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The soil of your heart

What type of soil do you have in your backyard garden? Rocky, clay, thorny? Any avid gardener can tell you there won’t be much of a harvest without the right kind of soil. Well-tended gardens produce the best results because the soil where seeds begin their growth needs to be fertilized, conditioned, and hydrated with nutrients. It’s a no brainer, right?

In the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13: 3-9, Jesus describes the four types of soil representing the condition of people’s hearts when first hearing his word. Unfortunately, the seed of his word that falls by the wayside or in stony or thorny ground never receives the proper nourishment necessary for growth, and one’s spiritual garden suffers as a result. After a scorching sun or a blustery wind, the sprout withers or is uprooted at the first signs of stress.

Whether one plants seeds in an outdoor garden or in the soil of one’s heart, the same ingredients apply. In order to grow in sanctification as a Christian, the seed of the Word of God needs to reside in receptive, nourished soil. One where the Holy Spirit is alive and quickened and heard above the fray… one where the aim is to apply God’s principles and doctrines in an effort to “work out our salvation in fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12)… and one where we desire to glorify God above self.

 

What path will you take?

When we walk with the Lord as David did, we can rest assured of our security and safety in this world. No other anchor is needed to keep a believer’s head above water than when we hold onto the blessed rock of our salvation, our savior, Jesus. The winds of defeat may blow and buffet while the everyday storms of life may threaten to take us down, but holding onto the Lord will be our refuge in times of trouble.

In Psalm 16, David seeks the Lord and flees to him for protection from the threats of Saul. “You are my Lord,” he says. “Apart from you, I have no good thing.” David’s desire to cling to the Lord through his adversity is an example for believers today. “I will set the Lord continually before me; because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

David, like all believers, knew that God was his security and would never leave him. When we walk with the Lord and place our trust in his hands, we can rest knowing that he’s got our backs. “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure because you will not abandon me to the grave (Sheol) nor will you let your holy one see decay.”

On earth, there will be trials but by abiding in God’s word, we will not fall into the pit of destruction nor will we be shaken with every wind of trouble. If we stay on the path he ordains, we can rest in knowing he’s there… guiding us every day… directing our steps and blessing our ways until the hour he wishes to take us home where our inheritance awaits.

Like David, we, too can say, “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

 

Going down with pride

As Christians who walk humbly with our God, we know our place here on earth is to be used by God as his instruments. Essentially, his hands and feet. Oftentimes, as did the disciples, the concern of “Who is doing the most good for God?” comes into play while a sense of pride and self-importance arises.

In Mark, some of Jesus’ disciples grumbled about who would have the place of honor of sitting on the right and left side of Jesus in glory, primarily, James and John, the sons of Zebedee (a.k.a. the Sons of Thunder). Their pride yearned for a higher place, that showy place of importance and greatness. Jesus replied to them that these positions were “for whom they have been prepared” and added in vs. 45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Let’s face it, God cannot be impressed with anything we do. Even worse, he loathes when pride, one of the seven deadly sins, takes root and settles into an inflated view of our own self worth when taking an overly zealous stock in our accomplishments. When rulers or slave owners lord over their subjects with exalted power, God is not pleased and we are wise to remember that “pride goes before a fall.”

In God’s economy, it’s the more humble and self-effacing person on whom God smiles. In Philippians 2, we see that even Jesus did not seek the high places or to elevate himself but rather humbled himself to the point of death. Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but he lowered himself in taking the form of a bond servant and being made in the likeness of men… After that, God elevated him to bear the name above all names.

Being a servant is not an easy task in a world full of pride. It’s not glamorous or flashy. For the most part, the life of a servant is one of sometimes doing the lowly grunt work and not one that calls much attention to itself. It quietly and ardently works behind the scenes and does not care who is watching because the work is being done for the Lord. Oftentimes, the Lord’s servants are thrust into greatness or a prominent place not because they necessarily want it but because the Lord grants it. He honors them. The position is not for one’s own seeking of glory, honor or riches but rather just the opposite. Servanthood is best performed when we empty ourselves of self and put on Christ.

 

Building God’s Kingdom

We, as believers, are called to witness for Jesus Christ and to spread the good news that our sins are all paid. This message of redemption should be our focus every day as we set our sights on things above and fulfill our earthly purpose. As the scriptures say in Mark 16:15, Jesus tells his disciples to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” What a great calling we have!

Psalm 96:3 says, “Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples.” This should be a natural extension of someone who loves the Lord. We talk about our earthly possessions, gifts, and joys with pride and gratitude, yet the Lord is responsible for every one of those blessings! As the Lord’s beloved, our hearts should overflow with love for Jesus and we should be ready to give an account for the joy with which He’s blessed us. If not for Him, we would not have fellowship with God, the Father.

Building God’s kingdom is important because it’s our calling and also because God’s kingdom is the only one that will survive throughout eternity. While men work to build their own kingdoms on earth of self, status, power and money, all of these things will be gone one day. Only God’s kingdom will stand, and we will be there to be a part of it.

We have the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us His return is imminent. Let’s utilize everything in our power to reach as many as possible and tell them of what Jesus has done for them.

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Free Speech

The role of prayer in our schools is a hot button.

One year ago, I observed this issue coming to a head at a local school district meeting regarding the district’s stance on public prayer, particularly regarding the school’s valedictorian, who wished to include prayer as part of his valedictory speech. His prayer never saw the light of public hearing because the school district took a stance to prohibit the prayer. Not much has changed since then.

Why? Because of judicial overreach in the Supreme Court.  The justices have taken a bridge too far with applying what the founding founders meant in their drafting of the Constitution and have used the 1st ,10th, and 14th amendments to suit their own subjective ends. Now schools across America are taking their cues from the federal courts.

Some would argue a school’s mandate to prohibit prayer is because there should be separation of church and state, or that there should be neutrality of religion in schools. This mindset is not what the founding fathers had in mind.

True, the founders wanted freedom from the vice of a tyrannical king and also did not want to impose any undue mandates or strictures on the citizens of the new republic. By logic, it would follow that our founders wanted a secular government. Coming from an imposing, heartless despot who forced his own whims on his people, this would be a reasonable conclusion. However, this premise is totally off base.

No, the founders did not encourage a secular government for the sake of keeping the church separate; they just did not want to advocate for a particular religion. Theirs was not to enforce freedom from religion but rather no establishment of any particular religion. They didn’t believe it prudent to endorse a state sponsored religion.

Not to allow freedom of expression of a religion is where the judicial overreach and school districts that wish to silence tongues should come to task. To not be able to express what is on one’s heart or mind for fear of sounding “religious” is obstructing the 1st amendment.

The 1st amendment of our Constitution guarantees that Congress shall make no law to either establish nor to prohibit the free exercise of religion as well as the 14th amendment that establishes, among other things, that no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of its citizens.  While the 10th amendment guarantees the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

So where is freedom of speech in all of this? What happened to the federated part of our republic where states may use their jurisdiction? What happened to the valedictorian’s right to speak his heart at his own graduation?

Whether one is religious or secular, the following facts are aimed at the person of reason: To be able to think and speak our thoughts and what we believe is all part of our mental “property” and is protected under the Constitution. To shun or censor someone from this is violating that person’s rights under the Constitution.

The right of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is guaranteed to us by our Creator, which is clearly defined in the Declaration of Independence, and goes hand in hand with the Constitution. The former document declares the “why” and the latter, “how” the people, as a new nation, would guarantee its citizens their rights from God, their Creator.

Should anyone be offended by hearing the prayers of a valedictorian on his graduation day would best be served by remembering that the Constitution does not guarantee one’s freedom from discomfiture at the expense of someone else. The law of the land endorses life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness which also includes prayer in the public square. Those of rational thought and mind ought to see plainly what the Constitution actually stands for.

As far as secular government, our founders all agreed with John Adam when he said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

 

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July 4th: A day of freedom or liberty?

So another Fourth of July is upon America. We commemorate this special day with fireworks and festivities to remember how America came to be and the battles our heroes have fought to preserve this great place and our freedoms.

We’ve often come to the brink of almost losing our nation. Those who would destroy it are in my opinion cut from the same cloth as Satan himself. I’m convinced that only by the grace of God does America still stand.

When the early pioneers and settlers on our shores first left their homeland in England, where a despotic king usurped God’s authority and subsequently did not fulfill his duties as a good king and left them no choice but to leave, they came to found a nation in which all people were acknowledged as being equal. Our founding documents declare that upon a Creator, all men have the privilege of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The question to ask is:  What is liberty? Are we really free in America?

The question of the difference between liberty and freedom may be subtle but it’s there. One would say, of course, we’re free. Do you see any slaves anymore? Is there tyranny from a despotic king on the throne, throwing his weight around to usurp anyone’s rights to life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness?

Of course not. In America, we have freedoms that other countries only dream about. However, while in America today, many citizens are still enslaved. They still have masters who control them.

The master of sin is Satan himself who is way more wise than a tyrannical king and doubly menacing. His ways are not always obvious but more so insidious.

Until we come to terms with our lives with regard to who is in control of them, we will continue to be enslaved by the members of our own bodies.

Jesus, the Lord and Savior of the universe, is the true and only living king who gives us not only life but liberty.  We may have freedom in America, but we are only truly free and in liberty when we have Jesus on the throne of our lives.

“…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty”  – 2 Corinthians 3:17

“ ‘If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free’” – John 8:31-32

“‘So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” – John 8:36

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” – Galatians 5:1

“For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God”  – Romans 8:19-21

 

What is a father?

 

Tomorrow we honor our fathers—men both young and old who have earned this distinguished title. Being a father is more than just being a Daddy or passing down DNA. The task of fatherhood is a great sacrifice, as all true fathers can attest.

Fathers have a huge responsibility in rearing the children God has granted them. Loving, nurturing, teaching and disciplining are some of the ways of a being a good father. Sometimes the role is easy and sometimes the job gets tough.

There is much instruction and wisdom to be found in God’s word on how to parent. Some verses stand out: “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it” – Proverbs 22:6 and “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” – Ephesians 6:4. Just as the Lord has compassion on his children, fathers are instructed to have the same.

Being a father brings great reward and often heartache as well. Just imagine the pain of our Lord when His children go astray. Though the beauty to be found in all of it is to remember that children are a gift from God and truly belong to Him first. Earthly fathers are merely stewards.

In the role of fatherhood, Christ needs to be the model with the Bible as our instruction manual. The work is taxing yet it should be done as with all things for the glory of God.

Happy Father’s Day to all of our wonderful fathers!

 

 

Pledges, oaths and flip flopping

Has someone ever disappointed you or others for not honoring a pledge? Even so much as swearing an oath and then not following through on it? God’s word in Matthew speaks to this:

 

Matthew 5:33-37 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”

While we have witnessed some not adhering to their oaths or pledges, as children of God, we need to set the bar higher. As Christians, our lives (and words) reflect the nature of God and we are viewed by the world through them. Basically, our lives are a reflection of Jesus and his instructions say to commit to a “yes” or a “no” in your dealings.

To be a flip-flopper can be misconstrued as being dishonest and undependable. Isn’t a Christian supposed to be true to his word, the world asks?  If not, the impression of dishonesty arises and can taint our Christian witness. Why should anyone believe our word about God’s truths, if we ourselves are not true to our own word? When others observe us following through on our word, it speaks to the Christ in us. May the Holy Spirit guide your words today…

 

Got love?

In speaking with a brother in Christ recently after reading his monthly newsletter where the topic was LOVE, he mentioned how he can best love others and it was by first loving himself. His words got me to thinking.

The world speaks about love. It’s all we seem to talk about as it’s all about love, right? How we feel… about love, loving ourselves, loving others, and how much we love to love.

While reading the newsletter, it seemed he got swayed into the world’s view of love, which is:  I cannot love others until I love myself first.

What?

My take: If we accept ourselves as God sees us once we are saved (when God only sees the righteousness of Christ in us from that point on), then we are on the right track to loving others and that is what we are commanded to do.

So what if we don’t like/love ourselves on any particular day due to a bad mood, sickness, reminders of the past that haunt and taunt us, or any other variable, etc. Do these things preclude us from loving others? If we are relying on ourselves, yes. But we have the loving Holy Spirit inside of us. Otherwise, wouldn’t our flesh hold us back during those trying times? Is that what God means to love… just love when you feel like it?

Only what’s done in the Lord’s strength is valuable. It’s not about you and I loving ourselves. The love comes from the Jesus in us. The outward show of his spirit inside. Galations 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me…”

Striving to like or love ourselves after we’re saved is a vain and futile waste. Just what would it take to love yourself… and for how long, if you found it?

Frankly, if God sacrificed his life for us, it should be enough. It’s not our place to put God’s love and acceptance for us  below our own love and acceptance of ourselves. It begs the question:  Is God’s account of us not enough? Are we the ones loving or is it God’s love we’re sharing with others through his Holy Spirit?  Is it about us or is it about God?

On building bridges… and walls

It seems the Pope–all comfy in the fortress of the Vatican–has a few words for America–specifically, our President upon his first visit.

“We should build bridges… not walls” is the message Pope Francis is giving.

I would dare to contradict the man with all due respect and venture to say he’s a Communist and a short-sighted one as well.

Mr. Pope, America has built bridges. We are the country that has helped, supported, undergirded, and basically opened our doors for the world to enter. We are the role model for the globe and an example of what true freedom and liberty are all about, but for us not to have any borders, boundaries or legality in our immigration process, it is akin to indulgence which leads to a wanton disregard for the exact freedoms we wish to uphold.