A friend of mine has been in ministry for more than 40 years. Recently we were together and I relished hearing him tell about how several people he impacted with his ministry over the decades were now coming together to create a new ministry that he would lead. It reminded me of the parable of the mustard seed in Mark 4. Here were small seeds, sown years ago, about to mature into a mighty plant with strong branches bearing much fruit. This is the longview of the Kingdom of God.

What’s intriguing to me about the parable of the mustard seed is the parable that precedes it. In Mark 4:26-29 Jesus talked about a farmer scattering seed on the ground. Verse 25 tells us, “Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grow.” The next verse tells us that the seed matures and bears fruit even though the farmer “does not know how.” He then proceeds to harvest the crop. 

Couple this parable with its companion parable in verses 30-32 and you get a powerful image of how God can turn small things into a large, fruitful thing for the Kingdom of God. In this parable, Jesus talked about how a small mustard seed, when planted, “grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants.” So big in fact that “the birds can perch in its shade.”

The common thread weaving through both of these parables is the action of planting. In both instances, the seed must be planted in order for it to grow, but it is God that actually grows the seed to enable it to be fruitful and useful. Too often we focus on trying to create the big thing first without waiting on God to grow and mature it from first sowing the small seeds.

In these parables Jesus reminded us that often the work of the Kingdom of God is found in the small things. We should not ignore the work of sowing the seed of the gospel into the lives of people we encounter each day. Even the smallest of seeds can eventually mature into something powerful for God. When we see the fruit it bears years later we are amazed that God could grow something that large from something so small. 

Jesus reminded us in these parables that it is God who transforms the seed of the gospel into mature and fruitful believers in Jesus. We are to be obedient in responding to God’s leading to sow the gospel into the hearts and minds of people in our lives, no matter how small and insignificant the encounter might seem. As my friend found out decades later, many of the small seeds he had sown over the years now were maturing to bear fruit and provide for people in ways he never dreamed possible.

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I laid on a bed in the emergency room as the doctor asked me multiple questions about my condition. I answered each question as best as I could, hoping it would help her find what ailed me.

“Does it hurt here?” She finally asked as she pressed the area where I was experiencing discomfort in my abdomen.

“Yes,” I replied as the pressure from her hand made the pain worse.

She paused with a brief look of concern, yet a look that expressed knowledge of what was going on inside of me. The doctor’s patient dialogue with me helped identify what was wrong inside my body. She now had an idea of the potential source of the pain that prompted me to go to the hospital. A subsequent CAT scan enabled a look inside of me that confirmed her suspicions.

Later, after we left the hospital, I thought about how much faith I put in the doctor. I knew something was not right inside of me and I turned to the doctor in the hospital to figure out what was ailing me and to find the right remedy. She gave me a prescription to fight the infection and further instructions to help me get well.

It made me contemplate why I don’t always have the same faith in God or even my church to help me with my struggles in life. Usually the barrier is that I refuse to dialogue with people in my church or even God about the emotional pain deep inside of me. No one can help us if we don’t first open up about the hurt we feel inside. We must be open to prayerfully seeking God for help; open to dialoguing with him. Then we must trust that his instruction is for our own good. 

There are many instances in the gospels where people pursued Jesus for healing. In Luke 8:43-48 a woman reaches out to touch Jesus for healing. In Mark 2:1-12 men lower a paralyzed man from the roof in an effort to reach Jesus for healing. Then there is the blind man in Mark 10:46-52. 

In this passage the blind man hears that Jesus is walking by and he cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus then asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replies, “Rabbi, I want to see.” Verse 52 tells us that Jesus responds, “Go, your faith has healed you.” The man then received his sight.

What if the blind man had not reached out to Christ or not told him what he wanted Jesus to do? It is the dialogue with God that is important; our faith in God to come to us with the right approach to what ails us inside. As Jesus said in John 14:14, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” 

I sat with her in her living room as she talked about her life. Somehow she managed to keep her frail body upright in the chair. A small plastic tube by her nose fed her oxygen as she spoke with a raspy voice. I could sense the bitterness as she told me about past injustices done to her from decades ago. Over the years I had known this aged woman it seemed the grip of bitterness had only grown tighter on her life. It seemed to cripple her to the point where she was hunched over, eyes pointed toward the floor. I longed to free her from the bondage of unforgiveness with the loving touch of Jesus Christ, but she would have nothing to do with it.

Days later I came across Luke 13:10-17 where Jesus healed a woman crippled “by a spirit for eighteen years.” Toward the end of the passage Jesus remarked that she had been kept bound all those years by Satan. What is interesting about this passage is that the woman does not seek healing from Jesus. She was there in the synagogue listening to Jesus teach and he called her forward. Jesus told the woman, “you are set free from your infirmity.” He placed his hands on her and then she, immediately “straightened up and praised God.”

It reminded me of my aged friend I visited a few days earlier and how she chose to let Satan hold her in the grip of bitterness — choosing to let past injustices keep her bent over and unable to straighten up. She was emotionally and now physically crippled, refusing to even enter a church to hear the teaching of Christ. She refused to hear Jesus call her forward so he could touch her with his grace and release her from the grip of Satan. She chose to remain hunched over in bitterness instead of letting Jesus set her free from the grip of Satan.

In this life we are often struck by emotional and physical events that can cripple us for years. Satan wants to bind us with these infirmities so that we remain crippled, hunched over with our eyes to the ground so we are unable to stand and raise our hands to praise and worship God. Jesus calls us forward to touch our lives, but the grip of the injustices of this life hold us back from receiving his freedom. Instead we listen to those, like the synagogue leader in this passage, who don’t want us to receive Jesus Christ and his healing touch. We remain hunched over in bitterness with eyes pointed to the ground instead of Jesus.

In Mark 13:11 Jesus tells us not to worry about what to say when we are brought to trial, instead we should let the Spirit of God guide our words. In a world full of scripted remarks and prepared statements, it is hard to think about going into a trial without proper preparation. Yet I don’t think Jesus is saying that we should go into these situations totally unprepared.

Jesus’ whole discourse in Mark 13 is a warning to his disciples to be prepared for what is to come. He is warning them of coming persecution. To that end he tells them to be ready and to let their faith in God guide them, not their own strength, cleverness, or words. “So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time,” Jesus said in Mark 13:23.

For us that means we need to prepare ourselves for trials in life by immersing ourselves daily in the Word of God; to prayerfully seek God and his will each day. We need to learn to endure struggles without compromising our faith in Christ. We need to continually strengthen our resolve to follow Christ so that we will endure to the end. Jesus reminds us in Mark 13:13, “Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

It can be difficult waiting on God to respond to our needs. Often our impatience is born out of our expectations that God will respond according to our plans and schedule. This is what we see in Exodus 5:1-23 where Moses followed God’s request to return to Egypt to ask Pharaoh to release the Israelites. He told Pharaoh, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness (Exodus 5:1).'” Pharaoh promptly refused Moses’ request and then imposed harsher conditions on the enslaved Israelites that made their work even more difficult.

Instead of winning freedom for the Israelites, Moses made things worse for them. The angry Israelite overseers told Moses in Exodus 5:21, “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” That is the thanks Moses received for being obedient to God.

It is apparent that Moses had the expectation that he would go ask Pharaoh to release the Israelites and Pharaoh would grant his request. In Exodus 5:22-23 Moses complained to God, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”

When God does not meet our expectations, like Moses, we can get angry with God. It is hard to remember that God has the long view of our life and that his timing is perfect. Often when we think he is not responding to our needs he is actually equipping us and preparing the way for us.

Such was the case with Moses and the Israelites in Egypt. If Pharaoh had simply let them go the first time Moses asked, all of Egypt would not have experienced the power of God. Because of God’s delay the Israelites plundered Egypt and were well equipped for their journey ahead as well as having gold and silver for the tabernacle and later the temple.

With each chapter of Exodus we can see the wisdom of God’s long view unfold as well as the consequences the Israelites faced for their impatience with God. The lesson for us is to rest in God and trust him even when we get impatient for him to act according to our expectations.

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I have always admired the way Joseph kept his focus on God even though his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. Throughout Genesis 39-45, from the point Joseph is sold by his brothers to when he is reconciled with his brothers, Joseph continually lets his devotion to God guide his decisions. Yet there is one passage of scripture in all these chapters on Joseph that is easy to miss yet very thought-provoking.

In Genesis 41, after Pharaoh has placed Joseph as second in command of all of Egypt, he has two sons. When the second son is born Joseph remarks in verse 52, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering (NIV).” Even though he has become a powerful ruler of Egypt, he still calls it “the land of my suffering.” He is beginning to see how God has used his suffering to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.

Joseph’s statement in verse 52 causes me to ask if I can see God’s fruit in the land of my suffering. Too often I am focused on the agony and not on what purpose God might have for my pain. In the midst of our enslavement and imprisonment in the land of our suffering, be mindful of the fruit God is ripening for his glory.

