“You May Not Know How, You May Not Know When”

(Psalm 126: 4-6, The Message) And now, God, do it again—bring rains to our drought-stricken lives. So those who planted their crops in despair will shout hurrahs at the harvest, So those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.


Summer, 1988…I was 7 years old, just out of second grade.  We lived in South Carolina and we were in the midst of a typical southern summer…muggy, scorching hot, and days so long you might find yourself praying for the sun to set.  At 7 years old, I didn’t understand what drought meant.  I heard about it on Good Morning America while I munched on my PopTarts and sipped my Tang from a crazy straw, but I didn’t experience it…other than being asked not to leave the hose turned on in the yard.  At 7 years old, I saw TIME magazine in the dentist’s office, and I knew there were farmers in trouble…fires burning in California…but I didn’t experience that.  My daddy was a preacher…I didn’t depend on the rain to ensure my livelihood.  To me, rain meant mud and thunder and a cool-down from the summer heat.  I never considered it a source of LIFE.  I didn’t know, because I hadn’t lived without it.

A drought sort of creeps up on you.  It’s not like a tornado, which is sudden and quick.  It’s not like a hurricane or flood, which is expected and passes soon.  A drought starts slowly, so slowly that maybe you don’t really notice how dry it’s been until things around you start to wilt and die, and when it’s in full swing, a drought devastates every component of our domain.  It is a genuine hell on earth. 

Just like the land becomes dry and thirsty, our souls go through times that seem like a dusty hell on earth.  However, in seasons when it seems useless to even try, we cannot lie down in the dirt and give up.  Instead we must continue on, in faith, and we must proclaim, “And now, God, do it again.”  He’s done it before…and that word “again” implies our faith in Him.  So what is a drought to us?   It’s a trial.  And what does the Word tell us about trials?  “7 These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.”  (1 Peter 1:7 NLT)

So welcome the drought, and continue to plant your crops…even in despair…because it is through being forced to go without the things we’d never just give up on our own that our faith is perfected.  No trial lasts forever…no devastation is beyond repair…and when God allows drought we must keep moving in faith with arms open wide in expectation of the harvest and blessing ahead.

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.  (James 1: 2-4, The Message)

The drought of 1988 lasted well into 1989 and impacted our entire nation.  It was the worst natural disaster to take place since the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s and was so until Hurricane Katrina hit in 2004.  To the people directly affected, it must have seemed like eons passed before the rains finally fell and rejuvenated the earth.  Yet in the larger scope of time, it was but an instant.  It is a part of history, from which we are able to learn and use that knowledge to face similar difficulties in the future.  Experiences give us wisdom, and they are the foundation of our faith.


Prayer:  Father God, I trust You in all things.  Thank you for teaching me what it is to be without, and for helping me to understand that YOU are my source of life.  Amen.

It’s Cold… So Plant!

Luke 13:18- He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”

A mustard seed.

It’s the smallest of all seeds, yet grows to be the largest of all garden plants. It has several uses across the planet that stretch from spices used in cooking to oils used in body massages. And, the fact that fascinates me most is that it germinates best when placed in a cold atmosphere and relatively moist soil.

I love that because the mustard seed is referenced to on multiple occasions throughout Scripture, and therefore I look at everything about the little guys through a different viewpoint. So, when I read that mustard seeds grow best in colder temperatures, my heart felt a quiver of hope. Why?

Because the world in which we live is a cold one. People are cruel. Times are hard. Money is short. Bills are unending. Fear is celebrated. Christianity is mocked. It’s not uncommon for us to feel defeated, hindered, and/or ineffective. When your desire is to see peace and joy in the eyes of those around you, and your heart longs for hurting souls to find rest and solace in Jesus Christ, when we focus on the coldness that surrounds, we’ll forever feel like it’s impossible. (Matthew 19:26- But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”)

We just need mustard-seed-size faith! Just a tiny little fragment that we can plant somewhere in this bitter world. That’s all it takes. (Matthew 17:20- “…Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”) It will take a little time to germinate underneath the soil that will remain unseen by us. But, one day soon after we’ll see a little sprout coming up from the surface, which will continue to grow into something vast; Proof that even in the coldest of atmospheres, fresh beginnings can indeed come to life.

The Kingdom of God cannot be defeated or stumped. God can take the tiniest amount of faith, the smallest act of obedience, and the most miniscule effort and form it into something vastly beautiful. It reminds me of a song I learned in Sunday School years ago,

“In the harvest field now ripened, there’s a work for all to do; Hark the voice of God is calling, to the harvest calling you. Little is much when God’s in it. Labor not for wealth or fame; There’s a crown, and you can win it! If you go in Jesus’ name.”

With all the pressures of life, we sometimes deceive ourselves into believing that there is just as much stress to be felt when living for and serving God. We have to let it sink in real deep that He is the one that does all the work. We just have to be obedient, do our small task, (plant the seed), and watch Him bring it to fruition.

So, don’t be discouraged when you look around and see the condition of the world we’re living in. Instead, thank God that He can make our little mustard seeds grow right in the midst of it. Check your faith today. Surely you have a tiny bit, right? Well, that’s all it takes! God can and will use that!

Prayer: Lord, I love You and thank You today for taking my smallest efforts and making something big and beautiful with them. I pray that You continue to grow the seeds I plant, and the faith with which I plant them. Thank You for Your faithfulness! In Your name, amen.

Waiting For Harvest

(HOSEA 6:1-3, 11) 1 “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. 2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. 3 Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”

11 For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed, when I restore the fortunes of my people.

Recently, Donna and I took a quick journey to Dover, Tennessee to visit her parents. Usually, we take the fastest route. However, on this occasion Donna suggested that we take the back roads through the countryside. I’m glad we did. We beheld some of the most beautiful scenery as we wound through the farmlands of western Kentucky. It’s probably because I was raised in a farm community in Southern Illinois, but there is something peaceful about seeing the miles of crops that are maturing toward harvest.

As we drove, I noticed the different crops planted, as well as the variety of farms. Some of the farms were huge. These large properties were home to thousands of acres that were cultivated by the same family. The tractors and other farm implements were parked and waiting for action at the farmers beck and call. Just around the corner from these large farms, we came upon a young Amish boy who was driving his team of four horses to the field. Although his farm was smaller, and looked a little more rugged, it was growing and maturing at the same rate as the large farms.

As different as they were, the farms were waiting for a similar result. They were ready for harvest. It dawned on me that we all are waiting for harvest. Although our lives may be very different, each of us are hoping and praying for a positive and fruitful outcome.

Harvest comes at a price. It takes much work to prepare the fields, and to plant the seed. It never happens without labor. Hosea mentions some of the hardships that may precede the harvest. He suggests that we may be torn and struck down; thankfully, the Lord has promised to heal and bind us up. He will revive, restore, and allow us to live in His presence. What a privilege!

If you are like most Christians, you have seed in the ground and you are waiting for an expected harvest. Hosea encourages, “let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” Be patient. Let the Lord do His complete work and harvest will come!

PRAYER: Lord, I’ve planted the seed. Now, I wait patiently upon You to bring about the harvest of Your blessings! Amen!

Confused & Helpless

When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” — Matthew 9:36-38

I don’t think of myself as an anti-social person. I enjoy being in the company of others, engaging in conversation, participating in group activities, etc. Yet there are times when I am out in public that I find myself in full curmudgeon-mode. I grumble about the person who takes too long in the checkout line, I get frustrated with people that I interact with at work, and I secretly judge the person with the 3 foot spoiler on the back of their Dodge Neon and Nickelback cranked up to 11 on the radio.

I am ashamed to admit that I sometimes think like this, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has these kinds of lapses. In fact, this kind of thinking seems to be a common part of the human experience, given how quickly we self-sort into like-minded tribes and act superior to anyone the doesn’t think or act like “us.” We view the people around us as mere annoyances. I even know of one person who jokingly “prays” against the “enemies” that get in his way on the interstate!

