FARMA – Part 2

Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. [2 Corinthians 9:6 (NLT)]

Illisnois corn field - farmWhile we often reap what we’ve sown, farmers don’t plant on one day and expect to harvest the next and neither should we. No matter how good the soil, it usually takes about two weeks for a corn shoot to appear and two to three months before it’s ready for harvest. Spiritual farming is even less predictable than growing corn and we shouldn’t expect immediate results after sowing seeds of God’s love and Word. Rarely does an apology yield instant reconciliation, words of correction yield an immediate change, or our first witness produce an instantaneous conversion. It often takes considerable plowing and sowing to soften a hardened heart.

In both agriculture and “farma,” even with the best seeds, richest soil, and the farmer’s diligence in tending the field, not every seed sowed will survive to harvest. Between insects, wildlife, and weather, millions of farm acreage are ruined every year. For example, between 2020’s derecho windstorm and its late summer drought, nearly one million acres of crops in Iowa were destroyed. When seeds of God’s love and Word have been sowed, instead of animals or weather, it is Satan who ruins the crop. Just as wildlife steal soybeans and corn, he tries to steal every seed sown in God’s name. Just as hail and wind can break a cornstalk, by breaking down people with storms of his making, the enemy attempts to keep seeds of righteousness from maturing.

Sadly, not every seed will bear fruit and not every hand extended in love will be accepted. Not every person to whom we witness will respond, not every hearer will believe, and not every soul will be saved. Nevertheless, we are farmers in God’s world and our job is to cultivate His fields and sow His seed. Like the local farmers, we don’t give up when the crop is slow in coming or the enemy ruins the harvest. Even if we have to replough and reseed, we faithfully continue to do our part by sowing the seeds of God’s love and Word.

With nearly a third of the world’s population Christian, there are plenty of potential farmers. Unfortunately, that percentage has remained about the same for more than a century and appears to be dropping. Apparently, we haven’t been sowing anywhere near enough seeds to defeat the enemy and bring forth a bountiful harvest.

He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” [Matthew 9:37-38 (NLT)]

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SOIL AND WATER

For the Lord is a great God, a great King above all gods. He holds in his hands the depths of the earth and the mightiest mountains. The sea belongs to him, for he made it. His hands formed the dry land, too. [Psalm 95:3-6 (NLT)]

Burgess Creek - Steamboat CO“The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship,” said the Psalmist. [19:1] It’s not just the heavens, however, that declare God’s glorious existence. Something as lowly as soil or as ordinary as water testify to His magnitude, creativity, skill, wisdom, and attention to detail, as well!

Unless we encounter an earthworm or beetle while digging in the garden, we probably think of soil as lifeless when, in actuality, it’s a dynamic living ecosystem. One handful of productive soil contains about 100 billion microorganisms of bacteria made up of about 10,000 different species. In that same handful of dirt are 100 meters of fungal cells of some 500 species of fungi, along with 20 million protozoa, 100,000 nematodes (unsegmented round worms) and 50,000 arthropods (like centipedes and microscopic mites), along with any earthworms and algae that may have tagged along. There are more living organisms in a handful of soil than there are human beings on our planet!

As small as all those microorganisms are, consider that one drop of water (.05mL) contains 1.67 sextillion molecules of H2O (that’s 21 zeroes). Smaller than those molecules are the more than 5 sextillion atoms of hydrogen and oxygen in those molecules! If we were counting the molecules of H2O in just ten drops of water (.17 oz.), we’d need 210 zeros (a quantity outnumbering the stars in the universe and all the organisms in the soil combined)! We really shouldn’t be surprised; after all, this is the same God who glued those beautiful microscopic scales on a butterfly’s wings (600 per square millimeter), dropped miniscule pollen grains (.006 mm) in the forget-me-not, and packed 100 billion neurons in the human brain.

We stand in awe at the enormity of the Grand Canyon, the striking colors of Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring, the red and orange hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, or the flood of water surging over Niagara Falls (757,500 gallons per second) without giving a thought to the atoms that make up every drop of that water or the microscopic life existing in the world beneath our feet. The heavens may declare His glory and existence but so does the rest of His magnificent creation!

