Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Parable of the sower

In Matthew’s gospel, chapter 13, verses 1-23, Jesus tells the parable of the sower. A man sows seed and it lands in four different places – on a path; on rocky places without much soil; amongst thorns and finally in good soil. Only the seed that fell in good soil produced a crop. The seed that fell on the path was eaten by birds. The seed in the rocky places sprouted, but was scorched by the sun and withered, because it had shallow roots. The seed which fell amongst thorns was choked by them.

Jesus explains the symbolism of the story. The seed is the word of God – the gospel. The places where it is sown represent the places where the word is sown in humans who hear the gospel- the hearts and minds of men. The seed sown on the path refers to those who hear the word, do not understand and from whom Satan immediately snatches away its effect. The seed that falls on rocky ground represent those who accept the word of God, but fall away when troubles or persecution come because of their faith. The seed that falls amongst thistles represents those who believe the word but are overwhelmed by the worries and cares of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth and so become unfruitful. The seed that falls in good soil is the one who hears the word, understands it and produces a crop.

I’m a gardener. I love growing things. A few weeks ago I was at work, eating a mandarin. Inside this mandarin was an unusual seed, in that it was developing into a shoot inside the fruit. It seemed that this seed desperately wanted to grow! I took it home and put it in a pot, and now have a tiny tree developing. Needless to say, I did not throw it down on the clay tiles of my patio, or place it in a crevice in my rock retaining wall, or plant it in a patch of weeds. I made sure there was good potting mix for it to grow in. It has enough sunshine. I water it. I don’t know what the outcome will be, as it is not a grafted tree, but it will be interesting to see if it bears fruit in the future.

We all as Christians have seeds to sow into the lives of others. We don’t know what the results will be of our witnessing to our unsaved family and friends, but what we most wish for is that they will become Christians who are “rooted and established in love.” (Ephesians 3:17). We don’t want our seed to fall on barren ground. We don’t want God’s word to remain for a season until troubles come to our friends and loved ones, and we don’t want to see the temptations or cares of their lives stifle the message.

Any gardener knows that to produce a crop, you have to put some effort in. My vegetable patch did not happen without the efforts of my husband and myself digging up the lawn, fencing the area to keep the dogs out, tilling the soil, planting, weeding, mulching, fertilizing, watering, staking, pruning and finally, harvesting. I’ve had to learn about seasonal timetables and what to plant when. I’ve gained some valuable tips from some of my community health clients who've been gardening for many years.

So it is with our spiritual sowing. We need to build ourselves up in the faith by prayer, Bible study and fellowship with other Christians in a caring church fellowship. We need to recognise that we will be tempted by sin and the cares and pleasures of this life. We might need to weed out some of the distractions. 

As Christians we're called upon to give a good account of what we believe for the sake of others. We need to be aware of the factors which may hinder the gospel message in others. Perhaps we can help them to understand the gospel, so that it will not be snatched away. Perhaps we can help them to better cope with the trials and temptations of this world so that those things will be less choking.

I do not take this parable as a license to believe that anyone is beyond being transformed by the word of God. A loving Christian witness praying for their family, friends and others or serving them in many other ways may provide the impetus to clear away the thistles, or transplant the struggling sapling from the rocky ground to the “streams of water”(Psalm 1). Is there any hope for the seed snatched by the birds? Even that seed is not always lost. We gardeners know that sometimes we find a seedling in our garden that has been sown there, through bird droppings. Our Creator God is far greater than the evil one who attempts to steal and destroy God's message. 

May we each cultivate good soil to grow God's seeds, and sow seeds of salvation and hope into the lives of others, we pray.

A man had a fig-tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, “For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig-tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?”
“Sir” the man replied, “leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig round it and fertilise it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.”
(Luke 13:6-9)

He [Jesus] told them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. (Luke 10:2).

I [Paul] planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. (1 Corinthians 3:6)

The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. (Isaiah 35:1,2).

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Think, Pray, Love

Have the elect become the elite?

Is the book of Genesis allegory or fact?

Are you a complementarian or egalitarian?

Do you believe in pre-tribulation, post-tribulation or mid-tribulation rapture?

Do you support Arminianism or Calvinism? What is meant by prevenient grace? Total depravity? 

Once saved, always saved?

What precepts surround speaking in tongues?

Can God surprise Himself? Or change His mind? Do we have any influence on Him?

What is the nature of our relationship with God? What does free will mean? Are we pawns on a cosmic chessboard?

When I was a young Christian, saved at 22, my faith was simple. Thirty years have passed since that time and if I’ve learned anything at all, it’s that faith will produce much in the way of questions, and debate amongst Christians. Various conclaves and councils and scholars with minds far more illuminated and well-trained than mine have grappled with the tenets of our faith. Schisms have occurred and factions have split apart throughout church history, forming separate denominations.

