01 Aug 2017
The Seeds I’m Sowing
“There are long stretches of darkness and invisibility and silence that separate planting and reaping.”
The Spanish ship Our Lady of Atocha sank in 1622, just off the Florida Keys. She was carrying a fortune in copper, silver, gold, gems and jewelry when she went down—which explains the vigorous court battles over rights to the wreck that have ensued since its discovery in 1985.
Among the team that examined items recovered from the wreck was an archaeologist.
In the sand that had served as the ship’s ballast, he discovered a handful of seeds. To keep them from drying out, he placed them in a cup of fresh water. To his astonishment just a few days later, he discovered the seeds had sprouted leaves.
Seeds are magnificent things! Perhaps this is why Jesus often uses them as an example in teaching on the kingdom of God. Consider these examples:
“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head” (Mark 4:26-28).
“What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade” (Mark 4:30-32).
In both of these parables, Jesus uses a seed to illustrate the way the kingdom of God germinates in people’s lives—the seed is first planted. By inference, our role is sowing seeds.
Once planted, the seed begins to grow. That part is God’s work.
I’m caught by the phrase “the seed sprouts and grows, though [the one who planted the seed] does not know how.”
This can be a discouraging reality for the sower—for a long stretch of time we may not see anything resembling life, growth or fruit.
It takes many months for pumpkin seeds to yield a pumpkin, many years for an acorn to become an oak.
It’s often a very involved process, but all the while God is at work.
The apostle Paul understood his sowing among the people of Corinth in this light: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6).
He was confident in God’s ability and faithfulness to bring the work to completion: “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
Our role is to sow seeds … and trust.
My prayer for this week – Father, what spiritual seeds am I planting? At home? At work? Among my friends? Will you reassure me you are at work in and through the seeds I’m planting, even when I don’t see results? May I be faithful in sowing—as you are faithful in harvest!
25 Jul 2017
How’s Your Schedule?
“Our decision to close on Sunday was our way of honoring God and of directing our attention to things that mattered more than our business.” –S. Truett Cathy, Founder Chick-fil-a
A long time ago, in a kingdom far, far away, a king selected a “fool” to entertain him and make him laugh when he was depressed. He gave the fool a golden scepter and told him, “If you ever meet a bigger fool than you are, pass this rod on to him.”
Years passed with the fool in the king’s service. Then, when the king was very old and nearing death he called for the fool to make him laugh one last time.
“I’m preparing to leave on a long journey,” the king said.
The fool asked, “Have you made preparations for your arrival at your destination?”
“No. I’ve been far too busy,” replied the king.
The fool handed the golden scepter to the king, saying, “My king, you are a greater fool than I.”
We live in a day when people wear “busy” like a badge of honor. Ask someone how they’re doing and more often than not they answer, “Busy!”
And we affirm this—the typical reply is usually, “Well, busy is good!” or “It’s better than the alternative!”
Is chronic busyness really a good thing?
Nothing is wrong with hard work, pouring ourselves wholeheartedly into what we are doing—the Proverbs are full of such admonitions. But we do need to rest. God rested, and directed us to keep the Sabbath as a day of rest:
“Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed” (Exodus 23:12).
His Word reveals the folly of a life burning the candle at both ends:
“In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves” (Psalm 127:2).
Jesus even offers us an invitation:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
It’s a simple truth: Too much of even a good thing, becomes a bad thing, if it keeps you from the best thing.
How busy am I? Am I neglecting times of rest? Am I spending so much time and effort on the good things I’m missing out on the best things?
My prayer this week – Lord, I thank you I am fearfully and wonderfully made. You made me, and you know I need rest—my physical, emotional, and spiritual life needs it. Will you help me know when and where to say “no” in my schedule? Will you help me to recoup a Sabbath’s rest each week, to reorder priorities and to redeem my time?
18 Jul 2017
The Heart Speaks
“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”
An elderly lady approached a stock clerk in the produce section of the grocery store and asked, “Son, can I purchase a half-head of lettuce?”
The clerk replied, “Are you kidding? They grow as full heads, and that’s how we sell them.”
The woman persisted, “But I’ve been shopping here for thirty years—couldn’t you make an exception?”
The clerk told her he would go ask the store’s manager.
He found the manager in the front of the store and began, “Some crazy old lady asked if I could sell her a half-head of lettuce!” Noticing the look of panic on the manager’s face, he turned to see the woman had followed, and was standing directly behind him as he spoke. The clerk continued, “And this nice lady, right here, is asking if she can buy the other half.”
Our tongue can get us in trouble!
“The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:5-6).
James didn’t mince words. He describes a variety of wild animals man can tame, contrasting, “but no human being can tame the tongue” (James 3:8).
But taming the tongue isn’t so much a matter of the tongue as it is a matter of the heart. Jesus teaches: “The things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them” (Matthew 15:18).
A first step is to examine what comes out of our mouths. What does it reveal?
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water” (James 3:9-12).
When was the last time I said something I regret? What was behind it? What do I need to confess? Who should I offer an apology?
The next step is to pray. This week, let’s echo the prayers of the Psalmist.
My prayer this week –
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).
“Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely” (Psalm 139:4).
“Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3).
“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
11 Jul 2017
You Can Rest Assured
“There’s no sight like seeing the light from Calvary kiss a human face as it fills the heart with the assurance of Divine forgiveness.” –Gipsy Smith
Recall the old schoolyard method of picking teams? All the kids who wanted to play lined up, waiting, hoping to be selected? The captains of each team took turns—first this kid was selected, then that kid, then another, and another.
