Of Yeast, Mites, and Mustard Seeds

God is interested in the little things. We praise Him for his glory, majesty, and power–rightly so–but He is also the God of atoms, and quiet moments, and insect wings and snowflakes.

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God celebrates with us in our smallest victories–biting our tongue instead of bragging, shaving a minute off our 5K run, not burning the dinner rolls, remembering to put gas in the car for my spouse.  He also sees our smallest sins–when no one else is looking; when no one else knows our motives or inner struggle– God sees every detail, every motive. God hears our prayers– not just our big urgent prayers, but our whispered secret prayers; our quick cries for help; our relieved sighs of gratitude; our shameful confessions.

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God often uses yeast as a metaphor for sin–just a tiny bit can ruin everything.  One tiny act– a fib, passing along a rumor, snubbing a neighbor at the store, watching “soft” porn on TV, hanging out with the “fun” crowd and taking dangerous risks, gambling “for fun” with money you promise to pay back later, drinking a little too much just a little too often, spending more time with that co-worker who “understands” your marital woes better than anyone…Most of us don’t set out to become addicts, thieves, adulterers, bullies, sexual predators, rage-aholics, embezzlers, or compulsive liars.  But Jesus warns us that big sins start small: “murder” really starts with disdain and anger and hate (Matthew 5:21-22);  adultery begins with lust; and the love of money (greed) is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10).  Selfishness, pride, envy, rebellion– they lurk in little lies and delayed obedience and easy justification we allow in our daily lives.

But God is not only watching us under a microscope, waiting to catch us in some small act of sin.  In fact, that is not His primary desire in watching us.  God is searching  eagerly for signs of obedience, faith, goodness, love, and kindness.

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Jesus used parables about small things– a lost coin, a mustard seed, a pearl, a speck of dust, the eye of a needle, a narrow door/gate, a lily of the field– to illustrate joy, faith, self-control, obedience, trust, and even the kingdom of God.  Small things are important, sometimes even glorious, in God’s eyes.  Even some of Jesus’ miracles started with small, humble, simple things– water, five loaves and two fish, a few quiet words, a few tears.

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Today, I want to pray that I will see God moving– not just in grand gestures and eloquent sermons (though I love to see Him move in those ways, too!)–but in the small moments.  I pray that I will be sensitive, not to the world’s crushing words of hatred and deception, but to the still small voice of encouragement; to the hopeful smile of a stranger; to the rushing wind that lifts dust mites to glory in the sun; to the unshed tears of a widowed friend.  I want to plant the mustard seed of faith and watch how God will grow it.  I want to be that cheerful giver of my last coins in gratitude for the riches of Grace that cost me nothing but cost my Savior everything.

Blessings Come Down

When I was a small girl, we learned a song in Sunday School. It was primarily about the parable of the “house built on a rock.” (See Matthew 7:24-27) The first verse spoke of the wise man, who built his house on the rock. The second verse spoke of the foolish man who built his house on the sand. But the third verse challenged listeners to “build your life on the Lord Jesus Christ.” The first two choruses spoke of the rains coming down and the floods coming up; the third chorus said that “the blessings come down as the prayers go up.”

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Sometimes, memories forged in childhood come back to tease our thoughts as adults. We had a much-needed but powerful rain storm the other night. While it didn’t lead to floods, it did dump a lot of water on fields that were in great need of moisture. And it reminded me that many farmers and gardeners had been praying for rain. Rather selfishly, my husband and I had been praying for sleep– some of our neighbors had been setting off fireworks for several nights in a row, well into the late hours of the evening, keeping us awake, and terrorizing some of the Veterans in the neighborhood. The rain cut their activities short last night (even as it kept us awake with thunder, lightning, and raindrops on the roof!)

But I was also reminded that prayer works much like the water cycle. Prayers go up, much like dew getting absorbed every morning, or water droplets evaporating in the sun. We don’t see any change. There is nothing dramatic about evaporation or silent prayers in the night. Prayers go up from many different people in any different places with many different needs. And they seem to end up evaporating.

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Sometimes, we look up and see empty skies, and wonder– Did God hear my prayer? Will He answer? The skies seem empty and silent for weeks. And then we see clouds–sometimes dark and threatening– and we wonder again. What is God doing? Where is the rain? Will it bring floods and winds and disaster? What went wrong?