I’m not a trained theologian, but I love God and desire to always grow in relationship with Him, which includes reading His word, the Bible; prayer, and fellowship with other Christians. In addition, I love to learn more about Him by studying books and commentaries on Christian topics and talking about Christianity with others. There is a plethora of information (and disinformation) on the internet. It’s wise to study a number of different sources and look for sites which clearly explain terms and provide both sides to a debate.

It’s sometimes a dilemma for those of us who have accepted Christianity outside of a family tradition to determine which church community to become a part of. Sometimes you learn much about issues by the values of the community that you join. For instance, I had never considered that there were protestant churches which did not allow women to become ordained ministers until I attended a church within a denomination where this was the case. As a result, I read and pondered much on the subject. When I became a Christian in the 1980’s, the popular topic for books and outreach was the “End times.” I’m sure some young people were frightened into salvation. Today the hot topics are probably social issues – justice, poverty, attitudes towards abortion and LGBT issues, and within the church, leadership.

Some people see debate amongst Christians as a sign of the faith’s fallibility. On the contrary, I tend to see it as demonstrating the very truths of God’s word. According to Genesis, we are a fallen, sinful race. Romans 8:22 tells us that “all creation has been groaning.” Even those of us who have accepted Christ as Saviour grapple with our sinful nature whilst in this life. Because of this corrupt nature, there is no perfect relationship, no perfect understanding, nor any perfect churches. We need to keep this in mind and pray to God for an infilling of His Holy Spirit, for guidance, grace, forgiveness and wisdom. Above all, we need to express our differences with respect and love, for Jesus has told us “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35)

God has given each of us a mind and we should honour Him by using it to discover all we can about Him in order to fulfil His commission to take the gospel to the unsaved. It should be a joy to do so, as we grow in relationship with Him.

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror, then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:11,12)

Saturday, 15 June 2013

He shall be like a tree firmly planted [and tended] by the streams of water, ready to bring forth his fruit in its season; his leaf also shall not fade or wither, and everything he does shall prosper[and come to maturity.]  Psalm 1:3 (Amplified Bible)

Photos at Mt Mee National Park, SE Queensland 15/6/13

Bullying behaviours

If you’re wondering why I have a link to on this blog, it’s because I believe in empowering people to deal with bullying behaviour wherever it is encountered.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines the verb “bully” as “to persecute, oppress, physically or morally, by (threat of) superior force; frighten into or out of.” The noun “bully” refers to a “person who uses strength or power to coerce others by fear.”
A more simple explanation which I used to my children when talking about bullying amongst primary school children was “bullying is when someone makes themselves feel good by making somebody else feel bad.” Sadly, I had to explain to my children that it was not just young people who did that, but some adults as well.

Despite more openness and accountability becoming the normal practice in all sorts of relationships, bullying is still a common and widespread problem today. It is found in workplaces, families, schools and online. It may occur for a short time, or many years. Regardless of its duration, bullying can have devastating and long lasting consequences on the people who have been exposed to it. It seriously affects a person’s health, self-esteem, present and future relationships, ability to work effectively and can lead to addictions, self-harming behaviour and greatly impaired quality of life.

Bullies rarely work in isolation. They usually desire to be prominent within a group, and therefore require the support of others or at least their non-intervention in the bullying behaviour. They may engage the support of others in some way. Or people may show them support or ignore the whole situation in order not to become a target themselves.

Bullying can take the form of physical or emotional threats, unwarranted criticism and put-downs, sabotaging work efforts, mocking, slander, gossip and lies, name calling, deliberate exclusion from relationships and belittling of a person’s pursuits and interests, to name a few forms.

Churches are the last places where bullying should occur, however, unfortunately, this is not always the case. By their very nature, churches espouse such tenets as forgiveness of others when you are wronged, and “turning the other cheek.” This, coupled with a desire to protect the reputation of a Christian community, can create a climate where it is difficult to address and correct behavioural problems.

We should give credit where it is due. Bullying behaviour within churches is the work of satan to cause conflict and disunity and hinder the work of the Holy Spirit within a church and its mission fields. We must also remember that it is not only the targets of bullying who suffer. The perpetrators themselves are prevented from growing in maturity and forming healthy relationships by their aggressive behaviours. Their behaviours may be the result of dysfunctional relationships in the past which have not been addressed. As such, the community which tolerates bullying does both parties a disservice.

Those who are a target of a bully or become aware of bullying in a sphere in which they work or live should equip themselves with information on the subject through such websites as and pray that they will have the knowledge, insight and God-given words in season to effect positive changes. There needs to be much grace extended to those with behavioural problems and prayer that they will have a greater understanding of God’s ways; but there also needs to be accountability in regards to conduct, and ministry within each church community for conflict resolution.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV)

Monday, 10 June 2013

When disasters happen, we question God....

