One thing at a time

Read: Numbers 7, Mark 4:21-41

It’s winter where I live. Usually, living on the southwest coast of Canada, we don’t get much for winter but buckets of rain. Today, the temperature is below freezing and there is a thin layer of crunchy snow on the ground. Though some bulbs have managed to push their shoots through the cold ground, no seeds will be planted for months yet.

Many of us Christians, myself included, act as though we are in a perpetual spiritual winter. We withhold the seed in our hands claiming the soil isn’t ready. Or maybe it is, but we either don’t know how or just plain refuse to scatter it.

He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.”

Mark 4:26 (NIV)

Who is the man in this story? I am. You are. What is the seed? The Word of God. What are we supposed to do with the seed? Scatter it. Then what?

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Too many of us hold on to our seeds unsure of what we’re supposed to do once we scatter. Sometimes it’s nothing at all. But what if it doesn’t grow? What if it does?

When you go out and plant seeds in the soil, aside from a bit of water, there is very little you can do to ensure your plant comes up. You can’t dig down and check on it. You have to wait and trust that the seed you planted was a good seed and that it will sprout at the right time.

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

1 Corinthians 3:6-7 (NIV)

You have a seed to plant. We all have seeds that can be planted. And we all have water to help those seeds to grow. And still, we all have the tools to harvest those plants once they’re mature. It is rare that one person will plant, water, and harvest the same seed.

The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

1 Corinthians 3:8-9 (NIV)

Instead of worrying about a whole field, focus on one thing at a time. Plant the seed that’s in your hand right now. Share the Word of God. Keep planting. You may find you encounter someone who’s already received a seed. Water it. Keep sharing the Word of God. Keep watering. You may come across a person who’s received a seed and had it watered. That’s your harvest. Keep harvesting.

This is not just the job of pastors and teachers and church leaders. It’s your job. Ephesians 4:12 says that all of those people were given to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we reach unity in the faith. We are all to do works of service.

One person doing their work may be able to change their circle of influence. But if we all do our work—just one thing at a time, we will change the world.

Weed the worry

Read: Numbers 5-6, Mark 4:1-20

Most of us have heard or read the parable of the sower more times than we can count. From Sunday school through to Sunday sermons, if you grew up in church, you’ve been aware of this story of Jesus’ for most of you life. If we had to place ourselves in a portion of the story, the majority of us would be tempted to claim the good ground. But if we’re telling the truth, we’ve probably all had more experience in the other kinds of soil than we’d like to publicly admit. Today, let’s talk about the thorns.

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First, what is worry?

WORRY: To tease; to trouble; to harass with importunity (pressing solicitation; urgent request, application for a claim or favor, which is urged with troublesome frequency or pertinacity), or with care and anxiety.

Whom of us can claim that we have never worried and will never worry again? None. Zip. Zilch. Nada. If we’re alive, we’re bound to worry about something. Parents worry about their children. Some worry about how to pay the bills or where to find the next meal. Some worry about succeeding, others failure. Some worry about grades. Others still, worry about being alone while some worry about staying together.

We may not be able to stop the worry altogether, but we do have the ability to control it when it comes.

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

Luke 12:25-26 (NIV)

Jesus compared worry to thorns. Weeds. Unwanted growth.

Say you plant a garden. You pick a spot with plenty of sun. It is close to a water source, yet it drains well. You’ve added soil and done all that you can to ensure a fruitful garden. You pick your seeds and plan your plots. Once the seeds are in the ground, you are careful to water, but not too much. You shoo away birds that would snatch the seeds or cats that would disturb your neat rows. Before too long, your little seeds start to sprout. Row by row little bright green leaves peek through the dark soil. But wait! That one isn’t in line! It doesn’t look like a cucumber or carrot. It’s a weed. What are you going to do about it?

Most of us accept worry as a part of life. It just is. It can’t be helped. But if it can’t be helped, why would Jesus tell us not to do it?

Like your carefully planned garden, worry, like a weed, can be uprooted. It can be removed and tossed away to die. No one wanting the largest harvest possible will stand for weeds sucking up all the nutrients from the soil and choking out the productive plants. Those weeds need to go. So does worry.

Even the best-prepared soil can sprout weeds. But the diligent gardener will remove them before any damage is done.

Don’t entertain worry. There is no benefit in it. Worry takes our focus away from those things which have already been promised to us. And not only that, but it implies that our trust in God is not implicit.

Worry generally stems from a fear of lack, not having enough or not being enough. So when that little thorny sprout shows up, you remind it who’s the boss. Pull it up and cast it away with this promise:

And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19 (NIV)

Now is the time

When someone asks me to do something I’d already planned on doing, immediately I want to say no. It has turned from being an optional thing into a thing that must be done. And, now that it must be done, I don’t want to do it anymore. It’s not the greatest attitude to have. Especially when it comes to spiritual things.

I said, “Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of my 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)

These statements from the Lord were not given as options. You might want to plant the good seeds of righteousness. Maybe think about plowing up the hard ground of your hearts. No, these are statements of things that must be done if we want to reap the rewards that are also described.

Chances are that you’ve planted something before. Maybe in school. Perhaps a garden in your yard. A flower pot on your patio. The soil is as important as the seed. This is why Jesus told a whole story about the soil. In the parable of the sower, Jesus took the time to describe the different types of soil in detail, but never gave any indications as to what the seed may have been or looked like.

As he scattered it across the field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them.

Matthew 13:4 (NLT)

We can assume that the footpath was hard, packed, well-trod soil—if you can even call it soil anymore. When soil is hard and packed, a seed cannot even get far enough into the ground to sprout roots. All that potential becomes nothing more than bird food. God tells us that we must plow up that hard ground. Now is the time to do it.

Unlike planting, soil preparation can happen at any time. A farmer can start preparing a field for planting a year or more in advance. If the plot of land is particularly hard and stony, it will take time to make it useful for planting. So long as the ground is accessible, it can be prepared.

Our hearts are the same as the unprepared field. We don’t need to wait for a certain season to start. We just need to prepare ourselves to receive the seed. God will take care of the rest. But if we never take the time to prepare ourselves, we can never expect to reap a harvest. Any seed that may be scattered will be snatched away.

Let’s stop waiting and procrastinating. Get the job done while it is still a choice, not a duty. Now is the time to seek the Lord.

Daily Bible reading: Hosea 9-11, Revelation 2

Plant or water

David had begun to make plans to build a great temple to house the presence of the Lord. He wanted to honour God and give Him a permanent residence just like God had given Israel a permanent residence in their own land. But David would not be the one to make his plans a reality. The prophet Nathan reported to the king that it was not his job to build the temple, but that task belonged to one of his sons.

David had a couple of ways he could have responded here. He could have thrown a tantrum and built the temple anyway. He was the man after God’s own heart, after all. Why shouldn’t he be the one to build it? David was the one who’d made all the plans. It was his temple.

Another option—the one he chose—was humility. Rather than be disappointed that he wouldn’t be the one to build this grand structure honour his God, David rejoiced that God had chosen his lineage to be established forever.

Then King David went and sat before the Lord and prayed, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And now, O God, in addition to everything else, you speak of giving me a lasting dynasty! You speak as you I were someone very great, O Lord God!”

1 Chronicles 17:16-17 (NLT)

David understood that there was far greater glory in what God would provide than anything he could accomplish on his own. He understood that the plans were as important as the building. He understood that there is a much importance in the planting as there is in the watering and harvesting.

The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work.

1 Corinthians 3:8 (NLT)

While David would not build the temple, he left his son, Solomon, with everything he would need to complete the task. Both David’s obedience and Solomon’s diligence were rewarded.

