ready
Every eye will see Him, even his enemies.

Again, I say, Church, awaken from your slumber;
The time has come to gather people in numbers.
People are lost, seeking and stumbling in the dark;
You have Truth that illuminates the darkest heart.
No longer can you rest and ignore the fate of others
For these, who are lost, are your sisters and your brothers."

Joy Bollinger
© 2015


Sunday, November 8, 2015

 DECEPTION

God is not human, that He should lie, not a human being, that He should change
His mind.
 Does He speak and then not act?
 Does He promise and not fulfill?
Numbers 23:19

My formative years were shaped around the philosophy that lying had its place, especially if a little "white lie" was told to avoid hurting someone. However, lying is part of our old fallen nature, before we surrendered our hearts and lives to Jesus Christ. We see that old nature in young children. Ask a child, whose face is a billboard for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, if they ate a chocolate bar, and their answer will be, "No." 

Children are told to tell the truth, but then, with all good and loving intentions, parents encourage them to believe what is not true. They may even create elaborate stories or explanations to answer a child's inquisitiveness. Desperate for their child's compliance, they might make promises that they don't plan to keep. Ironically,  parents try to discourage their child's bad behavior by telling an untruth while instilling fear, "If you lie, your nose will grow." 


Students will lie to their teachers about why they don't have their assignments prepared. Employees will lie about why they can't come to work that day. Patients will hide the truth from their doctors. Some will lie about their age, their weight and even about their past. The list of lies is endless; however, the Lord tells us that there are seven things that are an abomination to God: haughtiness, lying, murdering, plotting evil, eagerness to do wrong, a false witness, and sowing discord among the brethren (Proverbs 6:16-19).

There is nothing more devastating than to learn that the person we have trusted has lied, betrayed our confidences or has been living an unauthentic life. Unfortunately, we have all experienced the disappointment of being deceived by someone, whether it has been a friend, parent, spouse, family member, a politician, the clergy, or any other person in authority. Even a "white" lie is a deception that invalidates the integrity of the person who has lied.

What is a lie? The dictionary defines a lie as an untruth, falsehood, white lie, perjury, fabrication, falsification, deception, betrayal, made-up story, tale, half-truth, pretense, crookedness, exaggeration, fiction, evasiveness, and concealment. The verb form is to misinform, mislead, stretch the truth; hedge, evade, sidestep the issue, vacillate, trick, or cheat. According to those definitions, at one time or another, we have all lied. 

The Word tells us, Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator (Colossians 3:9-10). We are created in the image of God, who does not lie. If we have a relationship with all Truth (Jesus Christ), can we then justify any lie?

I must admit that as a child and as a young adult, I was very insecure, so in order to feel better about myself and to impress others, I would either embellish or make up a story. I was also very good at telling "white lies," erroneously considered a harmless or trivial lie. The bottom line is that a lie is a lie. Whether we tell a "white lie" or a mammoth lie, God doesn't look at the size of the lie; He looks at the sin.

When I first became a Christian, God began to reveal the importance of truthfulness in all things, because Christ is all Truth. Truthfulness became important, because I had experienced pain and disappointment from people who had called themselves Christians, yet they had lied, broken promises, betrayed confidences, stolen from me, and had harbored hidden sin. What they had really stolen was my ability to trust anyone...including God. After all, if I couldn't trust God's representatives, how could I trust Him? As a fledgling Christian, those betrayals and lies by fellow Christians were the most heartbreaking and painful. Today, it is not any less painful to be at the receiving end of a betrayal or lie.

Jesus knew the pain of betrayal. Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Though he realized that what he had done was wrong, he didn't repent and hung himself.

That same evening, Jesus said to Peter, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”  Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” (Matthew 26:34-35) Just as Jesus had foretold, Peter denied knowing Him three times (Matthew 26:69-74). Peter's unbearable grief and shame for his betrayal led him to repentance. After the Lord's resurrection, He met with His disciples and forgave and reinstated Peter to discipleship. Peter went on to become a mighty voice for the Kingdom of God as an apostle, preacher, and martyr. 

Psalm 55:11-14 records the pain and disappointment of betrayal by a friend: "If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; 
if a foe were rising against me, 
I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, [a man of God] my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
 at the house of God, 
as we walked about
 among the worshipers."

