GOOD SOIL (Soil – Part 4)

Still other seed fell on fertile soil. This seed grew and produced a crop that was a hundred times as much as had been planted! … And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest. [Luke 8:8a,15 (NLT)]

strawberriesIn Jesus’ parable of the four soils, the farmer’s seed finally falls on fertile soil: the people who do more than just hear the Word. Receiving it into their hearts, the Word takes root, grows, and eventually bears fruit. This is the kind of soil we’d all like to think describes us!

The very same seed was sown in what we think of as four different soils but, in actuality, it was the same kind of dirt in four different conditions: hard packed, shallow and rocky, filled with weeds, and fertile. All of that soil had the potential to receive the word—but only if it yielded to the plow! Sadly, at various times in our lives, our hearts can grow hard, become shallow, or be overwhelmed by life’s weeds. If we are willing to yield to God’s plow and accept His seed, even the hardest soil can be farmed.

We often think of the heart only in terms of emotions but, in the Bible, the heart is more than the core of our feelings. The center and source of our belief and faith, the heart is the seat of our thinking: our imagination, ideas, interests, intentions, purposes, and understanding. Fertile soil is the honest and good heart that receives the word eagerly and with good intentions. Moreover, such hearts don’t stop at hearing the word (receiving the seed); they retain it, let it shape their lives and, with perseverance, yield a large harvest.

In this parable, we are both the soil—the hearer of the Word—and the farmer—the one who spreads the Word. The fertile soil of a receptive heart allows us to see, hear, understand and apply God’s Word so that we bring forth an abundant harvest of good fruit. To bring forth that harvest, however, the cycle must continue as we become the farmer in the parable and sow God’s word far and wide. It is our responsibility to spread the seed; whether or not it takes root, however, is between God and the soil!

The quality of the soil determines the future of the seed. [Mike Murdock]

I said, “Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you.” [Hosea 10:12 (NLT)]

And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, so they will obey my decrees and regulations. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God. [Ezekiel 11:19-20 (NLT)]

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HE HAS FAITH IN US!

And I’ve got something to tell you, too: you are Peter, the rock, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell won’t overpower it. [Matthew 16:18 (NTE)]

Kandersteg - SwitzerlandAfter Simon Peter professed his belief in Jesus as the Messiah, the Lord declared that he would be known from then on as Peter (Petros) meaning rock (petra). Yet, a short time later, the Rock became a stumbling block when he resisted all that being the Messiah required: Jesus’ suffering and death. When studying the man our Lord chose to lead His church, we find Peter had enough faith to climb out of the boat but not enough faith to trust Jesus when the wind started to blow. Impetuous, Peter immediately wanted to memorialize the Transfiguration rather than learn from it. Presumptuous, he hastily spoke for Jesus regarding paying tax to Caesar. Rash, he used his sword to wound the high priest’s slave. He resisted Jesus when the Lord knelt with a wash pan at his feet and, after boldly declaring his commitment to Jesus, denied him three times within a few hours! Yet, it was to this man that Jesus entrusted the job of shepherd and the task of feeding His sheep!

The rest of the disciples were no better. Along with Peter, they thought Jesus was talking about bread when He warned them about the yeast of the Pharisees, argued with one another about who among them was the greatest, fell asleep when asked to pray, abandoned Jesus following His arrest, and returned to fishing after the crucifixion.

Not a one was a scholar, aristocrat, or priest. Yet, it was to these common ordinary men, men who had sinned and who were likely to sin again, men who had failed Jesus while He was flesh and blood, to whom Jesus entrusted His church! Although the only thing extraordinary about the disciples was their faith in Jesus, He charged them with the Great Commission: the future of His church. Have you ever wondered at the tremendous faith Jesus showed in the disciples 2,000 years ago? Legions of angels could have spread the Good News wider and faster than any mortal and yet Jesus had faith that His band of ordinary men would obey His command and succeed!

Christ’s followers continue to be as unremarkable and flawed as were Peter, John and the rest of the disciples. Nevertheless, Jesus continues to have faith in us. It is through the power of His Holy Spirit that we carry on the good work begun by those first believers. Let us continue to have faith in the God who has such great faith in us!

A dozen ignorant peasants proclaiming a crucified Jew as the founder of a new faith; bearing as the symbol of their worship an instrument which was the sign of ignominy, slavery and crime; preaching what must have seemed an absurd doctrine of humility, patient suffering and love to enemies – graces undreamed of before; demanding what must have seemed an absurd worship for one who had died like a malefactor and a slave, and making what must have seemed an absurd promise of everlasting life through one who had himself died, and that between two thieves. [“The Divine Origin of the Bible” by B.B. Warfield]

Jesus came towards them and addressed them. “All authority in heaven and on earth,” he said, “has been given to me! So you must go and make all the nations into disciples. Baptize them in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the holy spirit. Teach them to observe everything I have commanded you. And look: I am with you, every single day, to the very end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20 (NTE)]

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REFLECTING HIS LIGHT

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. [Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT)] 

super moonDid you happen to see the full moon last week? It was considered a super moon because it came within 90% of the moon’s closest approach to earth. Its nearness (221,772 miles) made it appear about 7% larger and much brighter than a typical full moon. When I saw its brilliance through the window, I stepped out on the lanai to view the glowing orb in the sky. Don’t be disappointed if you missed it, there will be another one, nearly as bright, on May 7!

Saying I saw the moon’s bright light is misleading—the moon itself has no light and doesn’t glow. It simply borrows its light from the sun and reflects it down to us as would a mirror. With the moon’s dark grey surface and bumpy landscape, it’s a poor mirror and only reflects between three and twelve percent of the sun’s light. Even that little bit, however, was enough to brightly light our lanai that night.

Even if the moon were perfectly white, it still wouldn’t appear as bright as the sun because the light would reflect off in all directions instead of straight back to us. Astronomer Roger Sinnott of Sky & Telescope theorizes that, in order to appear as bright as the sun, the moon would need a 2,160 mile-wide flat mirror to directly reflect the sun’s light back toward us on earth.

In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us to let our lights shine so that people see our good deeds. Even if we shine as brightly as the full moon, like the moon, that light isn’t ours; it is God’s Holy Spirit within us and we’re not the ones who should get the credit. Let us never forget that our good deeds are done not to enhance our reputations but rather to glorify our Father in Heaven. It’s His light that is seen and not ours. When people experience our love, compassion, forgiveness, gentleness, joy, peace, patience, thoughtfulness, integrity, faithfulness, and self-control, they see God’s beautiful light.

As Christ’s followers, we are to let God’s glory reflect through us. We may not be able to light up a lanai like the moon but we can bring His light to the world around us. Moreover, even without an enormous flat mirror, I think we could do better than the moon’s paltry three to twelve percent when it comes to reflecting God’s glory in our lives!

Poor world! What a faint light it receives from most Christians! The lighthouse, if its light is not burning is a peril instead of a safeguard. [Matthew Henry]

Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness. If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as though a floodlight were filling you with light.” [Luke 11:35-36 (NLT)]

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HE DIDN’T HAVE TO TAKE IT! – Easter Monday

When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came. [Luke 4:13 (NLT)]

penitente morada Abiquiui NMWhen asked about the temptation of Christ, we probably think of Satan’s three temptations in the wilderness. Since the gospels don’t mention other specific temptations, it’s easy to think that Jesus, unlike the rest of us, was only tempted three times. “He left him until the next opportunity came,” wrote Luke and, while reading the four gospel accounts of the crucifixion during Holy Week, I know He had to have been sorely tempted that awful last day. Right up to the end, Satan must have been at His side, whispering into his ear and reminding Him that He didn’t have to take the abuse—after all, He was God!

Satan just was warming up with his temptations during Christ’s forty days in the wilderness. When Jesus prayed so hard He sweat blood in Gethsemane, that wasn’t because He was afraid to suffer and die. That was Jesus resisting Satan as the enemy made false promises, cast doubt on His mission, and tried to keep Him from the cross.

I can’t believe Satan went down without a fight and it was in the hours following Jesus’s arrest that he must have made a determined last ditch effort to thwart God’s plan of salvation. It may have been a man’s body suffering the unspeakable abuse that horrifying Friday but, inside the bruised and bloody flesh, it was God! He’d fed a multitude with a few scraps, turned water into wine, cast out demons, healed lepers, and stilled a storm. Jesus didn’t lose His power when He was arrested; He deliberately chose not to use it!

When Jesus was wrongly accused and false witnesses testified before the high court, when the people who’d hailed Him just a few days earlier called to crucify him, or when the crowd ridiculed Him as His tortured body hung on the cross, could the One capable of giving hearing to the deaf been tempted to strike them all mute? Jesus was there when an angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers outside of Jerusalem’s walls. As He was being spit on, slapped, beaten with fists, hit on the head with a reed stick, flogged with a lead-tipped whip, and mocked with a crown of sharp thorns, surely Satan invited Jesus to do something similar to His taunters and abusers. Could the One who gave sight to the blind have been tempted to take away the sight of the soldiers as they gambled for his robe or knelt in mock worship? As they nailed His hands to the cross, could the One who’d cast demons into swine been tempted to kill the men who were torturing Him? Jesus was God. He existed before time, space, matter and energy began and, up to His very last breath, the One who could walk on water could have freed Himself, stepped off that cross, healed his wounds, and destroyed every last one of the soldiers and onlookers with just a thought. But, He didn’t!

Perhaps it was my familiarity with the crucifixion story (and the fact that I know the good news that follows) but I don’t think I truly grasped the anguish of Christ until I read all four gospel accounts in one sitting. I knew He suffered a gruesome tortuous death but I didn’t see how tempting it would have been for Him not to do so! Perhaps resisting the temptation to quit and punish His abusers was even harder than enduring the pain of the cross.

How long would you hold your hand over a burning flame when all you had to do was pull it out of the fire? Would you do it for people who reviled and berated you? Jesus didn’t have to suffer and die for us; He chose to do so out of love. I, for one, can’t comprehend a love that great! Thank you, Jesus!

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. [1 Peter 2:24 (NLT)]

Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. [Romans 5:7-8 (NLT)]

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DON’T STOP AT FRIDAY – Good Friday 2020

Earthly people are like the man of earth; heavenly people are like the man from heaven. We have borne the image of the man made of earth; we shall also bear the image of the man from heaven. [1 Corinthians 15:48-49 (NLT)]

loretto - santa fe NMEaster will be a little different this year. Instead of getting up early for the sunrise service, we’ll have all day to go to online church and, rather than new Easter attire, we can attend church in sweats or jammies and our proverbial Easter bonnet can be a baseball cap. The kids won’t have brunch with the Easter Bunny, no family or friends will come for dinner, and, instead of hunting for Easter eggs, we’ll search for hand sanitizer or face masks on the Internet. Fortunately, we don’t need new clothes, eggs, brunch, jelly beans, Peeps, parades, Easter lilies, chocolate bunnies, beautiful hymns, or even a church service for Easter. All we really need is the Resurrection!

Nevertheless, some people are just Christmas through Good Friday believers. While they believe Jesus was born, walked the earth, and died on the cross, they doubt His resurrection and the promise of our resurrection. Their faith stops on Good Friday rather than going all of the way to Easter Sunday. Some of those in the church at Corinth were like that and, in 1 Corinthians 15, we find Paul’s response to those who couldn’t believe in the resurrection of the body. Without resurrection, he said, Jesus couldn’t have risen from the dead and, if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, their faith was futile; they were merely false witnesses whose faith was grounded on a lie.

If we only believe from Christmas through Good Friday, we have a philosophy but not a faith and Jesus was just a godly, wise, and loving man. Paul suggests that, without the resurrection of Jesus and His followers, we might as well live with the attitude, “Let’s eat and drink, because tomorrow we’re going to die!” If our belief stops at Friday, we finish like a Looney Tunes cartoon with, “That’s all folks!” On the other hand, if we believe through Sunday, our lives are just beginning! That Jesus was raised from the dead means that even though all people die, all those in Christ will rise again! Instead of a philosopher who offered answers, the Resurrection means we have a Messiah who was the answer.

When we accept the resurrection of the dead, we’re bound to wonder how it’s done and what we’ll look like. Rather than putrefied remains, ashes or the broken bodies we had at death, Paul uses the analogy of a seed growing into a plant. Transformed, our resurrected bodies will be as different from our earthly ones as an oak is from an acorn, a chicken from an egg, a butterfly from a caterpillar, or a sunflower from its seed. Because imperfect finite bodies can’t inhabit a world that is infinite and perfect, Paul explains that God will take our perishable bodies and replace them with ones that are spiritual and imperishable. By spiritual, Paul doesn’t mean something ghostly or indistinct. There will be a body of some kind but, unlike our earthly one, it won’t be subject to decay, weakness, or death. Incapable of deterioration, it will be a beautiful and perfect vehicle for God’s Spirit.

I like C.S. Lewis’ explanation. Pointing out that, in this life, we tend to think of the soul as inhabiting the body, he suggests that, in the glorified body of the resurrection, the physical body will inhabit the soul and, rather than being less, we’ll be more. Of course, it’s all speculation. We don’t know what it will look like nor can we understand how it will be done because we’re not God. But, because we are Resurrection Sunday people, we know that it will happen!

The body that Jesus wore when he walked the earth—the one that fed a multitude, healed the sick, ate with the disciples, prayed in the garden, sweat blood, stood trial, was beaten, had nails driven into it, and hung on a cross—was a body like ours. Subject to pain, injury, disease and death, it was a body designed for an earthly life. But, Jesus’ story didn’t end on Friday and He rose on Sunday with a body suited for heaven!

One day, we will inherit His everlasting kingdom with everlasting bodies of our own. Yes, we will die in mortality, weakness, and infirmity but we will be resurrected in glory, strength, and power. We will be resurrected because we are Easter people!

On what does the Christian argument for Immortality really rest? It stands upon the pedestal on which the theologian rests the whole of historical Christianity—the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. [Henry Drummond]

‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ replied Jesus. ‘Anyone who believes in me will live, even if they die. And anyone who lives and believes in me will never, ever die.’ [John 11:25-26 (NTE)]

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NEVER A STRANGER

Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! [Hebrews 13:1-2 (NLT)]

butterfly weedThe story has been told of a shoemaker who dreamt that Jesus would come to his shop the following day. His dream was so realistic that he washed his shop windows and dusted every shelf in preparation for his holy guest. The man patiently waited at his bench for the Lord to arrive but the only person to come through his door that morning was an old man seeking shelter from the icy winter rain. When the cobbler looked down at the man’s wet feet, he saw toes poking out of his beat-up shoes. Selecting a new pair of shoes, the shoemaker sat the old man down, dried off his feet, gave him a fresh pair of socks, and fitted him with the new shoes. When the rain stopped, the old man went on his way.

Just about lunchtime, a shabbily dressed woman came into the store and asked if she could stay just long enough to get warm. When the cobbler opened up his lunch box, he saw the woman hungrily eyeing his sandwiches. “I’m not really hungry,” he said as he offered her his lunch. After the woman had eaten, warmed up, and departed, the shoemaker continued to wait for Jesus but no one else came through the door. As the disheartened man closed up shop that evening, he heard a child crying. Looking down, he saw a small boy huddled in the doorway. The tearful child explained that he’d gotten hopelessly lost while running errands. He knew his address but he didn’t know how to get there. Although the cobbler wanted to get home for dinner, he wiped the youngster’s eyes and nose, took his hand, and escorted him home.

After returning the boy to his family, the disappointed man turned back toward his shop and said a silent prayer of despair. “Lord, I was so sure you’d come—so sure that I’d see your face at my door! Where were you?” It was then that He heard a gentle voice tell him, “Shoemaker, lift up your heart. I was right there at your door three times today. You clothed me, fed me, and comforted me! Don’t you know that when you did those things to my children, you did them to me?”

The Rule of St. Benedict, written in 516 by Benedict of Nursia, is a set of instructions for monastic living that has served as a guidebook to Christian discipleship for 1,500 years. Benedict opened chapter 53 with this statement, “All guests to the monastery should be welcomed as Christ, because He will say, ‘I was a stranger and you took me in.’” Just as Benedict directed the monks to see Christ in their guests, so we must see Christ in the people we encounter. Like the cobbler’s visitors, that person may look like an expense, interruption, or inconvenience; nevertheless, he is Christ. Our fictional cobbler welcomed three strangers at his door and received Christ as his guest. While becoming Jesus to others and seeing Jesus in others isn’t always easy, that’s what we’re called to do. Let us serve the Lord with gladness!

I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus. [Mother Teresa]

For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me. … I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me! [Matthew 25:35-36,40 (NLT)]

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