Mustard Seeds..

He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Matthew17:20 ESV (via biblehub.com)

Faith is a vital part of life, and especially a life in pursuit of prayer. If I don’t believe that God exists, and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him (Hebrews 11:6) then my prayers are little more than wishes made on a star or empty dreams.

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During Jesus’ ministry on earth, He lamented often that His disciples had so little faith. And yet, He said that if they had “faith like a grain of mustard seed,” nothing would be impossible. In fact, Jesus used seeds in a lot of His teaching. He talked of seeds scattered on different types of soil; mustard seeds growing into large plants; seeds in good soil yielding exponentially large harvests. There is something about seeds that can teach us about the nature of faith. And, according to Jesus Himself, we need to learn about and practice faith in greater measure!

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So what are some of the seed lessons we still need to learn?

  • Seeds start out small. Jesus used a mustard seed, mentioning that it is one of the smallest of all seeds. So often, we want to start out “large” in our faith. We see our doubts as failure, rather than immaturity. We see our slow growth as weakness–and it is! It is that very weakness that God wants to use to show HIS strength. When Jesus “lamented” that the disciples had so little faith, He wasn’t condemning them– instead He was pointing out that faith is a process–that seeds GROW into larger plants.
  • Seeds do not produce plants unless they are planted! I see websites and Christian bookstores selling jewelry featuring a small glass case with a tiny mustard seed inside. It’s a nice reminder of Jesus’ teaching about faith, but carrying around a mustard seed is NOT the same thing as having faith like a mustard seed. Faith that is never planted and rooted in good soil will remain nothing more than a seed– useful as a piece of decoration, perhaps, but dormant and unproductive. If I have faith “like a mustard seed” in money, or power, or in my own wisdom and skills, it is no more effective than if I throw it on the sidewalk, wear it around my neck, or put it in my pocket.
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  • Seeds need soil, light, and water. Faith doesn’t grow in isolation. I need to listen to others, share with others, and, most of all, live in the good soil of God’s word. I need to pray for others– and I need the prayers of others! I need to talk to God daily; but I also need to read His words to me daily!
  • Seeds are designed to produce a harvest– fruit, grain, trees, and new seeds! I get distracted, thinking of how faith impacts MY life and my Christian walk. God wants me to grow stronger in my own, yes. But He wants my faith to be multiplied by being visible. Even a root vegetable sends a shoot or a plant above-ground, so there is evidence of growth underground. In doing go, the original seed will disappear! There are days when I cannot see my “mustard seed.” But that is (I hope) because the seed is becoming a mustard plant– producing evidence of God’s sustaining power and love, and providing “seeds” for others to plant.
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There are days when my faith may feel small and dead. But I need to remember that the power is not in the “seed” of faith– no matter how small; no matter how large its potential–it is in planting that seed and letting God’s power transform a seed into fruit that will last!

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More more on this topic, see:https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/bible-study/what-does-jesus-mean-by-faith-as-small-as-a-mustard-seed.html

Fishers of Men

My husband and I had the opportunity recently to go fishing on Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan is huge– the fifth largest lake in the world– and is home to many species of freshwater fish, including bass, catfish, trout, salmon, walleye and whitefish.

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Our daughter had chartered a boat for the day. The captain and first mate did most of the “work” involved– they piloted the boat, set up the fishing reels, put on the lures, and dropped them to the desired depths. Then, they trolled; they slowly ran the boat back and forth along a stretch of water where the fish were feeding, hoping for a bite. Once a fish was on the line, they would hand us the reel, and it was our job to “land” the fish. Mostly, this involved a lot of reeling and making sure to “hold the line” so the fish would not escape or drag the line. With lures at depths up to 200 feet and several yards away from the boat, this could take up to 10 minutes, fighting against the fish and the drag of the boat’s motion. But eventually, we could see the fish rise to the surface and soon enough, it was in the net and on the boat.

We had a fantastic day, and reached our “limit” of fish to take home– several lake trout and a few salmon.

Our day of fishing reminds me that Jesus’s first disciples were fishermen https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+4%3A18-22&version=NIV. Jesus told them to leave their nets and follow Him, and He would make them fishers of men. Jesus used a lot of parables and imagery in His teaching. And He never wasted an analogy. So what is it about fishing that can teach me about how Jesus wants me to share the good news and/or help disciple others?

  • Go where the fish are! This seems kind of obvious for our trip the other day, but how often do I go looking for those who need to hear good news? Am I willing to go out into deep waters, willing to take risks, willing to leave the comfort of the shore?
  • Listen to your captain! Our captain really knew the waters and the fish who lived there. He knew how the different kinds of fish would respond to being hooked. Some fish needed to be reeled in with a steady, even pull. Others would try to jerk and “run”– they needed to be given some slack, but kept on the line. People react differently to the Gospel. Some respond eagerly; some resist; some seem indifferent. God wants us to listen to Him– and also to each other. My goal should not be to force someone into a relationship with Jesus– to trick them or frighten them into a confession of a faith they don’t really have. I want people to come to KNOW Jesus and experience His grace and immeasurable love. I want them to be drawn to Him—even if that means answering their questions, listening to their doubts and fears, and waiting.
  • Be patient; but be prepared. Our first couple of fish were caught within just a few minutes of reaching our first “spot.” But then we waited. And waited. Our captain took us to another spot. And we waited…and waited. But then, there was a small frenzy– at one point there were three of us reeling in fish at the same time! And then, we waited… and waited. One last fish– our largest of the day! Sometimes, we think nothing is happening. No one is listening. No one notices our Christian walk– or they mock and steer clear of us because of it. Don’t give up, and don’t give in.
  • Pray! We prayed for safety, for good weather, and that we would enjoy our day, regardless of the results. And God gave us an abundance. God will not always give us the results we imagine or hope for. And sometimes, He will give us more than what we ask for–more work, more strength, more patience, more obstacles– but He will be there in the rain, or fog, or sun. Whether we have fished all day without success or we bring in our limit before 10 a.m., the most important thing is to have followed Him.
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Go, Tell It on the Mountain


Go, Tell It On The Mountain

While shepherds kept their watching
O’er silent flocks by night,
Behold throughout the heavens
There shone a holy light


Go, tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.



The shepherds feared and trembled
When lo above the earth
Rang out the angel chorus
That hailed our Savior’s birth;


Go, tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.



Down in a lowly manger
The humble Christ was born;
And God sent out salvation
That blessed Christmas morn.


When I was a seeker
I sought both night and day
I sought the Lord to help me
And He showed me the way.


He made me a watchman
Upon the city wall
And If I am a Christian
I am the least of all.


Go, tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.

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During the Christmas season, we often focus on giving.  And it’s certainly appropriate.  But there is another aspect of Christmas that sometimes gets overlooked– Telling.

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Christ came to earth humbly, but he didn’t come secretly.  Angels announced his arrival to the shepherds; stars aligned and shone brightly as a signal to the wise men.  Prophets had foretold his coming for centuries.  John the Baptist even went ahead of Jesus, baptizing and preparing his hearers for the good news yet to come.  The earliest followers of Christ were eager to tell of his words, his deeds, and his glorious resurrection.  Many lost their lives doing so.

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If the birth of Christ was reason to fill the night sky with songs and wonders,  reason enough to send angels and stars, prophets and messengers; what about the news of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension?  Why do we allow this amazing news to sit on a dusty shelf, unopened and unshared?  Or treat it like a secret, good news for only the few, the righteous?

We have the greatest news in all of history– more important than any political scandal, more amazing than the latest technology, more joyous than any other announcement imaginable.  Emmanuel– God WITH US–He came, he lived, worked, spoke, laughed, shared, loved, cried, ate, slept, and died, WITH US.  And he died and rose so that we could continue to live WITH HIM!

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God didn’t send all the signs and wonders– he didn’t come into the world to be a guilty secret.  And though there is still a risk involved in proclaiming the gospel, it is no less good, and no less NEWS now than it was nearly 2000 years ago.  Let’s TELL it!  SHOW it!  POST it!  SING it out!– Everywhere!

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Father, Thank you for this wonderful news. Thank you for the Greatest Gift–Yourself.  Give us hearts filled with joy and courage, and lips eager to share your grace and love with those we meet.  Help us to be faithful messengers of that grace and love; transparent and true in word and deed.  May every mountain and valley, forest, meadow, desert and ocean ring with the hope and glory of your nativity, your ministry, and your death and resurrection.

