Category Archives: Inspired Tuesdays

The Humble Branch

I love this old saying:

“It is the laden bough that hangs low, and the most fruitful Christian who is the most humble.”

In other words, the more fruit a tree branch has on it, the lower it will bend toward the ground from the weight of the fruit. Similarly, when the fruit of the Spirit grows in our lives, it should make us humble.

Naturally, as you grow in Christ, you may begin to recognize in yourself some of the characteristics described in Galatians 5:22-23a—“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…” In fact, you should see these traits in your life, as should those around you.

What we all need to guard ourselves from is the temptation to compare ourselves to others: “Hmm, she’s really impatient and rude. She’s not a very good Christian! And he has absolutely no self-control. God should discipline him. And that whole family is so miserable all the time—how ungrateful!”

If the good that people see in our lives doesn’t come from a humble heart that recognizes it has nothing to offer except what God Himself puts there, then it’s not genuine. It’s like taking a hot glue gun and attaching store-bought plastic pears and apples to a tree. Deceivingly attractive perhaps (though sometimes very obviously fake), but horrible—if not dangerous—to eat!

You know what makes a low-bending branch full of fruit so wonderful? Its fruit can nourish and delight those who come across it! What would be the point of being loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled… if it didn’t benefit and bless the people around you?

I’ve always found it curious that humility isn’t listed among the fruit of the Spirit. Perhaps this concept of the “laden bough” has something to do with it. We can be intentional about developing the nine characteristics Paul listed in Galatians. However, I’m not sure we can make an intellectual decision to be humble. That must come as a result of maturing, of being so unwaveringly connected to Christ that we produce spiritual fruit as easily as we breathe.

At that point, I believe, we truly understand that the “fruit of Ann” or “fruit of Jimmy” or “fruit of Jane” is useless and undesirable, but the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit living in us is what really transforms lives. The humility must then come naturally—unrehearsed, unplanned and without any conceit.

May God bless you fruitful branches this summer!

Ann-Margret Hovsepian

P.S. A shorter version of this devotion is found in my colouring book Restore My Soul. Check it out!

 

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Is Christ at Home in Your Heart?

 

MHCHNearly 70 years ago, Robert Boyd Munger wrote a challenging meditation about Christian discipleship called My Heart, Christ’s Home (click on the title or image to open the full text, which is only six pages long) and it is estimated that more than 10 million have read this book. I read it for the first time about 15 years ago and it had a great impact on my life.

Imagine Jesus coming to the home of your heart when you receive Him as your Saviour. As He moves from room to room, what does He see? In the library, are you embarrassed to let Him see what is on the shelves?

In the dining room, what’s on the menu? What appetites do you try to satisfy there? Do you allow Christ to replace your secular fare with His soul-satisfying food and drink?

In the workroom, does He find that you are using your gifts and talents for His glory or are your tools rusting and collecting dust?

Do you even allow Him into the rec room where you go for fun and leisure activities? Is it a place you would feel comfortable inviting Him to hang out with you?

What about the bedroom? Are your relationships pure and godly? Will you consider His guidelines, keeping in mind that He gives them out of His love for you and not to stifle you?

Is there anything rotting in your hall closet that you’ve hidden away? Will you let Him clean it out?

The living room is the ideal place to meet with Him for fellowship. But do you visit with Him regularly, talking and sharing or does He sit there waiting for you to make some time for Him?

I love Munger’s interpretation of what Jesus might say:

“The trouble is that you have been thinking of the quiet time of Bible study and prayer as a means for your own spiritual growth. This is true, but you have forgotten that this time means something to me also. Remember, I love you. At a great cost I have redeemed you. I value your fellowship. Just to have you look up into my face warms my heart. Don’t neglect this hour if only for my sake. Whether or not you want to be with me, remember I want to be with you. I really love you!”

Jesus may be your Saviour—but have you truly made Him Lord of your life, of your heart…His home?

Ann-Margret 

 

Rending and Mending

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA common joke among quilters is that we take perfectly good fabric, cut it up, and then sew it back together again. Yet, as much as quilters often cringe at the thought of ripping into beautiful fabric, we can take that bold step because we know that final project—a mosaic of many pieces of torn and cut material—is far more valuable than the original “whole.” And the wonderful thing about a quilt is that not only is the final product a treasure, but each patchwork piece is special and necessary.

Although “The Teacher” stated in Ecclesiastes 3:7 that there is “…a time to tear and a time to mend,” he probably wasn’t literally referring to quilting or sewing—there are other analogies we could use to describe separation and union—but he knew that everything on this finite planet has its time and place.

If we take the verse literally, we might think of times we acknowledged a worn-out bed sheet had served its purpose and then ripped it into squares to use as rags. Perhaps we’ve had to let out a skirt that mysteriously shrank while we weren’t paying attention. At other times we may have had to mend socks, repair a fallen hem or sewn an entire project. How many of us have ripped up old love letters or shredded confidential documents? Or rushed to the hospital for stitches after getting a bad cut? At one point or another, we’ve all decided to take something apart or to fix something (or have it fixed by someone else).

