Salvation ... comes from the Lord ... because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Sowing to Harvest

Until recently my reading the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8  left me thinking that because I had converted to Christ early in my life, I was automatically in the fourth (most fruitful)( category of the 4 types of soils.  May I encourage the reader to read Matthew 13 in the Bible before continuing.  The reader may recall the 4 types of soil as hard, rocky, thorny, and fruitful (see Matthew 13:18-23 for the explanation of each).  I have since come to understand that fruitfulness and harvest also apply to the on-going transformation and sanctification of our mind, spirit, soul, and body.  
Harvesting is not merely an event, but it is process driven as well.   
Our heart is the soil.  The good soil produces a crop and becomes a harvest field  A fruitful harvest may be in the form of virtuous living fueled by godly character developed over time.  The “fruits of the Spirit” as they are known from Galations 5:22-23 are in this category of good fruit.  But there are also 3 types of soil mentioned that produce nothing.  One Is a hard heart.  A “heart of stone” as it is referred to in other parts of the Bible, is characterized by lack of teachability.  When the seed (Word of God) falls on this kind of heart, unbelief, shallow beliefs, or destructive patterns of thinking do not allow truth to take hold.  A second soil type, the heart with too many rocks, does not allow the (Word of God) to take proper root.  Truth cannot take hold because it has no root system to nourish the plants to life.  A third soil, the thorny heart, has too many weeds that choke off the plant.  Distractions, falsehoods, or mis-guided priorities overtake the truth (growing plant) so that it cannot produce and reproduce.  
God is the farmer in the parable of the sower.  God’s seed always produces good fruit if it is allowed to flourish.  God gives his creation choice in the matter.  Our choices determine the soil content of the heart.  Each day we are presented with opportunities to receive God’s truth (seed) and give it the value it is due.   We have the choice of allowing it to produce fruit or not.  The “hard heart” choice rejects it outright. The “rocky heart” choice doesn’t give it proper value to replace currently held misbeliefs and take root.  The “thorny heart” choice considers it too great a cost to surrender its own perceptions of truth and yield to God’s design.  These choices come in the form of financial decisions, what we eat, how we spend our time, resisting vices, responding to authority, family relationships, neighbor relationships, church and other group relationships.  Dr. Caroline Leaf’s book Switch On Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health does a great job at explaining how paying attention to your thoughts, making wise choices, and resulting behaviors (good or bad fruit) all work together.  
Our heart soil becomes a field for harvesting good fruit In those areas where we allow God’s truth to be our reality.  God is a God of love.  God gave his Son Jesus Christ to deliver us from the hard, rocky, and thorny conditions that became the reality of our broken world through sin.  Surrendering to God, not just once, but as everyday practice, allows his love to become our expression and empowerment for living.  In explaining the deeper meaning to his disciples, Jesus says,  “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop” (Luke 8:15).  Jesus makes it clear that heart transformation is the way to restoration, and healing.  
We surrender our heart to God by confessing (acknowleging and verbalizing) and repenting (turning away from) the conditions identified as hard, rocky, and thorny soil.  He makes our heart fertile with His love as He originally designed us to be.  He changes us from the inside out so that we can share His love with others for the harvest of love to be made real in the lives of our fellowman.  
Jesus used the illustration of harvest often in his teaching.  One such instance is in Matthew 9, “then he said to his disciples, The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:37-38).  Again these verses are often interpreted by the reader to apply to conversion of souls to Christ.  The context of these verses reveals the compassion of Jesus in his healing ministry.  The physical healings Jesus performed were to demonstrate his power to redeem mankind from sin, thus healing their spiritually broken condition.  I believe as well these words show God’s desire for the transformation and sanctification of people from the inside out.  Harvest includes the on-going change of our inner most being.  
In fact, as “workers” (leaders) in the harvest, an even stricter measure of attention must be given to the condition of the soil of our heart spoken of in the parable of the sower.  A common principle of leadership is that a leader cannot take followers to places he/she hasn’t gone himself.  We cannot lead others into deeper transformation and healing of the inner life if we haven’t experienced God’s sanctification in deeper measure ourselves.  That may be why Jesus says the laborers are few.  It seems that very few people are willing to commit to deep transformation of the inner man.  
So what is the harvest spoken of by Jesus?  The answer Is getting a bigger and better picture of how much God loves you and has taken action on your behalf.  Seeing and hearing Him brings understanding to your heart.  When Jesus taught this parable according to Mathew 13,  Jesus quotes a Scripture from the prophet Isaiah, “"Otherwise they might see with their eyes,  hear with their ears,  understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them“ (Isaiah 6:9-10).  Heart transformation is part of God’s divine plan for release from struggles caused by our jaded perspectives.  We have a choice. Do we choose to resist inner change and continue to struggle, or do we choose progressive surrender to God’s ways for healing?
As for me, I want to experience more of God’s love, and host maturing plants in the soil of my heart.  I also want to esteem Jesus as the Lord of the harvest, and make His Name great wherever He is harvesting.   Therefore, when I now read the parable of the sower, I ask myself questions like the following.  
   Where might my heart be “hard” to the truth of God?
   How might I be trying to keep God on the side line rather than allowing God’s truth to take deeper root?
   What might I be holding on to as a thorn choking out deeper revelation of God’s truth and love?  
What ugliness is a hindrance?  
   Do my priorities need a tune-up?   
Can I look back (eg. 1,2, or 3 years) and see measurable growth in heart change?   
Less disappointments? Less complaining?  Less blaming?  Less condemning,  judgment of self and others?    Less unforgiveness?  Less of whatever habit has bad fruit?      
More love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?   More habits producing these good fruits?

