Devotional: We Are Like Seeds

wheat

Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.— John 12:24

We are like seeds. Only by dying and being buried in the ground can anything productive come of a little seed. But what if the seed could talk? Would it be asking, “Hey, why did you dig a hole and throw me in it? Why are you burying me? Help!”

That’s us. We forget the very nature of our being and reject God’s plan for us, which is to know Him and to love and serve others. “He who loves His life will lose it,” Jesus concluded. He also said, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mark 8:34).

Physical death can sometimes be a lot easier than denying ourselves the rights and privileges we think we deserve.

Marriage, friendship, work relationships, and yes, parenting — all require us to take a deep breath, swallow our pride, push our agendas aside, and yield to love and servanthood.

We need to change our perceptions of what our lives are supposed to be, and of how we are supposed to go about fulfilling God’s will, and begin to recognize what we already are: God’s beloved, the objects of His desire, the vessels of His love, the recipients of His greatest blessings and gifts. But sometimes we’re too busy to be His beloved. And sometimes we’re just too afraid to die.

Be encouraged by what Jesus promised:  if the seed “dies, it produces much grain.” A life given in love and service will produce an abundance of blessings!

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” —Jesus, John 10:10

 

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Devotional: All Things? Really?

I can

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.—Philippians 4:13

All things?  Really? 

What a truly remarkable statement. It’s like the grand finale of Philippians chapter four. After wrestling with anxiety, learning to pray about everything, recognizing the need for the peace of God as a guardian for our hearts and minds, and, finally, learning to think with the right attitude and find contentment, the apostle Paul makes a bold statement: “I can do all things through Christ.”

Does he mean he can jump off tall buildings and fly? Or wish for a million dollars and expect it to appear? That would be akin to Jesus’ experience in the wilderness when Satan tempted Him to jump off the cliff or command bread to appear (Matthew 4). Jesus had His priorities right. He did not want to attempt any action or try to make anything happen that was not totally in the will of God. Paul says he can do all things THROUGH CHRIST—that’s a very important distinction as opposed to becoming so smart and powerful that you believe you should do whatever you want—because you can.

How do you know that what you are praying to accomplish is in the will of God?

By tapping into the hidden resources that God provides us for our lives. We see an example of this in nature. Great trees send their roots down into the earth to draw minerals and water. The most important part of a tree is the very part you cannot see—the root system. So also, the most important part of a Christian’s life is the part only God the Father sees—the deep, abiding relationship between a believer and God, and the inner strength and power that our heavenly Father gives us to handle the demands of life.

But this strength can only come from once source and Jesus described it for us in John 15: 4-5: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”

Jesus tells us that apart from Him we can do nothing, while Paul has passed on the powerful lesson of his own experience, “I can do all things through Christ.”

Most of us can barely muster up enough strength to get through a day or a list of tasks. But through these two verses we are given the secret to fulfilling all that God has for us.

“If you want your life to flow more smoothly—if you want to be more productive, and learn to be more selective, and your prayers to be more effective—then live in the zone: Abide in Christ.” —Steve May1

1. May, Steve, Preaching Library Volume One: Preaching Through the Year (Lulu.com, 2006), p. 244.

 

 

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Contentment—How to Find It

contentment1

I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:  I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.—Philippians 4: 11-12

Contentment. What a comforting, powerful word. When you are bombarded daily with advertisements that promise a better looking body, a nicer home, a newer car, a room full of furniture with no payments for two years…do you feel content? Or do you feel like you’re missing out? Do you buy into that nagging little lie that tells you your life is too ordinary or boring because you aren’t off on an exotic adventure? Or dancing and partying at a fun resort (you’re probably paying for braces or school or a mortgage instead)? Or are you able to look at your life and know, I am where God has put me. He has a purpose for my life, and I can be content, no matter what.

The apostle Paul didn’t say he automatically knew how to achieve this state of mind. He “learned” to be content. He had practice, seeing the Lord work in every circumstance, in every state of life.

He had already been rebuked once by Jesus because he had a propensity to “kick against the goads” and to fight his circumstances (Acts 9:5). He had learned to calm down and not worry about his current living conditions.

He found contentment by trusting the Lord to be in charge of his life, whether he lived in poverty or prosperity.