Restoration

A widow contacted a local church to come pick up an old rusty car that belonged to her late husband.  He had one request– that the car be kept in the old garage at the church parsonage and that anyone who wanted to could stop by and work on it.  He had purchased it years before with the intention of restoring it to drive around in during his retirement.  But time and ill-health had robbed him of his dream.  His hope was that someone might enjoy working on it, and if no one came to work on the car, perhaps the church could sell it to scrappers and at least get some money for it.  An ad was placed in the bulletin, and another in the local paper.  Hours were set up, when people could stop by to work on the car.

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Soon, there was a great stir– several members of the congregation came forward to protest.  Some were concerned about the safety and liability involved in having the car in the garage where anyone could get to it.  Surely, it would be in the church’s best interest to have the car locked away, so only members of the congregation could get to it.  Others were arguing about how to restore the car properly– what was the original color of the chassis and the interior?  Could they find the exact parts for that make and model?  Who would work on the engine?  The interior?  The frame?  Surely the old man didn’t mean for just anyone to come in and work wherever s/he felt like working…how would the job get done?  Detailed schedules were posted and discussed; re-posted and opposed.

Weeks, and even months went by.  The church was divided; some threatened to leave.  And none of the church members had even visited the old car in the garage– it sat forgotten.  Except…

A young man in town had seen the notice in the newspaper.  He wrote down the original work schedule and followed it, quietly coming every Tuesday and Friday night after work, and patiently working to restore the car.  He cleaned and oiled parts, “tinkered” with others, sanded off rust, fixed hose lines and checked all the panels.  He patched upholstery and polished up the old tires.  He painted the chassis and found matching window wipers to replace the old ones.  He worked on the motor and the exhaust, and even the old AM radio.  He made sure the mirrors and windows were not cracked or chipped.  He even hunted around to find the right hood ornament to replace the one that was lost.  Only the pastor knew of his work, and even he had never joined the man or asked about his progress– he merely opened the garage door every time the young man arrived, and closed it when the young man left.

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After eight months, the division in the church had reached a fevered pitch.  One group demanded that the car be removed to a secure location and that the labor should be divided based on an elaborate chart that focused on how long someone had attended the church, their skill base, what time they were available to work, and whether they were currently an elder or deacon (or had ever served as an elder or deacon).

When the group arrived at the garage, they were shocked to discover that the car was completely restored, polished and glorious in its restoration.  Shocked and angry, they attacked the pastor– How could he have allowed this to happen “behind their backs?”  When the pastor admitted that he was as surprised as they were, their attention turned to the young man.  They hunted him down and demanded an explanation.  How dare he come and work on the church’s car without their knowledge or approval!  Who did he think he was?!

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The young man’s answer left them stunned.  He said, “I read an invitation that said anyone who wished could come and help restore an old car to help out a local church.  I came every week, and no one else ever showed up to help.  No one from your church did any work on this car.  No one ever came to check on it or see if any work had been done.  No one from your church gave me a word of encouragement, no one had a helpful suggestion or even constructive criticism.  No one offered me a word of gratitude.  No one helped hold a lamp or flashlight so I could see the hidden damage as I made repairs.  No one helped when I had to hoist the motor or clean off the grease and grime, or polish the chrome.  The invitation was clear– whosoever will, may come.  I came.  I followed the directions I was given– I came on Tuesdays and Fridays, and I cleaned up each time before I left.  I put a lot of work into this car, and now I’m done.  I hope your church can decide on a good use for it; she’s a beauty, and I think she’ll run really well– I didn’t take her for a spin, but I hope someone will be able to enjoy her for many years to come.”

The crowd from the church still had one question– Why had the young man come in the first place, and why did he keep working on the car all those months?  Did he want the car for himself?

automobile car chrome classic
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“No,” the man said; “when I first read the ad in the paper and I saw the word ‘restoration’, I was deeply moved.  Not too many years ago, I was living a very wild and dangerous life.  I felt alone and abandoned and I was filled with anger.  I was restless and destructive.  But one man in town took me under his wing.  He gave me a part-time job, and made me promise to stay in school.  But much more than that, he and his wife invited me over for dinner several times.  They made time out of their busy schedule to come and watch me play basketball after I finally made the team in my senior year.  When I joined the army, they sent letters and care packages.  The old man used to tell me that I reminded him of an old car he bought and kept in his garage.  He said it was an amazing machine that just needed restoration– he said I was an amazing person who just needed some restoration.  He told me that Jesus came to bring restoration to anyone who wanted to come to Him.”

