FARMA – Part 3

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?” He said to them, “An enemy has done this.” [Matthew 13:24-28 (ESV)]

sunflowerWhile we usually reap what we sow, we also can receive unexpected and undeserved harvests! When we lived in the north, courtesy of God and nature, wildflower seeds took root in the field next to our house and Spiderwort, Sunflowers, Dame’s Rocket, and Wild Bergamot grew there without any effort on my part. Although I hadn’t sowed them, I never protested those beautiful wildflowers; I just thanked God for them. None of us are likely to complain to God about the many undeserved blessings He regularly bestows on us!

While we certainly don’t object when we get a harvest of blossoms, we’re sure to protest when we receive an unexpected (and seemingly undeserved) harvest of life’s thistles. Like the farmer who sowed high-quality seeds only to discover weeds growing in his field, we were distressed the year we discovered our beautiful field of wildflowers had been invaded by thistles. Although we hadn’t planted the invasive weeds, the unwelcome thistles were there!

Shortly before his eviction from Eden, Adam was told that the ground would yield thistles and thorns along with grain. That warning was both literal and figurative. Satan will spread his seeds wherever and whenever the opportunity arises and the enemy’s seeds of evil can invade people’s lives no matter how many good seeds they’ve sown. We can sow the seeds of love and fidelity but still be betrayed by an unfaithful spouse, we can work carefully and industriously but get downsized, we can drive cautiously and courteously but get hit by a drunk driver, and, even though we pray for and love our enemy, he may continue to hate us!

While we should expect more of the same when we sow thistle seeds, we’re perplexed when we’ve sown seeds of righteousness and get things like misfortune, difficulty, suffering, or loss. That’s the enemy assaulting us and we can’t allow his seeds of hatred, anger, resentment, doubt, or violence to take root in our hearts. Rather than wonder why, our job is simply to faithfully tend our fields and keep sowing seeds of righteousness. When the time is right, God will take care of the weeds and we’ll be part of a wonderful harvest.

If I ask, “Why me?” about my troubles, I would have to ask, “Why me?” about my blessings. … I take the good with the bad, and I try to face them both with as much calm and dignity as I can muster. [Arthur Ashe]

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. [1 Corinthians 15:58 (ESV)]

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WE CAN’T STAY IN SWITZERLAND

Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me. [Matthew 12:30 (NLT)]

The Gospel is of such a nature, as to its offers and its claims, that it cannot tolerate indifference. [John Broadus]

The Matterhorn

I often say my daughter is our family’s Switzerland. If a dispute should occur between family members, while she is a sympathetic listener and wise advisor, like Switzerland, she remains neutral. Although staying impartial about certain issues is possible (and prudent when it involves family), there can be no neutral territory when it comes to Jesus.

We can be indifferent as to who wins the ball game, unsure of an explanation, apathetic toward a cause, impartial when it comes to a spat between our children, undecided about a candidate, and neutral about where we go for dinner but we can’t be wishy-washy when it comes to God! If we’re not fully for Him, we’re opposing Him. We can’t stay in Switzerland when it comes to believing in Jesus!

Indecision about some things carries serious risks. That was demonstrated last month when TikTok star Megan Alexandra Blankenbiller posted her final video from her hospital bed. As she struggled to catch her breath, Blankenbiller pleaded with her followers to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Rather than being anti-vax, she just hadn’t made up her mind about the vaccine. “It was a mistake,” she admitted while adding, “I shouldn’t have waited.” Nine days later the 31-year-old died. The previous month, an Alabama doctor urged the undecided to get their COVID-19 vaccine shots. In a Facebook post, Dr. Brytney Cobia wrote about her once healthy young patients who suffered from serious COVID-19 complications. “One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late.”