The word “learned,” in the second half of this passage is different than the first usage. Here it means “initiated into the secret.” It is a word that was used of the ancient pagan religions with reference to their “inner secrets.” Through trials and testing Paul explained, in the language of the surrounding culture, that he had been “initiated” into the wonderful secret of contentment, whether he was “abased” or abounding.

G.K. Chesterton said, “True contentment is a real, even active, virtue—not only affirmative, but creative…It is the power of getting out of any situation all there is in it.”1 C.S. Lewis was more blunt when he said, “Nobody who gets enough food and clothing in a world where most are hungry and cold has any business to talk about ‘misery.’”2

God wants to pour tranquility and peace that is beyond understanding into our souls. Daily, He teaches us this powerful secret—contentment in all circumstances, based on the knowledge that Jesus loves us, this we know.

 

1.Chesterton, G.K., A Miscellany of Men, (Kessinger Publishing, 2004), p. 106.                      2. Lewis, C.S., and Hopper, William, The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis: Books, Broadcasts and the War, 1931-1949 (HarperCollins, 2004), p. 271.

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The Real War

thoughts

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”—2 Corinthians 10: 3-5

It feels like we live in a dangerous world.  So much to think about, and so much that can seem overwhelming.  But there is one place where the battle matters most:  Our minds are crucial battlegrounds. Many of our thoughts and decisions will profoundly impact our lives and the lives of those we love.

We are urged to submit our thoughts to the Lordship of God because thoughts precede action. Did Satan wrestle Eve to the ground and force her to eat the forbidden fruit? No. He enticed her into thinking in ways that challenged the Word of God. He played with her mind and dangled temptation in front of her—and she succumbed because her thoughts had been captured.

Six Greek words are translated into “thoughts” throughout the New Testament, but only one, noema, is translated into both thought and mind in two passages: today’s Scripture above, and Philippians 4:7 (“the peace of God…will guard your hearts and minds…”).

 Noema means “a purpose or device of the mind.”

As we submit our thoughts to the Lord, He pours into us  peace, love, joy, and the fruits of the Spirit. When we allow the enemy to use this tool, this device of our minds, he gains the deadliest foothold of all into our lives: fear, anxiety, confusion, and unbelief.

Half the battle is knowing your enemy. Now you know.

Your enemy is not flesh and blood, not the things of this world, but every thought, imagination, every “high thing” that wants to loom higher, loftier, and greater than the knowledge of God in your life. This is an ongoing battle that many of us struggle with over a lifetime. Sometimes we need help from friends, counselors, and others who can stand with us in prayer as we fight the battle together.  But there is victory when we cling to the promises of God!

“My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts,” says the Lord (Isaiah 55:9).

When we give our thoughts to the Lord, and trust in His thoughts toward us, the battle for our minds is won.

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You Can Change Your World

 big-picture-thinking

 

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things (NIV).—Philippians 4:8

 In the midst of prison, mental battles, and a world in turmoil, does it seem a little odd that the apostle Paul would stop and suddenly start talking about what is true, noble, and lovely? Could he even find anything like that to think about?

Can we?

There are many things in this world that are not right, not just, and certainly not lovely. Terrorism, wars, and suffering can keep us depressed and anxious.

But even in a fallen world there is beauty and goodness.  There are things that are right, and even lovely. The Lord wants us to be blessed by them.

He wants us to remember the beauty of nature, the love of a friend or spouse, the joy of a child, the way music can stir your soul or a story can touch your heart. Think about those who sacrifice their lives for our freedom, our safety, and our well-being. God is giving us permission to look beyond all the pain and misery and find joy in what is good and beautiful.

If you find yourself a little cynical about all this, remember, Paul the apostle was more than a “think good thoughts” advocate. The words he penned were born of years of suffering, doubts, confusion, striving, wrestling with right and wrong, and honest struggling to know the meaning of it all. Notice that he opens this verse with “Finally….” That’s because what preceded this—a discussion over anxiety, prayer, and the guardian of peace – is what makes this passage possible. We are being given the keys to a healthy mind and attitude, and God-inspired living!

We can choose to dwell on the dark and hurtful things of this world, or we can discipline our minds and choose to change our attitudes, change our thoughts, and change our world, by thinking about the things God desires for us – truth, justice, purity, beauty, noble and praiseworthy things.

God is commanding us to think about what is good!

 

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