Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Growing seeds, fighting weeds, and having needs.

I recently wrote about the Parable of the Seeds, sharing my thoughts that the message of this parable is less concerned with our eternal destiny than it is with how we live while we prepare for eternity. So far, I only had one person who disagreed, and I look forward to engaging him when he comments here. As promised, I am now exploring this story further, in hopes that my thoughts will help both myself, and those who read my words. Who knows, maybe you have the needs I feel as well; the need to feel at peace with God, to live without the guilt of condemnation, even the need to look in the mirror of God's Word, and feel ok with what you see.

As I seek to live a life that is useful to God, and a blessing to others, I am looking in the mirror, and I find myself confronting a question: is the seed bearing fruit, or has my life "gone to seed"? I know that I must be careful, as I have a personality that tends towards being critical, particularly regarding myself. Nevertheless, do I see fruitfulness, whether 30, 60, or 100-fold, or do I see feeble branches struggling to remain viable as the cares of life try to stifle the life of Christ that was planted in me so long ago? I want to say, "50 years and all is well," but I hear a nagging voice that shows me my inner frailty, both physically and spiritually. "For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do"(Rom 7:15). I want to succeed as a parent, as a teacher, as a minister, but I feel so stagnant, like a hamster running a wheel. Sometimes, I'm not even sure that I am running the wheel.

"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works"(Tit 2:11-14). Paul does have a penchant for writing long sentences, but he says a lot in them. My faith in God, and trust inn His grace and mercy, hopefully guards me against self-inflicted legalism, but I know that my enemy, the devil, is wily, and will use anything, including and especially complaceance, to lull me into a false sense of security.

In that regard, I am not that much different from the Jews who had, on the one hand, the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings, along with the Temple and it's services, as a reminder of their covenant relationship with YHWH. That relationship, first established with Abraham, whom God selected while he lived among idolatrous worshippers of the moon-god - indeed, he himself may have also worshipped Sin (Josh 24:2), developed from that of an individual and God to a liturgical system with a fully functioning priesthood. Eventually, Jeremiah would be called to proclaim that being connected culturally to YHWH did not allow Israel to walk contrary to His Word. You cannot rely on the protection of the LORD while simutaneously refusing to submit to His authority as expressed in His Word. The nation's blindness to this truth led to its exile in Babylon and humbling; Israel lost her glory, Jerusalem was trodden underfoot, and the rulership of God's chosen people, granted to the house of David, was turned over to pagans who did not know the God Whom David worshipped with his whole heart.

I should learn from their example, in fact, God intended that I, as a Christian, do just that, which is why the Old Testament is part of the Bible (1 Cor 10:11), even though, as a Christian, I am not under it's provisions, but am under "a better covenant, which was established on better promises" (Heb 8:6). Even though that issue was settled historically very early in the Christian faith (Acts 15:1-31), we still struggle with wanting a nice, tidy set of rules that we can use to ensure thaqt we are on the good side of God, and keep us away from those who are not in His good graces. Just like the Pharisees, who started out with the best of intentions, we want to make sure that we are staying pure, but sometimes we end up "doing too much." My natural intellect and human wisdom are ill-equipped to guide me in doing the will of God. The Spirit of God alone knows the mind of God, Who reveals His will to us, and enables us to understand and do it. Without the Spirit of God, I am dead to the will of God, blind to the Word of God, and opposed to the Kingdom of God.

Even with the promise of His Spirit, still, I struggle, and sometimes I stumble. Still, thanks to the Spirit, the water, and the blood (1 John 5:8), I "get back up again." Just as Christ rose up from the grave, we get up from our failures, we rise and turn away from our sins, confessing our faults to one another, and praying for one another, not simply so that we can feel better about ourselves through our commiseration, but so that we may be healed, as God has provided in His Word (James 5:16). This is why confessing my security in Christ leads, not to pride, but to humility. I know that He is the only security I have, and He chose me; I did not choose Him, so I have no basis upon which I can boast (Eph 2:8-9). My desire to be fruitful reflects, not my innate goodness, but the presence of His Spirit within me, working in me both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

The great thing about this is that my availability is more important to God than is my ability. He is not looking for what I don't have, but for what I do have! Even better, I am not getting a special deal, for God is not moved by such surface things as my attractiveness, charm, or wealth; He is "no respecter of persons," - literally, God does not regard our face when He chooses us to be recipients of His grace. God's love is not earned, which might be part of why it is not fathomed. We find it so hard to grasp, and thus accept, that God loves us, neither because of, or even, in spite of, who we have become as individuals, but simply because it is His nature to love. As that old Commodores song declares, "Jesus is love." God loves, just like He creates, because it is His nature to do so, just like it is Satan's nature to steal, kill, and destroy. God's love wil triumph over Satan's devices, and I will triumph over the weapons which are formed against me. I have been sanctified, so I will be holy.

So as I look at myself, endeavoring to live in such a way that I reflect the presence of Christ in me, I do so with the reminder that the ultimate judgment lies with my Savior, and His grace is enough for me. Do I see plants that look more like weeds than the fruit of the Spirit? Yes, of course I do, but I also see the Hand of a wise Vinedresser, who knows the difference, and He will remove the weeds, purifying the soil of my heart, and enabling me to bring forth even more fruit as I abide in Him and His word abides in me. This is why the Gospel truly is good news, and we share it with others, so that everyone can have the oppodrtunity to experience the power of God leading to salvation, the joy of the Lord as our strength, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding for those who don't understand Him. So the mirror doesn't frighten me, it encourages me, and I have all I need, for I have Him, or even better, He has me.

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