Seeds

where birds can come and find shelter’ [Mark 4:32 NIV] The mustard seed starts out as a very tiny seed. It is basically bird feed. But if it is given the chance to grow, it becomes a nesting place. It grows from insignificant to huge. That was the point that Jesus was making about the Good News He brings. It might seem small, almost inconsequential at first. A small step; a small seed of faith is all that is required to respond. This seemingly insignificant step, this seed, if watered grows huge in our lives. It grows into a place where we can find shelter. Do not worry if the steps you take at first in responding to Jesus’ message seem like nothing. You have not seen the end of the story about you and Jesus.

The seed knows nothing about growth. It knows nothing about mustard trees. It knows nothing about how big it can get. It knows nothing about birds of the air. It know nothing about what it will provide for some of God’s creatures. It just knows it is a seed. As long as it is sitting in a sack with thousands of other seeds it has no special worth. It is just one of the crowd. It does know that it needs to get alone, away from the crowds of other seeds. It has work to do for the Creator but what is it? One day it feels itself being lifted and flung into the air. Daylight at last! It lands on some soft soil. Something covers the little seed up and now he is in the dark. It feels right. He is in the right place. Then the little seed becomes thirsty. Moisture soaks down to the little seed. He pushes out a few tiny roots and he drinks it in thirstily. He is getting just a little bit bigger now but time passes so slowly. He wants change. The little seed is getting impatient. When am I going to be what the Creator made me to be? Then one day the little seed notices that he is changing. Something big is happening. His roots are getting bigger and stronger. One sunshiny day he suddenly see some light. His leaf that he had been pushing with all his might up through the soil suddenly breaks into the sunlight. “At last, I am on the way to being what God created me to be!”

Faith is a powerful gift from God. It is vital to being able to live as God intended us to live. It is impossible to please God without faith. Faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains. That is what Jesus told his disciples. “By using the uncommonly small mustard seed as an example, Jesus is speaking figuratively about the incalculable power of God when unleashed in the lives of those with true faith.” “… little is much when it comes from God. The mustard seed in the parable grows to be a huge tree, representing the tiny beginnings of [Christ being formed in us] when just a few disciples began to preach and teach the gospel. Eventually the kingdom grew to huge proportions, encompassing the entire world and spreading over centuries.” [S. Michael Houdmann, http://www.gotquestions.org/mustard-seed-faith.htm/

Faith or Unbelief

Have you ever been offended by what God tells us. Jesus stopped into his home town and ‘They were greatly offended’ Not just offended, but greatly offended. They were offended by the miracles. They did not like the fact that he could do them. Jesus offended their mindset, upsetting how they thought things ought to be. [Read Mark 6:1-13 about Jesus’ hometown visit.]

Due to their pride and expectations, they could not discern the divine in the human. Instead of looking to see the connection to God, the town elders made it a point to study to debunk his wisdom and miracles. They purposely raised prejudices in the minds of the town’s people. Their reasoning was simple. How could anyone with a home-education, who had never traveled, had never been to any university or even been tutored at the feet of one of Israel’s learned doctors, be what he claimed to be? In spite of the overwhelming evidence, they could not get past the question: “Is not this the Carpenter?” They even contradicted themselves in looking for excuses to not believe in Jesus. They said: “He is the son of Mary; his brethren and sisters are here with us.” In other words, we know his family and kindred. And then they turn around and say: “As for this fellow, we know not from whence he is.” [John 9:29 KJV and the controversy of the blind man healed.]

’because of their unbelief, he could not do any mighty miracles among them’ [Mark 6:5 NIV] In other words, they hardened their hearts and continued their prejudices against him. Because they knew his parentage, they had seen him grow up playing the same games they did, getting the same education and knew of his local professional career as a carpenter among them, they could not account for the proofs of Christ’s deity that were so plain and uncontestable. To Jesus, as a human, it was amazing that there should be any who would continue to be unbelievers. I wonder if Jesus concluded, when faced with the attitude of his ‘home boys’ and their overwhelming unbelief, that he thought that they were simply stupid. Their hardness of heart blinded their minds. When the disciples saw the reaction of Jesus’ hometown people, they had experiential knowledge of why Jesus told them as he sent them out “And if a village won’t welcome you or listen to you, shake off its dust from your feet as you leave. It is a sign that you have abandoned that village to its fate.”

