Nov 28 2014

Struck Down Like Milkweed

When I was a boy growing up in Georgia, I LOVED playing in the woods. Actually, who am I kidding? I still love playing in the woods. So I guess a better start would be . . . when playing in the Georgia backwoods as a boy, my favourite activity was to pretend that I was some sort of hero on epic adventures, climbing trees, leaping over ditches, hopping across creeks, and vanquishing foes with tree-branch swords. My favourite enemy to cross swords with was a milk-weed. These tall, relatively thick-trunked weeds had a hollow center and could be sliced through completely with a well placed strike and a good “blade.” Truth be told, I was always surprised by how easily the mild-weed would break away — it was a great confidence builder for a young warrior. At times, I would find entire groves and lay waste on my quest for victory and justice.

The image of the would-be strength of milk-weed stalk giving away under a calculated blow often comes to mind when the Lord uses a surprisingly small truth to cut to the heart of me. For all my would-be strength, composure, and expectations for my walk with God, sometimes a quick flick of the Holy Spirit slices me right through, exposing my core, convicting of sin, raising questions, revealing direction. Recently this happened with John 6:12.

The context is the Apostle John’s account of Jesus feeding the 5,000. John records Jesus giving instruction to His disciples after everyone had eaten, and I’m convinced that we are meant to see more importance in Christ’s words than merely preparing leftovers for the next day. I think Jesus is revealing a facet of His compassion for people and the nature of His mission. Here’s the verse:

“When they were filled, He said to His disciples, Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost.”

Now I don’t want to go overboard in trying to interpret something from this text that isn’t there, but as I read that verse, I thought of Christ’s compassion (Matt. 9:35-38), and the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7). I felt convicted over my tendency to do the “easy” things and not necessarily value making sure “nothing is lost”. The reality is that there are many attitudes, important tasks, missed opportunities, and potential rewards that fall through the cracks of my life and faith, my focus and maturity. But deep down, I don’t want this to be the case. I want to fill in those cracks.

Reading John 6:12 over and over again, because it seemed like God was trying to get my attention, eventually led me to a simple yet profound prayer:

God make me, and make C!C, faithful to go and gather! Let none be lost!

Would you join me in that prayer? Coming out of a major sermon series on sharing our faith AND the focus on the persecuted church, would you ask God to cut down the milk-weed grove of your own plans and burden you for His harvest “so that nothing will be lost”? We are not responsible for saving the entire world, but we are responsible for faithfully presenting the Gospel as we have opportunity. Jesus doesn’t ask for more than we can give; He just asks us to give our best.

Who will you challenge to take a step of faith? Who will go out of your way to encourage? How will you prepare yourself to give an answer for the hope that you have?

Apr 13 2012

Post-Easter “c!weekly” post

Wading into the post-Easter week for me has had its share of hazards.  There are the daily hurdles of dirty diapers and household chores.  There are speed bumps of unanticipated stresses and complications.  There’s that background drum of outstanding to-dos that can prove ever-so distracting.  And sometimes there is the poignant pang of sharing someone’s intense personal hurt.

Coming off the sermon on the parable of the different kinds of soil (Luke 8:4-15), I’ve found myself often seeing the “hazards” as testing grounds as to the condition of the soil in my heart.  How do I react when “my time” is infringed upon?  How am I affected when I don’t get to do what “I want” to do?  How do I deal with stress?  Where do I spend my time, energy, resources?  What truth and hope do I have to share with those who need some?  Basically, what are the fruits of the “tough moments” in my day-to-day?

I’ll offer that as I look at my life, the biggest determining factor in my producing “meaningful fruit” is whether I’ve been sowing the proper seed.  If I don’t make sure that the seed of the Word of Truth has access to my heart, IT DOESN’T MUCH MATTER WHAT THE CONDITION OF THE SOIL OF MY HEART IS.  No seed equals no budding plants equals no fruit.  I wonder if we don’t frequently lament the choices that we make (or don’t make), thinking that we “should have known better.”  But little do we admonish ourselves for not sowing the seed that would produce the righteousness that our souls desire as a part of our grace driven effort.

Though we sow all sorts of “truth” into our lives through music, television, the internet and the like, the seed that we NEED sprinkled over our hearts and minds is the Word of God, the Bible.  Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will grow the Word in our lives.  I’ll close by simply scattering some relevant “seeds” to encourage you as you go:

The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. . . . When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.  (John 14:26; 16:13)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

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. (Philippians 4:8)

But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. (Luke 8:15)

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.  See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.  (Colossians 2:6-8)


Oct 26 2011

A Thing for Shepherds

I had a great time at !group last night.  Though we’re not a big group, and I’m not sure that Denny’s knows exactly what to think about us, it just feels good to be together.  And it feels even better to talk about things that matter – things that matter to God and things that matter to the group.

In the midst of discussing the text for this week (Luke 2:8-21 … you can check it out yourself and listen to the sermon online!), we noticed something sort of amusing, unique and special:  God seems to have a “soft spot” for shepherds.

As we noted how striking it is that the Heavenly Host would deliver the Divine Birth Announcement to a bunch of shepherds, we realized that shepherds often pop up as having a prominent role in salvation history.  Here are some examples that we discovered:

  • Cain and Abel: Abel tended sheep, and his sacrifice was accepted
  • Shepherd/Nomad was the “profession” of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the patriarchs
  • When Joseph was in charge in Egypt, Israel immigrated as a nation of shepherds, introducing the dynamic that would lead to them flourishing and eventually being expelled as per God’s plans
  • King David was a shepherd boy, and that period of life greatly informed his view of God
  • Psalm 23 relays that “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want . . .”
  • In John 10:7-18, Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd, explaining how He knows, loves, and provides for His sheep
  • Jesus tells Peter in John 21:17, to “Feed My sheep.”

See?  God seems to really like shepherds!  As I meditated on this fascinating theme, one of the ways I felt that this is significant is that it reflects the Perfect Paradox that we spoke of this past Sunday.  Jesus is Perfectly Powerful, and He is Perfectly Humble.  Historically shepherds are looked down on and seen as extreme “blue-collar” labour.  Yet their job is one of significance and power.  The shepherd often holds the power of life and death over the sheep.  The shepherd leads them to food and water; the shepherd keeps them together; the shepherd protects against attacks; the shepherd loves the sheep.

So what’s the application for us?

Well in light of the truth of Isaiah 53:6, “We all like sheep have gone astray; we have turned each one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all,” here is what I believe to be some application.  God is calling us to be enlisted shepherds.  He has mustered a spiritual family of shepherds to lead people to the Good Shepherd.  The flock is scattered, malnourished, deceived.  We’ve been given the Power of God in the Truth of Jesus.  And we’ve been given the Call of Humility in the vocation of shepherding.

Take some time to look around your world and find where you can practice some shepherd-skills.  Remember that the flock is on the move and the enemy on the prowl, looking for someone to devour.  We can’t shepherd while napping in the shade, we’ve got to be purposeful and proactive.  How will you respond?

What do you think?  If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?  And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. Matthew 18:11-13