“I finished my time in the army; I came back and started my own business.  I got busy and moved on with life.  I never came back to thank that man for his kindness, and he never asked for anything from me.  I guess I expected to thank him some day, but I found out that he had died.  I went to see his widow.  She was so gracious, asking about my family and wishing me the best, and then she mentioned her husband’s last request.  And when I saw the ad in the paper, I knew this was a way for me to thank the old man, but also to experience what restoration really means.  When I came to God, I was rusty, filthy, and broken.  God has sanded off the rust in my life, mended broken relationships, and given me new life.  It’s an honor to be able to bring restoration, no matter the circumstances.  God has done so much to restore my life, it’s the least I can do to help restore an old car.  I hope that somehow, this car can inspire renewal in someone else’s life the way its owner helped bring restoration to my life.”

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I wish I could say that the young man’s story changed the hearts of the angry deacons and elders.  A few of them were touched; some even convicted of their pride and selfishness.  But most were simply put out.

What have I done with the precious gift of restoration in my life?  God, lead me to someone today who needs to hear, and SEE, the miracle of restoration and Grace.

Who Do You Say That I Am?

During Jesus’ ministry on earth, there were many discussions about who he was, who he said he was, and who others said he was.  The Bible is full of the names of God, of Jesus, and of the Holy Spirit– there are descriptive names, prophetic names, genealogical references, allegorical names, sacred names…but one of the pivotal questions Jesus asked of his followers was this: “Who do YOU say that I am”? (Luke 9:18-27; Matt. 16: 13-18)

We can ask ourselves why Jesus might pose this question to the disciples– was it some Socratic technique, or a trick question?  The disciples had heard several theories, descriptions, and names tossed about.  Was Jesus trying to determine how effectively he had presented himself to the Jewish people– and to his closest followers?   I don’t think so.  If that were his motivation, he could have asked, “Who to you THINK I am?”, or “Who WOULD you say that I am?”  Instead, he asked “Who DO YOU SAY  that I am?”

This is still a very relevant question today, and not just as a matter of recognizing him as Messiah.  Even when Peter gave an answer, Jesus did not say, “Good job, Peter.  You nailed it in one!  That’s the right answer, and your prize is that you will become “The Rock” on which I build my church.”  That’s how some people might read it, but that’s not the true story– Peter gave a correct answer, an inspired answer, but it was not a definitive answer.  Peter recognized who Jesus was supposed to be, but he had not experienced, and did not know, the fullness of who Jesus was.  Peter would later go on to deny this same Jesus, and say that he did not even know him at all!  Only after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension did Peter fully recognize and live out the answer he gave earlier.  His last years were spent demonstrating  in words and deeds that he had truly encountered “the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”

How does this relate to a pursuit of prayer in our own time?  What we say about Jesus involves more than just a pat answer.  To say, “He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God” is a correct answer, but what does that really mean to us?  What does it mean as we live as a witness before others?  Is he Christ and Savior, and Messiah to me? When I say he is the “Son of God,” is that just another of his many names to me, or do I understand all the richness of that title?  When I review the many names of God, do they resonate with personal meaning?  Do I pray to the “God who Sees,” to the “God who Provides,” the “God of my Salvation,” the “Almighty”, and the “God who Hears?”  Or am I praying to a “God I studied and know a lot about,”  a “God I heard about at Church,” or a “God I hope will hear me?”  If I pray “in Jesus’ name,” is that just an affectation?  Is it just a formality, or does that name, that person, inhabit my prayers and my life?  Am I praying in the name of the “Lion of Judah,” “Emmanuel”, “the Risen Lamb,” or just “a great teacher who talked a lot about love?”

These are not questions meant to trigger doubt about my salvation, but questions designed to challenge my commitment and my faithfulness.  I bear the name of Christ–what I think I say about him; what I think I believe about him; what I think others see of him in me– it matters.  It is of supreme importance.  I need to be sure that I’m not taking for granted that what I know about my savior is the same as Knowing Him, and that what I think I’m saying about him is clear, consistent, and true.

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What do my prayers say about Jesus?  What do my actions say about him?  What does my life say about him?  Hopefully, like Peter, the end of my story will bring honor and bear truthful witness to the Great “I AM” of scripture, the God of MY salvation, and the God who has heard me, loved me, corrected me, redeemed me, sanctified me, and welcomed me home to be with Him eternally!

