Fig Tree 5

Romans 8:13-14

I have been working for a year to improve my health. Tired of feeling tired and overweight (and on the advice of my doctor) I changed my dietary habits and have been eating more salads and vegetables, cutting out unhealthy, fatty foods. Because of this I am feeling much more energetic and healthier.

On Super Bowl Sunday I allowed myself to indulge in some fun foods – chowing down on chips and fatty meats. When I was done I felt sick.

It was very clear to me that if I went back to my old eating habits I would go back to feeling bad again. I need to keep avoiding those things that are not good for me.

Such good advice goes beyond eating. In his letter to the Romans Paul gives advice on spiritual health. What will happen if we live by the sinful nature? What happens if we put the sinful nature to death? What is said of those who live by the Spirit?

The Lenten journey is a journey toward perfection in Christ. The common practice of giving something up for Lent is an attempt to deny the sinful nature of our human side. We are to choose something to give up that we enjoy but that is not good for us. In so doing we are rejecting the sinful life.

In its place we should turn to God. When we find ourselves craving or desiring what we have denied ourselves we should go to the Lord in prayer and have the Spirit give us strength. This is a practice in denying the sinful nature and replacing it with a life that follows the Spirit.

The step must be made, however, from the tangible, real world into the spiritual world. Lent is more than just abandoning chocolate for forty days. It is a journey to develop the spiritual ability to resist our temptation to sin and become more devout and strong in our faith. It is less about food and more about the soul.

As we draw near to Easter let us work to walk in the Spirit, becoming children of God, and defy the control of our sinful nature.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you put to death the sinful nature?

Fig Tree 4

James 5:16

Water is a simple thing that we encounter every day. We are refreshed by it when we bathe in it or drink it. It falls gently as rain from the heavens. And it is easily diverted, made to flow this way or that by simply placing our hand in a stream.

And yet for all of its simplicity water is a powerful thing. It is the constant and persistent flowing of water that digs its way through dirt and rock. It was water that carved out the magnificent Grand Canyon. Over time and with effort water created something majestic.

Our faith may seem like a simple thing as well. But James gives us advice on how to employ our faith. What are we to do? How is prayer described?

When we are faced with the troubles of life and the uncertainty of all those things going on around us it is easy to feel helpless. But we can have faith in the darkest of times. That faith can give us hope and ability.

If we have faith we can go to our Lord in prayer and ask for the ability to do the good we ought to do. We can ask for the ability to become better people, more dedicated Christians, stronger believers. We simply need to go to the Lord in prayer.

And what good does prayer do? Prayer is powerful and effective. If we will be righteous people, having faith and confidence in the presence and power of our God, and confidence in our own faith we can accomplish the impossible.

Through prayer we can move forward in our journey through the wilderness of Lent. We can move on toward that wonderful celebration of God’s grace embodied in the resurrection. We can become stronger in our beliefs and more able to employ our faith to do good work for God’s kingdom.

We must learn to pray with confidence. We must learn to pray with faith. And if we have genuine faith we will be able to move the mountains of troubles and challenges to make a better life for ourselves and others.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you be reminded of the power you have in your own prayers?

Fig Tree 3

Hebrews 11:39-40

Going through my mother’s belongings lately got my sister and I remembering all the years of our family together and all the work and fun and activities that our parents were involved in. They had good lives together. We had good lives as children and young adults. And all that has been done has led to the good lives we have now.

They worked and saved to provide a good home for themselves and their children. Bu their work and their efforts also provided for their grandchildren, even those that they may never have seen.

The same is true of our faith in God. We can’t always see what is coming. We must live our lives in faith and confidence, trusting to the ultimate goodness that waits for us all.

The author of Hebrews goes through a lengthy account of faithful believers in Chapter 11. He starts with the statement that “faith is being sure of what we hope for.” After talking about so many faithful people, what comment is offered? What are we waiting for?

At first the comment that these faithful believers had not received what had been promised can be discouraging. How can we be faithful if God is not going to fulfill His promises?

But the statement is about the big picture of God’s kingdom. Those who were faithful were indeed blessed by God. They did receive God’s promises. But none of us have reached that ultimate last day, that day when God’s kingdom will come to earth.

We are called to have faith. We are called to live a life of confidence in the unseen, the unseen powers of God, the unseen fulfillment of God’s promises to all of us. Christ’s return may be far beyond the reach of our lives, yet we must press forward in confident faith.

Our journey through Lent is a journey toward perfection, a journey of better and stronger faith. As we draw near to Easter let us recall that we are drawing nearer to that “something better” talked about in Hebrews.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can give you the strength to continue in faith in God’s kingdom?

Fig Tree 2

Mark 11:22-25

The life of a faithful Christian can be compared to the ripples of a pond. There are so many who are not aware of the impact that a life of faith can have on so many others. Just as the tiniest of stones can disturb the smooth surface of a pond and send ripples out to the farthest edges, so the actions done in faith can affect those around us.

But we need to act with strong conviction, allowing our faith to be strong and to have deep impact. What does Jesus instruct? What examples does he give? What responsibility is laid on each of us as believers?

The lesson from the fig tree is divided into two parts. First, Jesus encounters a tree that has no fruit. Later he returns and the disciples see that the tree has withered. The first lesson this encounter teaches is about the quality of our faith. The second lesson is about the strength of our faith.

The disciples were amazed that the curse Jesus had uttered was made real. The tree he cursed withered and died. Was Jesus trying to demonstrate his power to his followers? Was he warning them that he could get angry – then, boy, would they be in trouble!?

Jesus was demonstrating his power, but not to impress the others. He was demonstrating the power of faith, the same power that anyone who believes may have.

We so often overlook that. We have power. We have authority. Jesus has given it to us, and it is up to us to employ that power and use it for the good of the kingdom of God.

I believe the expression about faith moving mountains is more than just an expression. I believe it accurately describes our ability IF we truly have faith. The actions of the faithful can cause miracles to happen, if we simply trust with confidence in our Lord and our own faith.

As we journey to Easter we must remember what treasures of faith have been given to us. As believers, as followers of Christ, we have the power to curse and to bless. We have the power to do incredible works for God. We just must have the faith and confidence to do God’s work.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What good works need your strong faith and confidence in God to see success?

Fig Tree 1

Mark 11:13-14

Rev. Bill Verhelst told us of a church where he had been assigned in Michigan, a large church, very old and very ornate with many, many rooms inside. The congregation at one time had been at about 2,000 members, but when he was at the church there were only 300 people. Many of the rooms of the church were no longer used and, in fact, were filled with chairs.

When Rev. Verhelst asked the church why they had so many chairs, they explained that the chairs were from the days when the congregation was large and busy. They held onto them because some day the people might come back.

The church looked good on the outside, but was not alive on the inside.

During Holy Week Jesus had an encounter with a fig tree and used it to teach. How did the fig tree appear? What was wrong with the fig tree? What did Jesus do?

This obscure encounter is one of those events that most people seem to overlook or choose not to deal with. But Jesus and the fig tree can teach us two valuable lessons. The second lesson is about the strength of our faith, which we will address later.

The first lesson this encounter teaches is about the quality of our faith. The fig tree is a symbol of the person who would be a follower of Christ. As believers we are called to produce the fruit of good deeds for the kingdom of God, and so we are like a fruit-bearing tree.

This fig tree, however, has only the appearance of a thriving and productive plant. Jesus was hungry – he desired something from the tree. The tree looked good from a distance – it was full of leaves.

It was when Jesus came closer that he saw the reality of that tree. It looked good, but it was unproductive. Because of that Jesus cursed the tree.

In this time of Lent we must examine our own faith. Are we able to produce good fruit for the kingdom of God? Our Lord and Master hungers for our ministries and our work to produce good fruit, but we may be good Christians in appearance only. As we journey to Easter we must truly evaluate the quality of our faith.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What are you doing to produce good fruit for the kingdom of God?