Weeds

Common Poppy (Papaver rhoeas) and Forking Larkspur (Consolida regalis) in flowering meadow, Bulgaria, May 2008

24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds[c] among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants[d] of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Matthew 13:24-30

 

Seeds of the kingdom were planted in me a long time ago and grew into deep and abiding faith. Words, like, “Amy, while you were a sinner, I died for you. You are valued in my kingdom. You are loved.” Jesus rescued me from a dominion of darkness, and brought me into the light! With perfect light and nourishment, those seeds have grown. I’ve been fruitful. The trouble is that weeds have been planted in my heart as well. An enemy came and dropped them in my heart in the most deceptive of ways and God has been contending with them ever since.

The biggest weeds have grown from seeds of rejection. Someone I love once told me that they loved the idea of me more than they loved me. That one phrase was a seed planted so deep in my heart that the weed has been growing alongside a healthy understanding of love for quite a while. “Will I ever be good enough?” fights a battle with “You’ve been clothed with the righteousness of Christ” in my mind and heart.

Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like that. It’s like a field of wheat, sabotaged by a night predator. Apparently weeds grow just like wheat, so it’s not productive to uproot the weeds right away. They’ve got to grow and reveal themselves, and then the sower gathers up the weeds and burns them, so he can gather his wheat to himself.

God is the sower in this kingdom. He sows seeds in hearts and draws men and women to himself. He’s a good gardener, but he doesn’t manipulate the crop. He allows an enemy free roam, and gives him access to hearts as well. The good news (gospel) of this Jesus story, however, is that we are the soil, not the wheat! The seed becomes wheat; not the soil. The soil doesn’t have to uproot the weeds around it; it just allows the seed God planted in it, to grow. It submits to the sower who determines when and how to harvest the crop! The sower is in charge. He will burn up all the weeds, in his timing, when doing so won’t harm the heart He’s transforming to look like his own.

In my case, God doesn’t anesthetize me, dull my mind, or take away my choices. To enable freedom, He lets me feel pain while he’s maturing and growing his perfect seed. He wants me to love him with everything, and that means choosing him over every competing voice. Winning the battle in my mind is as simple not fighting the weeds. Our desire to control and poor choices can give weeds the license to choke out the seeds of truth. I think I’ll leave the weeding to the master gardener. One day, Paul says, I’ll know fully even as I am fully known. (I Co 13) That love is perfect; it never fails nor rejects. It always hopes and always perseveres.

Seeds

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I recently heard a singer/songwriter/theologian tell about writing songs of redemption with incarcerated women in a Nashville prison. She told about the experience and then sang the songs that the women had written. The songs were powerful, written from deep places within the hearts of caged women who were really free.

One song was about a seed.   A woman, imprisoned for life, planted a sunflower seed out of a package of trail mix in a paper cup and got it to sprout. She gave it to her songwriter friend and told her, “My seed wasn’t supposed to grow, but it did.” The songwriter took the contraband sprout home, and watched it bloom and grow.  It was a visual reminder that only God can make the seeds of redemption, sown in the hearts of his people grow and flourish!

In Matthew 13, Jesus sits in a boat and tells some stories to a crowd of people sitting on the beach. He starts with a story about some seeds. The farmer scatters them about, but not all of them grow. Birds eat some along the path and the sun burns up the rootless ones in the shallow, rocky soil. Thorns choke others. But some grow.  In the right soil, they are fruitful and multiply many fold into grain.

“He who has ears, let him hear.” Sounds simple enough, but Jesus meant something really deep. He had coded the secret words of the kingdom in that story, among others. He opened the eyes and ears of those who drew close to him, so they could see what is unseen and understand what defies logic and reason.

The seeds were kingdom words sown by Jesus. “The kingdom has come near.” (Luke 21:31) “The word is close to you.” (Romans 10:8) These words of redemption fall into different sets of ears, but always land in the heart. In the deep, dark places of the soul, the seeds may germinate but then be misunderstood, consumed by worry, or choked by greed and self-absorption.  The seeds that fall on receptive hearts do so in all kinds of external locations. They are sown in prisons and in the supermarkets, in rural Haiti, coastal Cambodia, and urban America, in the streets of the inner city and the pews of pristine cathedrals. It’s the hearts of the people that receive them that are open and receptive to God or ultimately closed. The seeds that fall in receptive places grow despite all the odds, because God is responsible for the growth. He is known for his gardens. His people are fruitful and multiply. His kingdom is unstoppable.