All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful: The Lord God made them all.
He gave us eyes to see them, And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty, Who has made all things well.
[Cecil F. Alexander]

They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. [Romans 1:19-20 (NLT)]

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MOSQUITOES AND GILA MONSTERS

Gila monsterGod saw all that he had made, and it was very good. [Genesis 1:31a (NIV)]

Although mosquitoes serve as food for birds, bats and fish, most scientists agree that the world would be no worse off if they disappeared; in fact, many think our planet might be a far healthier place if they did! As I dab cortisone on my swelling bites, I can’t help but wonder whether our perfect God made a big mistake when He made the mosquito.

Then again, if you’ve been bitten by a Gila monster or a venomous snake or spider, you might be questioning God’s wisdom in creating them. Yet, while Gila monster venom can be fatal, it is used to treat all sorts of medical conditions. Exenatide, used in treating diabetes, is a synthetic form of a chemical found in Gila monster saliva. Chemicals in their venom can also stop the growth of certain cancer cells. Although there are around 50,000 fatalities from poisonous snake bites each year, the venom from some of those snakes is saving lives. Drugs that treat high blood pressure, angina, and other heart conditions have been developed from the venom of the Brazilian pit viper, pigmy rattlesnake, and saw-scaled viper. I don’t much care for spiders but a substance found in scorpion venom helps identify cancerous cells in the brain and a drug developed from the Chilean rose tarantula’s venom is now used to treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Those suffering from chronic pain may be surprised to learn that any of seven different compounds in the venom of some 80 spider species might be giving them relief by blocking nerve activity. Apparently, God knew exactly what He was doing when he created these venomous creatures. It’s just taken mankind a little time to figure out how to create something good out of them.

After unsuccessfully searching for something good to say about mosquitoes, I have to agree with scientist Norbert Becker’s words: “Mosquitoes are the most dangerous animals confronting mankind.” I may be annoyed by some swelling and itching but, every year, more than a million people die and hundreds of thousands are incapacitated by mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, West Nile virus, encephalitis, dengue fever, yellow fever, and the Zika virus. Sadly, every two minutes, another child dies of malaria.

Mosquitoes truly seem to be the bane of our existence and I don’t understand why they came to exist. If we think back to Eden, however, it was perfect; all was good and mosquitoes wouldn’t have bothered Adam and Eve. It was through our first parents’ disobedience that disease and death came into the world. Maybe, every mosquito bite is just God’s way of reminding us to obey Him. Perhaps, hidden inside the mosquito is a positive purpose and God just is waiting for us to discover it as we have with venomous lizards, snakes, and spiders. Then again, perhaps God is challenging us to find a way of preventing those mosquito-borne diseases by supporting research, funding clinics and education, or making donations to organizations that provide insecticide-treated bed nets to third-world nations. I don’t know.

As much as I hate mosquitoes, I will not make Job’s mistake and question God’s wisdom or plan. I will trust that He has a purpose for everything and accept that we are supposed to thank and praise Him in all things, not just the ones we like or understand.

Thank you, Heavenly Father for all of your creation—not just the butterflies, song birds, and wildflowers but also the spiders, venomous lizards and snakes, poison ivy, ragweed, fire ants, sand flies, and mosquitoes. We don’t always appreciate your idea of blessings but will trust that you, in your infinite and loving wisdom, know what you are doing!

The Lord said to Job: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” Then Job replied to the Lord: … Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. [Job 40:1-2,42:1,3 (NIV)]

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FABACEAE

fabaceaeI appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. [1 Corinthians 1:10 (NLT)]

Controversy within the Church didn’t stop with the creeds and we continue to get bogged down with disagreements over things like purgatory, open or closed communion, the observance of Lent or saints’ days, the way communion should be received, and women in the clergy. Whether we sprinkle or do full immersion, worship on Saturday or Sunday, kneel or stand to pray, stand or sit to sing, or use wine, grape juice, thin wafers, matzo, or Wonder bread for Communion probably are of no real significance to God. Rather than division, He just wants our praise and thanksgiving, our love and obedience, our faith, our prayers, and our witness.

The Christian church, with its three distinct branches of Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox that are separated into more subgroups reminds me of the Fabaceae plant family. Like the Church, it has three distinct branches: Faboideae, Caesalpinioideae, and Mimosoideae and each branch is divided into more subgroups. Typically having pea-like flowers, the largest branch, Faboideae, include plants like soybeans, peanuts, peas, and lentils. Usually having 5 distinct petals, the Caesalpinioideae branch has plants like the showy Royal Poinciana and Hong Kong orchid trees. With flowers that look like powder puffs, the Mimosoideae are the smallest branch and includes the acacia, mimosa, and sensitive plant.

While there are around 18,000 different species in the three branches of Fabaceae, it’s estimated that there are over 45,000 different Christian denominations within the three branches of the Church! Within the Protestant branch, for example, we find subgroups like Pentecostals, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans (who are divided into more subgroups like the ELCA, Wisconsin Evangelical, and Missouri Synod)!

While their distinct flower types are what distinguish the three branches of Fabaceae from one another, it is slight differences in doctrine, dogma, emphasis, or style of worship that distinguish the three branches and their various subgroups of Christianity. What unites the Fabaceae into one family is their pods and what unites all of these Christian denominations into one family is their agreement regarding the essentials of Christianity. They all are part of the Body of Christ.

Even though they don’t look much alike, all of the plants pictured in today’s message are Fabaceae and descendants of the same first pea seed God planted millions of years ago. Like the Fabaceae, Christians also trace their beginnings to the same seed: Jesus. While the Fabaceae take root in the soil, Christians are rooted in the Word of God. Instead of the sun’s light and photosynthesis, it’s the Son’s light and the power of the Holy Spirit that makes us grow. In spite of their differences, all Fabaceae bear similar fruit in their pods. In spite of Christianity’s diversity, like Fabaceae, Christians are to bear similar fruit, as well. Rather than peas or beans, however, it’s the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Rather than focusing on our differences, let us focus on our unity in Christ. May we always remember Paul’s words to the Romans that, “We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.” [12:15]

We need not all agree, but if we disagree, let us not be disagreeable in our disagreements. [M.R. DeHaan]

Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all. [Ephesians 4:3-6 (NLT)]
fabaceae pods

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STRONG MOTHERS – MOTHER’S DAY

So the Lord answers, “Can a woman forget her own baby and not love the child she bore? Even if a mother should forget her child, I will never forget you. Jerusalem, I can never forget you! I have written your name on the palms of my hands.” [Isaiah 49:15-16 (GNT)]

While walking in the park, we came across a female snapping turtle by the side of the trail. Normally an aggressive species, she was too busy laying some thirty eggs to snap at us. Two days later, we walked past the same spot only to find that her nest had been destroyed. The empty shells scattered along the trail told us a raccoon (or some other predator) had enjoyed a turtle omelet soon after mama turtle’s departure. At first, I felt sorry for this mother who’d labored so hard just two days earlier until I remembered that she’d never know about the loss and really didn’t care. After laying those eggs and covering the nest, she returned to the water and wouldn’t be back until the following year when she’d dig another hole and lay more eggs. If any of those eggs hatch (and only about 5% of snapper’s eggs ever do), Mama won’t be there to help the tiny (1”) hatchlings find their way to water or to protect them from any land predators. If they safely make it into the water, she won’t be around to defend them from fish, snakes, and other turtles looking for a quick meal. In fact, she might even enjoy one of her own young for dinner! Ms. Turtle doesn’t deserve any Mother’s Day cards!

On the other hand, unlike most reptiles, alligators are good mothers. While 90% of turtle nests are destroyed by predators, because Ms. Gator carefully covers her nest and guards her eggs, less than a third of alligator nests get raided. When the mother hears her babies start to hatch, she uncovers the nest and gently carries each hatchling to the water. Mama Gator continues to watch over her young for more than a year. If a youngster is threatened, he just calls for mom and she comes! Few predators are daring enough to approach the little guys knowing mom can’t be far away. While cold blooded, Ms. Gator is anything but cold to her young.

While I’m not sure they’ll appreciate the comparison, most of us were blessed with women in our lives who were more like an alligator than a turtle. But, for those who weren’t so blessed, God provided us with foster, step and adoptive mothers, along with aunts, mothers-in-law, teachers, neighbors, and mentors, all of whom watched over us. They were like the Muscovy duck I saw at the zoo. Muscovies typically lay a clutch of eight to sixteen eggs but this mother was watching over more than thirty little ones; apparently, she was running the equivalent of ducky foster care. I watched as she chased off a large softshell turtle as it swam near in search of a duckling lunch. The softshell is an aggressive hunter but, fortunately for the ducklings, he was no match for Ms. Duck. She kept an eye on that turtle as it circled around the young ones and fearlessly snapped at it whenever it dared approach the youngsters. She kept nudging the ducklings along the shore into a more protected area. No matter whose babies they were, she seemed determined that not a one of those little guys would be lost on her watch.

Let’s not make the mistake of thinking mothers only comfort and nurture. They’re as tough as mother alligators, muscovies, and even little mockingbirds. After giving a warning with their angry buzz, mockingbird moms will dive-bomb humans if they venture too close to the nest and bravely fend off crows, herons, hawks, and snakes. Mothers can be pretty tough when someone messes with their young! The only one who keeps a better eye on children is God!

Thank you God for the women you brought into our lives—women who not only comforted and encouraged us, taught us about love, and shared their faith with us, but also protected us when danger lurked. Thank you for those women who had eyes in the back of their heads, knew when we told a lie, stood up for us, taught us to stand up for ourselves, and cared enough to punish us when we misbehaved. Thank you for the women who watched over us, taught us how to navigate the murky waters of life, and kept us safe from harm.

You will be like a child that is nursed by its mother, carried in her arms, and treated with love. I will comfort you in Jerusalem, as a mother comforts her child. When you see this happen, you will be glad; it will make you strong and healthy. Then you will know that I, the Lord, help those who obey me, and I show my anger against my enemies. [Isaiah 66:12b-14 (GNT)]

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KEYSTONES – EARTH DAY (April 22)

God spoke: “Earth, generate life! Every sort and kind: cattle and reptiles and wild animals—all kinds.” And there it was: wild animals of every kind, cattle of all kinds, every sort of reptile and bug. God saw that it was good. [Genesis 1:24-25 (MSG)]

When the grands visit, we usually take them to a nearby preserve where we walk the boardwalk and hope to catch sight of one of the more than 150 gopher tortoises living there. We watch them lumber through the sand, munch on prickly pear cactus, or sun on the apron of their burrows.

The gopher tortoise is what’s called a “keystone species,” meaning it plays a unique and crucial role in holding together a habitat. A keystone species can be a plant, animal, fungi, or even bacteria. It isn’t necessarily the largest or most plentiful species in an ecosystem but, if it were to disappear, the ecosystem would be dramatically different or cease to exist altogether.

Gopher tortoises are considered keystones because they are ecosystem engineers capable of digging tunnels forty feet long and ten feet deep. Their burrows provide refuge for some 350 to 400 other species, including snakes, rodents, armadillos, rabbits, lizards, worms, spiders and bugs. Some animals use the burrows as homes and others hide there from predators. In the case of fire, animals can escape the blaze in the deep tunnels.

Although these prehistoric looking creatures have lived on the earth millions of years, their survival is now endangered by predators, herbicides, and habitat destruction (better known as “progress”). Their population has declined by 80% in the last century and the gopher tortoise’s extinction is a real possibility. Sadly, its disappearance would lead to the disappearance of those other species that share its habitat. The gopher tortoise carries more than a carapace on his back—he carries the future of his ecosystem!

Other keystone species include sea otters, mangroves, prairie dogs, wolves, salmon, saguaro cactus, and bees. Not all are ecosystem engineers like the gopher tortoise but each is essential to its specific habitat and fulfills a critical ecological role that no other species can accomplish. It’s amazing how intricate God’s creation is and how interdependent various species are. Every living thing seems to uniquely mesh with others, much like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. When a piece goes missing, however, the puzzle ceases to come together as it should.

Although mankind clearly has a huge impact on the environment, we’re not a keystone species. In fact, some scientists argue that, if we were to disappear, the environment would improve! With the cessation of so many human activities because of COVID lockdowns, greenhouse gas emissions reduced, water quality improved, noise pollution lessened, air quality improved, and nature began healing. The break, however, was short-lived and now that many restrictions have been lifted, pollution has returned to pre-pandemic levels in most areas.

After God created the world and everything in it, He found it all to be good. He then gave mankind the responsibility for His beautiful creation. I wonder if He is as pleased with the state of our world today as he was when He turned its care over to us. Let us remember that each one of God’s creatures (whether bee, gopher tortoise, or mangrove) is His handiwork and precious to Him. Today (and everyday), let us consider what we can do to keep His creation functioning as He meant it to do!

Father of all, Creator and ruler of the universe, You entrusted your world to us as a gift. Help us to care for it and all people, that we may live in right relationship—with You, with ourselves, with one another, and with creation. [From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops]

God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, And, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.” God created human beings; he created them godlike, Reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female. God blessed them: “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.” [Genesis 1:26-28 (MSG)]

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