Even though it’s too late for people to get vaccinated once they’re infected, as long as people have breath in their bodies, it’s never too late to decide about Christ! That day on Calvary, as the unbelieving criminal hung beside Jesus, he mocked our Lord one minute and then professed belief in Him the next. Because Jesus assured him that, “Today you will be with me in paradise,” we know that last minute conversions are possible. Nevertheless, it’s not a smart idea to wait until the last minute. After all, people who wait until the 11th hour to repent might die at 10:30! St. Augustine said, “God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination.”  While the choice we make about a vaccine will not affect how we spend eternity, the choice we make about Jesus will!

Deathbed repentance is burning the candle of life in the service of the devil, and then blowing the smoke into the face of God. [Billy Sunday]

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” [John 14:6 (NLT)]

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BUYING A FIELD

See how the siege ramps have been built against the city walls! Through war, famine, and disease, the city will be handed over to the Babylonians, who will conquer it. Everything has happened just as you said.  And yet O Sovereign LORD, you have told me to buy the field—paying good money for it before these witnesses—even though the city will soon be handed over to the Babylonians. Then this message came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “I am the Lord, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything too hard for me? [Jeremiah 32:24-27 (NLT)]

grand tetons - jackson holeUnder siege for nearly a year, Jerusalem was surrounded by the Babylonians, and Judah’s future looked grim. Whether it was poverty or the desire to get rid of property that soon would be worthless once Babylon invaded, Hanamel decided to sell his land in Anathoth, about three miles from Jerusalem. Under Israelite law, property was supposed to stay within a family and so Hanamel offered it to his cousin, the prophet Jeremiah.

Since Anathoth already was under Babylonian control, Hanamel’s real estate deal would be like being offered property in Kabul, Afghanistan. While real estate often is considered a good investment, purchasing property in an active war zone or occupied territory is not. Nevertheless, even though Jeremiah was imprisoned in the palace courtyard and the nation’s defeat was inevitable, God instructed him to become the property’s redeemer by purchasing his cousin’s land.

Having prophesied the fall of Judah, the destruction of Jerusalem, Zedekiah’s imprisonment, and the Jews’ captivity, Jeremiah knew how worthless the land was. Although he lawfully could refuse to purchase it, the prophet paid his cousin 17 shekels (about 18-months’ wages) for the land which, considering the circumstances, seems a sizeable sum for land he’d never live to enjoy. Assuring his scribe Baruch that the worthless land again would have value, he told him to take the deeds, place them in a clay jar (the ancient version of a safety deposit box), and preserve them in a safe place, The prophet then passed along God’s hopeful words to all those who witnessed the transaction in the courtyard: “Someday people will again own property here in this land and will buy and sell houses and vineyards and fields.”

Along with his prophecies of Jerusalem’s ruin, Judah’s defeat, and the people’s captivity, Jeremiah had prophesied God’s eventual restoration of the people to their land. He didn’t buy the land because Judah wouldn’t be conquered; he purchased it because it would! The prophet was putting his money where his mouth was. His purchase of a worthless piece of acreage was an act of faith. It was a sign of hope for the future by the man who’d prophesied doom and gloom—a powerful demonstration of his belief in God’s promise that the land would again have value and belong to the Jews.

If we want to see the fulfillment of God’s promises to us, like Jeremiah, we must be obedient to God’s commands, no matter how difficult, confusing, or absurd they seem to be. In the face of obstacles, hardship, or overwhelming odds, we must demonstrate our faith and hope in God because faith and obedience go hand in hand. If we say we believe His promises, we must act as if we truly do! May we always remember that nothing is too hard for the Lord!