God planted some seeds in a Tennessee prison. The girls were behind bars, but the seeds fell on good soil. All they needed were the light of the Son and some “living water,” and they grew into something beautiful and eternally free. When the Son sets you free, you really are free indeed. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

Watch a moving, full documentary of one of the girl’s stories on You Tube:

Come to Me

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Oppression is heavy. Maybe you feel the weight of the world pressing down on you in your work. Heavy. Maybe you’re thinking about big issues that will affect you and your family. Heavy. Maybe you’re bitter about discrimination or a lack of opportunity that has literally weighed you down and rendered you unable to move up or out. Heavy. Maybe you feel the weight of sin, as it tempts and torments you to give in. Heavy. Maybe the wake of death feels so final. Heavy.

At the end of some harsh and heavy words to a crowd of people equally burdened by oppression all around them, Jesus says, “Come to me, all labor and are HEAVY laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is LIGHT.” (Mt 11:28-30)

Wait a minute. This is the same guy who just chastised this crowd for their fickle behavior, likening them to children playing self-centered games. Jesus said, “Woe to you!” He said they were worse than Tyre and Sidon, pagan Phonecian cities, and even Sodom, an ancient city destroyed for its vile wickedness! What? That is pretty heavy if you ask me, not easy nor light.

What had they done that was so bad? (Mt. 11:20-27) They wouldn’t accept the message of the kingdom! Nothing was turning out like they wanted or thought that it would. John was too serious and weird, so they thought him mad. Jesus was too friendly with riff-raff, so they thought him a glutton and a drunkard. Jesus just wasn’t the messiah they thought he was going to be! Operative word is “they”. Self-centeredness was keeping them from “seeing” the God incarnate right in front of them. The yoke they were connected to was the law, a system of rules instead of a person. (See Lam 5:5)

Jesus, gently and humbly, turns the tide of the conversation. He says you don’t have to be religious elite, or even very smart, to understand the essence of the kingdom of God. He said God revealed it to Him, and He reveals it to the ones who can hear it with child-like submission.

Jesus is the wisdom of God, (I Cor 1:24,30; I Cor 2:7, 8) a person not a system. He invites rather than smites. “Come to me,” he says. I want to know you. I will walk with you and teach you. Under my yoke, I do the work, and you get a front row seat to witness the power of God. He yokes himself to you, as a sinner deserving death. That yoke leads him to a cross. He redeems us from the penalty we owe.  He restores honor to our shame, by taking all the shame upon himself.  What a privilege to take the yoke back up after the resurrection! Jesus bears all the heaviness of life with power and grace! He promises to redeem it all someday! In the meantime, the same person who helped him through the cross, the Holy Spirit, resides in us. Side by side, we are led into rest and peace that defies human reasoning and understanding.  The yoke is easy and the burden is light, because someone else is doing all the heavy lifting! As complicated as life may become, discipleship is at heart, simply walking with Jesus in the real world, and having him teach us step by step how to live life his way.

This song says it all:

 

Lighthouse

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Matthew 11:1-19

Have you ever been in the dark? Physically or mentally? In a situation where you just couldn’t “see” what was going on right in front of you? It’s disorienting and above all frightening, scary movie kind of stuff! I hate it in both realms! I hate the dark, and I hate not knowing the real truth. In either situation, you are at the mercy of the elements or someone else; you are out of control.

Matthew takes us from Jesus’ apostolic send-off of the twelve directly to another set of Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 11. Jesus speaks to a crowd this time, but his words are no less enlightening! He launches into this discourse in response to questions from someone who was literally and figuratively, “in the dark.”

John the Baptist was a great man; in fact, Jesus said he was the greatest man ever born! (11:11) That’s some pretty high regard for this prophet cousin, who himself, fulfilled long awaited prophesy amongst the Jewish people. He was the long haired, locust eating, desert wandering guy that pointed the way to Messiah! He preached repentance and had many followers. He riled up the crowds saying that a great messiah/judge was coming, who was going to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, one who was coming to town to cut down some metaphorical trees, and slash a super sharp sickle around, and light the place on fire! (Mt.3:10-12)

John seemed to be expecting a rebel agitator when his cousin came on the scene! Imagine his surprise when Jesus’ modus operandi was “agent of mercy.”  Jesus seemed to shock everyone who had been waiting for a different kind of messiah. Even John, knowing without a doubt from his miraculous birth to his stand for truth against Herod, that he had a unique calling from God, found himself in a dark and dank prison cell, “in the dark” to his kingdom effectiveness, doubting himself and Jesus. He sent some friends to Jesus to ask him, “Are you really the one who was to come?”  You can almost hear between the lines, “Was this all for nothing?; I’m about to die for this!”

