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)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

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)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

NOTHING PERSONAL

I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind. [Luke 6:35-36 (MSG)]

great egret - breeding lores“There is nothing personal going on here,” were the words that helped author Jane Smiley get through her acrimonious divorce. Although no divorce is pretty, the circumstances surrounding hers were especially ugly. Realizing that her husband was acting out his own drama helped her to better understand and deal with his dreadful behavior and hurtful actions. Smiley explained, “This is a wiser way of understanding the people around you … how they have their own passions, motivations, and histories, that sometimes (always) grip them in ways, that even they do not grasp—ways you don’t have to respond to automatically.” Her words impressed me so much that I wrote them down after reading them several years ago. The author wrote that remembering the phrase, “There’s nothing personal going on here,” has helped her deal with other difficult people and situations in her life. I find them useful, as well.

When Pulitzer Prize winning author Jane Smiley writes fiction, she is the creator of each character. As such, she knows their back story, needs, fears, and issues. She invents the baggage they’re carrying and understands the reasons for their behavior. In real life, however, people have their own private history. Although people’s past hurts or present problems are never an excuse for thoughtless words or bad conduct, they do affect them. Carrying hidden scars, people have passions, fears, insecurities, prejudices, and forces that control them in ways that even they may not understand. We don’t know much about other people’s pasts (or their present circumstances) nor do they know ours. Realizing this makes it easier to step back and not take their hurtful words and actions so personally.

In this day and age of insults, boorishness, and unpleasantry, we have plenty of opportunities to take offense. More often than not, we’ve done nothing deliberately to deserve whatever nastiness has been dished out to us; nevertheless, let us remember than taking offense is a choice. We are accountable to God only for what we do, not for what is said and done to us.

It is hurting people who hurt people; remembering that hurtful behavior is more the result of other people’s issues than our behavior keeps us from retaliating. It certainly makes forgiveness much easier. Rather than taking it personally, let us pray for those who upset, offend, fail, or hurt us. Bearing in mind that everyone has a history and their own unique story known only by God, we can say, “There is nothing personal going on here,” and get on with our lives.

What can you ever really know of other people’s souls – of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands. [C.S. Lewis]

Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity. [Luke 6:37-38 (MSG)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

THE MAIN THING

Martha was frantic with all the work in the kitchen. “Master,” she said, coming in to where they were, “don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to give me a hand!” … He replied, “You are fretting and fussing about so many things. Only one thing matters. Mary has chosen the best part, and it’s not going to be taken away from her.” [Luke 10: 40-42 (NTE)]

great blue heronThe guest pastor shared an experience when he was an intern at a large church. Posted on the door leading into the senior pastor’s office was this quote by Stephen Covey: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” At eye level and in large letters, anyone entering the pastor’s office was sure to see it. He’d given the sign little thought until one day, hot under the collar and ready to voice a complaint, he started to knock on his boss’s door. Seeing the sign, he paused, quietly returned to his desk, gave his complaint more thought, and asked himself if he was keeping the main thing main with his grievance.

Of course, to keep the main thing main, we must identify it first. Scripture, however, makes the main thing rather clear: love God, love others, and follow Jesus. Nevertheless, even when we’ve determined the main thing, it’s easy to get distracted and shift our focus. Like a reader who nitpicks over semi-colons and spelling while ignoring the significance of the words, we frequently cease focusing on God and His purpose to focus on ourselves and our interests.

Martha, for example, lost sight of the main thing when she complained to Jesus about her sister Mary. The mother of James and John lost sight of the main thing when she demanded special treatment for her boys and the disciples lost sight of the main thing when they squabbled over who was the greatest. Losing sight of the main thing, Elijah threw himself a pity party when things got tough, Jonah tried to escape his assignment in Nineveh, and the Pharisees carefully tithed their spices but neglected their parents and neighbors.

Our complaints to others (and to God) usually have little or nothing to do with God’s plan but rather with how it affects us. I’m busy, tired, bored, annoyed, angry, unappreciated, taken advantage of, better than him, too good for that, underpaid, or over-scheduled. Maybe some of our complaints are true. The question, however, remains—are any of them the main thing? If not, what is?

Father in heaven, help us keep our eyes on the main thing—you, accepting your plan, and furthering your kingdom. May we always remember that the main thing is never about us and always about you!

Let the king’s word dwell richly among you, as you teach and exhort one another in all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God with grateful hearts. And whatever you do, in word or action, do everything in the name of the master, Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the father. [Colossians 3: 16-17 (NTE)]

Look at it like this. People whose lives are determined by human flesh focus their minds on matters to do with the flesh, but people whose lives are determined by the spirit focus their minds on matters to do with the spirit. [Romans 8:5 (NTE)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

SHOW US

Always celebrate, never stop praying; in everything be thankful (this is God’s will for you in the Messiah Jesus). [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NTE)]

green heronEarlier this week, I wrote about the ten Boom sisters giving thanks in their horrible circumstances. Because of the physical pain I’ve been experiencing these last several weeks, I know how easy it is to talk the talk but how hard it is to actually walk it. Indeed, when you’re hurting, giving thanks in all circumstances is far easier said than done.

1 Thessalonians 5:18, however, doesn’t say we must give thanks for everything; we are to give thanks in everything and there’s a big difference between the two. Knowing that God’s love and mercies never cease and that we are His well-loved children, even though we don’t welcome our circumstances, we can be thankful in them. Even when we can’t see His purpose in our present situation, we know that God is intimately involved in them and is working for our good through them. We can be thankful that we are not facing our affliction alone. Jesus was with Corrie and Betsie ten Boom in Ravensbrück, He’s here with me, and He’s there beside you wherever and whatever you’re going through. Knowing this enables us to give thanks in all circumstances!

While writing about Betsie and Corrie ten Boom, I remembered Betsie’s response to Corrie when she asked how they could live in the deplorable conditions of the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Rather than answering her sister, Betsie immediately started to pray, but she didn’t ask God to change their situation. Instead, she simply asked God to show them how to live in their present one; “Show us. Show us how,” she prayed.

Recalling Betsie ten Boom’s prayer of “Show us,” I realized that, along with discerning God’s purpose for my pain and giving thanks in my circumstances, I needed to ask Him to show me how to function in my new normal. If given a choice, I wouldn’t have selected back and neck pain from life’s menu but my pastor friend wouldn’t have chosen stage-4 cancer nor would my sister have selected MS. The ten Boom sisters wouldn’t have chosen a concentration camp and none of us would have selected a pandemic. As unwanted as they were, however, they were what we got. Let us graciously accept them as we ask for God’s guidance and the power to live in them. Someday, it all will make sense. Until that time, as we wonder how we can function in our difficult circumstances, we can pray Betsie’s prayer: “Show us. Show us how.” God answered me and He will answer you!

There is nothing—no circumstance, no trouble, no testing—that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has gone past God and past Christ right through to me. If it has come that far, it has come with a great purpose, which I may not understand at the moment. But as I refuse to become panicky, as I lift up my eyes to Him and accept it as coming from the throne of God for some great purpose of blessing to my own heart, no sorrow will ever disturb me, no circumstance will cause me to fret, for I shall rest in the joy of what my Lord is—that is the rest of victory! [Alan Redpath]

For this reason we don’t lose heart. Even if our outer humanity is decaying, our inner humanity is being renewed day by day. This slight momentary trouble of ours is working to produce a weight of glory, passing and surpassing everything, lasting for ever; for we don’t look at the things that can be seen, but at the things that can’t be seen. After all, the things you can see are here today and gone tomorrow; but the things you can’t see are everlasting. [2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NTE)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

HIS MEGAPHONE

We know, in fact, that God works all things together for good to those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. [Romans 8:28 (NTE)]

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. [C.S. Lewis]

columbineWhen we’re hurting, it’s not easy to reconcile how an entirely good, ever-loving, and all-powerful God can allow pain and suffering. The simplest answer is that, since He gave us free will, we can’t hold Him responsible for what mankind has done with that free will. We can’t blame God for global warming, tooth aches, concentration camps, genocide, cancer, red tide, wars, tornadoes, torn ligaments, or rising COVID cases. We alone are the ones responsible for mankind’s poor choices and the disease, death, destruction, and suffering that have accompanied us since we were evicted from Eden.

Pain tells us something is wrong and often begins with little nudges, ones that are easy to disregard. However, when the pain gets bad enough, it can’t be ignored. C.S. Lewis calls pain God’s “megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” I don’t know how well the world is listening to Him but I know that my recent issues with neck and back pain got my attention!

While discerning the physical reason for my pain was relatively easy, I suspected there was more to it than arthritis, herniated discs, bone spurs, ergonomics, posture, and too many hours at the computer. God doesn’t haphazardly distribute pain and trials. If pain is God’s way of getting our attention, we need to understand what God is telling us with it—to discern God’s purpose so that we can get on board with His plan.

A little soul searching and prayer told me that it wasn’t just my body that had gotten out of alignment—so had my priorities. Like the busy Martha, I’d lost sight of Jesus while serving Him. I’d been busy asking what God wanted me to do for Him when I should have been asking what He wanted to do with me. My pain knocked me to my knees in such a way that I had to surrender to God, abide in Him, and trade self-sufficiency for God-dependence.

Pain and adversity in our fallen world can’t be avoided. Perfect health isn’t promised any more than are perfect marriages, spouses, children, weather, or jobs. When God gets out His megaphone, we must step back to get some perspective so that, instead of focusing on what is happening to us, we can discern how God is using the circumstances for us.

“If this is the worst thing that’s happened to me, I’m way ahead of the game,” said a friend who is enduring her own share of pain. That sort of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? One glance at the people on my prayer list tells me it could be far worse! In the meantime, may we always remember that it is God’s presence in our painful circumstances that gives them meaning.

God has no pleasure in afflicting us, but He will not keep back even the most painful chastisement if He can but thereby guide His beloved child to come home and abide in the beloved Son. [Andrew Murray]

Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes. Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left. [Isaiah 30:20-21 (NLT)]

In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. [1 Peter 5:10 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.