Paltry Prayer

A couple of days ago, I wrote about “Little Prayers.”  I believe God hears our prayers about the so-called “little things.”  But I think there is a type of prayer that is not “little”, but “paltry.”  What’s the difference?  “Paltry” doesn’t just imply little or trivial, it connotes something meager and petty.  And I think we waste a lot of time on it.

Paltry prayer is generic and insubstantial.  It’s like the horrible small talk at a social event one doesn’t want to attend, but feels obligated to show up at, because it’s expected.  When we throw up a prayer, but we really don’t want to get “real” before God, we’re offering crumbs instead of a sacrifice; face-time, instead of intimate conversation.

There are times when we cry out in desperation; we have no words or fleshed-out thoughts, only groans.  That’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about the times when we want to reassure ourselves that we’re one of the good guys– that our plans and wishes have God’s stamp of approval–without actually risking God’s authoritative answer.  “God, help me to do your will today,” sounds like a great prayer, but do we really mean what we’re saying?   Or are we really asking God to approve of our own will  and plans as we go through the day?

I’m especially concerned that we are offering paltry prayers in regards to evangelism and revival.  We want it to come– we want God to send a fresh wave of revival to our communities, our country, and our world– but let it begin and end without making us too uncomfortable, too aware of our own need for confession, forgiveness, or change.  We want our neighbor to be saved– without the pain of witnessing and being laughed at or ostracized.  We want to be emboldened to witness, but we don’t want to be humbled into listening.  We want to be blessed; we don’t want to be tested.

 

I get very discouraged sometimes, when I realize that my own prayers have been paltry.  But there is good news– the same loving Father that wants deeper conversation with me is endlessly forgiving, encouraging, and loving.  And I am not alone in offering meager conversation or selfish complaints before His throne.

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Jonah (yes the “Big Fish” guy of the Bible) was a prophet– a very successful one, except for the episode with Nineveh.  Not only did Jonah run as far from Nineveh as a ship could take him; he basically committed suicide to avoid doing God’s bidding.  When his shipmates are in a panic, Jonah demands that they throw him in the sea.  This is not as a result of consulting with God, nor does the Bible suggest that it is at God’s command.  The sailors continue to panic at the thought of throwing Jonah overboard, and are astonished when the storm stops as Jonah sinks toward the ocean floor.  If not for the fish, Jonah would have drowned.  God sent the fish to save Jonah, but there is nothing to suggest that Jonah had any idea of being rescued. However, from the belly of the fish, Jonah lifts up a poetic prayer, in which he sings the praises of the God who spared his life.   He marvels at his rescue and restoration, and vows to go back to Nineveh and fulfill his destiny.  His prayer strikes all the “holy” notes one would wish to see, but I would contend that this is, at its heart, a paltry prayer– sincere in the moment, but not the prayer of a man fully transformed by his near-death experience.

Fast forward to the fourth chapter of the book of Jonah.  Nineveh has heard Jonah’s message about God’s wrath and impending judgment; the people have had a miraculous change of heart, and God has agreed to spare them from destruction (for a time– the Ninevites went back to their old habits and were eventually destroyed).  Imagine if the late Billy Graham had held a rally in Moscow or Tehran or Los Angeles and the ENTIRE CITY had repented?!  This is success beyond imagination.  But we don’t find Jonah grateful and poetic as he was at the end of chapter two– instead, he is hateful and bitter, and praying for death!  God causes a small vine to grow and provide some shade for Jonah as he sits and sulks, but then he sends a worm to chew up the vine so it withers.  Jonah is more heartbroken at the loss of the vine then he was over the possibility of the destruction of an entire city.  Jonah’s story doesn’t end in triumph, but in triviality.

Prayer is a great opportunity to pour out our hearts before God– but it also reveals the content and character of our hearts.  If our prayers are paltry and our hearts shallow, God will often humble us.  But he will also rescue us from our own sinfulness and sulking, and give us all that we need to finish victoriously.  The book of Jonah is a great cautionary tale– let’s learn from it, today.

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What can we do to make our prayers less “paltry” and more proactive?  Check out the suggestions on the attached pages of this blog, or look online for prayer groups and prayer sites that offer constructive ideas.

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