THE WEEDS

Just as the weeds are sorted out and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the world. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand! [Matthew 13:40-43 (NLT)]

thistleFollowing the Parable of the Sower and the Soils, Jesus told another parable about the coming of the Kingdom. In the Parable of the Weeds, after the farmer plants wheat, his enemy sows weeds in the same field. Jesus’ hearers would have known the weed likely was darnel. Called wheat’s “evil twin,” it looks and behaves much like wheat. When wheat is consumed it gives life but, when darnel is consumed, this inedible look-alike causes nausea and even death. Sowing weeds in a field was an act of sabotage and Roman law specifically prohibited doing so with darnel. When nations went to war, agricultural vandalism was a common practice. Olive trees were cut down, grape vines destroyed, and fields were salted so nothing would grow.

When the farmer’s workers ask to pull out the weeds, they are told to wait. Because both the weeds and wheat are deeply rooted, pulling up the weeds would uproot the wheat, as well. Not wanting to destroy the good by removing the bad, the farmer decides to wait until harvest time when the weeds can be better identified and separated without damaging the wheat. At that time, the wheat will be put in the barn but the weeds will be burned.

While the farmer in the Parable of the Soils represents those who share the gospel, the farmer in this parable is Jesus. The field is the world and the enemy is Satan, whose strategy is to invade, infiltrate, penetrate, and take control of the field. Even though he knows he’s lost the war, Satan wants to inflict as much damage as possible until his final defeat. Christ’s followers are the wheat and, even though they look much like wheat, the weeds are unbelievers. The harvest comes near the end of the age when the angels will come with their sickles and winnowing forks to bring in the harvest. While the righteous will come into the Kingdom, the sons of the evil one will be punished and thrown into the fires of hell.

Focusing on the final judgment, the parable tells us that what seems uncertain now will be unmistakable at the end of the age and God’s enemies will be removed! This parable repeats the good news of the Parable of the Soils: in spite of opposition and interference from its enemy, God’s Kingdom will prevail! If there is any doubt in your mind, just read the book of Revelation. Sickness, famine, war, hatred, pestilence, hypocrisy, natural disaster, genocide, abuse, violence, idolatry, deception, calamity, and even noxious weeds do not have the last word—Jesus Christ does!

I’ve read the last page of the Bible, it’s all going to turn out all right. [Billy Graham]

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”… And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.” [Revelation 21:3-4,6-7 (NLT)]

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UNITED WE STAND

canada geeseI 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)]

Seeing a couple of first-timers at our church, I went over with programs and introduced myself. From the well-worn Bibles they carried, I surmised they weren’t new believers. The man explained that they’d been seeking a new church in our town since leaving their church five years previously. When he asked to see information about our church, I explained that our Scripture-based statement of beliefs and vision statement were on our web site. Responding that he had studied them but still had several questions, I assured him our pastor would be happy to speak with him after service. Asking me if the church had a formal statement of belief regarding the Rapture, he wanted to know whether it was pre, mid, or post-Tribulation. Never pausing for an answer, he added that he was a Calvinist, as well. Wondering if he was looking for a church or a theological debate, I was tempted to split hairs and ask if he was a four or five-point Calvinist or possibly a “hyper-Calvinist” but, fortunately, the service began. From his pointed questions, I understood why the couple had failed to find the “perfect” church in five years of searching!

In the past, Christians often settled their religious differences with bloodshed; nowadays, we just start another denomination! According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, as of 2019, there were 45,000 Christian denominations in the world! For the most part, the major differences among them have to do with baptism, predestination, and the Eucharist. Other issues of contention include everything from the nature of Mary to the interpretation of Revelation.

Many doctrinal differences are inconsequential—not unimportant—but inconsequential when it comes to our saving belief in Christ. If we truly believe that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the questions of juice or wine, immersion or sprinkling, day of worship, type of music, women in the pulpit, marital status of clergy, and whether Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is actual, figurative, or symbolic, really have no bearing on our salvation!

The Bible doesn’t speak to every issue and several verses are open to a variety of interpretations. If knowing things like the timing of the Rapture or which Bible translation God wants us to use were essential to our salvation, our infinitely wise God would have made it crystal clear to His church. When it comes to the essentials, there’s no misunderstanding His meaning with Jesus’ words: “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying,” and  “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” [John 11:25,14:6] If the Apostle Paul managed to find common ground with unbelievers, surely we can find common ground with our brothers and sisters in Christ!

As for that couple—since they made a speedy exit after service, our church must not have met their dogmatic requirements and I suspect no church ever will. Whether we’re Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Calvinists, Orthodox, or independents, we’re not likely to agree on every theological point—not with the person sitting beside us at church or even the clergy conducting the service! Nevertheless, as brothers and sisters in Christ, let our focus remain on where we do agree—on loving God, loving others, and following Jesus.

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)]

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SANCTIFIED

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. [1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NIV)]

This life, therefore is not righteousness but growth in righteousness, not health but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on our way. The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the end but it is the right road. At present, everything is being cleaned. [Martin Luther]

white oibos - juvenile - adultOur sons recently visited to celebrate their father’s birthday. As I watched them work their culinary magic in the kitchen, I marveled at how the boys who once thought Kraft mac n’ cheese to be haute cuisine became gourmet cooks. For that matter, when did they get so tall or those wrinkles appear around their eyes? At what point did the tow-headed boy’s hair darken and start receding or his brother’s turn grey? The changes I observed weren’t just physical. As we talked, I wondered when my once irresponsible boys became so sensible and wise. None of it happened overnight and yet each little change was so subtle it barely was noticed. But, when I thought back to the children and young adults they once were, the change was enormous.

When we accept Jesus, we are justified: set free by the blood of Christ, our sins are forgiven and we are spiritually reborn. But, because we still sin, our work has just begun. No parent wants their children to remain helpless infants, unthinking youngsters, or reckless teens and God is the same way with His children. Just as babies must learn to walk, new believers must learn how to walk in the steps of Jesus. We gradually transform from newborn Christians into mature ones through the power of the Holy Spirit in a process called sanctification. While justification is once and done, sanctification is a lifelong journey. Growing in grace, we become obedient to God’s Word, understand His ways and, little by little, become more like Christ.

Although challenges are often accompanied by spiritual growth spurts, for the most part, we transform gradually in barely noticeable ways (as did my boys). If we look back, however, we’ll see the difference our sanctification/spiritual growth has made in the way we conduct our lives. Because of our faith in Jesus, somewhere along the line, we probably developed enough patience to deal with our tiresome neighbor, enough wisdom to counsel a troubled friend, or enough restraint to step away from an argument. At some point, we found the ability to have peace in the midst of turmoil and self-discipline in the face of temptation. We began to love the unlovable, forgive the unforgiveable, and give generously without expecting something in return. When looking back, we’ll realize how the Holy Spirit slowly but steadily matured us from baby Christians into adolescents and beyond.

No matter how far we’ve come in our journey, a little self-examination tells us how far we still need to go. Like the wrinkles that come with age, sanctification it is a gradual, daily, and life-long process. But, unlike those inescapable wrinkles, sanctification isn’t inevitable—it takes effort. To become sanctified, we must actively pursue a holy life. By yielding to God, we become empowered by the Spirit to live a life that honors Him (without becoming self-righteous, legalistic, or proud about doing so). Like a child learning to ride a bike, however, there will be times we fall but, by the grace of God, we keep trying!

Even though I’d prefer the face and body I had twenty years ago to the one I have now, it’s because of Jesus that I much prefer the woman I am today to the woman of decades past. While I don’t look forward to seeing more wrinkles in the mirror, I do look forward to the changes the Holy Spirit continues to make in me. While I’m not who I once was, I’m still nowhere close to the woman God wants me to be.

Yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was; a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” [John Newton]

 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. [1 Corinthians 15:10 (NIV)]

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. [Philippians 3:12 (NIV)]

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PATIENCE

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. [Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)]

great blue heronAs we continued our brief study on prayer, one person shared that his prayer frequently is for patience. Agreeing, I admitted often praying, “Lord, please give me patience…and give it to me now!” While patience is a fruit of the Spirit, I have a problem getting it to grow in the garden of my life.

Without a doubt, we live in a fast-paced world and perhaps we’ve grown more impatient because of that. For example, a good download speed is 100 Mbps which allows for the receipt of 12.5 MB per second. A byte is the equivalent of one typed character so that’s like 12.5 million letters in one second (or four complete King James Bibles)! Nevertheless, we complain when we see that download circle spin for even a few seconds!

We no longer need to visit the library or bookstore for a book, the encyclopedia for an answer, or Blockbuster for a movie. Our apps mean we skip the checkout lines and our DVRs allow us to skip the commercials! Grocery shopping takes only a few minutes thanks to Instacart and DoorDash allows us to skip the groceries altogether! We pay bills, do our banking, plan travel, and shop with a few clicks of a mouse and what we order today appears on our doorstep tomorrow! We literally live in a world of instant pots, grams, chargers, coffee, rice, carts, and gratification. Patience may be a virtue but it seems as rare as handwritten letters and phone booths. Its rarity, however, doesn’t mean it’s unnecessary!

I thought about patience this morning while walking in a nearby park. We were mesmerized while watching a beautiful Great Blue Heron ((Ardea herodias) hunt for breakfast. With a height of four feet and a wingspan of nearly seven feet, the Great Blue is an impressive bird. When foraging, it stands still for long periods of time with only his head moving while patiently scanning the water for prey. When a heron wades through the water, it seems to glide. Its long legs move so deliberately and gracefully there’s not even a ripple in the water. At the Great Blue stalks its food in the wetlands, this statuesque bird is a model of focus, diligence, and purpose. Watching a heron hunt is like seeing something in ultra-slow-motion. But, when its next meal comes swimming past, the heron moves with lightning speed, uncoils its long neck, and plunges its sizable beak and head into the water. On occasion it comes up empty-beaked but, more often than not, its patience pays off and the bird emerges with a fish, frog, snake or other unlucky critter. While I’ve gotten plenty of photos of a heron hunting and several of one enjoying its catch, I’ve never gotten one of the bird actually getting its meal. You see, the heron’s patience exceeds my own. No matter how long I stalk the bird for the perfect shot, I give up before it does! Were I a heron, I surely would go hungry!

Watching the heron today was a beautiful reminder to slow down and exercise patience as we move through life. It’s easy to lose faith when things don’t move along at the pace we want them to go but life isn’t meant to be measured at megabits per second. Unlike Siri, God isn’t at our beck and call with answers to every question. Moreover, unlike UPS, He doesn’t give us a tracking link to check on a prayer’s progress and know its delivery date. God works in His time and way and what seems like a delay on His part is just our unrealistic expectations concerning God’s perfect plan.

God speaks to us through his creation and nature (like God) takes its own sweet time to accomplish its purpose. Indeed, “For everything there is a season.” It takes time for seeds to germinate, seedlings to flower, and flowers to bear fruit. It takes time for nests to be built, eggs to hatch, and eaglets to fly. It takes time for bees to pollinate, seasons to change, caterpillars to become butterflies, saplings to become tall oaks, tadpoles to become frogs, and for the heron to stalk its meal! May God’s beautiful world remind us to slow down and savor the moments and people with whom we are blessed.

Lord, please give us patience—for other people’s sentences to be completed, for projects to be finished, for questions to be answered, and for problems to be solved. Give us patience to let our children mature, for friendships to grow, and for skills to develop. May we have patience for tempers to cool and relationships to mend, patience with our own shortcomings and those of others, patience for healing to occur, and patience for prayers to be answered. Teach us how to wait!

Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience. [Ralph Waldo Emerson]

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. [Colossians 3:12 (NLT)]

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LISTENING

Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our maker, for he is our God. We are the people he watches over, the flock under his care. If only you would listen to his voice today! [Psalm 95:6-7 (NLT)]

limpkinLooking like a cross between a heron and an ibis, the limpkin (Aramus guarauna) is common along Florida’s fresh water canals, wetlands, and swamps. While they’re lovely to look at, they’re not lovely to hear. Often referred to as the wailing or crying bird, limpkins have a loud piercing “banshee” scream that usually is heard at night, dawn, and dusk. During courtship, a male limpkin makes repetitive long, loud, rattling calls while a female replies with slightly lower (but still disturbing) screams.

It’s mating season and, as the limpkins establish their territory and seek their mates around our lakes, the male limpkins are wailing away. On this morning’s walk, I encountered three of these screamers high in trees near the water. Although they continually called out, they never seemed to pause long enough from their wailing to hear an answer. While the three males continued their haunting screams, I encountered a female limpkin quietly walking along the shoreline. I wondered if she simply was waiting for the men to quiet down long enough so she could return their call.

My family is doing a seven-day prayer study which began with the statement, “Prayer is conversation with God.” As we shared our prayer habits via email, one person wrote that some days he simply asks God, “What’s your will for me today?” He added, “The hard part of any conversation is being willing to listen and be receptive to what is being said.” As I thought of his words, I realized our similarity to the screeching limpkins—how we often call out to God without pausing to listen for His response. We ask what to do or where to go but don’t listen for His answer (perhaps because we’re not that anxious to obey).

While there is no rigid format either to prayer or conversation, there are guidelines to a good conversation which also apply to prayer. Conversation and prayer are about building a relationship and both require a balance between talking and listening. It’s neither prayer nor conversation when we come only to talk. Moreover, there’s a big difference between actively listening and simply waiting until we can speak again. We must listen with the intention of understanding and, when we ask questions, we’re supposed to wait for the answers! My mother often reminded me that God gave us two ears and only one mouth because we were to listen twice as much as we spoke.

Just as there’s no need to impress others with big words scattered throughout the conversation, we don’t need a special vocabulary to speak with God. He knows what we mean and, when we can’t find the right words, the Spirit fills in for us. In the same way, just as unnecessary details and long explanations can bog down a conversation, they can bog down our prayers. Since God is all-knowing, He already knows the details! A good conversation is one where we are honest and God expects nothing less than complete honesty in prayer, as well.

We may be guarded in conversation but there are no secrets with God. While we should be prudent about revealing personal information in conversation, we can be totally vulnerable and open in prayer. Scripture shows people expressing the whole range of emotions in their prayers—everything from anger, outrage, disappointment, confusion, sadness, and fear to joy, confidence, awe, delight, acceptance, and gratitude.

No president, royalty, pope, prime minister, or Nobel Prize winner has ever welcomed me into a conversation. People like Bill Gates, Greta Thunberg, Max Lucado, Volodymyr Zelensky, Taylor Swift, Tom Hanks, Simone Biles and Joyce Meyer haven’t asked me to give them a call. While I may not be on speaking terms with the rich, powerful, or famous, I am with God—the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe! He invites all of us to call any time and He’s never too busy to take our call. As for those well-known and influential people, if we ever did speak with one of them, we probably would listen carefully to what they had to say. Can we do any less when we converse with God?

To have God speak to the heart is a majestic experience, an experience that people may miss if they monopolize the conversation and never pause to hear God’s responses. [Charles Stanley]

I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath! [Psalm 116:1-2 (NLT)]

Be still, and know that I am God! [Psalm 46:10 (NLT)]

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ASSISTED LIFTING (Rephidim – Part 2)

When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he asked, “What are you really accomplishing here? Why are you trying to do all this alone while everyone stands around you from morning till evening?” [Exodus 18:14 (NLT)]

Back when I did weight training, I’d often find myself struggling with my last few reps. When I thought I couldn’t get the dumbbell up another inch and was about to give up, my trainer often gave me a little help so I could finish the rep. Disappointed that I couldn’t do it on my own, he’d remind me, “There’s nothing wrong with a little assisted lifting!”

Earlier this week, when writing about Israel’s victory against the army of Amalek at Rephidim, I didn’t tell the whole story. While Joshua and his men fought in the valley, Moses, Aaron, and Hur observed from a hilltop. Standing tall, Moses raised his arms and extended his staff for all to see. That staff was Israel’s banner and, as long as Moses kept the staff raised high in the air, the Israelites advanced. But, as the day wore on, the eighty-year-old began to tire. His arms grew heavy and, most likely, his back began aching and his legs started cramping. Whenever Moses’ fatigued arms started to fall, the Amalekites began to succeed. As the battle ebbed and flowed, its outcome seemed to depend as much on Moses and that raised staff as it did on the men’s skill with swords. Aaron and Hur, however, found a rock on which Moses could sit. Then the two men stood beside Moses and did some “assisted lifting” of their own by holding up his arms until Israel claimed victory at sunset.

Later, while still camped at Rephidim, Moses got another lesson in assisted lifting. From sunrise to sunset, he dealt with both the spiritual and interpersonal concerns of Israel. Scripture tells us there were 600,000 Israelite men. When we add women, children, and the “mixed multitude” that joined them in their escape from Egypt, more than two million people were traveling together. With those many people (described by Moses as “stiff-necked”), imagine the number of questions, concerns, grievances, and quarrels that came to his attention every day. When Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law) visited the Israelite camp, he observed his son-in-law’s demanding routine. Seeing how overwhelmed Moses was by his enormous responsibilities while others did nothing, Jethro warned Moses that working that way was unsustainable. He sagely advised him to delegate some of his duties among Israel’s leaders.

Jethro suggested that Moses continue to act as the people’s representative before God and as God’s voice to the people. As an intermediary between God and Israel, Moses would intercede for Israel and pass along God’s words to them. But, when it came to mediating people’s everyday (often petty) disputes with one another, Jethro suggested that Moses chose qualified men and subdivide the work of judging among them. Only the most difficult cases would come to Moses. After getting divine approval, Moses heeded his father-in-law’s advice and got some much-needed assisted lifting!

God doesn’t expect us to bear every burden alone. Moses couldn’t do it all by himself and, even though we often think we can, neither can we. Although God will provide assistance, his provision often comes in the advice and help we receive from others. Whether we take that help, however, is entirely up to us. Fortunately, Moses didn’t think himself too strong to be helped with his staff, too wise to be counseled by his father-in-law, or too indispensable to delegate work to others!

Rather than a barbell or even a shepherd’s staff, the heavy weight we’re asked to lift consists of the responsibilities, complications, predicaments, and challenges of life. At some time or another, like Moses, we all will need some assisted lifting. May we never be too proud to accept it.

Thank you, Lord, for the many ways you provide us with the assisted lifting that gives us the strength and ability to succeed.

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. [Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NLT)]

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