In season

Read: Deuteronomy 1-2, Mark 11:1-19

Did anyone else grow up thinking that the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree was a little harsh? I mean, the Bible even says that it wasn’t even fig season, and here’s Jesus all mad that there was no fruit behind those big, beautiful leaves. So he curses the tree and it withers up and dies. I’ve always felt bad for the tree.

Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

Mark 11:13-14 (NIV)

Now, I’ve seen fig trees in leaf without fruit. If you like figs, it’s a little disappointing when there’s nothing there to sample. But when you know it’s not the right season, you shrug and walk away and hope you can come back when there is fruit. Jesus just couldn’t shake it off, though.

Why is that? Paul explained it to Timothy.

Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

1 Timothy 4:2 (NIV)

I don’t think Jesus’ disappointment was so much with the fig tree, but with the Jews. Here he was, the fulfillment of centuries of promise, standing in front of them and they were far more concerned with pretty leaves—religious tradition—than fruit—the spiritual enlightenment he brought.

Let’s break this down to a very simple, personal level. Let’s say that one of your best friends isn’t a believer. You know that, and your friend knows that you are a believer. You don’t hide your faith, but at their request, you don’t talk much about it. Then one day, your friend starts asking you deeper questions about your faith. But, since you didn’t really talk about it much, your friend doesn’t know that you haven’t been going to church much and your Bible is sitting dusty on a shelf. You’re not in a fruitful season. And because of that lack of fruit, you are unable to truly share with your friend even though they’re finally ready to hear the Gospel.

According to John 15:1, God is the gardener. If God is the gardener, then the local church sort of acts like a greenhouse. Since Roman times, gardeners have worked to coax fruit from plants even when the season isn’t right. Greenhouses bring light and heat where there otherwise would be cold and dark. These two elements help plants to grow out of their natural habitat and through what would normally be a dormant season.

Do you see what I’m getting at? The gathering of the saints, regular fellowship with other Christians, helps to keep us warm and full of light. As a result, we can be more fruitful in  more seasons. Just because we may be going through a rough time, doesn’t mean that we can’t still bear fruit. If a hothouse can grow tomatoes through a Canadian winter, surely the strength of a church community can both help you through your trial and even cause a little fruit to grow.

Looking pretty doesn’t matter. I’m sure Jesus would have rather seen a scraggly tree, heavy with ripened fruit than the leafy, fruitless wonder he did find.

The trick to staying in season? First, stay connected to the vine—Jesus. Second, stay connected with the gardener—God. And third, stay in the greenhouse—the church.

Worth your salt

Read: Numbers 30-31, Mark 9:30-50

Little Manitou Lake in Saskatchewan has a mineral density three-times that of the oceans. Who cares? Well, what this means is that, unless you intentionally put your head under water and breathe in, you can’t drown. The water is so dense, a human being can float with no effort at all. The high mineral—salt—concentration in the lake (and spa where the lake water is piped in) has disinfectant and healing properties. It is only one of three inland bodies of water on the planet that has such properties (the Dead Sea being another). It’s rare. It’s special. It’s worth taking note.

Mark 9-50.jpg

Many of us might read through this little verse and just assume that Jesus wants us to be flavourful, add a little spice to the world around us. That’s what salt is for, after all. And that little part about being at peace with each other, just a nice little add-on. The complexity and weight of this verse is completely lost on us if we don’t understand the cultural connotations of salt at the time Jesus said these words.

  1. Salt was valuable. When you start a new job you settle on what? A salary. Ever wonder where that word originated from? You’d better be worth your salt or you won’t be keeping that job. Some speculate that, because of it’s high value in the Roman empire, that soldiers were often paid in salt. Roads were built because of salt. Trades were made because of salt. Lives were made or lost because of salt.
  2. Salt healed. Like patrons of Little Lake Manitou, the Romans were also aware of the healing properties of salt. Drinking a saltwater solution could reset the digestive system. Soaking an open wound in saline could help prevent swelling and infection.
  3. Salt preserved. While the term pickled didn’t arrive on the scene for centuries, the concept of preserving food with salt was not lost on the Roman empire. Salty olives were as much a part of the Mediterranean diet then as they are now.
  4. Salt was considered holy. Since Leviticus 2:13, salt was a part of Jewish sacrificial offerings. No sacrifice was to be made without it.
  5. Salt declared covenant. In both Jewish and Roman cultures, sharing salt at a table was indicative of covenant or servitude. For the Romans, to eat salt from the table of another put you in their service. For the Jews, to share bread with salt was a sign of covenant between those who share the meal.

When we take into account the historical significance of salt, this verse is so much more than a little platitude for us to remember. Whether in food or water, the presence of salt is undeniable. Imagine a society without salt. Imagine your life without salt? It’s impossible. As trivial as those little granules may seem, they are an essential part of our lives.

Now take that idea and apply it to believers.

Everything that salt was to society when Jesus walked this planet, we should still be to our culture today. Believers should add value, no matter where we are. We should bring healing. We should preserve those things that are good and helpful and nourishing to every life. We should be set apart as holy. And we should share a covenant not only with God, but with each other. Our lives should be set apart for service to the Father and to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Suddenly this verse isn’t so little and that last bit about being at peace with each other means a little more.

Are you worth your salt?

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.

Act out

A person stands on a stage speaking wise words with an eloquent voice. Their words are truth. Their words hold life.

A person sits in the crowd hearing words and, even though they are powerful, this person feels nothing. There is no change. They are hollow.

Then a stranger beside them gently takes their hand. Suddenly the world changes.