So what does God see as the difference between faith and unbelief? I think that John Bunyan may be a help here. This is a partial list [there are 14 more] I have adapted of the differences that he saw in the Bible between faith and unbelief. It is very insightful.

Faith believes the Word of God; but unbelief questions it. When God had brought his people to the river that was the border at the edge of the land that He had promised them: Then they despised the pleasant land; they did not believe his promise.[Psa 106:24] The psalmist goes on to say that they were just sitting in their tents grumbling about God’s treatment of them.

Faith brings us near to God when we are far from him; but unbelief puts us far from God when we are near to him. “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings” [Heb 10:22] And “see to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” [Heb 3:12]

Where faith reigns, it declares men to be the friends of God; but where unbelief reigns, it declares them to be his enemies. “the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” [Rev 21:8).

I am not just saying. This is what God himself says. Believe it or not to your benefit or detriment.

Storms

The day was like any other day full of Jesus healing people and telling stories. And we were all tired. Jesus had told one story about a farmer and some seed that we were having trouble comprehending. But then Jesus said a lot of stuff to us that was difficult, sometimes just impossible to understand at the time. It was late afternoon when Jesus told us to go to the other side of the lake so we could get some rest form the pressing crowds. He had already secured a boat and was in it, waving to us to hurry up. Those of us who made our living on the water and could read the weather were nervous as we climbed in to this old fishing boat. All of us sailors have seen some sudden storms during our careers. A few of them, like these on the Sea of Galilee, can be violent and frightening and potentially destructive. This afternoon we can see that a storm is brewing and it would be dark very quickly. This trip did not seem like a wise thing to be doing.

Sure enough, we were not too far out in the lake when the storm moved over us. As with most storms on the lake they could increase suddenly and be life threatening. Our little boat with it sides low to the waterline was built for hauling in fish but not for keeping waves out. The wind picked up to gale force and high waves began to break into the boat until it was nearly full of water. The landlubbers among us immediately started losing their lunch over the side. It was difficult bailing and trying to hold on so that we were not tossed into the lake. And what was our fearless leader doing? Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. Nobody wanted to go wake him. So we bailed and bailed but we were losing the boat. Here is the thing that was galling those of us who were sailors. There is an unsaid rule that when the ship gets into trouble everyone pitches in to help. Some of us murmured irritation that Jesus was not be pulling his weight and help.

Finally out of desperation we made the decision and some of us when back to wake Jesus up. It seemed like the storm even more in the time it took to get to Jesus. Frantically we woke him up, shouting at the top of our lungs to be heard, “Teacher, don’t you even care that we are going to drown?” What happened next was, how can I put it, surreal! What we expected Jesus to do was wake up and see the mortal danger were in, jump up and help us. But no, this man did the opposite.
When he woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the water, “Quiet down!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. It was absolutely freaky. The silence was deafening. We were stunned. A great fear settled among us. We thought that we had been afraid for our lives during the storm, even the sailors among us, but this? The only sound was the water gently lapping against the boat.

He stood up and looking at each one of in the eye asked us, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still not have faith in me?” No one answered. There was a greater fear residing in our hearts. Jesus turned and stepped over to the side of the boat leaning over splashed water on his face. We turned to each other and were all whispering among ourselves, “Who is this man, that even the wind and waves obey him?”

