FARMA – Part 1

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. [Galatians 6:7-9 (NLT)]

zinniaFound in Buddhism and Hinduism, the concept of karma is the idea that how you live your life now determines the quality of life you’ll have after reincarnation. Christians, however, believe that “each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment,” [Hebrews 9:27] which means that karma, with its continual opportunities to get it right, is not compatible with Christianity. Nevertheless, the karmic idea of good and bad actions yielding similar consequences—that “what goes around comes around”—is present throughout the Bible. Because many of the Bible’s metaphors about cause and effect have to do with agriculture and farming, a pastor friend likes to call this concept “farma.”

When a seed is planted, it will produce a harvest only of that particular plant. Apple seeds only produce apples just as just as corn seeds only yield a harvest of corn. It’s much the same with people—we usually get whatever we plant in our relationships. More often than not, the seeds of kindness produce more kindness and thoughtfulness, the seeds of patience yield a harvest of patience and perseverance and, when truth is planted, the planter typically reaps truth and trust.

If, however, we plant weeds, that’s exactly what we’ll get. Just as thistle seeds won’t yield roses, seeds of rage won’t produce peace, those of confrontation won’t yield harmony, and seeds of selfishness won’t produce generosity. The harvest from seeds of deceit will probably be more lies while disloyalty reaps betrayal. We can’t sow hate and expect affection and compassion won’t bloom where callousness has been planted. When we sow discord, we should expect a harvest of conflict in return.

Good farmers and gardeners think seriously about the kind of seeds they’ll plant. They not only look for seeds that will yield a bountiful crop but also for ones that are resistant to weeds, disease and pests. Perhaps we need to spend some time every morning determining the sort of seeds we will plant in our lives and the lives of those we encounter during the day. What kind of crop do we want? What can we plant in the garden of our lives that will blossom into a bountiful harvest of good?

We plant seeds that will flower as results in our lives, so best to remove the weeds of anger, avarice, envy and doubt, that peace and abundance may manifest for all. [Dorothy Day]

My experience shows that those who plant trouble and cultivate evil will harvest the same. [Job 4:8 (NLT)]

Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. [Hosea 10:12 (NLT)]

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PRAY FOR THEM – (Matthew 5:38-48 – Part 3)

You know that you have been taught, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I tell you not to try to get even with a person who has done something to you. When someone slaps your right cheek, turn and let that person slap your other cheek. If someone sues you for your shirt, give up your coat as well. If a soldier forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two miles. When people ask you for something, give it to them. When they want to borrow money, lend it to them. [Matthew 5:38-42 (CEV)]

turk's cap lilyIn a sermon, J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) called Matthew 5:38-48 “our Lord Jesus Christ’s rules for our conduct towards one another.” The Anglican bishop added, “They deserve to be written in letters of gold: they have extorted praise even from the enemies of Christianity. Let us mark well what they contain. The Lord Jesus forbids everything like an unforgiving and revengeful spirit.” Indeed, these ten verses describe a Christian as he or she is meant to be (which explains why I’ve spent the last three days writing about them).

When Jesus spoke of nonretaliation, He wasn’t speaking of criminal offense or military aggression but of personal nonretaliation—our relationship with our fellow travelers on this planet. He applied this principle of nonretaliation to personal insults and slights, lawsuits to gain your personal assets, interference with your personal rights, and intrusions on your personal property. His call to willingly surrender what we call ours and not to take revenge is radical but isn’t that what Christian love is all about?

Non-retaliation, however, is just part of Jesus’ radical call. It’s not enough to not hit back; Jesus calls us to love our enemies and even to pray for them. Now, praying for them is easy if it means to pray for their comeuppance—their just deserts or punishment—but vengeful prayers that ask God to give them some of their own are not what Jesus meant. When we love our enemies, we pray the same kind of prayers we do for our friends—unselfish prayers for their welfare and good. It’s not easy; nevertheless, blessings on those that curse, afflict, aggravate, take advantage, or just plain annoy us is what we are called to do.

The story is told of a monk in the desert who, upon returning to his hut, found it being ransacked by bandits. The monk simply knelt and prayed for them as the thieves looted the hut of his few possessions. Once they’d departed, the monk realized they’d not taken his walking stick so he pursued them for several days until he could give them the stick, as well. Seeing the monk’s humility and forgiving nature, the bandits returned the monk’s possessions and became followers of Jesus. Although I found this story in a Bible commentary on Matthew 5, I can’t vouch for its truth. Nevertheless, it could be and I’d like to think it is!

That story illustrates Bishop Ryle’s points that, “if the spirit of these ten verses were more continually remembered by true believers, they would recommend Christianity to the world far more than they do,” and, “if the spirit of these ten verses had more dominion and power in the world, how much happier the world would be than it is.” Indeed, it would.

You have heard people say, “Love your neighbors and hate your enemies.” But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you. Then you will be acting like your Father in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both good and bad people. And he sends rain for the ones who do right and for the ones who do wrong. If you love only those people who love you, will God reward you for that? Even tax collectors love their friends. If you greet only your friends, what’s so great about that? Don’t even unbelievers do that? But you must always act like your Father in heaven. [Matthew 5:43-48 (CEV)]

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BURNING COALS (Matthew 5:38-48 – Part 2)

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. [Romans 12:17-21 (ESV)]

When Paul addressed a Christian’s relationship with his enemies, he said never to return evil for evil and to act honorably so we don’t reflect badly on the Gospel. Paul qualified his direction to live in peace with all by adding, “if possible, so far as it depends on you.” While some people don’t want to live in peace, as Christians, we must refuse to instigate, escalate, or participate in conflict. Since peace-loving people who won’t return evil with more of the same tend to be the sort of people who are taken advantage of, Paul then addresses the issue of revenge. Quoting Deuteronomy 32:25, he makes it clear that we are not to retaliate; vengeance is solely God’s department, not ours.

Telling us not to allow evil to overcome us but to overcome evil by doing good, Paul says our sincere kindness to an enemy is the way to do that. Moreover, by doing so, we’ll “heap burning coals on his head.” While this quote from Proverbs 25:21-22 actually sounds a little vengeful, those burning coals probably refer to an ancient Egyptian practice in which a person’s regret or repentance was demonstrated by carrying a pan filled with burning coals on his head.

In theory, our unexpected and sincere kindness will cause hot coals of shame and guilt in the wrong-doers’ conscience far more effectively than would hostility or spite. What those burning coals aren’t is a back-handed form of revenge—counterfeit kindness used to irritate, manipulate, or publicly humiliate them or a way to get in the last word. They’re certainly not a reason to gloat in self-righteousness. Our genuine kindness is the way to facilitate regret and repentance in the evil doers—whether or not they repent, however, is their choice. Nevertheless, as Christians, we must do our part.

As an illustration of this concept, Chinese evangelist Watchman Nee told a story about two Christian brothers who had a rice paddy located on top of a hill. Each morning, they drew water, climbed up the hill, and irrigated their rice paddy. One morning, they found their paddy dry but the neighbor’s paddy, just downhill from theirs, quite wet. While they were sleeping, he’d dug a hole in their irrigation channel and stolen their water. Rather than retaliate, they filled their paddy again but the same thing happened for several days. When they confided to a church elder that they didn’t have the sense of peace they expected from walking in obedience to God, the brothers were told they hadn’t done enough. The elder told them to fill their neighbor’s paddy with water before filling theirs. Strangely, as they did so, the brothers began to sense the peace they desired and, while continuing to water both paddies, they grew more joyful as they worked. The neighbor who’d stolen their water finally came to them, apologized, and said, “If this is Christianity, I want to hear about it.” Their kindness heaped burning coals on their neighbor’s head and he repented!

Simply not retaliating wasn’t enough for the brothers and it’s not enough for us. When someone slaps us, Jesus expects more from us than just silently walking away; He calls us to love and pray for our enemy. We are to go the extra mile by feeding him when he is hungry, giving him water when he thirsts, and even watering his rice paddy when he’s stolen our water! Admittedly, that’s not always easy; it certainly isn’t our natural response. Can we do it perfectly? Probably not, but we can try!

The world’s philosophy leads people to expect retaliation when they have wronged another. To receive kindness, to see love when it seems uncalled for, can melt the hardest heart. [Expositor’s Bible Commentary]

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? [Matthew 5:43-46 (ESV)]

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THE OTHER CHEEK (Matthew 5:38-48 – Part 1)

You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. [Matthew 5:38-39 (NLT)]

catWhen Jesus said to turn the other cheek, was he teaching total nonresistance in every circumstance? Are Christians to be doormats to be walked all over? Was he telling the battered wife to remain a punching bag to her abusive husband, the father not to defend his family in a home invasion, the teacher not to protect his students from a crazed shooter, or the girl being molested not to fight back? Having nothing to do with pacifism, Jesus’ words don’t mean we ever should place ourselves or others in danger nor did He say we shouldn’t resist the forces of evil. Using an easily understood example (at least for a 1st century person in Judah), Jesus made it clear that He was speaking about our reaction to personal insults. Rather than not resisting evil, we are not to resist an evil person by seeking retaliation.

To Jesus’ listeners, a slap on the right cheek wasn’t the start of a physical altercation like a punch in the stomach. Not intended to cause physical harm, a slap on the right cheek was meant to disgrace and humiliate. A challenge to one’s honor, it was the most disrespectful and belittling thing one person could do to another. Most people are right-handed and, normally, would slap someone else’s left cheek. When Jesus specified the “right cheek,” He was describing a back-handed slap which, according to rabbinic law, was twice as offensive as being smacked with a flat hand. It was so insulting that the striker could be taken to court and fined. In actuality, it might have been easier for Jesus’ listeners to ignore a gut punch than this slap of contempt and disrespect! When Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, He’s telling us that it’s better to be insulted twice than to retaliate with a return slap or by taking the matter to court!

Since we don’t go around slapping people’s cheeks to insult them, what does this mean to us? Perhaps it’s as simple as refusing to play the petty game of “tit for tat.”  Regretfully, as mean-spirited as it is, we’ve all played it. It’s things like deciding I’m not going to return his call because he didn’t return mine, I’m going to be late today since she kept me waiting last week, I’m unfriending them because they didn’t include me in their plans, my dogs can poop in his yard since his dog pooped on my lawn, I’m turning up my music since the neighbor’s music is too loud, I’m ignoring her birthday to pay her back for forgetting mine, or I’m not going to let the car merge because the driver cut me off!

Whether it’s rudeness, spite, malice, slight, or contempt, when we return like for like, this old nursery rhyme best says what happens next: “Tit for tat, Butter for fat; If you kill my dog, I’ll kill your cat.” We  foolishly think we’re evening the score and punishing the other person, but we’re not. Returning tit for tat simply raises the stakes and escalates the battle. Let us remember that, by refusing to react, the nasty game is over!

In this day and age, people have endless opportunities to degrade, insult, offend, mock, and slight one another. While we have no way to control what other people do or say, the Holy Spirit provides us with the power to control our reaction—to turn the other cheek. As Jesus’ peaceful soldiers, we can claim victory by not fighting at all!

In taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior. [Francis Bacon]

Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing. [1 Peter 3:9 (NLT)]

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THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE

This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. [John 15:12-13 (NLT)]

climbing asterWhile every thesaurus says that hate is the opposite of love, I’m not so sure. Authors like Wilhelm Stekel, John Le Carré, Rollo May, Elie Wiesel, and George Bernard Shaw have said that indifference (or apathy) is the opposite of love. Disagreeing, Reverend Billy Graham said the opposite of love is selfishness.

Hate, apathy, or selfishness? Since apathy is lack of concern or interest in anything and selfishness is lack of concern or interest in anything but oneself, I thought back to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. Although its purpose was to define the identity of one’s “neighbor” to the lawyer who asked, the parable also illustrates what it means to love.

Let’s start with the bandits. They probably didn’t hate the man they attacked and, had they simply been indifferent to him, they would have ignored him. While they weren’t interested in his well-being, they were very interested his property and they wanted it. Rather than hate or apathy, it was selfishness that made them take everything the man possessed. Their self-centered attitude was “What’s yours is mine, and I’ll take it!”

We then come to the priest and Levite. We have no reason to suspect they knew the victim and hated him. But, had they truly been disinterested, the priest wouldn’t have crossed to the other side of the road upon seeing the wounded man nor would the Levite deliberately have walked over to look at him. Both men took an interest in the wounded man and then deliberately chose to ignore him. Rather than hate-filled or apathetic, they refused to help the man out of selfishness. More concerned about themselves and their journey than the welfare of a dying man along the side of the road, their self-centered attitude was, “What’s mine is mine, and I’m going to keep it.”

Then we come to the Samaritan. As a Samaritan, he certainly had reason to hate the Jewish victim, but he didn’t. Rather than being indifferent to the man’s condition or selfish with his time and resources, he was generous. His philosophy was that of love: “What’s mine is yours and I will share it.”

When thinking of hate or even apathy as the opposite of love, like the priest and Levite, we can tell ourselves that, as long as we didn’t hurt someone, we obeyed the command to love. But, when we think of selfishness as the opposite of love, far more is asked of us. No longer passive, love demands more than simply not hating or harming someone. Love requires effort; it is a giving up of self and a giving of self to another.

After writing that selfishness was the opposite of love, Billy Graham asked, “Will you ask the Holy Spirit to free your life from selfishness and fill you instead with His love?” Will you?

The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” but the good Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” [Martin Luther King, Jr.]

Dear children, let’s not merely say we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. [1 John 3:18 (NLT)]

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IMITATION LOVE

Treat other people exactly as you would like to be treated by them—this is the essence of all true religion. [Matthew 7:12 (PHLLIPS)]

turtleOnce upon a time, a father gave his daughter a painted turtle. One morning, she ran to her father in tears and sobbed, “My turtle died!”  Wanting to bring a smile back to his little girl’s face, Dad promised the reptile a lovely funeral after which he’d take her to their favorite fast-food spot for a happy meal and toy. When that did nothing to stop the flow of tears, he upped the ante by proposing to follow lunch with the latest Disney princess movie. As the sobbing slowed, he then promised they’d stop at the mall where she could ride on the merry-go-round and Ferris wheel. With only a few whimpers remaining, Dad topped off his offer with a promise to stop on the way home for a double scoop ice cream cone. Thrilled to finally see a smile on his daughter’s face, the relieved father reached into the tank to remove the dead turtle only to discover that it was alive and well and just had been enjoying a turtle nap. When he joyfully reported, “He’s not dead!” the disappointed girl’s response was, “Then can we kill it?”

Kids are naturally selfish and self-centered—just watch toddlers play and notice how often you hear the words “mine” and “gimme.” Children are self-absorbed little creatures, but so are adults—we’re just a bit more civilized in our selfishness. We may not grab, hit, or throw temper tantrums, but we still tend to put ourselves and our wants first. Since that unfortunate day in Eden, mankind has shown a preference for self-interest. We typically see the world only from our viewpoint rather than that of others or, more important, with the eyes of Jesus.

As members of the body of Christ, it is the lives of others that are to concern us. We are advised to share in both the joy and sorrow of our brothers and sisters. Sometimes, however, it seems easier to share in other people’s sorrow than in their joy. Just as the turtle’s fortuitous awakening meant the little girl lost her afternoon of fun, it’s rarely easy to rejoice in other people’s good fortune when we don’t share in it. Jealously, envy and resentment can rear their ugly heads. It’s especially difficult to rejoice when another person got the job we wanted, someone else’s child got the award, another person won the match, a co-worker got the praise or raise, or a friend heard the word “benign” when we heard the words “malignant” or “inoperable.” Nevertheless, regardless of our situations, other people’s good news should always be a reason for our joy.

“Genuine krab meat” isn’t truly crab; it’s an assortment of fish that has been skinned, boned, minced, and rinsed before being formed into the paste known as surimi. Fillers, flavor and color are added and the mixture is shaped into chunks or tubes and cut into blocks or sticks and cooked. Once cut up, it may look like a bit like the real thing, but there is nothing genuine about it. We’re called to love genuinely, even if it means we might have to skip the happy meal, movie, and ice cream. Let there be no imitation Christian love around here—it’s as tasteless and disagreeable to God as imitation crab.

Let us have no imitation Christian love. Let us have a genuine break with evil and a real devotion to good. Let us have real warm affection for one another as between brothers, and a willingness to let the other man have the credit. … Share the happiness of those who are happy, the sorrow of those who are sad. [Romans 12:9-10,15 (PHILLIPS)]

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