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?

Mark 4-27.jpg

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

 

Shake the dust off

And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.”

Mark 16:15 (NLT)

This verse is probably as well known to you as John 3:16. We call it the Great Commission. Every Christian is called to bring the Good News to a lost world. But what if the lost world doesn’t want the Good News?

Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.

Mark 16:16 (NLT)

It sounds a little harsh, doesn’t it? Some churches might even preach that hearing the Good News is good enough. Surely God wouldn’t condemn someone who has heard His Gospel.

Yet that is exactly what this scripture says. Believe and be saved. Refuse and be condemned. It’s a pretty simple, but hard truth to swallow. And, once we come to the realisation that not all who hear the Good News will accept it, how do we, as the ones who present that Gospel deal with the guilt of seeing someone condemned to a life of eternal torment?

We shake the dust off our feet and move on.

If the people of the village won’t receive your message when you enter it, shake off its dust from your feet as you leave. It is a sign that you have abandoned that village to its fate.

Luke 9:5 (NLT)

We can and should hold ourselves responsible to the Great Commission. We should be sharing the Gospel and spreading the Good News to the best of our ability, but we cannot and should not hold ourselves accountable for those who refuse our message. In Luke 8, Jesus addresses the different types of people that will hear the Word. He wouldn’t have talked about the seeds that would never grow if everyone who heard the Good News accepted it with joy.

Let this lesson free you—not from the burden to share the message of salvation—but from the guilt that may come when there are those who refuse your message. If you have prepared yourself and presented Jesus to the very best of your ability, you have fulfilled your Commission. If your message isn’t received, shake the dust from you feet and move on encouraged that you are still doing the work of the Father.

Daily Bible reading: Judges 10-11, Luke 9:1-36

Moses and the Prophets

If you’ve paid any attention to the news at all lately, it would seem that the world is going to hell in a hand basket in a hurry. Morals a quickly fading. Beliefs are fragile at best. Direction is lacking and all sense of responsibility has gone out the window.

How are we, the Church, supposed to make these people believe again?

The simple answer, we’re not.

In the book of Luke, Jesus tells the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. Lazarus is a beggar and the rich man is a man of great indulgence. The rich man paid no attention to Lazarus. Both men die and Lazarus is taken up to Abraham’s side while the rich man goes down to the fiery depths. The rich man soon learns that there is no help for him, so he asks for help for his five brothers. Surely, if someone came back from the dead, they would believe.

He [Jesus] said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should arise from the dead.”

Luke 16:31 (ESV)

Just as a man in Heaven cannot help a man in Hell, there is nothing you or I can do to force a person to believe. We can and should share the Gospel in a way that is comprehensible by all, but the believing part is out of our hands. It is up to the Holy Spirit to take the seeds we spread and help it to grow.

Once a seed is in the ground there is little one can do aside from watering to help it along. If the ground is good, the seed will take root and grow, but if the ground is bad and does not receive the seed, there is precious little we can do to make a difference.

Daily Bible reading: 1 Samuel 25-26; Luke 16:19-31