We are daily inundated by people who speak lies and make false promises to promote their deceptive agendas, whether they be personal agendas or national agendas that bring harm to others. Jesus tells us that the devil was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). In other words, to accept a lie as truth or to lie is to agree with the devil.

We know the spiritual aspect of why we lie, but why do humans give into the temptation to lie? Robert S. Feldman, Ph.D., a Fellow of both the American Psychological Association and Association for Psychological Science, examined lying and deception for over 25 years. When Dr. Phil asked him why people lie, he answered, "People lie because they can get away with it; because it works for them. It's a way to get along with other people. It's a way to control [their] world, and it's a way that [they] can use to make people do what [they] want them to do." He went on to say that men usually lie to make themselves look better and to build themselves up and that women tend to lie more to make others feel good or to make themselves feel good.      

Yes, we are human, and we sometimes find ourselves slipping into that tantalizing sin of lying, but God is faithful to forgive those who come to Him with a repentant heart. Repentance means to turn away from that particular behavior and not repeat it again and again. And mark my words; the enemy will continually tempt us into believing a lie or telling a lie. If Satan could craft a lie that could convince Adam and Eve to disobey God, when they had every good gift given to them, how much more vulnerable are we to his deceptions. I Peter 5:8 reminds us to be sober-minded and watchful, for our adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

As followers of Christ, we have been called to a higher standard and that is to emulate Jesus Christ. One day we will stand before our Lord and give an accounting of our lives. Before that day, we want to make sure that we have a clean slate. The following daily prayer is a good way to remain on the straight road of truth: Lord, I ask that You help me to be Your godly representative today, being careful to speak only what is truthful so that as Your child, I may bring honor to You.

We have all experienced the pain of betrayal and broken promises by both non-Christians and Christians. Fortunately, God will never betray us, for He is faithful to keep His Word. Jesus is recorded 78 times in the New Testament as saying, I tell you truth. The gospel of Matthew records 30 separate quotes of Jesus stating, I tell you the truth. Since Jesus is God, and it is impossible for God to lie, Jesus reassured those who would listen, that the words coming from His mouth were words of truth, unlike the Pharisees who used deceptive words to sway the people.

If you have been lied to and betrayed by a person or persons, then I encourage you to forgive and pray for them. Jesus set the standard for us as He hung, battered and beaten, on the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing." If Jesus could forgive in the midst of such horrific torture, pain, anguish, and betrayal, then who are we to withhold forgiveness? Forgiveness frees us from that unrelenting and gnawing pain of betrayal that niggles at our soul.

Father, I lift up (name) to you. You know the pain and disappointment and even the sorrow I have felt because (he/she), whom I had trusted, betrayed me. I repent for holding bitterness towards (him/her). I ask that you heal those broken areas of my life as I forgive (name). I ask that You bring (him/her) to a place of repentance. May (name) see the liberty and value in seeking Truth, for You are All Truth. It is in Jesus' name that I pray. Amen.

I encourage anyone who has lied about another person to repent and seek God in correcting the wrong that was done. God doesn't want those who are truly repentant to carry guilt for their actions, nor does He want the injured party to continue to suffer the consequences from that person's dishonesty. Trusting and seeking God's guidance for an appropriate solution will lead both to a place of healing and restoration.

Praise God that He is quick to forgive us of our sins when we repent, for it is in our repentance that we produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8). The reality is that as human beings, we have all, at one time or another, lied, deceived, embellished, and maybe betrayed another. Romans 3:23-24 tells us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. For that reason, those who would like to have the assurance that they are in right standing before God, I encourage you to pray the following prayer:

Lord, I come before you with a repentant heart. I realize that any form of a lie is a sin. Please forgive me and help me each day to be aware of any untruth that may be poised on my tongue or any behaviors or thoughts that are not in keeping with Your will. I want to live an authentic, godly life before You and others. My desire, from this day forward, is to live a life of truth, for when I walk in truth, I walk with You. It is in the name of Your Son Jesus, that I pray.  Amen.

God's Word tells us that murderers, the cowardly, the unbelieving, the [sinful], the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars will have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death (Revelation 21:8 NKJV). But through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, we have been given this wonderful hope, that those who repent and turn from sin and declare with their mouth, "Jesus is Lord" and believe in their heart that God raised Him from the dead, they will surely be saved (Romans 10:9).

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think (meditate) about such things" (Philippians 4:8).