Category: Devotions

Breathing in Bugs

Finally our long hot humid oppressive suffocating summer has ended, and fall has begun. Towards the end of summer I set an unpleasant, unofficial, new personal record. Running in Mountain Lakes early one morning, I sucked in yet another bug. Reminded me of when my wife and I went to a bluegrass concert in Overpeck Park in the Meadowlands back when we lived in Bergen County. One  band had to stop their set early—-the poor woman who was their lead vocalist had breathed in one bug too many !

My bug-breathing led me to reflect more generally on when things seem to just happen to us.  Where it is not our choice—and yet —stuff happens. Yes, my bug-sucking is  a picture of what it means to be living in a fallen world.  After all, when Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, they didn’t have to worry about breathing in bugs on their morning runs.

My bug-sucking is an example of what economists calls a negative externality. It’s when someone else’s activities harm you and cost you and you’re not compensated — like a  nearby factory that creates stinky toxic smoke that you breathe in. Or someone doesn’t clear their yard of places where bugs breed.

When that happens, what are  our choices ?

Sue the bums? Call the EPA?

Or just put up with it?

You mean we can’t always fight it? Yes, sometimes we need to put up with certain crappy things that are out of our control.

At first glance that sounds pretty depressing, doesn’t it ? And it would stay so if we didn’t believe that things will be finally set right. I’m not advocating inert passivity when we should act — but sometimes there really is no action we can take. (I mean, should I have run with a netting over my face?)

But we believe that Christ will set all things right, if not in this life then in the next. We have cause for optimism in spite of the slop. That’s what Christian hope is all about !

Heart Transplant

new heart

Do you ever get caught in the trap of thinking that being a Christian mainly means following a list of rules and commands ? I know that I do ! Today, let’s look at how rule-keeping fails —- but how God, by grace, provides a wonderful alternative.

To show this grace of God in action, let’s start with the book of Deuteronomy. A common theme in Deuteronomy is that obedience brings blessing and disobedience brings curses. But if that kind of rule-keeping to stay on God’s good side worked, we all would obey, and the Bible could end right there.

But unfortunately, God’s people kept falling short of obedience, and got cursed instead.  You might think that God would say the heck with them and just let them be doomed.

But he doesn’t ! Why ? Because  God has made a promise that is irrevocable : he will always have a people no matter how badly his people screw up.

For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath (Deuteronomy 4:31)

Wow, what an amazing promise of grace !

Now, with a revelation to the prophet Ezekiel,  God goes even further beyond rule-keeping :

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 11:19)

Back in the sixties  we had the first human heart transplants. But much better than that is how God promises to give us a spiritual heart transplant.

The Holy Spirit empowers our new heart, allowing  Jesus to live in us. And it’s Jesus who provides our way of escape from falling under the curses. For when we do fall short we can repent and  turn to our advocate, the Lord Jesus Christ, who forgives us.

God remains faithful to his promise ! Freed from keeping rules and regulations, our new heart frees us to joyfully live God’s way.

Bountiful Harvest

blueberries_peaches photo credit emily wiley

“Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” (Matthew 13:8)

“But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”(Matthew 13:23)

We live in New Jersey.  Out-of-staters think of our state as being filled with factories, smokestacks, and refineries.  But we rank near the top of all  US states in growing peaches and blueberries. Yes, there can be much fruit even where it is not expected !

During this series we have been challenged to be good hearers. We’ve been encouraged to have a soft heart instead of a hard heart, to grow deeper roots, and to stay on course for godly contentment.

Today we get to celebrate what it means to be set free to be fruitful for Christ!  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23a)

We may think this wonderful fruit depends only on how hard we try. But let’s look at how it does not all depend on us. In the hymn “The Sower” William Cowper wrote:

“Let the same hand that gives the seed
Provide a fruitful place.”

Yes, it is God who prepares the ground — God sets it all up ahead of time —- then we move in it, all the while strengthened by his power.

Paul explains more about how this works  :

“So that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience” (Colossians 1:10-11)

If you’ve seen some of my other blog posts, you know there are ways I flail when trying  to do the Lord’s will– so today God  reminds us that the burden is not on our shoulders—-we will harvest our fruit  by his power !

I Need a Course Correction

thornz

“Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants”( Matthew 13:7)

 “The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.”(Matthew 13:22)

You are driving out of state. You are sure you know the right route ; you don’t really even need the GPS.  However, after a while: You have now reached a dead end in the middle of nowhere! And you have a grim realization : Now the clouds are so thick and the valley you are lost in is so steep that that you can’t even get a GPS signal. Now what ?

Today’s verses in the Parable of the Sower show how we can gradually wander off course in our Christian lives even when we think that everything is going OK .  First, the worries of life can sneak in: Will we be able to buy the things we need?  Will I lose my job? What if I get sick ? Will we lose our house?  Legitimate stewardship of our health and work can gradually morph into becoming a worrisome preoccupation or obsession.