God may have given you some grand plans, but not the go-ahead to accomplish them. Don’t let that get you down! There is honour and reward to be had every step of the way. While you may be the one to plant the seeds, another may be called to water and yet another to harvest. Your job is to be obedient in what God has called you to do no matter what step He’s called you to.

Daily Bible reading: 1 Chronicles 17-19, John 10:1-21

 

Weeds

Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. But that night as everyone slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat. When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew. The farmer’s servants came and told him, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds!’

“‘An enemy has done it!’ the farmer exclaimed.

“‘Shall we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.

“He replied, ‘No, you’ll hurt the wheat if you do. Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds and burn them and to put the wheat in the barn.'”

Matthew 13:24-30 (NLT)

Yes, I am well aware that this passage is from yesterday’s reading, but today we read the explanation of it.

Skeptics of Christianity often ask, “If God exists, why is there bad in the world?” The obvious answer is that there is a God, but there is also an enemy. While God is God and He is infinite in His mercy and goodness, if He made all evil disappear, our free will would disappear along with it and that would defeat His entire purpose in creating humanity.

But all of that is not what we’re looking at today. Why is there evil? Why are there weeds among the wheat? Why can’t we just pull the weeds and be done with it?

Have you ever pulled a weed from your garden?

I am convinced that the root systems of weeds are fifty times larger than those of good plants. It’s nearly impossible to pull a weed without ripping out all of the soil in a radius that seems entirely too large for the size of weed you’re pulling. Along with the weed comes its roots, additional soil, and anything that was growing in that additional soil. Transfer that picture to a wheat field. There is no way the harvest would survive the pulling of all the weeds.

So the bad exists with the good and will exist until harvest time.

We are both the good seed and the farmer’s servants. We’ve been planted and have been given the mandate to grow. We’ve also been commissioned to plant and encourage others to grow. What we have not been given the job to do is weed the garden. God didn’t give the Church the job of removing that which doesn’t belong.

Think of it this way: you planted your garden in the spring. You took the time to prepare the soil. You’ve read up on how to tend to every type of plant you want to grow. You are going to reap a bountiful harvest. In a matter of weeks, your little plants start to sprout. You see neat little rows of green shooting up from the dark soil. Another week or two passes by, you’ve watered and you’re seedlings continue to grow, but something else has happened, there are new shoots that aren’t a part of your neat little rows. Weeds!

If you then, over the course of the summer, focus solely on the weeds and their removal from your garden and completely neglect the good seeds, what sort of harvest—if any— will you have come fall? You can’t remove all the weeds without damaging your good plants. You can’t starve the weeds without starving your harvest. Some weeds will have to stay through to the end for you to reap the bounty you planned on from the start.

So it is with the Church. If our sole focus is on trying to keep the bad stuff out, we’re going to miss out on all the good stuff. It’s not our job to pull the weeds; it’s our job to tend to the fields.

Daily Bible reading: Genesis 42-43, Matthew 13:33-58

One Voice

I live in what is considered to be the most churched city in Canada. As in, we have more churches per capita than any other city in the country. There are those who say, “That’s great!” In a way it is, but in other’s it’s a testament to the selfishness of the church.

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 15:5-6 (ESV)

One voice. The church should have but one voice. I don’t believe that there should be only one church in each city because different styles appeal to different people. And that’s fine. Some prefer a traditional hymn service over a contemporary worship service. You may like one pastor’s style over another. That’s okay.

What bothers me about seeing so many churches is that, in a city of just 80,000 people, there are many churches of the same denomination. Where some may have been extensions of the original plant, others are new plants entirely. What was so wrong with the original that a new one had to be planted? Why could the church no longer glorify God in a single voice, but instead had to lift a new one?

What would happen if the Church – the global Church – would glorify God in a single voice rather than each individual church trying to make it’s unique voice heard? We are not called to be many, but one.

It is my prayer that the day will soon arrive where the Church will stand up and with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 105-106; Romans 15:1-20