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It is hard for us to comprehend what the earth was like before God created light. In his book Riding Rockets, Space Shuttle astronaut Mike Mullane described how from space, the earth is “framed in a pre-Genesis black.” He goes on to explain: “There is no blackness on Earth to compare… not the blackest night, the blackest cave, or the abysmal depths of any sea ” Since I never made it into space, the blackest cave was the closest experience I had to seeing pre-Genesis black.

When I was a kid, my mom and dad took us on a tour inside a deep cave at Mammoth Caves National Park in Kentucky. Deep in the bowels of the earth, the park ranger stopped us in an expansive part of the cave with a large vaulted ceiling. With a few minutes warning, he had the lights turned off so we could experience total darkness. Instantly we were thrown into the formless and empty darkness of Genesis 1:2.

When the lights went out, it was impossible to see anything. I had no way of knowing what was next to me or around me. There was no form, no definition to the space where I stood. Suddenly a light appeared. The ranger struck a single match and suddenly the entire area and everyone in it came into view. It was astounding how that single match suddenly separated us from the darkness.

In Genesis 1:3-4 God says. “Let there be light.” Like that single act of striking a match, his command separated the light from the darkness. He brought form and shape to the world. It is the same light we can bring to this dark world. In the darkness of life, Christ is light that pierces the darkness, separating the darkness from the light. Even when we are in the midst of the deepest darkness of life, we can trust the light of Christ to bring form and shape to the void of a seemingly hopeless situation.

I slipped on my new pair of eyeglasses and was amazed at what I could now clearly see. Over the years my distance vision had slowly deteriorated so that I did not even notice how much I was missing when I looked around me. Now with corrective lenses I could clearly discern what was in front of me.

It made me think about how my spiritual vision can become so clouded that I cannot discern the things of God. If I am not vigilant, this world can fog up my view so that I cannot clearly see the Kingdom of God at work. It is exactly what Jesus taught his disciples in Luke 8:10, “‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand (NIV)'” Which was a reference to Isaiah 6:9.

In Luke 8, Jesus explains the meaning of the parable he has just told to the crowd of people gathered to hear him. Jesus describes all the ways that Satan can steal the word of God from us: “…takes away the word from their hearts (verse 12); …in the time of testing they fall away (13); …and choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures (14).” If we lose sight of the word of God for the reasons Jesus lists above, we will not be able persevere and act on it in order to be fruitful for The Lord.

My prayer is that your vision of God’s purpose in your life will remain clear and in focus; that the word of God will continue to work in your heart and not fall prey to the deceit of the evil one. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:18, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.”

In 1 Samuel 9, the prophet Samuel is about to anoint Saul king over Israel. He tells Saul, “And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and your whole family line (verse 20, NIV)?” Saul immediately tells Samuel why he could not possibly be the desire of Israel. He looks to worldly attributes of strength to disqualify himself by explaining that he is from “the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin (verse 20).” He even questions Samuel by saying, “Why do you say such a thing to me?” But Samuel ignores these comments and in chapter 10 he anoints Saul king.

Too often we are quick to dismiss how The Lord views us and the tasks he appoints us to do. We are too quick to measure ourselves by the world’s standards instead of by God’s standards. Throughout the Bible we see God using the weak and lowly to overcome the powerful in the world. Psalm 8:5 tells us that God has made mankind “a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.” The Psalm goes on to remind us that we have been made “rulers over the works of your hands.”

It is natural to question what God calls us to do and the position he has given us in his creation. Even the Psalmist pondered in Psalm 8:3-4, “what is mankind that you are mindful of them.” Yet we should take to heart that we are his creation and he has ordained us for a specific purpose in His kingdom on earth. Embrace this role and seek God for the strength to pursue his will in your life. Don’t let the weight of worldly questions about your worth weight you down.

Sometimes no matter how much I plead with God to transform the life of a person with Christ, it seems nothing changes. The struggles remain and I feel helpless to show the way to Christ. I feel helpless to bring about any change and it feels like feel my prayers fall on deaf ears.

At times like this I am caught in the tension between God’s sovereignty and the free will of people to reject or embrace Christ. Romans 9:18 tells us, “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” Within this tension I am forced to trust God’s sovereignty; forced to deepen my pursuit of Christ; forced to let the tension hold me close to God.

I must trust that God has a purpose for delineating between mercy and wrath and that only he is qualified to judge between the two. I must admit I am severely unqualified to judge why some graciously receive Christ and others reject him.

The only answer to this tension is to continue to liberally apply the Word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to all people who God places in our life. We must continue to trust God to handle the response people give to the message of salvation.

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