An acquaintance of mine is fairly nebulous in her beliefs. At times she talks about God as if she believes there is a God. At other times she declares she is not a believer. She is a kind and loving and generous person who believes in living a life consistent with many Christian values. She teaches her children to be honest and trustworthy and considerate of others. To me she personifies many adults who may have a general understanding of Christianity but have not really heard the full gospel message and understood the amazing, life-changing nature of a relationship with Jesus Christ.

When the recent tornados hit the U.S.A. my friend asked: Why would God let this happen?

Well first, if you don’t believe in God, why shouldn’t bad things happen? If our very existence is a haphazard result of random chance, why should the weather be organised to suit our comfort? The earth is forever moving and changing in various ways, so why should we be surprised if sometimes the moves and changes are of a cataclysmic nature?

But for those of us who do believe in a creator God and a created world, we must be able to give a reason for our beliefs, including why bad things happen. My answer to this would be that we live in a fallen world where everything, living and inanimate is subjected to the effects of sin. At times the troubles that beset us are minor annoyances, and at other times they are major catastrophes.

Mankind was created by God with free will, and our original ancestors, Adam and Eve, chose to disobey God and succumb to the lies of Satan that they would become like gods themselves. Satan himself, the Bible tells us, was an angel who, governed by violence and pride, led a rebellion against God and was cast out of heaven onto the earth. Only God is God and no other can take His place.

From the time of the original sin, every person has battled good and evil within themselves. Not only that, but God’s perfectly created physical world experienced the results of sin. Romans chapter 8 tells us:
v 20 “For the creation (nature) was subjected to frailty – to futility, condemned to frustration – not because of some intentional fault on its part, but by the will of Him Who so subjected it. [Yet] with the hope
21That nature (creation) itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and corruption [and gain an entrance] into the glorious freedom of God’s children.” (Amplified Version)

We know that it is the nature of things now to erode, to decay, to age, to break down and to eventually die. All living things die, whilst inanimate objects decay or change form. The world of drought, bushfires, earthquakes and floods is a very different environment to the Garden of Eden. In effect, the sinful condition of the human heart is reflected in the fallen nature of the earth. In Genesis chapter 3, when God pronounced judgement on Adam and Eve’s sin, he cursed the ground.

Christians must be careful, however, not to make claims that certain events are directly linked to the spiritual condition of the people or place in which they occur. We are all sinners, living in a fallen world and it is up to God, not His people, to pronounce judgement. It is a general Biblical principle that when people follow and serve God wholeheartedly and do His will, He will bless and protect them and when they fall away from Him and idolise other people or things, God may withdraw His protection and blessings, however this is not always the case, as the book of Job demonstrates. God in His sovereignty may use whatever means He wishes to draw people to Himself and sometimes it may take a crisis to bring people to repentance. He is a just God and is never unaware of the wickedness of this world and perhaps we should be thanking Him for His restraint, rather than blaming Him when bad things happen.

And sorry, folks, but it’s not going to get any better. Matthew 24 describes some of the earthly conditions which will indicate that the times are coming when great tribulation will occur on the earth, sometimes referred to by Christians as the “end times”.  Matthew 24:7 tells us “there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.” The book of Revelation describes a number of natural and man-made disasters of an unprecedented scale which will affect the physical form of the earth and the lives of its inhabitants- the contamination of the world’s oceans and water systems, destruction of the land, earthquakes, meteor showers, hailstones, and massive storms, even changes to the sun and stars. (See particularly Revelation chapters  6, 8, 16, and there are other references throughout the book.) This time of great tribulation will precede the return of Christ to earth, as conquering King who will defeat Satan and judge those humans still living who have denied Christ.

Yet there is hope! Glorious hope! For we know that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). Revelation chapter 3 tells us “So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with Me.” (v19, 20). Jesus died on the cross at Calvary to honour His Father God and to make a way for cursed, sinful mankind to be back in right relationship with God, only through the blood of Christ. When we come to Jesus in a prayer of repentance and faith, we become Christians and this relationship is ever deepened by prayer, studying the Bible, God’s word, and by fellowship in a caring Christian community.

God has not promised an easy life here on earth for those who have committed themselves to Him, but He has assured us of His guiding Holy Spirit and the blessing of His presence with us always, in this life and for eternity when our earthly lives have ended. Whilst God will allow much to be destroyed in this earth, He will also restore. The final chapters of Revelation portray a beautiful picture of the New Jerusalem – God’s kingdom on earth and in heaven – resplendent with the light and life of God. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. (Rev 21: 4). We will live in a land of incredible beauty- jewels, rivers, flourishing trees and sights more wonderful than we can ever imagine. The Bible both begins and ends with the marvels of God’s creation.

Heavenly Father God, thank You for Your word. Thank You for Your indwelling Holy Spirit which quickens it to us. I pray for anyone reading here who does not know You, that they will be encouraged to seek You and truly find You as Lord and Saviour of their lives. I pray Father that we will be enabled to help those who are suffering in this life, particularly when disasters strike. Thank You for the wonderful hope and joy for all eternity that we have through knowing You as our God- Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen