Thorns of Worry

Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 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 13:7, 22

 Georgia is my home and though I’m a New England girl, I’ve been struck by how fast things grow here. That includes weeds. Leave some weeds long enough and they can become quite pretty, confusing the novice gardener. Weeds blend in and will take over the landscape. So it is with spiritual weeds.  Grown and tolerated over time, they choke out the possibility of good growth. The Word comes in strength and beauty but, almost instantly, its effectiveness is rendered powerless because of weeds. One kind Jesus identifies is the cares of this world.

Worries crowd out my ability to hear the Word of God. Historically, I come from a line of worriers. My grandmother lived wringing her hands, literally, in her favorite chair. I’ve been taught, by example, to obsess over fears, to turn them around in my hands in every possible configuration until I find a solution. Weighed down by the impossibilities, I work myself up into a panic. How can I be still to hear God’s voice? I have too many cares and I lack the ability to concentrate.

As someone who used to live with panic attacks, I can give this advice. Weed when weeds are small! When anxious thoughts occur, grab them and kill them with the promises of God. The apostle Paul called it ‘taking every thought captive.’ I remember that fear is Satan’s biggest tactic.

Weeds of anxiety, fed over time, become strongholds. I develop a mindset of anxiety where, by default, my first response to any bad news is fear. I feed the beast without even making a conscious choice. Is the Word powerful enough to re-wire the way my brain works? Oh, yes. Can it demolish a toxic mindset and build a new one? Absolutely. “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  2 Cor. 10:5 The word for arguments is ‘logismos’ or logic. It’s the way I’ve learned to think and process. Paul wanted believers to be assured that the Word of God is a weapon that demolishes hopeless mindsets, fearful mindsets, and even cynical mindsets.

As any of us look back at who we were twenty years ago, may we be able to say of ourselves To the glory of God, I no longer think the way I used to think. In fact, I can’t even get in my own skin anymore. My thoughts can’t travel those old paths.” Whether pleasures or cares, may neither be the culprit that smothers the stunning landscape of spiritual gardening.

I don’t think I still fully grasp the power of Your seeds. Enlarge my view of spiritual transformation starting now. In Jesus’ name, Amen

If They Could Only See Jesus In Me, Then . . .

But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. John 12:37 

My husband, Ron, is a seasoned Bible teacher. At the conclusion of almost every lesson, he prays for everyone before they leave. “Lord, help others see Jesus in us this week.” Now, he’s praying this with his eyes wide open, knowing the possible outcomes of what happens when unbelievers encounter Jesus in a believer. They are either warmed and move closer to Jesus or they are repelled and reject Him.

I do well to remember this as I’ve often possessed magical thinking. I’ve believed that if people could just see Jesus in me, they would love Him and want Him in their lives. But when Jesus was here in the flesh, John revealed that the opposite is true. When someone comes into contact with the Light of the world, the majority is offended by holiness. They feel exposed. Unclean. And then, angry.

This is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. John 3:19-20

Should I pray for others to see Jesus in me? Yes. I’m told to be Spirit-filled and Spirit-led. My life’s purpose is to glorify my Father in heaven by the way I live. But I should also be aware that if someone sees Jesus and feels the impact, and they are an unbeliever, I shouldn’t be surprised by a combustible reaction. The very presence of Light in me will be felt by children of darkness. The more oppressed the person, the more violent will be his reaction to me. A simple business exchange at the dry cleaners, grocery store, restaurant, can become contentious because there is a ‘darkness and light’ undercurrent happening. Often, what we chalk up to a mysterious ‘rub’ is really two kingdoms colliding and giving off sparks.

The more I am Your image bearer, the more I will be despised. Just like You. Re-align my expectations. Amen

Relating To The Arrogant

God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong. I Cor. 1:27

How did Jesus relate to arrogant people?

There are people who say, in response to everything you say, “I know.” It’s a poor relational skill as it kills any desire to have a conversation with them. Their need to know it all drives their behavior in every single relationship. This person is usually very vocal in meetings and controlling within a committee. It doesn’t take long for him/her to get under everyone’s skin. The shy person withdraws and avoids them if possible. The extrovert might fall into the temptation to argue and correct them. Neither response is productive nor is it like Jesus.

Jesus did not avoid arrogant people nor did He react to them by sinning in His heart. The Pharisees get a bad wrap for collectively being on Jesus’ bad list. Not true. I can forget that Jesus grew up in synagogues and was constantly in the company of Pharisees and Sadducees. When He was twelve, He stayed in the temple to be in their company. And when He was in active ministry for the last three years of His life, He usually went where they were. Many were close-minded but many also believed. Therefore some of the Pharisees were saying, “This man is not from God because He does not keep the Sabbath.” But others were saying, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And there was a division among them. John 9:16

How did Jesus relate to them?

He exposed their hearts.  The strongest language Jesus ever used was directed against them. He said they were hypocrites not practicing what they preached (Matthew 23:1-5).  In their zeal to keep their rules, they were breaking God’s law.

He recited the scriptures.  He didn’t appear to say, “Well, you think this but I think that.)  He told them they didn’t know God.  So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, “He who sent me is true, and him you do not know.  John 7:28

He extended an invitation to his enemies to believe.  “If anyone, any Pharisee, any chief priest, any officer trying to arrest me, any offended person—if anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”  John 7:37

Do you remember when Jesus looked out over this city and cried, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!”  Matt. 23:37 My heart is challenged this morning because I realize that Jesus loved them. Even the spiteful, hateful, and arrogant. He, the great Sower, sowed the seed and knew that there would be a harvest even among some who were out to kill Him.

The apostle Paul, a most Pharisee of the Pharisees was converted. Nicodemus stood up for Jesus before the council and prepared Jesus’ body for burial. Joseph of Arimathea, part of the Sanhedrin, had the guts to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body. And Gamaliel, Paul’s Rabbi and mentor, stood up to the council for the Apostles.

Jesus loved sinners but condoned only faith. He loved the scriptures and used them to correct error but came to serve even the Pharisees rather than be served. He came to love rather than to be loved.

When someone makes me feel small or stupid, I can run away. Jesus, make me like You. Help me love them, serve them, but willing to say what You would say. Amen

Ones Who Feel Worthless

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. Luke 15:3-5

Do I value the things Jesus values? Do I love those whom Jesus loves? I can answer too quickly and say, ‘But, of course!’   But, really?

In this parable, the one of great value is the one who has strayed the farthest from home, the odd one of the hundred, the one no one is looking for. Quickly forgotten, he is left to question his own value as, over time, he realizes that no one is pursuing him. What an awful discovery as he looks over his shoulder and dreams of unconditional love calling his name from behind. How devastating to realize that the ninety-nine are happy without him. When he has depleted all his resources and realizes he has lost his way, how will he find his way back?

Jesus’ heart is for the one so far from the fold. Our Savior goes to any length to look for him in order to pick him up, embrace him closely, and carry him home.

It is easy for us to value the Christian-looking people. They are respectable in appearance. The one farthest from Christ can be one who repels us. Tattoos, piercings, Goth style clothing, a past that makes us blush, and language that downright intimidates, can send us trying to evangelize anyone but them. But these are the ones for whom Jesus came looking.

The heart of God is one that seeks ~ not waits ~ for sinners to come home. God sent Jesus to ‘seek and to save’ those who are lost. Is this how I feel about those far away from Christ? They need arms to carry them home. They need to discover that they are being sought after. If I don’t go looking, they will assume that God is no more interested than I since I call myself a Christian. I teach others how to perceive God and that is a sobering reality.

Who has wandered from the fold that has all but been forgotten? Is anyone looking for them? Can it be you? Will it be me?

A compassionate search party. Make us one as Your church. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Casual Teachers

And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” Matt. 13:52

A scribe was more than just someone who took dictation. He held a prestigious position within the Jewish community. An expert in the knowledge of scripture, he wrote it down and delivered it to the people. Jesus’ message here was this ~ A scribe/teacher has the authority and mandate to bring what is old, and what is new, out of his storehouse of knowledge and bring it to the people.