Similar to the vows marrying couples make to each other, the opposites listed in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 remind us that real life brings change and we must be ready for both good and bad. Who doesn’t dream of a life with no pain, no messiness, no fear? It would be much easier if the good things in our lives remained intact—our health, finances, relationships, favourite possessions. We can look forward to such blissful existence in heaven but, for now, we must accept the tearing and mending that happens on a regular basis.

When we find ourselves in circumstances where pain and blessings come at the same time, or when we must make a choice between two good opportunities or two people we love, it’s easy to feel torn. Unfortunately, we can’t avoid every situation that involves tearing. There are times we must let it happen, trusting God to give us the strength we need to endure the pain, believing that after the rending comes the mending. What is torn may not necessarily be put back together, but our hearts can be healed.

Ann-Margret

 

You Can’t Clean with Filthy Rags

“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)

Can I assume we all enjoy living in a clean house? What might be less certain is how many of us enjoy cleaning our homes. Ironically, the more we avoid cleaning, the more cleaning we have to do when we reach the point that we can no longer ignore the dirt. . . or somebody is coming over and we couldn’t possibly let them see things less than perfect. Now we’ve got two problems: a big ugly mess and the daunting task of cleaning it up.

Conversely, some of us may work hard at keeping our homes clean (and Pinterest-worthy!) because it makes us feel good about ourselves, not necessarily for the sheer pleasure of having beautiful surroundings.

Some time ago, God showed me that this was my approach toward righteousness. Perhaps you can relate. We know it’s important to be pure and holy and we desire it because it makes us feel good, but we don’t necessarily pursue it for the right reasons or go about it the right way.

At our church Bible study one day, someone pointed out that righteousness and self-righteousness are not the same thing. Ironically, my reaction to that was self-righteous: I thought, “I’m not self-righteous. I’m painfully aware of my own sins and shortcomings!” However, I was confusing self-righteousness with arrogance or pride. It struck me later that self-righteousness is not thinking I’m righteous; rather, it’s trying to be righteous on my own strength and wisdom, doing it as a duty, or works.

Isaiah 65

The Bible warns us that our own righteousness is like “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). . .not even fit for cleaning our homes with! Scripture has many verses about delighting in the Lord, about finding our joy in Him and in His righteousness, not in our own. If we delight in the Lord and grow in our relationship with Him, He will make us righteous in a way that no amount of discipline and hard work ever could.

Ann-Margret

Dreadfully Busy! (Really?)

If you’re anywhere near my age (or if you have kids), you might be familiar with this old VeggieTales “Silly Song”:

I’m busy, busy, dreadfully busy!
You’ve no idea what I have to do.
Busy, busy, shockingly busy…

I can relate to being “dreadfully busy” but, sadly, I must admit that I can also relate to the last words of the chorus: “Much, much too busy for you!” Please tell me it’s not just me.

But, come on now. . . we are legitimately busy, aren’t we? People just don’t understand! We have work deadlines to meet. We have family commitments—our children or spouses or parents need and expect us to do certain things for them. There are committee meetings to attend and weddings/showers/funerals to go to (not to mention shop for). We have to catch up on our housework, our bill payments, our laundry, our yard work, our correspondence!  Did I mention sleep and going to the hair salon and grocery shopping and walking the dog and picking up the dry cleaning? And (cough, cough) Facebook?

Stop!

Breathe.

When did we get caught up in this whirlwind of activity? When did we start believing that unless we get all these things done—and well—we’re either going to be a big failure or we’re going to be unhappy?

No wonder we don’t have time to visit and sit with an elderly or sick person.

Or don’t we?

No wonder we can’t attend more than one church meeting per week.

Or do we just think we can’t?

No wonder we can’t find more than a few minutes each day to read our Bibles and pray.

Or can we?

Believe me, I’m pointing my fingers at myself here, too. The problem is not that we don’t have enough time, nor that we have too much to do. God has given us all 24 hours each day. He has also blessed us with opportunities, either at work or with our families, to do certain things and we should take advantage of them. So what is the problem?

I believe we’re doing things backwards. We’re not tithing our time. What I mean is, we’re not first scheduling in the important things in our lives and making the rest of the stuff fit around them. We’re trying to fit the important things around the other stuff. It doesn’t work!

Or. . . hmmmm. . . perhaps we think the wrong things are important?

Why don’t we take some time right now to submit ours calendars and agendas to God? Maybe we won’t find ourselves so “dreadfully busy” anymore!

Ann-Margret

The Bondage of Duplicity

Sitting your kids down for a talk, preparing a lesson, writing a sermon or standing up in front of a crowd is child’s play compared to practicing what you preach. Parents, teachers, pastors: Am I right? Most of our struggles in living out what we believe, even as “mature” Christians, stem not from a lack of understanding of the truth but from a lack of conviction about it.