I will certainly bring my people back again from all the countries where I will scatter them in my fury. I will bring them back to this very city and let them live in peace and safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God. And I will give them one heart and one purpose: to worship me forever, for their own good and for the good of all their descendants. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good for them. I will put a desire in their hearts to worship me, and they will never leave me. I will find joy doing good for them and will faithfully and wholeheartedly replant them in this land. [Jeremiah 32:37-41 (NLT)]

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GETTING OUT OF THE PIT

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. … God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. [James 1:2-4,12 (NLT)]

donkeyThe story is told of a donkey who fell into a deep pit. Unable to get out, the animal brayed loudly until the farmer came to investigate. Seeing no way to get his donkey out of the pit, the farmer decided the only thing he could do was to put the poor animal out of its misery. Since the pit needed to be filled anyway, he got a spade and started to shovel dirt into it. When the donkey felt those first clods of dirt on his back, he lost all hope of rescue and brayed even louder. As he shook the dirt off his back, however, he discovered a growing mound of dirt beneath his feet. Seeing a possible solution, the donkey grew silent as he continued to shake dirt off his back and started tamping it down with his hooves. As the dirt piled up beneath his feet, the donkey got higher and higher in the pit. Paying no attention to the now silent animal, the farmer kept shoveling until he finally stopped for a rest. When he turned around, the man was shocked to see the donkey step out of the pit and trot away. The animal could have chosen to wallow in his misery—simply hung his head and let that dirt cover him up—but he didn’t. Instead, he took steps to change his situation.

Giving up is often our first response when we get buried in our troubles. Deciding the marriage can’t be saved, the situation is hopeless, we’ll never beat the addiction, we’re worthless sinners, we failed, no one understands, or that the pain will never end, we don’t even try to find a fix! That, however, means we’ve ceded control of our lives to something or someone other than God. By giving up, we’ve stopped living God’s will because we’re not letting Him shape and mold us in our circumstances. God’s not done with us until He says so!

When I look back at some of my worst experiences, heaviest trials, and most heartbreaking times, I see my greatest emotional and spiritual development. Growth seems to occur in the valleys (or pits) rather than on the hilltops. Perhaps that’s because we want to maintain the status quo in the good times; when all is going smoothly, we certainly don’t want to rock the boat with any change. Bad times, however, make us as uncomfortable as that trapped animal. Like the donkey, when we are buried in trouble, we have a choice: wallow in misery or make a change.

Instead of letting the dirt bury him, the donkey turned it into a gift. We can see our troubles as penalties or gifts, endings or beginnings, impediments or opportunities. The choice is ours. Life is always going to try to weigh us down; the trick is in deciding to get out of the pit. The donkey did it by shaking off the dirt. As people of hope who know that Jesus can do within us that which we can’t do for ourselves; let us do the same!

We are always on the anvil; by trials God is shaping us for higher things. [Henry Ward Beecher]

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. [Romans 5:3-5 (NLT)]

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THE RAINBOW’S END

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:38-39 (NLT)]

rainbowDays bled into weeks, weeks into months, and every day seemed the same for much of the last eighteen months. Life became a series of postponements, rebookings, cancelations, setbacks, inconveniences, letdowns, and disappointments. Visiting Grandma meant waving at her through a window, final farewells were FaceTime calls on a nurse’s cell phone, and we mourned from a distance while attending celebrations of life virtually. Weddings were postponed, family reunions put on hold, shut-downs and travel restrictions kept loved ones apart, theaters and concert halls went dark, vacations were delayed, businesses closed, jobs were lost, and junior year abroad became junior year on Zoom.

Many of us had something specific to which we looked forward in the COVID-free future. It was anticipation of that reward that helped sustain us through the dreary months. When vaccines rolled out and numbers dropped, we began to think the end was in sight and we finally saw the end of the rainbow! Plans resumed for family reunions, the delayed semester abroad, or the cruise of a lifetime. Vacations were scheduled, wedding venues rebooked, businesses set dates for returning to the office, and nursing homes and hospitals again allowed visitors. With the surge in cases and the return of restrictions, however, many of those plans have been pushed back yet again or cancelled altogether. We’re frustrated and disappointed because the future we hoped for isn’t the one we got!

