Friday, June 9, 2017

How Does Your Garden Grow?: Part 4 - Weedkiller



Luke 8:7
"Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants."


Luke 8:14
"The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature"


When I reread this verse several weeks ago, it hit me. Hard.


Sure, I've heard it before. A lifetime of Sunday School attendance results in a lot of felt-board illustrations of the sower and seed. But the significance hit me anew when I read it more recently.


Unlike the rocky seed in the last post, in this verse the seed has taken root. The powerful, life changing seed of truth has sunk into a believer's heart...and is slowly strangled and choked.


Doesn't this verse depict perfectly, exactly what the devil is hoping for? As Christians, we don't really like to talk about the devil much. But here is the truth; the devil's goal is to kill and destroy us. Yeah, it's not nice and pretty and won't be showing up printed on a fancy background on any Instagram accounts anytime soon. But whether we want to believe it or not, it remains true. The devil is out to destroy you.


Nothing is scarier to sin than holiness. When we take the seed of truth and water and nurture it, nothing is more threatening to the darkness. The devil cannot touch us when we are under the protection of the Lord - but we can allow ourselves to be strangled and choked to death by things in our lives that we choose to feed and embrace.


If you hear nothing else, hear this: sin is a trap. Sin kills. It promises fulfillment and brings nothing but pure destruction and thorns. And once you give it a foothold in your life, it can begin to eat you from the inside out.


Is there a pattern of sin that you are trapped in? Are thorns springing from the ground and wrapping themselves around you from the ground up? Please; do not let something twisted and weak bring you to the ground when there is a stronger light urging you to grow upward.


Sin grows when we cultivate it. Just like cultivating the seed of the Lord's truth is what brings fruit, cultivating sin brings consequences. Bad behaviors are only half the battle. It's where sin starts - in the heart - where the real battleground is.


Any effectiveness that we may have as a believer - any fruit that may be trying to spring forth - can be so easily halted if we aren't proactive in the fight against sin.


For all the devil's power, the truth remains that we serve a master much higher. We don't have to be slaves to the sinful patterns that attempt to rule our lives! Forgiveness is the best weedkiller. The thorns can be torn away before you wither away.


Before forgiveness can happen, there must be confession. This is the hardest part of overcoming sin; admitting that there is a need for penance. Admitting it to yourself. Admitting it to God. Admitting it to someone else you trust.


Why is it that the last one is hardest for us? It is so hard as humans to show vulnerability to one another. But if you are engaged in any sort of repeating sin that has become a pattern and is impacting your life, bringing all the stuff that's been hiding in the dark out into the open can be the first step toward freedom.


Once we acknowledge our sin, we need to ask for forgiveness. Aren't you so glad that the Lord offers His forgiveness freely? All we have to do is ask, and we are instantly freed. Does that mean there are no consequences for our actions? Absolutely not. But, slate has been wiped clean. The only thing left is to believe this truth, internalize this truth, and live in the truth of forgiveness.

Stop fertilizing and growing the things that are trying to kill you. The only way to kill sin is to starve it, and the only way to starve it is with a heart change that can only come from the Lord. It's not a battle of will, it's a battle of surrender - the surrender to forgiveness.

Friday, June 2, 2017

How Does Your Garden Grow?: Part 3 - Quenched



Luke 8:6
"Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture."

Luke 8:13
"Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away."

My favorite flowers are sunflowers, and they have been for several years now. Not because of the color or the size as much as the memories that I have associated with them.

When I was 14, my family moved to the middle of rural South Dakota, where we lived for 3 years while we ran our family business. It was a huge change that resulted in a culture shock and a lot of lonely days throughout my middle school years. Some days, I yearned for the bustle and pace that I was used to in the small cities I grew up in . On these days, I usually hopped in the car (yes, you can get your license at 14 in South Dakota) and went for a drive.

During the summers in rural South Dakota, drought is almost the norm. As I would drive along the endless, empty highway, long, brown prairie grass surrounded me on both sides. Dead. Dry. Just like I felt sometimes, far away from so many of the things that brought me life and energy. But one day, I spotted color peeking from the grass. Bright spots of yellow among the brown. I remember a specific time when I executed a maneuver my driver's ed teacher wouldn't have liked and pulled onto the shoulder of the road so that I could get out of the car and pluck a small sunflower. I tucked it behind my ear and drive home, and I kept it there the rest of the day.

Seeing something living and bright among the dead was able to touch me in a unique way. It brought me hope. It reminded me to see the sunshine through the gray.

In a dark and confused world, how brightly pure, fresh fruit in the life of a believer shows through! We live in a world that needs light, and we have the chance to be able to reflect the light of the Lord through our lives and actions. How cool is that? But in order to stand out from the dead that surrounds us, we need to be watered; just like a sunflower (are you loving these garden analogies, or what?)!

It's really hard to reach others if you haven't taken care of yourself first. That's why they tell you in airplanes to put your oxygen masks on first in an emergency before helping others. Just as your capability to help others get air is limited when you, yourself, can't breathe; pouring out of an empty cup isn't only leaving you parched, but isn't having the desired effect on the people you're trying to reach. 

How can we keep ourselves fed and refreshed as believers? If you've been a Christian long, you know what it's like to go through a dry spell. There isn't one sure method to 'cure' this feeling, and this feeling isn't always 'bad' or 'wrong' - different seasons develop us in different ways. However, there are things we can do to put ourselves in positions where we are receptive to 'watering'.

One of our main spring sources is always God's Word. The Bible is an incredible gift meant to encourage, educate, and guide us. Spending time studying and reading the Bible opens us up to all the ways that God can communicate to us through his word. The more time we spend ruminating on sweet, refreshing truths, the more they seem to find their way into our bloodstream and change the way we look at life.

We're not meant to do this alone. Other Christians that we give the ability to speak into our lives keep us filled. Bible studies, accountability partners, even going out to coffee with a friend - simple, classic, life-giving. I challenge you to identify people you know who 'pour life'; and, if you don't have any in your life right now, find some. Your church might be a good place to start. It's worth the time and the investment.

Throughout all of this, we must take time to breathe. Get perspective. Go outside. Serve. Do something that makes you feel like you, whether that's playing the piano or doodling on some notebook paper or shooting hoops. The pace that life requires - especially for a student, like me -  is impossible to maintain without burning out. Take a breath. Time to think and time for God to speak and time to develop your passions is just as important as the next item on your to-do list. Trust me.

The best part? If we stay 'watered' and take time to grow healthy and strong in the calm times, when drought comes and everything around us starts to die we are able to stay bright, yellow, sunflowery beacons through the hopelessness. When we are filled with grace and peace and truth, we pour hope through everything we do.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

How Does Your Garden Grow?: Part 2 - Buried Deep



Luke 8:4-5
"While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus form town after town, he told this parable: 'A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up.'"

Luke 8:11-12
"This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved."

The gospel is not grass seed. Grass seed can be scattered on top of a plot of land and left there. Eventually it will work it's way into the soil. But the gospel message doesn't actually take root in a person's life if it just stays on the surface. It needs to be buried, and buried deep.

Hearing the word of God isn't enough, and even hearing and believing isn't enough. We need to allow it to penetrate our soul, every fiber of our being, and take root in the deepest part of us. That means it needs to be allowed to touch those dark parts - all the sin, all the fear, all the insecurity.

As Hebrews 4:12 says, the word of God penetrates even to dividing "joint and marrow." No part of that sounds like a surface message. If we truly want the Lord to work through us, that seed has to be planted deep enough that it touches all that we are and replaces it with all God is. 

Don't hear the message of Christ and just let it stay on the surface. Let it become you. Breathe it, work it, live it. Bury the seeds of hope and forgiveness and salvation way down deep where the roots can grow. Plants start growing far below the earth before they every spring upward, so make sure your roots are strong and come from what the Lord has planted within you.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

How Does Your Garden Grow?: Part 1 - Bloom What You Planted



Matthew 7:16-20

"By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them."

Christianity is useless without fruit.

The Bible is fond of metaphors featuring fruit and plants, from Psalm 17:8 to the above Matthew passage - and, coincidentally, so am I.

As a college student, I move around a lot - but every where I go throughout the year, my small houseplant travels with me. She has rested in the cupholders of many different cars and traveled through several different states; all because of how much I love to watch growth and life right on my very own windowsill.

I'm captured enough by the imagery that plants provide that I was inspired to write several blog posts based around Luke 8:1-15; The Parable of the Sower. Even though this parable is usually used to illustrate and inspire Christians to "scatter seed" over an unbelieving world, I was recently struck with the applications this passage has to those of us who are currently following Christ as we water and grow the seed that is planted in us. There are a lot of threats facing that seed, and its important that we are actively fighting those thorns and rocks that pop up in our lives. And so I invite you to journey with me for the next several weeks, through How Does Your Garden Grow? And here is how we're going to begin:

Christianity is useless without fruit.

The message of Christ is a seed. A potent and powerful one. Just like a giant tree can spring from a little acorn, the implications of the simple message of Christ are gigantic and vast. Once the small seed of salvation is planted, it has to potential to grow into a giant tree. And from that tree springs fruit. The great thing about fruit? It produces more seeds. And so the message spreads.

Fruit is what it's all about. As Christians, the words and actions that we produce are the greatest tribute to the seed that gave us our life. In looking at Luke 8, it is important to realize that our ultimate goal as followers of Christ should be growing into tall, strong, fruitful trees.

Throughout Luke 8 we'll be looking at various factors that threaten our growth. Fruit is Christianity in action; so it should be obvious that if the devil can keep that fruit from ever blooming, he'll have been very effective in making us unable to internalize and spread Christ's message, rendering us...useless.

We can't allow the devil to get any sort of foothold when it comes to keeping our fruit alive and thriving. We have to be on the offensive. Christianity is not a passive religion. It takes intentional action and monitoring of our lives.

A seed hides under the soil, but a colorful garden draws attention and brings beauty and life to everything near it. Luke 8 warns us of the dangers facing the seeds of truth and hope and influence in our lives, but being aware of these dangers can help us combat them. Take a walk through the garden with me?





Monday, March 27, 2017

A Stone's Throw




"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." - Matthew 6:33

Oh, the allure of a 'how-to.' If you're like me, you've clicked more than once on an article that promises to give you the answers to fix a problem in your life. Click-bait ranging from "How to Clean White Sneakers" to "How to Improve your Marriage in 10 Steps", draws in self-help seekers every minute of every day. As humans, we know there is a problem. Deep down each individual knows that there are things in life that need fixing.

I love exploring the opinions and wisdom that people on the internet have to offer. I have read so many insightful, Biblical articles that have changed patterns in my life. But I also believe that our digital culture, which provides infinite information at our fingertips, is breeding a generation of self-help Christians; individuals with hearts genuinely and earnestly desiring change in their lives, but neglecting to use their greatest resource of truth.

We are chasing answers, desperately searching for information to answer the questions that continually trip us up. "Why does God allow suffering?" is typed on Google approximately 10,000 times every month.Questions like "how do I forgive myself?" or "is God good?" flood the search menus. Even as Christians, we might find ourselves asking "how do I escape this particular temptation?" "How do I fight doubt?" "How do I build a healthy relationship?"

Hebrews 1:1-2 tells us a little bit about the Lord's revelation. It tells us that the Lord has spoken to us through the prophets and through His son...for us today, those revelations are contained in the Bible. God also reveals Himself to us through His creation (Psalm 19:1) and our own human image (Genesis 1:27). He can also speak directly to individuals through special revelation. But the bottom line is; there are things we don't know.

How do we deal with these "holes" in the guidance we've been given? There certainly aren't any pages in the Bible with express instructions on how to recover from a heartbreak or master time management or get through depression. And so the Google searches above are born.

"Lord, give me answers!" we cry.

"Child, give me your heart," He replies.

Do you want to change your life? Don't chase answers. Chase the Lord.

Sometimes, we have to remember what it is that we worship. We don't worship answers, we worship a God. Trials are real, and the questions that nag at our hearts are real. We desire easy, tangible ways to overcome grief and temptation and exchange them for the joy and fulfillment we've been promised. But here's the truth; it's not really about us. We have been cleansed and forgiven and given a purpose...and the reason we've been justified in this way is so that we can reflect the glory back to the only one worthy.

We need to focus a little less on ourselves, and a little more on the greater calling. As it says in Matthew, we are called to seek first the Kingdom of the Lord. Everything else will follow, I promise you! It was never the law or a process that saves us; it has always been Jesus.

Do you want it? Do you want to know the Lord's heart? When this is your deepest desire, He will reveal Himself to you as you pursue. Go just a stone's throw further. If you want to find, you have to chase.

Life is full of unanswered questions, but as we get closer and closer to the Lord's heart, we start to realize something. Priority shifts from finding answers to finding God's heart.The more we know the Lord's character, the greater our confidence in His consistency. Truths like 'the Lord is patient' and 'the Lord is powerful' and 'the Lord is righteous' provide us the lens with which to look at the specific issues we face in life.

Questions like "Why does God allow suffering" can be viewed through the reality of a loving God who doesn't desire pain and a holy God who cannot tolerate sin. Questions like "How do I forgive myself?"  can be looked at with an understanding of the God who created us in His image and His sacrifice which redeemed humanity. Not every situational answer has been revealed to us...but the character of God is gloriously reflected in the rich stories and promises found in the Bible; in the beauty of His creation; and in the small taste of His love that we experience in our relationships with other humans.

Aren't you grateful we don't follow a explicit "life guide", but instead serve a living God? Live your life in the light of His truth, and "and all these things will be given to you as well." God doesn't always tell us exactly what to do...but He does desire to reveal to us who He is. And that is enough.

_________________________________________________________________________

more about methods of God's revelation: http://www.theopedia.com/revelation-of-god
the source of my google stats: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/20/opinion/sunday/seth-stephens-davidowitz-googling-for-god.html


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Bite-Sized Psalms

     Perhaps you've heard it said: "Time is money."


     As a college student, time is sleep. Time is socialization. Time is work. But most prominently...time is in short supply.


     Messages about the importance of time management are plenty, but even though the importance of devotional time and social time and school/family balance are emphasized, no one seems to be able to answer the question: how? How in the world do we do it all? Sometimes there are simply not enough hours in the day. And so students end up cutting corners somewhere. Homework gets dropped, friends get blocked, or sleep takes the hit. However, I find that in my own life, that sweet time lingering in the Lord's presence is often what slips away to allow room for papers and parties.

     Trying to manage too much usually results in not doing any of it well. This brings with it frustration and guilt and that terrible struggle of always trying to do everything and yet never doing enough.

     Guilt has NO place in our relationship with the Lord. Failure to reach the expectations and goals we have set for ourselves  is something that will happen repeatedly throughout our lives. Do you know why? Because we're NOT God. God is God. And He is good and gracious enough to make up for our shortcomings and bridge the gap between sin and holiness. We are flawed and not expected to always succeed - we are just expected to cultivate a heart that is eager to obey and please the Lord.

    The greatest danger is when this heavy feeling of guilt over struggling and failing to set aside time for the Lord keeps us on the path we are already on instead of driving us back to the Word. This is when it is important to realize - it's not always about the hours we have to give. It is the intent with which we pledge ourselves and our time to the Lord.

     My parents had a pastor who poured wisdom into their lives, and they continue to spread his wisdom to me and sister today. His legacy lives on through his stories. He shared with my parents how he struggled as young working man with a family trying to make time for the Lord, but only managing a few minutes every morning to spend in focused devotion time. He was apologizing to the Lord, exhausted at the fact that his best didn't seem like enough, when he felt that the Lord spoke to him and said, "what do you think the short Psalms are for?"

     Whether you have several hours to spend feasting at the table or only 10 minutes for a bite-sized Psalm, don't let guilt over not doing enough keep you from tasting and seeing that the Lord is good. He is an understanding and graceful God, and I think that he is patient with us as we struggle to balance our lives. As we are faithful to what He asks us to do, He will multiply our time and be faithful to us in return.

     Read your Bible, snack on a Psalm; even if it's in the 5 minutes between breakfast and rushing out the door. Continuously making time with the Lord a priority creates a pattern that allows Him to come into various areas of your life throughout your day. He is gracious, and when we give Him all we have to give His grace is faithful to bridge the gap.

_____________________________________________________

if you're looking for a short, bite-sized devotional to munch on each day, i recommend My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers or Jesus Calling by Beth Moore. each contains a small, daily devotional that can get your mind and eyes focused for the rest of the day, and i have encountered some pretty profound truths in the short paragraphs.

   
 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Grateful

     As I sit here in my dorm room, my family back home is struggling to adjust to life after my dad's unexpected kidney failure. It's midterms week, and I have three tests and project due in the next several days. I have friends dealing with a wide spectrum of family and personal issues. My phone broke and I had to buy a new one, and my sister crashed my car. My future is unknown, and I'm trying to figure out if I can afford to stay in school another year.

     And as I reflect, I am overwhelmed with gratefulness.

     I am grateful that the Lord I serve is constant, and that I don't have to be afraid when life gets rocky because my foundation will never move. I am grateful that He provides peace beyond my understanding. Gratitude is an insufficient word to express thankfulness for a life redeemed and forgiven and a love unconditional.

     Difficult situations sometimes provide the greatest backdrop against which to see God work. His holiness manifests itself in the healing and peace that He provides. God's presence is greater than any circumstance.

     Practice gratitude. Ask God to show you all the beautiful things you have to be thankful for, and no matter what the circumstance, rejoice that you have the opportunity to observe His holiness working not only in your situations but inside of you personally. That's a beautiful testimony.