METAMORPHOSIS

monarch metamorphosisJesus said to him, “For sure, I tell you, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the holy nation of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? How can he get into his mother’s body and be born the second time?” [John 3:3-4 (NLV)]

The being “born again” concept in Christianity isn’t an easy one to understand, yet we see it demonstrated whenever we look at a butterfly. Take the monarch, for example; it starts out as a tiny egg that hatches about four days after being laid. That’s its first birth. The caterpillar actually eats its way out of the shell before munching on the leaf where the egg was laid. Over the next ten to fourteen days, it eats and grows, shedding its skin every time it gets too tight. The full-grown caterpillar then spins silk and attaches its hind end to a leaf, hangs upside down and sheds its skin for the fifth and final time. When the new skin forms, it hardens and takes the form of a chrysalis. The monarch’s chrysalis is a beautiful jade green with little specks of gold and looks like a case that could be used to hold a jewel. Over the next ten to fourteen days, the caterpillar undergoes a metamorphosis. During this stage, the DNA that makes wings is switched on and something almost miraculous happens. When the transformation is complete, the chrysalis bursts open and out emerges a full-grown butterfly. It is born again! The new butterfly hangs onto the chrysalis for a bit, drying its wings and getting stronger, before taking flight and becoming the thing of beauty God meant it to be.

The monarch caterpillar looks and acts nothing like the monarch butterfly and it’s hard to believe they are actually the same creature but they are! The DNA sequence of the caterpillar is identical to that of the butterfly it becomes. The caterpillar, however, no longer exists—it has to die to become a butterfly, much as a person’s old self must “die” when he becomes a follower of Jesus. When we’re “born again,” like the butterfly, we have the same DNA of the person we once were and yet we’re an entirely different creature.

Unlike the butterfly, however, the change is internal not external. Moreover, caterpillars have no choice about whether or not they will become butterflies—they just keep eating and growing and shedding and nature takes its course. On the other hand, people do have a choice about whether they will experience their metamorphosis. They can choose to remain wrapped up in the dark chrysalis of unbelief, a hidden jewel than will never reach its potential, or choose to be reborn in Christ. While there is a scientific explanation for the near-miraculous transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly, science can’t explain the miraculous transformation that occurs when we are reborn, the Holy Spirit comes to live in our hearts, and we become the things of beauty God created us to be.

We know that our old life, our old sinful self, was nailed to the cross with Christ. And so the power of sin that held us was destroyed. Sin is no longer our boss. When a man is dead, he is free from the power of sin. And if we have died with Christ, we believe we will live with Him also. [Romans 6:6-8 (NLV)]

You have now become a new person and are always learning more about Christ. You are being made more like Christ. He is the One Who made you. [Colossians 3:10 (NLV)]

I have been put up on the cross to die with Christ. I no longer live. Christ lives in me. The life I now live in this body, I live by putting my trust in the Son of God. He was the One Who loved me and gave Himself for me. [Galatians 2:20 (NLV)]

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GOD DOESN’T COUNT

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. [James 1:22-24 (NLT)]

Physostegia virginiana - obedient plantFriends recently watched their young grandson while his parents enjoyed a much needed “adults only” vacation. Accustomed to the permissive parenting of today, the youngster wasn’t overly familiar with obedience. One of the first things he learned during his visit was that, “Grandpa doesn’t count.” Apparently, his parents give him a count of three (or more) to decide whether or not to obey them; Grandpa, however, did not!

The youngster could have learned about obedience from one of summer’s wildflowers: the Physostegia virginiana. Better known as the obedient plant, when an individual flower is lightly pushed in a direction, it doesn’t wait for a count of three before immediately responding to that touch and turning that way. It really is an obedient flower and a beautiful one at that.

While obedience is not a well-liked or widespread concept nowadays, my Bible has 518 specific references to man’s obedience or disobedience, so it appears that obedience is important to God. In fact, it appears to be a mandatory part of our lives. Abraham’s life is a lesson in immediate obedience. When God told him to pack up his family and move to a place he’d never known, the 75-year-old didn’t ask for a map and travel plan; he obeyed without question or delay. When God told Abraham that all the males in his household (along with all of his male descendants) had to be circumcised, Abraham didn’t question God’s command and every man was circumcised that very day. Circumcision was known among the people of that region so Abraham’s unquestioning obedience is easier to understand than his unhesitating obedience when God told him to sacrifice his precious son Isaac. Rather than doubt God’s wisdom, negotiate, or delay, Abraham and Isaac set out for the mountains the very next morning. Abraham continued to obey right up to the moment he held the knife to his son’s neck and the angel of the Lord intervened. That’s obedience!

Sadly, when it comes to whole-hearted obedience to God, we’re less like Abraham and far more like the Israelites who frequently delayed and disobeyed. When they balked at entering Canaan, their disobedience questioned both God’s authority and His power to defeat their enemies. Although they eventually obeyed and entered Canaan, their delayed obedience cost all the adults (except Joshua and Caleb) their lives. Delayed obedience is no different than disobedience and always comes at a cost!

As Christians, we don’t get to delay our obedience to God until a more convenient time or He’s counted to three! If He doesn’t tell us to do something in a specific timeframe, God means right now—not when we get around to it or feel like doing so. Our immediate obedience to Him proves our love and demonstrates our faith. Like disobedience, delayed obedience is an insult to God because it tells Him we don’t trust His plan or that we have better things to do!

Like that little boy, we’d prefer thinking that we are the ones in control, but we aren’t! Grandpa was in charge of his grand and God is in charge of us. We are to submit to God as readily as we expect a four-year-old to submit to us. Like that willful little boy, we need to emulate the obedient plant and follow God’s nudge immediately, willingly, and beautifully. Remember, Grandpa doesn’t count and neither does God!

The bottom line is the Christian faith is obedience and most people don’t even like the word. [Charles Stanley]

So why do you keep calling me “Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house right on the ground, without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.” [Luke 6:47-49 (NLT)]

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HEEDING THE SIGNS

sandhill cranesSo you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. [Matthew 24: 42 (NLT)]

Yesterday, when writing about the migratory birds’ staging area near our northern home, I remembered the year they weren’t in a rush to depart. Autumn that year had been unseasonably mild with temperatures hovering in the 60s and we’d returned north in November to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday. The day we headed out to the park, however, the weather had taken a sharp turn toward winter. The day’s high of 37° occurred before sunrise and the season’s first snowfall was expected that night. While walking through the park that cold fall day, we were surprised to see hundreds of Sandhill Cranes and Canada Geese still in the marsh. Apparently, the mild fall weather and still plentiful food caused them to recklessly delay their departure south. The marsh soon would freeze and food would be scarce, not just in the park, but all along their migration route. Seemingly oblivious to the danger, the birds were like the people of Noah’s day or the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah—having a rollicking good time right up until disaster rained down on them. By the time they realized what was happening, it was too late! I hoped it wouldn’t be that way with the birds.

Looking at the upheaval of the last two years, many are reaching for their Bibles and wondering if we’re seeing signs of the apocalypse. We read of death by “the sword and famine and disease and wild animals,” in Revelation 6:8. Luke 21:9-10 records Jesus speaking of wars, insurrections, earthquakes, famines, plagues, and “terrifying things.” As much as that sounds like today, it probably sounds a great deal like much of mankind’s troubled history. Our century is not the only one troubled by pandemics, conflict, catastrophe, natural disasters, violence, scarcity, and loss. Jesus, however, said that no one (not even He) knows the day or hour of His return. Nevertheless, just as the sudden drop in temperature and wintery wind warned those birds of winter’s approach, these could be warning signs of things to come and the Bible tells us to be vigilant.

As with the flood and Sodom’s destruction, swift and sudden judgment will accompany Jesus’ return. Jesus compared His second coming to the surprise arrival of a thief in the night and both believers and unbelievers won’t know when that thief will appear. While unbelievers have good reason to fear that day, Christians don’t. To carry the thief metaphor further, we aren’t afraid of the thief because we’re well insured. Our acceptance of Jesus gives us assurance of salvation; our sins are mercifully forgiven and we have everlasting life. We’ve read the book and know how the story ends!

When we returned to the park two days later, the marsh was frozen but the birds were gone. They’d seen the signs and made the right decision; unbelievers should do the same.

Live as if Christ is coming in the next 10 minutes. Plan as if He is not coming for 1,000 years. [Roger Barrier]

Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness. And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight. [2 Peter 3:11-14 (NLT)]

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BIRDS OF A FEATHER

clam pass floridaJust as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. [Romans 12:4-5 (NLT)]

Even though we now live in the land of forever summer, I know autumn is upon us—and not just because nearly everything from lattes, tea, and donuts to English muffins, gelato, and Cheerios comes in pumpkin spice! The migratory birds (both feathered and human) have begun to arrive. Birds of a feather really do flock together as evidenced by the number of brown pelicans and terns gathering by the hundreds on the beach. Soon other birds like belted kingfishers, sandpipers, and grebes will arrive en masse.

Flocks of birds also signaled autumn when we lived in the north—only  they were leaving rather than arriving! A nearby park served as a “staging area” for Canada Geese and Sandhill Cranes, which means that the normal bird population swelled as hundreds of geese and cranes congregated there to gorge themselves in preparation for their challenging flight south. Once they’d eaten their fill, it was a magnificent sight to watch as these beautiful birds took to the sky in unison to continue their journey south.

Without knowing a thing about aerodynamics, wingtip vortices, updrafts, or reducing drag, those birds know enough to conserve their energy by flying in a V-formation that reduces wind resistance and takes advantage of wind currents. The lead bird does most of the work and, when he tires, he moves back and lets others take their turns. The V-formation also allows the birds to see the rest of the flock, preventing them from crashing into one another and enabling them to spot a bird in trouble. It’s been said that when a goose gets injured or falls behind the group, at least two others from the flock will join it. These beautiful creatures instinctively know there is strength in unity and safety in numbers.

As it is for those birds, the journey we are on is not a solo one. As Christians, we also are members of a flock. Unlike the birds, we don’t look like one another or sing the same song, but we all are on a journey that is not meant to be a solo one. Church is more than the place we meet for Sunday services; it’s the Christian’s version of a “staging area.” It’s where we meet others in the flock, gain strength by feeding on God’s word, and help one another as we move forward.

As part of Jesus’ flock, we depend on one another as much as do those migratory birds. We need our flock to reduce the drag when we encounter a head wind, refresh us when we grow tired, urge us on when we lag behind, and lift us when we’ve fallen. We break bread together, share resources and responsibilities, and teach and learn from one another. Our brothers and sisters in Christ not only encourage, comfort, and pray with and for us, but they also hold us accountable for our behavior. Like those migrating birds, we need the flock as much as it needs us.

Some Christians try to go to heaven alone, in solitude. But believers are not compared to bears or lions or other animals that wander alone. Those who belong to Christ are sheep in this respect, that they love to get together. Sheep go in flocks, and so do God’s people. [Charles Spurgeon]

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. [Hebrews 10:24-25 (NLT)]

This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. [1 Corinthians 12:25-27 (NLT)]

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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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