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.