Category: How We Grow

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.

DMV Hell and Anger

dmv hell final

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. (James 1:19-20)

Recently I had to renew my license in person at the DMV. While I was waiting, a gentleman got his turn at the supervisors help desk. He was aggrieved. Somehow DMV had lost the title to his car. Gradually, he grew enraged as they could give him no satisfaction. “It’s a 65-thousand-dollar car and you lost the title!”, he bellowed.

“Sir, do not raise your voice.” He wouldn’t calm down.

The supervisor summoned the police (who always have an officer on duty at DMV — for moments like this!)  “Sir, you’ll have to leave the building.” The police escorted him out.

It sure is easy to feel anger when things screw up. Stuff does not work the way it is supposed to. Things get lost. It sure is easy to want to blame someone. Directing the rage towards the nearest target — the supervisor at her desk…. even if she was doing the absolute best job she that she could.

If only a raised voice could make what we need and want come true. But, that’s not gonna happen. After seeing the DMV incident, I must admit I can still feel unrighteous anger. (I can’t pat myself on the back if I keep it inside more than the Yeller at DMV did).

So, today’s scripture provides a wonderful antidote to wanting my will to be done now and feeling furious if that does not happen. To be slow to get enraged, and fast to listen, shows patience that is a spiritual gift from God. It’s part of us getting a new heart. I note 3 truths about progress in my battle with anger:

  • When I do get wrongfully angry, I repent of it more quickly than I used to.
  • Fewer things that used to get me angry get me angry any more.
  • The work is not complete yet.

So, Jesus doesn’t give us anger management, but instead, anger replacement: over time Jesus replaces our rage with more of him.

Don’t Cross That Line

wetlands.jpg

But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.        (Hebrews 5:14)

There are acres of woods across from our house. Some of that land is zoned for development, and so townhouses and condos might replace some of the woods. But the rest of the woods is wetlands and can never be developed.

The woods are shown on our town zoning map, but the exact line of demarcation of the wetlands was unclear. It did not much matter if no one was interested in building on the land.

But recently, surveyors went out, marking ‘wetland delineation’ on the wetlands boundaries with pink tape.

The tape now traces a squiggly line of separation between what can be developed and what can’t.

Our Lord uses demarcations too. You might think that the book of Leviticus is a bunch of boring rules. But the overall goal of the rules is quite important: You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean, (Leviticus 10:10 ESV).

Today, we are not bound to follow all the rules and regulations of Leviticus, but the goal remains: to discern the line of demarcation between what God says is good, worthwhile and noble and what is trashy, junk, garbage.

How do we tell the difference? It’s not always obvious, especially if there is no specific rule or verse in the Bible for the situation we have a question about. Indeed, today’s opening verse has nothing specific about what is excellent in 2018. It doesn’t tell us whether it’s OK to watch a certain R-rated movie or whom to vote for.

But the verse uses three helpful it-takes-time words: “mature”, “practice”, and “trained”. We really do get better at discernment over time as we continue to walk with Christ and his people.

Just as the experienced wetland surveyor was trained to know where to put the pink tape, we learn where to put our own boundary line between what is worthwhile and what is junk.

You’ve got to hit the red button

red button

Our worship service at The Chapel 1ended.

You can exit the sanctuary down the crowded main aisle. Or go out the side exit – that’s a nice shortcut.

On a recent Sunday, quite a few people, eying the shortcut, headed over to the side door.  But the door was locked.

A crowd began to build up and mill around. Some people got discouraged, gave up, and headed over towards the main exit. But — then — someone reached up to the left of the locked door and punched a red button. The door swung open! Those folks who waited now began to stream out.

When we are faced with temptation, we have a choice, just like the people by the door. Do we trust that there’s a way out — or do we give up?

It’s likely that this verse is familiar to you:

 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13).

But less familiar is the following verse:

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:14).

Note, an idol does not have to be an actual figure that we bow down to. Rather, it is anything we are tempted to make more important than Jesus. If we give in to temptation, we are worshiping an idol instead of Jesus. But we have a choice: we can flee from our tempting idol to something else.

I hereby confess one of my own idols: vastly overestimating what good politics can accomplish.

To worship my idol, I was spending way too much time watching MSNBC and Fox News. The former was enraged that our president was ruining our country. The latter was enraged that our wonderful president was being destroyed by his enemies. Both sides were making an idol out of how the correct politics would cure so much of what is wrong with our country.  I was getting sucked up into their anger; all their futile arguing was giving me agita; I gave in to the temptation to enter their vitriol instead of doing something worthwhile.

So, during Lent, I started a fast from those two networks. Lent ended several months ago but…my fast has not ended yet.  Sometimes I do miss the fights, and I am tempted to hear how the two sides are reacting to the latest Presidential tweet; but don’t think I am missing something of lasting value by not tuning in.

Now, if politics is the idol I am fleeing from, I need to flee to something else.

So, I have fled from politics to…. more of Jesus. This sounds spiritual, but it’s not only spiritual: On a visit for a routine checkup the nurse took my blood pressure—and, not knowing about my FOX/MSNBC fast, she said, “Your blood pressure is way down; have you started taking a drug for it?” Nope — it wasn’t a drug; it was what I stopped taking — exposure to angry arguments!

I encourage you to reflect on what your own idol might be. Yours might be politics, too; but it could be sex, money; or something else. When our idol tempts us — we know that God not only gives us a way out but also provides something to flee to.

When we hit our own red button, we’re turning from our idol to the satisfaction that only Jesus can provide.

  1. https://www.thechapel.org/

Wise Idiots

How do you like meeting someone who likes to let you know how wise they are? They are so far above the follies of ordinary folks; they never screw up. When they talk, do you want to roll your eyes because they sound so unreal, or do you start to take them seriously and feel inferior because you aren’t totally together like they are?

To answer this let’s explore what true wisdom is…

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
    love her, and she will watch over you. (Proverbs 4:6)

In today’s Proverbs verse wisdom is personified as a woman. Note, though, how much the description parallels Jesus. In the revised verse below, see what happens when you swap He for she, and Jesus for wisdom:

 Do not forsake Jesus, and he will protect you;
    love him, and he will watch over you.

Solomon, who wrote most of the book of Proverbs, started with a precocious grasp of how valuable wisdom is—he asked for it above all other requests as he began his reign as king. But he went backwards — spending years doing foolish things—-being into polygamy big time, accumulating riches, etc. So as an old man, as Solomon reflected and wrote Proverbs, he would know ways that he had been an idiot (or a fool as the Bible puts it) …Now, in view of his past follies, he could give an authentic warning against falling into his same trap.

True wisdom means I am learning to see that the Lord is wise — and to see how easy it is for me to be an idiot! (And how wonderful it is that when I do mess up and act like an idiot, our Lord mercifully forgives me of my idiocy when I repent).

Look at this verse—is it a threat or a promise?

 For your ways are in full view of the Lord,
    and he examines all your paths. (Proverbs 5:21)

If  I am seriously following Jesus, then the verse is a wonderful promise that
he will lovingly watch over me. On any given day: which of my choices were crappy and wasteful? Which were sound? It’s the kindness of Jesus that shows this to me.

Jesus woos me, as opposed to saying, “You better obey or be crushed.” His attitude is not harsh, even though his discipline can temporarily sting. By nature, I don’t enjoy being contradicted, yet I am learning to be more welcoming of Christ’s correction.

Because when Jesus gives me a course correction: This cretin has less crud and more of Christ!

christ is wisdom personified