Which person is greater—the speaker or the silent hand-holder? Which one has more wisdom and understanding? We might be inclined to say that it’s the person speaking, but if their words have no effect, what use are they?

If you are wise and understand God’s ways, live a life of steady goodness so that only good deeds will pour forth. And if you don’t brag about the good you do, then you will be truly wise.

James 3:13 (NLT)

Telling people what you know and what you can do isn’t the same as showing people what you know and what you can do. In the end, our actions hold far more sway than our words. Words, though they may be right, are empty unless our actions back them up. Words aren’t always necessary to convey a strong message. In fact, they are rarely needed.

We all make many mistakes, but those who control their tongues can also control themselves in every other way.

James 3:2 (NLT)

As Christians, especially as those who may not be in public ministry, we may struggle with ways to share our faith. We can’t find the words. Bringing up God in conversation always seems shallow and contrived. But what if words aren’t what we need to be sharing? I’ve personally had more people ask me about my faith based on my actions than my words.

When we act out Christ’s love and live a life of steady goodness so that good deeds will pour forth, we open doors that our words could never open. We make paths where our words could never go. We affect lives in ways words never could.

Don’t try to find the right words. Try to do the right deeds.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 24-26, James 3

The same

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Hebrews 13:8 (NLT)

No matter what translation you read, this verse is pretty much exactly the same in every one. The Amplified adds Jesus Christ is [eternally changeless, always] the same. The word same means just that. The same. Never changing. Unaltered. Never different. That is our Savior.

Think about that for a moment. The message that Jesus taught while he walked the earth is still valid today. Just because the world has changed and humanity has changed, doesn’t mean the Gospel changes.

So do not be attracted by strange, new ideas. Your spiritual strength comes from God’s special favor…

Hebrews 13:9b (NLT)

Too often, we try to complicate the message of Jesus. It can get watered down or it can be altered to seem more appealing. But the true message of Jesus can get lost in all the things we try to do to it. If Jesus never, ever changes,why do we try to change his word? If Jesus appealed to the masses two thousand years ago what makes us think that he won’t appeal the crowds now?

We have not been called to make the message of the Gospel appealing. We’ve been called simply to share it.

And now, may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, all that is pleasing to him.

Hebrews 13:20 (NLT)

God is most please with us when we do His will His way, and He has already given us all we need to accomplish it. We don’t need to try to make up new stories or rules or ways of doing things. Jesus already set the standard and, since he never changes, why would we try to change his message?

Jesus ministered to anyone and everyone with grace and love. We should do the same.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 17-19, Hebrews 13

Why wait?

There are many reasons we wait in life. There’s a line. We’re not ready. We’re not prepared. We don’t have the right supplies or equipment. Maybe we’re anxious or afraid or shy. Maybe it isn’t the right time. Whatever the reason, we wait. A lot. Even when we shouldn’t.

Timothy may have be one who had a tendency to wait because Paul gave him this instruction:

Preach the word of God. Be persistent whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.

2 Timothy 4:2 (NLT)

I think we’d all like to wait for a favourable time, the right time. And often, waiting for the right time becomes a grand excuse to never really accomplish anything—especially when it comes to sharing the Gospel.

Paul told Timothy to be persistent whether the time is favorable or not.

PERSIST: To continue steadily and firmly in the pursuit of any business or course commenced.

When Jesus commissioned the disciples to go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone, he didn’t qualify his statement with a time or place. He told them to go. He told them what they could do if they did and then he was gone.

So what are our excuses for waiting to share the Good News? Maybe we’re waiting to be alone with a certain person. Maybe we don’t think we know enough. Perhaps we wait until we’re comfortable.

If you’re not alone, go for it. Maybe someone else needs to hear what you have to say. If you’ve been saved and know Jesus, you know enough. Get your Bible out and read. If you want to be comfortable, good luck. The message of the cross is uncomfortable.

But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.

2 Timothy 4:5 (NLT)

As the body of Christ, we can no longer afford to wait for the favourable time—because there isn’t one. We’ve been given a message. We’ve been given a commission. We’ve been given power and authority. So what are we waiting for?

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 27-28, 2 Timothy 4

 

Dainty morsels

Communication drives our world. New and faster ways of communicating are popping up every day. A new phone. A new kind of network. A new app. And it’s all held in our hands. So what are we doing with these powerful tools of communication? Are we using them to seek and propagate truth or are we using them to spread rumors and hearsay—taking pride in being one of the first to pass on the information without bothering to check into the veracity of it?

What dainty morsels rumors are—but they sink deep into one’s heart.

Proverbs 18:8 (NLT)

As easy as words are to share, truth can be difficult to find. Rather than filtering through posts, tweets, blogs, and stories, we often settle on the first account we read rather than the firsthand account.

Any story sounds true until someone sets the record straight.

Proverbs 18:17 (NLT)

Are you know as a person who shares stories or as a person who tells the truth? It is so easy for each and every one of us to get caught up in a narrative that is being driven by someone or something else. Yet, as Christians, it behooves us to search for and spread the truth.

Paul told the church in Corinth, “Now wherever we go [God] uses us to tell others about the Lord and to spread the Good News like a sweet perfume… to those who are being saved we are a life-giving perfume.” (2 Corinthians 2:14, 16) We are not just to spread news, but spread the Good News. Our words—whether they be spoken, written, or typed—can give life or death. We are called to give life.

A person’s words can be life-giving water, words of true wisdom are as refreshing as a bubbling brook.

Proverbs 18:4 (NLT)

Don’t settle for dainty morsels. Search for the life-giving water.

Daily Bible reading: Proverbs 17-18, 2 Corinthians 2