A couple of days later, a fellow sailor I have known for many years asked me a question after I related what had happened a few days ago. He asked me “How did I know that Jesus was someone who cares for me?” What he was really asking was ‘why would I follow someone who put me into dangerous circumstances. I told him that it was a good question. We, his disciples had been wondering the same thing more than once. It was amazing to us, looking back at the night, that Jesus was sound asleep in the midst of a storm on a small fishing boat being swamped by the sea. We concluded that only someone who was completely confident of their abilities in their surroundings would be asleep in such a precarious situation. Further insight by Jesus as to his relationship with his Father helped us conclude that he trusted his Father implicitly. His being asleep in the midst of imminent danger contained the secret of something not readily apparent to us at first. He had no doubts or reservation as to his Father’s love for him. It was not something that he questioned. Frantically I and my shipmates had to yell at him over the noise of the storm to wake him up out of a sound sleep and instead of being annoyed he did our bidding.

The question Jesus asked has haunted me, as well as all of us. Looking back on my fear of the storm as I frantically tried to save myself, one thing is apparent. Jesus took away the immediate fear by removing the storm. But that left another greater fear in my heart. If this man Jesus can do what no other man can do and control a storm, then what can he do to me. He did not just control the storm, he eradicated it completely. There is a part of me that keeps asking questions. Can he control me? If I make him angry will he annihilate me? What are his intentions? Are they good?

I think that I have discovered something. Jesus asked two questions: “Why are you so afraid?” And “Do you still not have faith in me?” And the answer is in the questions! I am finding that when I am afraid I am not trusting Jesus. He has proven himself over and over again. [Wait till I tell you the pig story.] He has the power. So I am learning that I just need to keep my eyes on Jesus and not what is going on around me. So simple to do when I chose to do so! From the storm I learned that Jesus is far greater and more powerful than the storm and he is willing to take me through the storm. All I have to do is trust him enough to ask.

Words

Have you ever reflected on your history with God’s words? What are some words that seemed small when you began but have grown huge in your life? When I first allowed Christ into my life, theological terms like salvation, sanctification, servant and communion were mainly just words. As a new Christian I had almost zero experience of how God was or even could work in my life. For example, salvation seemed to be a one-time word signifying an event. But as the years rolled by and I kept stumbling along on my journey toward the City of God, I began to see and hear God and thereby experience His saving grace. As far as eternity goes, I am safely tucked into the arms of Jesus. But God is interested in my ‘here and now’ state of living. That is where my salvation is worked out day by day. But what is the Apostle’s concern anyway? I am certainly familiar with the Apostle Paul’s admonition to the Christians in Philippi: “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” [Phil 2:12 NIV] Today as I was mulling over the implication of the word ‘salvation,’ I considered why he gave that exhortation to them and of course by extension to us?

Because I am one of God’s children, He wants me to be prepared. I see the world around me spinning out of control. I can pick up the newspaper on any day of the week and it is the same front page headlines: wars and rumors of wars. I see my friends and some in my family spinning out of control due to their looking to the culture around them for life’s answers. Few seek to look in the right place for life solutions. Before the Apostle Paul said “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” he made a very serious statement as a preamble to that thought: “Therefore God exalted him [Jesus] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  [Phil 2:9-11 NIV]

I have observed personally in myself and with other Christians tendencies to make Jesus too much like us. When Jesus was here on earth He appeared in the form of a humble servant. Now He is raised up to the throne of glory, seated on the right hand of God and to universal just and holy dominion. At some point in the future, when God deems there is an end to the wars and rumors of wars, the whole universe shall confess that Jesus is Lord. For some this will not be a pleasant experience. All those who have departed from this life without Christ as their Redeemer will no longer have a choice as to will be lord of their lives. The Apostle Paul’s warning is clear. Every single living creature, past, present and future, shall all acknowledge him as universal Lord. All will bow to His sovereign will. All will be subject to His control. All will recognize Him as Supreme.

Is it clear now what the Apostle Paul gives us the exhortation today to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling?” We who know the Lord Jesus and are related to Him will gladly fall on our knees and worship Him. We have learned to do that as grateful servants living in God’s grace. Not so the eternally damned; they will be forced by the power of God Himself to yield an unwilling homage to Jesus by submitting to the sentence from his lips that shall consign them to an unimaginable eternal woe.

So I am eternally grateful that God sought me out first. The words describing God’s faithfulness to me are words that bring joy to my heart. They are words that I have found to be true regardless of all appearance to the contrary.