When I find myself falling into this trap, I only know of one strategy to escape it. I pray to my Father to help me see the other person as they truly are, as His child, who is as deserving of grace and mercy as I am. When you begin to look at others through this lens, we open ourselves up to be moved with compassion, just like Jesus was in the passage above. Rather than feeling frustration with the crowds that followed Him from city to city, without ever fully understanding the reality and importance of what they were witnessing, Jesus simply loved them and tried to explain it all one more time.

Have you ever noticed how Jesus would sometimes tell different stories that taught the same message in a different way? He was just trying to help people understand His message however He could. And still, there were those who never were able to fully grasp it.

Confused & Helpless — that is never a fun place to find yourself. You know that it’s not clicking, that you don’t have it figured out, but you don’t even know where to turn for assistance. You are literally stuck, waiting for someone to come along and rescue you from the dilemma in which you find yourself. And that is how this passage describes those who need hear the Truth of God in their lives.

There is no shortage of people that are looking for meaning to their existence. It doesn’t take long to find books, blogs, diets and self-help systems that all claim to help you be a better you, to find yourself and become the person you were meant to be. And people are hungry for it! We are constantly trying to find ourselves, to express ourselves, and re-create ourselves, in reality and in the perception of others. But all these efforts to define ourselves by the judgment of others or who we wish to be will fall flat if we fail to define ourselves by the only criteria that matters, our relationship and standing with God.

The passage points out that the harvest is great, but the workers are few. God does not need our help. If He wanted, He could light up the sky in every conceivable language proclaiming the gospel message. But in His infinite wisdom, He has commissioned YOU and ME to carry His message into the world. The fact of the matter is that relationships are important and a message given by a friend or someone you respect carries far more weight than the words of a stranger. That is why God has called us to this Great Commission.  There are people that because of your location, geographically, at work, or as a member of your family, you have the ability to reach and influence.  Will you be faithful to that call?

PRAYER:  Heavenly Father, make us see those around us with eyes of compassion, just as Jesus did.  Help us to speak Life and Truth, to those who are confused & helpless.  Guide us in our interactions with others, so that everything we say and do can in some way reflect your Love and Mercy, and in doing so, point others to You. We are willing workers, desiring a great harvest for Your Kingdom. Amen.

The Meat Goes In The Middle!

(Mark 4:26-29 HCSB) 26 “The kingdom of God is like this,” He said. “A man scatters seed on the ground; 27 he sleeps and rises — night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows — he doesn’t know how. 28 The soil produces a crop by itself — first the blade, then the head, and then the ripe grain on the head. 29 But as soon as the crop is ready, he sends for the sickle, because the harvest has come.” 

A few years ago, the Atkins Diet become a popular weight loss option. The premise was to cut carbs and increase protein. With this new theory came a new way of eating. A popular way to make a sandwich was to replace the bread with outside layers of lettuce. I never could quite get the hang of it, but many people found it to be a delicious way to make a sandwich.

I remember being at a church meal function where someone made a sandwich with two pieces of meat on the outside and one piece of bread in the middle. A young girl observed with great interest the individual creating the masterpiece sandwich. I knew the wheels  of curiosity were turning in her little mind, and sure enough, when she had taken all she could she said, “Hey, the meat goes in the middle!” The little girl walked away satisfied that she had helped the individual as best she could. I laughed until I cried!

Mark describes a sower who scatters seed on the ground in preparation for a harvest. After sowing the seed, he sleeps and rises–night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows–but, he doesn’t know how. When the crop is ready, he puts in the sickle and takes possession of his harvest. The middle part of the process is what produces the harvest.

The sower has a part to play in the harvest. First, he must put the proper seed in the ground. If he wants beans, he must sow with that in mind. If he wants watermelon, then only watermelon seed will produce the anticipated result. Second, the sower must become the reaper. Many crops have rotted on the vine because it was not harvested in a timely manner. So, to obtain a fruitful harvest, there must be sowing AND reaping.

With every crop there is a time that is outside the control of the farmer. It is the middle part. It is where nature must take its course. It is where the unseen realm becomes active. Waiting is the only action that is prudent during the middle season. It would make no sense to keep digging up the seed to check on its progress. No, the middle part requires trust!