My prayer is that God, our Farmer, finds increasingly good soil in our hearts!  

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Ephisians 4 Unity

Mining the fourth chapter of the book of Ephesians in the Bible has some real treasures for living as a whole person.  
This text is part of a letter sent from a prison in the first century by the Apostle Paul.  Chapter 4 begins by  identifying some target virtuous behaviors.  He sets the bar high up front so the reader knows what to shoot for.  Then at the end of the chapter, he lists behaviors to avoid so the contrast is clear.  In the center of the chapter, Paul reveals the inner person change that is necessary for achieving the good (and godly) life.  As individuals’ hearts are surrendered to God, he casts a vision for how they work together to transform the world in which they live.  Their good deeds are not meant for the purpose of patting themselves on the back, but to offer hope for a lost world.   
Looking a little deeper, there are six paragraphs of thought in the chapter.  Let’s briefly pull out the key point of each.  
  The first 6 verses emphasize how Christians should conduct themselves in recognizing “one God and Father of all, who is overall and through all and in all”(v6).   Our perspective of God influences everything else about us.  Seeing God as the sovereign Creator he is, builds our trust in his ability to work things out even when circumstances look rather hopeless.  The evidence of yeilding control to God, and not selfishly demanding our own way, then allows us to practice the things Paul tells us here to be.  Be humble, gentle, patient, loving, unified, and peaceful.  
In the second paragraph (verses 7-13) Paul emphasizes the central role of Jesus Christ.  Paul quotes a Psalm written about one thousand years before this time, to show how God keeps his promises and extends his grace to the whole human race.  The Good News of Christ’s saving grace is the most unifying message known to mankind.  Paul uses the illustration of a human body with many body parts working together, to describe how people work together in the Church to function as the “Body of Christ.”  No Christian is an “island” unto himself.  Our behavior is part of the image of the entire Body.  
Then the third section (verses 14-16) gives a strong encouragement to “no longer be infants” in our manner of maturity.  Christ is the Head of the Body.  We are all to work together with Christ Jesus as the Head.  Christ is who we follow.  We must guard against fads, factions, and falsehoods.  The imagery of a growing body speaks of process.  The body grows as its parts grow.  As each part (individual) is submitted to the Head, the whole body (unified Christ followers) is submitted to the Head.  The process of personal growth as a Christ follower is called sanctification.  This brings us to the core theme of Paul’s message.  
Verses 17-19 state, “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.  They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.  Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.This paragraph literally gets to the heart of the matter.  Paul addresses changing thinking patterns, belief systems, and holding Truth in high value.  The reason for all brokenness and pain in our human condition is summed up in these words,  “separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.”  Stinking thinking comes from “hardness of heart.”   A transformed heart (inner being) renews the mind, and a renewed mind restores behaviors to line up with Truth.  Softness to God and his ways is the foundation for growth. We must examine our inner attitudes and motivations as a first step to any positive change.     
This reminds me of the contrite heart spoken of in Psalm 51.  Calling out to God it  says, “You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom” (Psalm 51:6; NASB).  Repentance (turning around) begins with recognizing that only God can change the heart, which changes the mind, which together changes the behaviors.  Surrendering more and more of our heart to God each day is the core of the process.   This sanctifying work is necessary for becoming a whole person.  As each individual changes more into who God created them to be, the whole Body changes to reflect more of God’s glory.   Inner heart change of the individuals fuel the inner heart change of the Body.  The degree to which the Body is unified is dependant on the degree of inner heart change of each disciple.  Unity of the Body should not be measured merely by how well Chrisitans are doing things together, but by how well their being is surrendered to Jesus.  
The next 5 verses further define what it looks like for us to allow our hearts to be softened by God.  It says, “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires;  to be made new in the attitude of your minds”(Ephesians 4:22b-23). Again, becoming a more devoted follower of Christ (new self) is a process to nurture daily.  Without God’s intervention we are often not even able to recognize the depth to which we deceive ourselves into thinking our current patterns are left well enough alone.  Our minds and hearts are like the software of a computer.  Constant upgrades are necessary to make applications function optimally, and also to prevent the hacker of our soul to plant a virus that destroys everything.  
Finally, the last 9 verses of this chapter are preceded with the word “therefore,” which is there for a reason.  What is said to this point is now expected to create the following results.   Read the text in the Bible since space doesn’t allow me to mention them all here.  They all have to do with how we treat other people.  Relating well with others depends on the “heart work” of preparing your personal inner being.  Anger is discussed as a means for recognizing the impact of bitterness and resentment.  An embittered heart is always at the root of broken relationships.  The very last words of the chapter are, “forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”  Forgiveness is the foundation for healing.  Understanding and practicing forgiveness is the substance of the inner person change explained above.  Properly understanding and regularly practicing forgiveness is essential for growing in followership of Jesus. As part of my seminary studies, I devoted about 3 years to reading just about everything I could find on the topic of forgiveness.   My research on the topic of forgiveness is recorded in a book called Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart.  I continue to learn and apply forgiveness in new ways.  The topic is inexhaustable.  
I discovered that very few Christians actually understand and practice forgiveness that Christ Jesus (the Head) teaches them to follow. Forgiveness is the foundation for salvation and deliverance. God is the author and finisher of forgiveness.  As long as there is breath in our body, we have need to allow God to finish His work of forgiveness in us (which requires our ongoing intentional cooperation).  In some ways, I think the last phrase (forgiving each other, just as God in Christ forgave you) sums up the entire chapter.  Forgiving is the fruit of an inner being softened by, and surrendered to, God.  Forgiving hinges on first recognizing when an offense creates hardness of heart (see Hebrews f12:15).  When we fail to own our offenses, we fail to give forgineness opportunity to work the inner change God desires for us to experience.  Unresolved offenses are the most common virus the hacker of our soul uses to keep us from the unity described as the focus of this chapter.  
              Praying and working for unity is a good thing.  But for better results maybe we have some adjustments to make in our hearts.  Should we first be praying like David in Psalms,  “Search me, God, and know my heart;  test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me,  and lead me in the way everlasting(Psalm 139:23-24)?  Are we genuinely seeking the answer to this prayer?  We need to let God show us where we have been an offense to other people. But often, the more difficult thing is to stop harboring anger and bitterness we think we are entitled to because of the hurt someone inflicted on us.  When we hold an offense (real of perceived) that someone commits against us, we in turn offend God by not yielding to Christ’s work of forgiveness to wash away the sin.  Is there a strained relationship in your life right now where your condemning judgment may have taken root in your heart?  Are you willing to take the steps necessary to root out, and remain clean from, the frustrations, annoyances, irritations, aggrevations, or vexations hiding behind anger and an embittered heart?  It is for this freedom that Christ has set us free.  Freedom comes at the price of our willingness to submit to inner person change.  Our Father God provides it.   Christ’s work through the Cross and Resurrection accomplishes it (and deserves worshipful surrender).  The Holy Spirit empowers it.  And unity of believers commands it    

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry