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Mystery Seeds

Click here to read Mark 4 on BibleGateway.com

Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head – Mark 4:27-28

Jesus’ parables are some of the most famous passages in the Bible, especially the Good Samaritan, the Sower, and the Prodigal Son.  But Jesus gave us many parables, so why do we choose to just focus on a few?  Is it just because they’re familiar?  Why do we think of these as the “good” parables and others as the “minor” parables?  I suppose we could argue that we tend to focus on the longer parables, but we also like the wheat and tares story, and that’s fairly short.  So why is it we skip over some parables, like the Shrewd Manager or the Growing Seed?

Ready for my theory? Perhaps it’s because we don’t like parables that confuse us (the manager is good because he cooks the books?), or maybe because it doesn’t fit our own worldview.  We want to read the stories of how God forgives our worst sins, or “safe” parables like the Sower (“safe” because we know we’re the good seed, right?), but not the ones that make us re-evaluate ourselves.

ONLY GOD CAN MAKE A TREE

 In our chapter for today, we find the story of the Growing Seed. Without claiming any deep theological insight here, it seems like God is telling us that ultimately, everything is outside our control.  We can plant, and water, and fertilize, and weed, and all this, that, and the other, but nothing we do can force a seed to grow.  It just grows.   

Moreover, it takes a process.  The seed doesn’t turn into the full-grown plant overnight.  It goes through a slow process of foundation (the stalk), maturity (the head), and finally production and reproduction (full kernel).  No matter how much you encourage and yell and prod a plant with electrodes, it will still take time for that plant to grow. 

And that makes us uncomfortable. Assuming the Seed is the Word, we don’t like the idea that growing in Christ takes time.  We want to have a process of growth that is under our control, on our schedule. We love the stories of our transgressions being forgiven (the Prodigal), but we’re a little less excited to dwell on the idea that ultimately we need to depend on God for everything, or that things may take time rather than respond to our demands for speed.

NOT YOUR FIELD

And it’s not just growth in ourselves. Many of us desperately want to “force” the Seed to grow in someone else, to make them get saved.  We preach on hellfire, we cajole with God’s love, we may even use excommunication or affection to try to convince someone to trust God.  But ultimately, the growth of the seed in others is outside our control. 

If I may, my friend, let me put your mind at ease.  You can’t force that friend of yours to get saved.  You can’t make that relative fall in love with Jesus.  That’s not your calling.  Your calling is to love them with Christ’s love, and to pray.  The Seed does its work as we do ours.  You might be planting that seed (like Paul), or watering the Seed (like Apollos), but ultimately only God makes it grow (and for the free will people, we also choose how the seed grows in us.  But not in others.)

We want so desperately to have Christian maturity under our control, but the heart of the gospel is giving up our control to the Lordship of Jesus.  And that includes our own growth and the growth of others. We have to trust that growth is happening, even if it’s below the surface, just out of sight.

Take heart.  Sometimes that Seed is growing; it just takes time.  

The Regretted Inferno

Click here to read Esther 7 on BibleGateway.com

“But Haman, realizing that the king had already decided his fate, stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life.” – Esther 7:7

Burning a bridge is the recurring daydream of everyone who has ever lived in the history of the universe.

I realize that may seem like an overstatement, but let’s gather some anecdotal evidence, and you’ll see how truly true it is.  How many times have you played a scenario in your head before it happened?  Ever think about walking into your boss’s office the day after winning the lottery, and how you’re going to finally say all those things you’ve been holding back?  Ever think about that conversation you’re going to have with that significant other, and have your final statement planned out before you turn and walk dramatically out the door?  Ever had the perfect comeback planned for that co-worker? We want to have that last word, the parting shot as we walk away, or the best mic drop.

(I think we all can agree that this paragraph proves my statement beyond all reasonable doubt.)

Here’s the problem:  what happens when the lottery turns out to be a scam and you a) need to go ask for your job back or b) need to use that boss as a reference.  What happens when that co-worker you just burned becomes the new manager of your department? As it turns out, sometimes we may actually need to walk back over the charred remains of that bridge.

HAMAN’S TURN

This same thing happens to our good friend Haman at the end of Esther.  For most of the story, Haman is bent on destroying the Jews as a whole because of a personal anger at Mordecai.  Finally, at the crucial moment, Esther tells the King that Haman is trying to kill her and her people, and the King storms off to (presumably) count to ten before reacting.

In the few minutes he’s gone, Haman realizes that the King is not going to come back with good news, and he decides his only hope is the very same woman who just spoke up to the King.  I find it ironic that Haman, moments before, was determined to wipe out an entire people because he was so enraged by the actions of one Jew, but suddenly he finds himself begging for mercy from the same people.  He thought burning that bridge would teach “them” a lesson, but it turns out they were the last strand of hope he had.

I wonder what Esther would have done if the king hadn’t shown up at that exact moment.  What if she would have had time to speak to the King before Haman was killed.  Would she have supported Haman? Would she have used this as a chance to take vengeance?  Maybe she would have begged the king for Haman’s life as well, to show the mercy of God?  We’ll never know, but I like to think she would have at least tried.

KNOWING WHAT WE DON’T KNOW

You never know what the next moment will bring.  Maybe we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss those who are “beneath” our notice right now.  What if that co-worker you hope gets fired is the person doing your job interview at your next job?  What if that guy you cut off in traffic with a friendly wave is the bank officer you will ask for a loan tomorrow? What if that pastor you vote out is the next head of your district?  It might be that the people we think are “not us” today are the people we will be asking for mercy tomorrow.

Jesus tells us to love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us.  Some of that is to model Christ’s love for all (pretty important), but it also could be for our own good (possibly more importanter).  Only God knows what the next turn in the road will bring us, and treating everyone kindly could very well turn out to be for our benefit as well as theirs.  Naturally, this doesn’t mean that we should be kind to people only because we might get something out of it, but that we should be kind to people because that’s what Jesus tells us to do, and we trust Him.

Maybe our daydreams should be on building bridges, rather than burning them.

Do You Really Want an Answer?

Click here to read Jeremiah 12 on BibleGateway.com

“You are always righteous, Lordwhen I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice. ” – Jeremiah 12:1

Once upon a time, there was a young chap in the tender dating years of middle school, who happened to notice a young lady in one of his classes.  Being the enterprising young man that he was, he proceeded to memorize her class schedule, in order to by coincidence wind up walking beside her in the hall.  After several days of chickening out at the last minute, 0ur fearless hero asked the young lady if she was dating anyone, and received the encouraging answer of “not right now.”  Emboldened, the amorous adventurer asked the poetic follow-up, “well, what about me?”

Quoth the lady: “I don’t think so. I’d rather go out with somebody good looking or fun.”

Thus the young man was left to scour the hallway floor for the remains of his shattered heart, plan for a future as a devotional author, and to ponder the desirability of actually receiving honest answers to questions.

WHY, OH LORD?

Often you’ll hear people complain that God doesn’t answer when they ask Him questions.  But have you ever considered if you actually want to hear the answer?  Do you really want to know why you aren’t being blessed in your business? Do you really want to know why you’re struggling in relationships?  Do you really want to know why life isn’t going great? Maybe ignorance is bliss.

Jeremiah had more reason than most of us to whine, and he brings one of his complaints to God in our chapter today.  In a fairly  common question, Jeremiah wants to know why it looks like the evil are doing so well, and the righteous are suffering. Specifically, he asks God why the enemies of Israel (he’s careful to specify how evil they are, just in case God missed it) seem to be prospering, at Israel’s expense no less.

And God answers: because Israel is evil.  Ouch.

Why isn’t God blessing Israel? Because he’s disciplining them for their unfaithfulness.  In short, they aren’t in line to be blessed, they are in line to go behind the woodshed.  They aren’t actually the righteous, after all.  They ARE the evil people being punished.  Pretty sure that’s not the message from God that Jeremiah wanted to hear.

KINDER, GENTLER SILENCE

Parents often tell their children “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  Could it be that God follows the same idea? Maybe rather than crushing our spirits by giving us all the information, he tells us just enough to help us grow.  Consider for a moment, maybe the reason God isn’t answering you is because of his kindness.  Maybe knowing the reason and the answer to your prayer is not something you’d want to hear in the first place.  Do you trust Him enough to believe that his silence is better for you?   Do you trust that not answering might be exactly what you need to hear?

Of course, I also suspect that Jeremiah knew the answer before He even asked.  If we don’t tithe, do we really need God to tell us why our finances are in a shambles?  If we don’t spend time with our spouse, do we really need to ask God why our marriage is struggling?  Maybe we need to admit that the reason we’re asking God is because we don’t want to address the problems we already know?  Do we really want or need God to spell it out for us?  Perhaps He’s silent because the answer is right in front of us.

Maybe sometimes it’s better not to ask questions to which we already know the answer?