I love Jesus’ response to John, because it resonates with me. He didn’t placate nor patronize. He assured him with scripture; promises that John had held tightly to as confirmation of his own sacrificial calling. Quoting Isaiah 29:18-19, Isaiah 35:5-7, and Isaiah 61:1-2, Jesus told his trusted friends to go tell John: the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached! These aren’t just good things, they’re THE THINGS John was looking for in the Messiah. They were the promises that meant something to him. Jesus lovingly assured him with words that were uniquely significant to John. They were the light that enlightened the eyes of his heart; that helped him to “see” what was invisible in the darkness. They were truths that would help him face the gruesome death he was about to endure (Mt 14:1-12), promises that lit his way, safe into the arms of the Father.

John, the greatest guy Jesus knew, who had one of the most important kingdom jobs ever, felt the pressure of darkness, doubt and fear. I imagine the fear remained all the way to the guillotine, but John had access to what even the least person in the kingdom of God has access to: the power of God, the purest of lights to lead him home, safe and sound.

He did his job and he followed the light from the lighthouse safe to shore.   When I feel in the dark, and can’t understand why I feel imprisoned to my thoughts or alienated from people that I love, I look to the same light, the promises of God available to me in scripture. God speaks to me in a way that I can uniquely understand! He came. He redeemed. He’s coming back, to redeem it all for good and forever.  Death has no power over me. Darkness never wins.

 

 

A Sword

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Read Matthew 10:34-42

Swords mean business. Think Braveheart or Gladiator, where swords are wielded and people’s heads are severed. Swords are heavy and difficult to bear. They are dangerous and ominous, and generally bring someone to a life or death decision. Jesus said he came to bring one. Hard to believe, right, since he asked us to turn the other cheek and to not resist an evil person. Jesus even chastised Peter for grabbing a sword to defend his Lord. I think Jesus meant a different kind of sword, but one no less weighty, dangerous, or all-consuming.

The writer of Hebrews described the word of God this way, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (He 4:12) John, Jesus’ closest friend, described Jesus as the Word (of God) who was with God in the beginning, who spoke the world into existence, and spoke a final word of redemption of sin and death. (Jn 1:1-18) Paul later called the church to take up arms in their fight against Satan in this world. He said to “take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Eph 6:17)

Matthew ends this apostolic sendoff of Jesus with some pretty tough stuff. Even though this sword of Jesus would bring ultimate peace, it would cause immediate conflict. Referencing Micah 7:6, a prophetic reminder that God was sending a redeemer for his people, Jesus referenced a time when families would be divided. He was the fulfillment of that prophesy, the one who’s sword would discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart. After counting the cost, not everyone would be able to follow. The gospels recount many people for whom these teachings were just too hard. For the ones who really wanted to be disciples of Jesus, it was going be costly.

It would cost the tight grip to family and friends, even to life itself. “If anyone wants to be my disciple”, Jesus said, he must take up the vilest agent of death, their cross, and follow him onto the spiritual battlefield. If that paradox wasn’t enough, Jesus followed with, “If anyone really wants to find life, you’ll give yours up for my name’s sake.” Following Jesus was never meant to be easy. Salvation is free, but following costs EVERYTHING!

The good news is that the sword Jesus brought is not held to our throat, but put to work for our defense. It’s a weapon that will defeat the enemy, Satan, every single time! It’s Jesus, the word, residing in our heart via the Spirit, empowering us to do what’s right and to endure the suffering involved. It’s the Holy Scripture, at our disposal 24/7, with which to fight the battles in our mind, our heart, and our world.   Jesus said, “If anyone receives you, they receive me…If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to my disciples”, he’s contributing to the army of the Kingdom of God! That means, folks, that we are on the winning side when we make the costly choice to pick up the heavy cross shaped sword, fight the good fight, and follow our savior home.