Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Be the Olive Tree

But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God;
I trust in God's unfailing love for ever and ever.
I will praise you forever for what you have done;
in your name I  will hope, for your name is good.
I will praise you in the presence of your saints. (Psalms 52:8-9)

This verse is planted in the middle of one of those psalms whose composition was clearly provoked through some difficult trial of the psalmist in which some powerful, deceitful person was weilding influence.  The psalmist sees injustice, imagining the justice that God himself will carry out against this man once all is said and done.  At the end, he refocuses himself, as we all must do, and ends his poem with this declaration of faithfulness.
I became curious about the olive tree after reading this passage.  There are some things that probably everyone in Israel knows about olive trees that many of us do not, and so I wanted to investigate.  It was encouraging, so I thought I would share.

Cool Stuff About Olive Trees

1. Olive trees can live for thousands of years, continuing to give fruit! 

2.Olive trees can survive great hardship--even a fire that destroys the tree above ground will not destroy the root.  Within days after a fire, an olive tree can send up new shoots.  Talk about resilience.

3.Olive trees can be killed by over-watering.  Apparently, babying an olive tree can produce disease that will end it's life.

Cool Stuff About People Who Plant Themselves in the House of God

1. We can give fruit for many years, producing an impressive yield.  It is the location that makes the difference.  In the house of God, the soil is just right, and when we live there, the fruit follows.

2.We can survive great hardship when our roots are deep in the House of God.  You can't grow roots where you only sit once a week.  We have to live there.  But if we do, we can expect there to be shoots coming up, even after the greatest trials imaginable.  Olive trees with deep roots are survivors, and so are those who make the Almighty their home.

3.Our growth can be stunted if life gets too easy, and we can even spiritually die.  Have you ever seen a person for whom life is too easy?  When things are too easy, we seem to be able to create problems to obsess over.  We weren't created for ease, but for God's pleasure, and conflict and diffuculties are His pruning tools. 

I want to be the olive tree.  Olives are delicious(I grew up eating them as a little Italian-American), and the oil that comes from them is really good for you. They are strong and durable, showing off their best quality in the face of trouble--their resilience.  They were not created as something delicate, but as something enduring.  I want to send up shoots even in the most difficult season, signaling to all around that I WILL survive, even when the fire or pruning has been severe.  I will accept that an easy life could very well be the death of me, and so I will accept  the turbulence of my life, whatever it may be, knowing it is serving the purpose of keeping me very close to the Savior, with deep roots in the house of God.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Standing on the Promises

A friend of mine recently raised the issue of Christians who claim O.T. promises that, with a closer reading of the text, cannot really be claimed by a Christian in Ohio. For example, back in the 80’s, it was very in vogue to claim the promises of Deuteronomy 28. In so doing, people never mention the curses for disobedience in the same chapter, nor the fact that to receive many of the promises one had to be “in the land” of Israel. Having said that, I don't want to squash to faith of anyone who is looking for the good that our Heavenly Father has for us. So, here's a defense for claiming a few of the really good promises.

1) Gal 3:16 states, “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. (NIV)” If I am Part of Abraham's seed, then I am heir to his promises. Ephesians 1:4-6 says that we were chosen (in Christ) to be adopted as sons and daughters. Even though I am not a Jew, I am part of God’s “Chosen people” by the rights of adoption through the legal payment of the Messiah. Legally adopted children have the full rights of heirs. If I am adopted as one of God’s sons, even though adopted, I am no less an heir.

2) Romans 11:17-24 explains how Gentiles (of which I am one) are grafted into Israel.  If I am grafted into the original tree, then I am heir to the promises.

3) Some promises are very specific about place, time, and the activities that one must do in order to appropriate the promise; e.g., Deut. 28. Others are more general and serve paradigmatically as expressions of a positive relationship. For example, promises that flow from God's character may be appropriated by anyone at any time because God does not change. 2 Chron. 7:14 (which Joe mentioned above) occurs in time, but Solomon's prayer is intentionally irrespective of time, as is God's answer. While Solomon's prayer is specific about place, God's answer is noticeably devoid of a place reference. The only limiters in God's answer are 1) those who make up "my people" and 2) the attitude of those people. Again, since I have been grafted/adopted into that people/family and am an heir to the promises provided by the Messiah, the only limiting factor is my attitude. The promise is a clear reflection of God's character. It will never change. If I humble myself and pray, if I seek His face and turn from my wicked ways, He will hear from heaven...

4) Again, in the vein of O.T. promises that are based on God’s unchanging character, there are promises that may be appropriated by God’s children by virtue of His role of father. Matthew 7:11 states, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

There are some who mis-claim promises, rewriting them to suit their selfish desires; but they are a small number compared to the millions who do not know of (or do not appropriate) the glorious "riches of Christ Jesus" that come with a restored relationship to God and the joy of being grafted into His people and adoption as His child.

Two more scriptures to consider:
Ro 15:8-9 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.”

2Co 1:20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.