The role of the teacher is a critical one. In high school, my toughest subject was science. I thought I was just bad at understanding the concepts but when I look back, the teacher who taught it was checked out. He didn’t convey that he cared about his subject. He imparted information and I struggled to concentrate. As an adult, I’ve discovered that I like exploring the science of things. Naturally, I’m a curious person and love to learn.

Every teacher is a storyteller who brings life to what is important. Jesus did that by telling parables. He took old truths [about what the kingdom of God is like] and gave them new life by re-framing them in parable-like stories. He gave His people history and context as well as the New Covenant. There was never a more passionate teacher when He gave His life to defend it.

Where are the teachers who care to bring the whole counsel of scripture? Where are the teachers who tremble with the Word of God in their hands and feel like a horse at the starting gate on Sunday morning? I have been crying out to God this morning, “Lord, if they don’t care, the people won’t care! We won’t know our history, our legacy, and won’t embrace our spiritual treasures.”

 It is the sign of the times to see churches fall away. It is the sign of the times to see men of God lose the fire of their calling. It is the sign of the times to see the people languish for lack of knowledge. It is the sign of the times to see the Bible judged as irrelevant and boring. If the teacher doesn’t care, the student loses his way.

What do I do if I lack a Bible teacher? I engage the One who is resident inside of me. I make spending time with my inner Rabbi my first priority. Taking responsibility to feed myself and not rely on my local pastor is the ‘norm’ of far too many people. Yet, it is the only mode for their survival. Though our teachers fall away, this reality need not dictate my fate.

 Inside my spirit today resides the best teacher who ever lived. He knows the whole story, is passionate about it, and loves to be engaged to pass on what He knows. He unveils the mystery with insight, enthusiasm, and a well-chosen language formed just for my ears.

I will not starve with You inside. Thank you for teaching me and keeping my faith alive. In Jesus’ name, Amen

The Precise Language of Jesus

The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off. The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse. Proverbs 10:31-32

Just as I had to learn to talk, Jesus had to learn it too.  It wasn’t long before He was too big to sleep in Mary’s arms.  He became an active toddler, embarking on the learning curves of life.  It’s hard to imagine a child who was sinless in how he related to adults.  He was perfect and though I’m sure His personality was evident in the way He spoke, his speech was without sin.  He teaches me whether I think of Him as a toddler, an adolescent, or adult in the way He communicates.

One thing is common among the flawed human race. We all use superlatives and paint with a broad brush in ways that are self-serving. When I’m angry and I feel like I need to make my point, I will say, “You never care about how I feel.” Do I really mean ‘never’? Probably not, but I believe that the exaggeration will increase the possibility that I’m taken seriously. When frustrated, I will misuse the word ‘always’. “You always come home late.” Is that true? Probably not. But there were enough times to set a precedent and enough times to inflame my frustration.

Then there are overused words like ‘incredible’, ‘amazing’, and ‘life-changing.’ These marketing triggers have invaded the church and colored the claims of those who use them until they are virtually meaningless. They’re thrown around as a way to increase attendance and/or convince someone that something is more effective than it really is. Here’s the thing; few things are incredible, amazing, and life-changing and when they are, I want to know that there are words available to adequately describe them.

Jesus was precise in his language. When He said, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God”, He meant all. Every single person. In the upper room, when He said, “Tonight, one of you will be betray me”, I can know that He meant only one. Did that mean that none of the rest of the disciples ever let Him down? No. He teaches us about intent and what is premeditated as opposed to slipups. The other eleven disciples, though imperfect, possessed good faith efforts.

The difference between the ways Jesus talked and the way I talk is vast.  He never had ulterior motives. There was never a selfish agenda that colored his speech. He said what He meant and every superlative was true. When He promised abundant life, I cannot fathom the far-reaching heights of such abundance.

As a flawed woman who wants to be more like Jesus, I have to curb the temptation to exaggerate in order to bring relief to my pain and frustration. This is where God promises grace. In the trenches, I must pray and ask God for the wisdom to speak with integrity. Every superlative must be under the control of the Spirit of God and if I’m worked up and know that I can’t trust myself to speak well, I should be quiet until I can. Wisdom knows the power of restraint.

This year, Lord, I’ll be working on it. Amen

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