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Sometimes, our prayers seem to bring, not showers of blessing, but trouble and heartache. And yet.. God’s answers may not fit our thoughts or desires. I certainly didn’t want thunder and lightning instead of fireworks– both are noisy and aren’t conducive to restful sleep. But the rain brought much-needed nourishment to flowers and crops. It brought down the super hot temperatures, and lowered the humidity (a little). It even cleaned the dust from my vehicle, saving me from making a trip to the car wash! Of course, these are small effects of a single storm. And the noise of the rain, while loud, finally lulled me to sleep, so in a sense, my prayer was answered. It wasn’t what I had imagined, But the principle is the same. Even in our storms, disasters and tragedies, there are blessings– if we have the heart to look for them. God’s presence can bring us comfort and encouragement even in the darkest night, and in the floods of life.

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Just as the parable and the song remind us– building a life on the Rock of Jesus Christ, including a lifestyle of prayer, will keep us strong and resilient in the storms of life– whether we’re facing raging floods or a simple downpour, we can find hope in the faithfulness of God’s provision. God WILL provide– in His time and in His way– everything we truly need. The sand, dust, and even some of our earthly treasures may be washed away, but, as long as we are built up on the Rock, we will be blessed– sometimes in the most unexpected ways.

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Let’s keep sending the prayers up!

If You Only Knew…

36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Luke 7:36-50 (ESV)
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The Pharisees in the New Testament seem to spend a lot of time judging and criticizing everyone. They rail at Jesus for healing people on the Sabbath, they grumble about His disciples not following the ritual hand-washing customs, and they are constantly critical of Jesus for “hanging out” with sinners and undesirables. We shake our heads and lament how narrow-minded they were. But I have to wonder what would happen in today’s world if Jesus were walking among us today. Would He “hang out” at our churches? Would He praise those who spend their time pointing out the hypocrisy of others? Would He be a “social justice” warrior?

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Many of Jesus’s miracles were done quietly and without pretense. No one criticized “what” Jesus was doing. No one said, “you shouldn’t be healing people,” or, “how dare you turn water into wine.” Instead, they criticized “how” Jesus did His miracles and what He said about Himself, others, and God. In the book of Luke, we have a story that doesn’t even involve a miracle. Jesus was invited to be the guest of a Pharisee. Jesus didn’t turn down the invitation. He didn’t start out criticizing the host or the food. But when a woman crashed the party– a woman known all around town for her sinful ways–and made a scene, Jesus didn’t recoil in horror, order her to leave, or stop her from making a fool of herself. The Pharisee, believing that he had “unmasked” Jesus as a charlatan, concluded that Jesus didn’t “know” what sort of woman she was. But Jesus, breaking His silence, ended up “unmasking” the Pharisee, instead.

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Jesus “knew” what sort of woman made such a spectacle of herself–one who needed compassion and forgiveness. Jesus knew exactly “who” and “what” she was. But He also knew who created her, loved her, and wanted to redeem her to become someone better. Moreover, He knew what kind of man Simon (the Pharisee) was. He started out with a parable about cancelled debt and a question. Simon answered the question correctly, but he had missed the point. Simon “knew” the woman was a sinner; he didn’t recognize that he was a sinner, too! Simon thought he was smarter and holier than Jesus. He didn’t know himself, and he didn’t recognize Jesus as God in the Flesh.

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How often I make the same mistake! I think I “know” who God wants me to love and honor– those who say all the right words and wear the right clothes and belong to the right church. But if I want to follow in Jesus’s footsteps, I will have compassion on the people who most need it; I will be ready to forgive those who owe me the most; I will spare judgment where I do not “know” all that God knows about someone else.

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It is easy to lift up in prayer those I admire; those to whom I am already close. It is more difficult to pray for those who persecute me, or taunt me about my belief in Christ. It is difficult to withhold judgment about why they may dislike me or why they distrust Christians in general. It is tempting to pray for their “exposure” or punishment, rather than their well-being. It may be unpleasant to spend time with them or take them seriously. But it is essential that I do, with God’s help, what I would not do in my own pride and limited knowledge. Otherwise, like Simon, I am showing only how little I love the one who died for me– and the person I choose to hold in judgment and contempt.

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I have a lot of work to do in this area. Just today, I read a news snippet about a political office-holder; one with whom I heartily disagree. My first instinct was to pray that she be ousted from office in the next election, and publicly scorned. And perhaps that will happen. But my first priority should be to pray that she would be protected in her current role as public servant, and that God would give her wisdom and discernment in the months ahead. Not because she is a “better” person; but because Jesus died for her. If she were the woman in this story, would I be another Simon the Pharisee? I pray not.

Show, Don’t Tell..

A fundamental piece of advice for writing fiction is “Show, don’t tell.” A good writer will use words to paint a picture or set a mood. Poets and songwriters are masters of this advice. Metaphors, analogies, figurative language, even alliteration– all create memorable images with very few words.