Just as this is true in nature, it is similarly true in the spirit realm. It is our responsibility to sow, and then to reap. But, the middle part must be left in the Lord’s hands. It is where we trust that what is unseen is producing fruit. A season of trust will be characterized by a resting posture. Absent of worry, the middle season is actually a refreshing time of anticipation.

As you are waiting, remember that God is directing the middle part. He is in charge of producing the harvest. You can trust the middle part to him. So relax! And remember that the meat goes in the middle!

PRAYER: Lord, I trust the unseen middle to you. I’ll sow, trust the growth process to you, and harvest a bountiful blessing in due season! Amen.

 

“Wake Up Oh Sleepers…Arise!”

(Psalm 147: 2-3) 2 The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel. 3 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.


We “church people” often have the common desire to see growth within our walls.  We long to see every seat filled…for our numbers to greatly exceed our expectations…to experience new life in every dimension of our church ministries.  We want to see souls saved, lives changed.  We implore, “Holy Spirit, come!”  We pray, we serve, and we wait.  So what’s the deal?  When you have the desire, the heart, and the willingness to serve, yet you’re all still just standing around, arm-in-arm, knee-deep in motionless water…waiting…what’s the holdup? 

There’s nothing wrong with waiting.  In fact, the Bible says in Psalm 27:14, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”  Yet after the waiting, after gathering strength and resources, when expectation has built up and readiness has filled every ounce of your being…it’s time to GO! 

  • Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)
  • Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)
  • “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” (Luke 10:2-3)

So what does Jesus mean when he tells us to go? 

Does He mean for us to go invite members from the church across town to our events?  In Romans 15:20 Paul wrote, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.” 

Does He mean go talk to other Christians about how awesome He is and how we wish more people would come to know Him?  James 2:14 says, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?”

Or do you think maybe He’s saying to reach a little further…dig a little deeper…to step out and open our eyes to the world around us?  Go.  Do.  Move.  Touch.  Heal.  Teach.  Lead.  Go…

How did the Lord build up Jerusalem?  He gathered the exiles of Israel…the castoffs…the prodigals.  He offered them refuge in His holy city, and then He healed them through and through.  So you want to see growth in your church?  It’s time to rouse ourselves from the lethargy that comes from waiting.  Get out and talk to people.  Listen to their stories and share in their hurts and struggles.  Just like Jesus, we must love the unlovable…touch the untouchable…  show them His love, His truth, and teach them His ways. 

When we begin to move with the Spirit of God, others start moving with us, and it becomes this beautiful endeavor of a limitless throng of believers on a mission of love…together…unified…with a desire to not only grow our own churches and ministries but to also see the kingdom of God expand beyond what we have imagined.


Prayer:  Heavenly Father, may we always be a refuge for the exiles.  May we always be Your healing hands to the broken, and may we forever seek to share Your love with those who are blind and lost.  Thy kingdom come; thy will be done.  Amen.

No Soup For You!

(Proverbs 20:4 ESV) The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek a harvest and have nothing.

The title is a reference to an episode of the Jerry Seinfeld show where the audience is introduced to a character named the Soup Nazi. Customers who wanted to eat his soup were required to speak, act, and approach in a pre-determined manner if they were to receive a cup of the much sought after soup. But, if they did not approach properly they were rebuffed with a matter-of-fact, “No soup for you!”

Having grown up in a farming community, I’m fully aware of the intentionality of producing a harvest. don’t just magically appear in the field. Much planning and physical labor is required.

We live in a society that is mostly blind to the production of our daily consumables. It is easy to go to the different big box stores and purchase whatever we need without a second thought about where it came from.

Scripture is clear about the growth process. Harvest is always associated with planting seed. No seed=No harvest.

When addressing the church at Galatia, Paul writes, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8 ESV)

Farmers get to choose the seed they plant, which determines the harvest received. Likewise, we have the right and responsibility to plant the seed that produces a godly harvest in our lives.

It has been said, “There are no gaurantees.” But, the writer of Proverbs makes it very clear that those who do not sow in autumn will seek a harvest that does not exist in summer!

PRAYER: Father, I realize that what I do IS the seed that I sow. Help me to know what to sow, and when to sow it so that a plentiful harvest will be ready in the proper season. Amen.

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