With each turn you weren’t chosen, you feared you might be standing there forever and wondered, “What’s wrong with me?”
If someone doesn’t want you on his or her team, it’s a painful experience.
Your self-esteem and self-confidence can take a tremendous blow.
How about a little boost? Your God wants you! He selected you out of the crowd! He loves you and chose you to be his child! Let the apostle Paul tell you:
“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves” (Ephesians 1:4-6).
We didn’t have to do anything to merit his choosing. In fact, there is nothing we could have done!
The gospels include the story of a young man who approached Jesus and asked, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16)
The question: What must I do?
Consider what Jesus didn’t say in answering him.
He didn’t say, “Bow your head and say the sinner’s prayer.”
He didn’t say, “Read your Bible, and go to church every Sunday.”
He didn’t say, “Don’t drink, smoke or chew—or go out with girls who do!”
No, Jesus answers, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17). The young man was confused. He believed he’d done this to the best of his ability. Yet, he had no assurance he’d done enough.
Doing—even when it’s done to the best of our ability—will always leave us insecure.
Have I done enough? Have I done it long enough? Have I done it well enough? How can I be assured? You can’t. As long as it’s about what you do, you’ll always be lacking assurance.
Here’s the good news: It’s not about what we do. It’s about what God has done!
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-6).
God’s love! God’s mercy! God’s grace! When we understand it’s about what God has done—then we can truly rest assured.
My prayer this week – Gracious Heavenly Father, thank you for this blessed assurance: By your grace alone I am saved. May my acts of devotion not be attempts to impress you or earn your favor, but rather reflect my love and thankfulness for what you’ve done!
04 Jul 2017
What Do They See?
“Practicing the Golden Rule is not a sacrifice; it is an investment.” –Anonymous
A young man attending a conservative Bible College was encouraged by his faculty advisor, “Never act without a Bible verse to justify your actions.”
Then he met a beautiful co-ed. They began to spend a lot of time together. Each night he walked her back to her dorm after supper.
He desperately wanted to discover a Bible verse to justify his desire to give her a goodnight kiss, but he couldn’t find one.
Then one night when they reached her door, he offered the usual, “Goodnight.” The girl startled him—she grabbed him, pulled him close and gave him a passionate kiss.
When she released the young man, he gasped for air and stammered, “Bible verse? Bible verse?” She said, “Matthew 7:12!” as she stepped inside and closed the door.
The young man raced back to his dorm room and looked up the verse: “Do to others what you would have them do to you.”
You’re familiar with it. It’s called the Golden Rule.
This one verse contains more guidance for living life and getting along with others than entire volumes contain. Living by this rule molds the finest Christian character, one that pleases God and blesses man.
This is why it’s been called the “Mount Everest of Ethics.”
But applying it is tremendously challenging—as the Mount Everest association suggests—because we live in an increasingly self-centered society.
It’s not uncommon to hear the statement fractured: “The Golden Rule: The one who has the gold rules!” or as 70s TV icon Archie Bunker used to say, “The Golden Rule: Do unto others before they do unto you!”
A culture of selfishness promotes life which is all about what you want, and justifying any means to get it.
But look at the entire verse: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
Jesus’ words “this sums up the Law and the Prophets” leave no doubt as to the Golden Rule’s importance. Concerning the manner in which we treat others, it’s not a stretch to say, “This is what it’s all about!”
Consider the apostle Paul’s take on the Golden Rule: “No one should seek their own good, but the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:24).
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
Someone once said it’s vanity for us to speak like angels when we pray if we act like devils towards our fellow man.
And we’ve all seen it—Christian husbands mistreating their wives; Christian parents neglecting their children; Christian employers exploiting their employees—they’re the clearest examples of hypocrisy.
What does the watching world see in you?
To embody the Golden Rule is really a means of worshiping God with our lives.
My prayer this week – Father, please forgive my selfishness and change my heart. May I worship you by treating others the way I would have them treat me. May there be a growing consistency in my Christian character—one that reflects you and my relationship with you to the watching world.
27 Jun 2017
Covered or Exposed?
“Do not waste your time bothering whether you love your neighbor—act as if you did.” –C. S. Lewis
There is an insatiable appetite for so-called reality TV these days.
Chances to see a celebrity’s family implode on camera, to watch rock stars go through rehab, to tune in to see who got caught, who got arrested, and who was humiliated produce ratings gold.
People are entertained by the sins, sufferings, and shame of others.
There’s an Old Testament story that starts out like this:
“Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside” (Genesis 9:20-22).
When Noah’s son Ham discovered his father drunk, naked and passed out, he reveled in the sight. He went quickly to bring his brothers in on the joke.
This could be the basis for an episode of reality TV—a crowd tuning in to see Noah’s humiliation.
“But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked” (Genesis 9:23).
Noah’s other sons, Shem and Japheth, wouldn’t take joy in their father’s shame.
Instead, they mirrored God (who had fashioned animal skins to cover Adam and Eve in their shame), by covering their father in his vulnerability.
They averted their own eyes so their picture of their father wouldn’t be marred.
They wanted to protect him from embarrassment. They loved him. They covered him up. Love covers.
In the Old Testament we read: “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs” (Proverbs 10:12).
In the New Testament, Peter writes: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
Love can cover the mistakes, misfortunes, the failures and even the folly of others. Like Shem and Japheth, our decision to love like this mirrors our God.
How different would reality look if we embodied this truth?
My prayer this week – Almighty God, I am thankful your love covers a multitude of my sins and shortcomings. As others struggle around me, would you help me to have a loving response? May my love for others mirror you!