Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Sowing All Over Again

January is usually a rainy season in the south. The fields are wet and muddy. The water table is recovering. The hope of spring is still several freezes away. But it is not too early to start getting ready for new growth.

A new year sparks evaluations and resolutions. Many assess the past year and consider their ways. People usually don't go into the year saying, "I am hoping to have the worst year I have ever had." They think about opportunities and challenges and they dream that everything is going to be great. They want success, and happiness, and peace. But how can they help it happen?

Our lives are like fields. They primarily contain weeds. We do not just come up producing strawberries. Sometimes we try to mow the weeds, cutting our problems down on the surface. But if we really want to bear fruit we must go deeper. We need to get under the soil. We must plow the field and sow all over again.

This year, you will bear fruit if you...

1. Plow up the weeds of anger and resentment you have and remove them from your life. Did someone hurt you? Did you get a raw deal at work? Are you unhappy about some circumstance? Are you holding something in your heart? Such weeds will dominate your field and leave little room for growth. Forgiveness is one of the main ingredients to success in life. It is an attribute of God (Psalm 86:5).

2. Plow up the rocks of idleness. Most people bear no fruit because they sow no seed. Christians are supposed to be living stones built upon the foundation of Christ (1 Pet. 2:5). But many are just cold hard rocks taking up space. Jesus explained that people cannot belong to Him of they do not bear fruit for God - "By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples" (John 15:8). We cannot bear fruit alone. We need Christ (John 15:4).

3. Plow up the old, dead ground. You have to cultivate the soil. You have to add nutrients to your field. The best additive to your field comes from above. The farmer knows that nothing is better than good seed and the rain from heaven to water it. The Word of God is the seed (Luke 8:11). The rain that we need will come from God if we patiently and confidently wait (James 5:7).

"Father in heaven, thank you for today. Thank you for a new year. Thank you for hope. Be with us and help us. Help us to grow closer to you. Help us to sow all over again. Help us to glorify your name. In Jesus name, Amen."

"But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully." ~ 2 Corinthians 9:6

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Nice List

This past week has been a very nervous one in our home. My two youngest children have been concerned about what Santa might bring. One of them said that Christmas Eve was the most stressful night of the year. When you are a kid you have a lot invested on what may happen on Christmas morning. This is the magic of the holiday - the joy of innocent imagination and the laughter of experiencing the reception of realized dreams.

And then my daughter said something to me, tonight, December 23, that really made me think. She was talking about whether or not she was on the nice list. Her anxiety about it brought her to tears. She knew her cousins were soon arriving and that she had one more day to be good. She said she would be good all day and share her toys and make sure that Santa would know that she was a nice person and that even though she wasn’t always good she surely wanted to be good. Being on the nice list matters to my daughter! It matters enough that she is deeply sorry for anything she might do to remove herself from it.

There was a time for all of us when being on the nice list mattered. It was when there was someone watching over us whom we considered more powerful than us – who held the key to our happiness. We did not want to disappoint him. But when we grew up and our innocence was lost there were many of us who no longer cared about our presence on the list.

A lack of genuine kindness is usually an adult problem. We become cynical, impatient, and we get distracted with things that are not important. One minute we are volunteering at a soup kitchen and the next minute we are cutting people off for a better parking spot at a busy holiday shopping mall. One minute we are delivering a fruit basket to a widow and the next minute we are cross with the waitress who isn’t serving our every whim. Kindness spent on others is often lost on our spouses and children. Patience we extend to a person for whom we have compassion is often shortened for anyone we don’t respect. And the scariest thing from all of it is our general justification for our bad attitude. We just don’t cry at the idea that a nice list might be something on which our name would not be found.

Jesus’ appearance to the earth was not just for salvation, but for peace on earth and goodwill toward men. Titus tells us that the kindness and goodness of God toward man presented itself in the person of Jesus Christ. This is when grace came that taught us how to respond to love of God. Nice should not be a stretch for a people visited by the Son of God who willingly spilled His blood and forgave His murderers while still hanging between heaven and earth.

My child taught me a great lesson this evening. She reminded me I should always want to be on the nice list. She reminded me that the very thought of not making it on the list should reduce me to tears.

“But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” – Titus 3:4-5

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Jesus and the 21st Century Sabbath

It was a three and a half year sticking point: Jesus and the Sabbath. In John 5 Jesus healed a lame man on the Sabbath. From then on it was all the unbelieving Jews could think about. The very next week His disciples were found plucking the heads of grain and eating them, again, on the Sabbath. Jesus spoke about the Sabbath on several occasions and expounded on why the Rabbinical teachings on the Sabbath were out of line. Jesus never violated the Sabbath. He simply exposed the Pharisees’ improper interpretation.

Two statements from Mark 2:27-28 basically explain why Jesus acted the way He did from Sabbath to Sabbath. “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” The first statement explains that God set aside the Sabbath to teach man a spiritual lesson. It was not just about the obedient resting, it was about learning what God had done. The second statement is a call to understand that Jesus was involved in creating the material universe, and every holy law. He had the right as having the divine nature in Himself to change any law He created without being questioned.

God ordained the Sabbath as a holy day for the Jews because He wanted them to remember His creative work. The Sabbath was a reminder of the fact that God had ceased from that work. But Jesus explained later (John 5:17) that since day seven the Father and the Son had continued working. Jesus had not taken a day off since day seven. When He came to earth He was doing the work of God seven days a week.

If one were to closely examine everything Jesus did during His human life on the Sabbath, it would be impossible to prove that he had in any way broken the commandment. The Jewish Mishnah, (a Rabbinical commentary on the law), had come up with 39 specific activities that were unlawful to do on the Sabbath. Jesus certainly broke many of them, and in the meantime encouraged others to do so. He knew it did not matter, because the Mishnah was an addition to the Law of Moses. It was therefore not binding, and in fact it was causing people to miss the entire spiritual purpose of the commandment.

We can learn some very important things from Jesus’ treatment of the Sabbath: 1. God’s law is for a purpose, it is divine, and men must do it. 2. We are not supposed to do more or less than has been commanded. 3. It is important for us to see why the law is there as much as it is important for us to follow the law. 4. The only one who has the right to make adjustments to the law or set it aside altogether is God.

Jesus shocked the people by what He did on the Sabbath. But He never broke it. They were just doing it wrong. Which makes me wonder, if Jesus came into our churches each Sunday, what we He do differently? Would we realize it was us, and not Him, doing it wrong? And would we accuse Him?

“For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” – Matthew 12:8