In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, the demon Screwtape strategizes with his nephew Wormwood on methods of capturing a young man’s soul. The senior demon suggests using time as a weapon. Screwtape explains that the “enemy” (God) wants man to focus on only two times: eternity (which means attending to God) or the present in meditation, obedience, service, receiving grace, or giving thanks. Having found tempting someone to live in the past to be of “limited value,” Screwtape advises a far better approach is to tempt the man to attend to the future. God, he says, “does not want men to give the future their hearts, to place their treasure in it,” but the demons definitely do! He adds that, “We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end.” Rather than being faithful, kind, happy, or thankful in the present, the demons want people to miss the gifts of the present day while looking for them in the future. “Gratitude,” says Screwtape, “looks to the past and love to the present,” but, the demon adds, it is things like fear, desire, greed, materialism, and ambition that look to the future.

As Christians, we can’t let our disappointment in the future we’d anticipated dominate our life or cause us to lose hope. Keeping our eyes on the real hope found in eternity with God, let’s not allow our disappointment in tomorrow steal today’s joy. As followers of Jesus, we live with a hope that isn’t dependent on pandemics, positivity rates, restrictions, weather, or finances because we know how the story ends. Yes, we’re disappointed now but, ultimately, we won’t be disappointed by what God has waiting for us.

Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.  [Mother Teresa]

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. [2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NLT)]

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TOO HEAVY

My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. [Isaiah 55:8-9 (NLT)]

mockingbirdAfter Jane Marczweski’s stunning performance on America’s Got Talent last June, I posted a devotion (It’s Okay) about her. Known as Nightbirde, the 30-year-old vocalist (and three-time cancer survivor) sang an original song called “It’s Okay” and received the “golden buzzer” from judge Simon Cowell. Last week, the brave young woman had to withdraw from the competition because her health has taken a turn for the worse. In an interview on CNN with Chris Cuomo, she shared that her metastatic breast cancer has now invaded both lungs and liver and her fight with cancer is demanding all of her energy and attention.

When we see a young person like Nightbirde, a beautiful person both inside and out who seems so deserving of good future, it’s easy to ask the age-old question of “Why?” Why do some of the best people, the ones with the most to offer, seem to suffer the most or have their futures cut short when many of the worst and worthless seem to breeze along without a problem? Why, when life begins to look up does God so often pull out the rug? “Life doesn’t always give breaks to those that deserve it,” said the singer while adding, “but we knew that already.” Indeed, we did; nevertheless, we don’t like it!

When Cuomo asked Nightbirde if she ever wonders, “Why?” the young woman replied, “I try not to occupy myself with questions that are too big for myself to answer. It’s a waste of time. You know, just because it’s a mystery doesn’t mean it’s the absence of meaning. Sometimes, the mystery means there is more meaning there than we can even understand and so I accept that and I let go of the question because it’s too heavy.”

Indeed, much in our lives seems inexplicable and far beyond our comprehension. But, as the young singer pointed out, incomprehensible or unknowable doesn’t mean meaningless or pointless. It’s a mystery why Nightbirde’s promising future probably will be cut short; then again, it’s a mystery why my mother died when I was fifteen, why my brother was struck with inoperable cancer at the moment his life finally took an upturn after years of trouble, and why the God-fearing believers on my prayer list have been burdened with things like mesothelioma, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MS, schizophrenia, and chronic pain. This young woman’s words remind us all that our lack of understanding of God’s purpose doesn’t mean that what happens is without meaning.

I can’t understand quantum physics any more than I can understand the ways of God. The difference between the two is that, given enough time, effort, and tutoring, I eventually could understand quantum physics but I will never be able to fully understand God. While we can come to know and love Him, we never will be able to comprehend His mysterious ways. Indeed, some questions are so weighty that we’d never make sense of God’s answer even if He explained it to us!

This optimistic young woman says she’s planning for her future rather than her legacy and says, “I want to be the bird that sings in anticipation of the good things that I trust are coming.” As a Christian, Nightbirde doesn’t need to ask God “Why?” because she knows good things are coming, whether in this world or the next!

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen. [Romans 11:33-36 (NLT)]

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