Second, the deceitfulness of wealth can slink in too. Take Bob, who was earning well, providing and caring for his family and doing good ministry. But as he receives some very lucrative promotions, his job gobbles up increasing amounts of his family time and leaves almost no time for Jesus and ministry.

Overcome by worry, seduced by wealth. What do these have in common? Both of them block the guidance  from the Holy Spirit  just as the GPS signal was blocked.

Let’s hear what Paul says :

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:12)

As the thorns in life grow, they start to choke our godly contentment.  We might think that we can use our own power to hack away at the thorns until they are all cut down. But that’s about as effective as depending on a GPS that does not get a signal. Here’s what we need to depend on :

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”  (Philippians 4:13)

Our Lord gives us directions for a thorn-removing course correction. I need one. Do you?

Fruit Even During Drought

dried in sun

“Some [seed] fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.  But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root” (Matthew 13:5-6)

“The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.”  (Matthew 13:20-21)

We love to enjoy the wonderful privileges that come from being a Christian.  Our sins are forgiven!  We have eternal life! We have wonderful Christian friends! God is answering so many prayers!  We have such peace and joy!

But wait a minute. We still have struggles. Unanswered prayers.  Unhealed relationships. Bad stuff happens. Job loss. Sickness. Mockery and ridicule from family members who do not believe.

Our temptation is us to withdraw — from the Lord, from fellowship, from wanting to participate in what he is doing in his Kingdom. We fall away from craving more of him in our lives. In the face of the crappy stuff that is still going on, that threaten to dry out our love for the Lord, we need deepening roots……

The apostle Paul says:  “but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  (Romans 5:3b)

This deepening process is not easy and quick. I have known the Lord for decades and I still need deeper roots.  I thank God for his love which is so patient with us !

Jeremiah tells us the wonderful way that being rooted allows us to survive heat and drought in our lives:

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
 They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

Where are you feeling the heat ? May your confidence be in the Lord who promises to give you fruit even  during a time of drought.

Can You Handle the Truth ?

u_can__t_handle_the_truth_cat_by_vmanga-d3d1rjb

The Parable of the Sower Part 2

In the movie A Few Good Men, Kaffee said “I want the truth!” to which Jack Nicholson’s Jessup replied “You can’t handle the truth! “

Can you handle the truth? Today we explore the first of the four kinds of soil in the Parable of the Sower. Jesus starts by saying:

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.” (Matthew 13:3-4)

Later in the parable, Jesus explains the meaning of each kind of soil. In verse 19 he explains the seed that fell on the path by saying:

“When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.”

Did this ever happen to you: You are listening to a powerful sermon…. You know that what you are hearing is true. And you say, “My friend sure needs to hear that one…”

But really…this message was a word of truth from God meant to challenge you…now!

Jesus says that the evil one comes and snatches that word of truth away. But can we just sit passively by and blame the devil? No! Scripture often exhorts us to handle the truth and not have a hard heart.

My wife and I live where there’s hard water. We need a water softener. When we don’t listen to the truth because our heart is hardened towards it, God provides heart softeners. God loves to soften our heart —–he will break up hard ground in our hearts if we ask. Check this Scripture out:

Break up your unplowed ground;
         for it is time to seek the Lord,
until he comes
         and showers his righteousness on you. (Hosea 10:12b)

As we often find in scripture, this verse shows a powerful combination of what we do and what God will do.

Lord, by your Holy Spirit show us how to turn from what is hard-hearted in our life and to your loving truth. Yes, with your power  we can handle the truth!

1. Cat picture courtesy of http://fav.me/d3d1rjb

 

The Parable of the Sower (Part 1) Introduction

Virginia Beach 2010 021

My wife and I visited Colonial Williamsburg a few years ago, and we saw a man dressed in colonial garb who walked through fields scattering seeds by throwing them into the air. Throwing the seeds in the air is called broadcasting. Since he wasn’t aiming the seed, it would land in various places—some more conducive to germinating and growing than others. As we watched him, we immediately thought of the Parable of the Sower.

Stating today, I’m presenting a series of five devotions based on that Parable. We’ll use the version of the parable recounted in Matthew 13. But, before we dive into the parable, let’s look at why Jesus even used parables in the first place. After hearing the Parable of the Sower, the befuddled  disciples came to him and asked “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

Jesus replied by giving both an encouragement and a warning: “Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (Matthew 13:12)

The parables are Jesus’ invitation to us to grow in the knowledge and experience of his kingdom. He told his original listeners: “For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:17) So, we have an advantage that even the people who loved God the most in the Old Testament did not receive.

Do we welcome being poked by a parable? We’ll see how our answer should be yes, since Jesus says to those who are willing to listen: “But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.” (Matthew 13:16).

But unfortunately, we face obstacles that may hinder our saying “Yes.” As we look at the sower in this series, we’ll be trying to overcome these obstacles, so we can turn to a life of being more fruitful in Jesus’ Kingdom.

Jesus’ parables never grow old. Meaning even if you are very familiar with a parable, you’ll learn something new when you study it again. So, I pray that this Sower series challenges and encourages you.