Several years ago, I spoke to the women at my church about being single-minded Christians, about inviting simplicity into our lives. A week later, I caught myself playing tug-of-war solitaire as I tried to figure out how to approach a couple of situations in my life. I felt torn between choices that all seemed good and I couldn’t decide which path to follow. I heard myself praying, “God, I don’t even know what I want!”

A moment later, Matthew 6:33 came to mind:

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

The lights went on in my mind as I recognized that I was ailing from the type of double-mindedness I had been teaching others about. I felt anxious because I was, as the old proverb goes. . .

rabbit

I felt stuck. I thought I had to be control of every aspect of my life. In fact, there was only one simple thing I needed to focus on: God and His will for me.

That doesn’t mean we don’t have the free will to make choices but, if we feel trapped in a dilemma, it’s probably because we’re trusting our own wisdom rather than His. James 1:5-8 invites us to ask God for wisdom, which He grants readily and generously. That passage also warns us, however, to ask without doubting. . .without being double-minded. We see the same warning about double-mindedness in James 4:8.

Richard J. Foster, a Christian theologian and author in the Quaker tradition, uses the term duplicity: “Simplicity is freedom. Duplicity is bondage. Simplicity brings joy and balance. Duplicity brings anxiety and fear.”

In Matthew 6:24, Jesus makes the message even clearer, pointing out that we cannot serve two masters. We can’t say we worship God and then make idols of our wealth, our relationships, our careers or our accomplishments. We can’t say we’re committed to Christ and then put all our energy into selfish, self-pleasing pursuits. We can’t say we trust God with our future and then do things to manipulate it. We can’t say we love God above all else and then allow distractions into our lives that take our attention and time away from Him.

Many of us believe we can escape the stress of information overload, busy schedules and unhealthy habits if we revolutionize our lifestyles into simpler ones. However, this is almost impossible to achieve on our own because we live in a broken world; as Foster says, we are “trapped in a maze of competing attachments. One moment we make decisions on the basis of sound reason and the next moment out of fear of what others will think of us.” When people lack a divine Centre, their need for security drives them into an insane attachment to things.

“We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic…because it has completely lost touch with reality. We crave things we neither need nor enjoy. We buy things we do not want to impress people we do not like. It is time we awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick.” (Foster)

There are practical ways we can achieve simplicity in our lives, but asceticism is not the answer, nor is it biblical, though there is clear and strong teaching against greed and materialism. What is the correct, biblical balance? Asceticism is “severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons.” Simplicity, in contrast, places possessions in proper perspective and rejoices in the gracious provision from the hand of God. (See Philippians 4:12, Hebrews 13:5, 1 Peter 5:2.)

Remember: It may be possible to have it all, but not all at the same time (and, besides, where would you put it all, or when would you have time to enjoy it all?) You’re better off pursuing the best that God has for you than chasing after things that offer no real value.

Reflection Questions

  1. Who or what in your life distracts you from your relationship with God?
  2. What are some concerns that occupy your mind and heart on a regular basis?
  3. In what areas of your life do you worry about what others think? (e.g. your appearance, your social status, your material possessions, your job, etc.)
  4. How would your life change if you cared only about what God thinks of you and your choices?
  5. If you were single-mindedly focused on God’s will for you, what changes do you think He would ask you to start making in your life?

Ann-Margret

How Thirsty Are You?

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6)

Psalm 42_1

Some years ago, I was doing a personal Bible study of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 to 7) and found it enriching to go through that Scripture text slowly, chewing  on each verse rather than just reading it all quickly and coming away with a mere taste of the message within.

The study guide I was using, Mocha on the Mount by Sandra Glahn (a friend who is also an editor I wrote for a couple of times), asked a provocative question when we got to Matthew 5:6 (see above). Glahn encouraged the reader to think about the last time she was hungry or thirsty. Then she challenged: “In terms of intensity, what’s the difference between someone who would like to be righteous and someone who hungers and thirsts for righteousness?”

Wow—I had never thought of it that way! Most of my life I have been satisfied in knowing that I would like to be righteous, that holiness is important to me, that I try to be a good Christian who pleases her Lord.

Think about it for a moment: hungering and thirsting for righteousness? Do we even understand what that means? When we read Psalm 42:1 (see graphic above), do we stop long enough to remember that when a deer has spent the day running from wolves, lions or bears, she desperately needs the refreshment of water?

Is that the kind of thirst we have for God, for His Word, for righteousness? Are we preoccupied, even distracted, by our desire to be holy and pure and righteous? Are we consumed by the need to be close to God and to be filled and transformed by His Spirit?

I don’t know about you, but I frequently find it easy to give greater attention to earthly and self-seeking priorities and desires. How many of us walk around mentally balancing our cheque books, planning menus, checking items off our to-do lists and fantasizing about our next vacation, shopping expedition or sports event?

Those things are not bad. But do they satisfy us? Rarely.

“What would it look like for you to be passionate about  righteousness? How might your schedule change? Your spending priorities? Your attitudes?”
(Glahn)

I encourage you to memorize Matthew 5:6 and to repeat it to yourself daily. God promises we will be satisfied if we hunger for righteousness.

Ann-Margret

 

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