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Jesus (hardly surprising, as He is the Word of God) was a master storyteller, using parables that we still recognize and identify with today–mustard seeds and prodigal sons, good Samaritans and lilies of the field– Jesus didn’t “lecture” about forgiveness or holiness or love; He provided word pictures, even as He demonstrated each concept in His actions.

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When Jesus was getting ready to return to Heaven, He commanded His disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations.. (Matthew 28:19 NIV) He also said to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature..(Mark 16:15 NKJV). And as I review Jesus’ methods and actions, I see that I need to make some changes.

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I need to listen more and lecture less. I need to spend more time with those who are shunned by the “righteous,” but cherished by God. I need to spend less time defending myself and more time testifying about Jesus. And I need to spend less time “telling” and more time “showing” love, obedience, joy, mercy, peace, and hope.

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This doesn’t eliminate the need to talk and write and “tell” about God– but I want to learn more about doing it God’s way!

The Rocks Cry Out

A couple of days ago, while the weather was still cold, but clear, my husband and I visited one of the many beaches along the eastern coast of Lake Michigan.  The beaches are popular throughout the summer months, especially those with lots of dunes and smooth sand for sunbathing and picnics and beach volleyball.  We’re the sort of odd ducks who like to visit in the off-season, bundled in parkas and combing the rocky shores looking for unique stones and beach glass.

I was reminded of Jesus’ parable of the two men– one who built his house upon the rock, and the other who built his on sand.  https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+7%3A24-27&version=ESV.   Sandy beaches are wonderful to visit in the summer, when the weather is perfect, the sun is shining, and the lake is calm.  But over the winter months, people avoid sandy beaches (as we did) because the wind and waves can erode great patches of sand, moving it about and changing the shoreline considerably.  On the bigger public beaches, crews put up fences to keep the winter gales from blowing sand away from the shore and into the parking lots and streets.  The fences also trap the sand and snow on the shore.  Snow banks that form on the beach can melt and carry the sand back into the lake, forming new sand bars that can cause damage to small boats.  Even in the summer, large waves can produce undertows and dangerous currents for the unwary. 

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In many ways, sand is like sin.  Sand is attractive– smooth and glistening in the sun.  It is warm and seems to yield to the touch.  But sand shifts; it blows and drifts easily, but it sticks in place where we least want it, tiny grains getting into hair and clothes, shoes, and beach towels.  It slips away, slides from under our feet, fails to hold its shape, unless we wet it down and pack it, and then it crumbles under the action of the waves.

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Rock, on the other hand, is secure.  It takes centuries to erode; it doesn’t shift or fall away.  A rocky coast may not seem as inviting for pleasure, but it makes a far better foundation for a home or a lighthouse.  Even the smaller stones along the beach do not blow around in a strong wind, nor do they melt away with the snow.

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Beach stones can offer further illustrate how God works in our lives.  Stones on the beach start out with sharp edges.  They are cold and hard and uneven.  But over time, the rocks are slowly churned by the waves and the movement of smaller rocks and sand, and they are smoothed and polished by their environment.  Among the sharp rocks are beautiful agates and quartz, their varied colors seeming to absorb sunlight and heat.  Just so, we are transformed from hard and cold isolated individuals as we absorb the Son’s character.  And, as we are churned up against others, and the hard edges get smoothed away, His beautiful character is revealed in us, and we shine.  With further polishing, the stones reveal the kind of strength and beauty that make them worthy of being displayed or set in jewelry.  Not every rock along the beach will go through this transformation..some will remain hard and sharp; others will be ground into sand.  But some will cry out in their beauty and strength as testimonies of  God’s eternal process of redemption.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

I saw an interesting site the other day about “Plant (ing) Your Spiritual Garden.”  Spiritual Gardening

I’ve seen different versions– one version had some rows of “P”s, instead of “peace”– Peace, Prayer, Patience, and Positive Thinking.  Another talked about keeping Be’s near your garden– Be Faithful, Be Loving, Be Kind, Be Anxious for Nothing, etc..

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I love figurative language– parable and metaphor and such– the Bible uses it generously.  Jesus used parables about gardens, planting, fruit trees, harvest, and vineyards throughout his teachings.  He knew that we can listen on two levels and that we remember concepts better with visual and figurative examples.

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Prayer is something we must cultivate–we can grow and produce fruit if we develop the pursuit and practice of prayer.  Remember to pull out the weeds of busyness and doubt.  Plant seeds of praise and trust, dig deep in the fertile soil of faith; allow for the key ingredients of the light of God’s Word and the Living Water of daily fellowship with Him.

There are a lot of other great tips to keep healthy growth happening.  Need some more tips– check out this page.  Proactive Prayer Points

If you have other tips, I’d love to hear them– please leave a comment or suggestion!

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