Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Dear Jesus

My two-year-old says prayers before bed at night.

She says,
Dear Jesus.
Thank you Jesus.
I love you Jesus.
Too simple?

I don't think so.

If, someday, you need to talk to Jesus but don't know where to start, try "dear Jesus" and the rest will follow.

If, someday, you find that you're overwhelmed by the days as they relentlessly keep marching on, take a deep breath, slowly exhale and say "thank you Jesus." He can calm a storm.

If, someday, you reflect on all the blessings that you have been given but feel you could have done more along the way, just quiet your thoughts and simply say, "I love you Jesus." He knows the rest.

The simplicity of our relationship with Christ is sometimes covered up by our ability to think things through. Faith like a child? I see it growing in mine. Lord, let it grow in me.

Mid-day Lasagna, Faith and the Mustard Seed

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"
He replied, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you...
Luke 17:5,6 (NIV)

It's always been a rather confusing parable to read, and can come across a bit disheartening as well. After all, I haven't seen any physical mountains move out of the way, so I suppose that my faith must not be as big as a mustard seed! Geez, that's sort of a downer...

But let's take a look at the life of mustard:

The mustard seed is small. It needs rain, sun and fertile soil to grow in. When it grows up, depending on the amount of rain, the amount of sun, the fertility of the soil and lots of other things, it will grow to be 5 or perhaps 6 feet tall. It will become a relatively large shrub. It will then produce lots more tiny mustard seeds and the cycle will continue again.

Inquisitive as I am, I want to look deeper into the complex life of mustard. The mustard seed, as it starts, does not concern itself with the future. It does not ask: "will I grow into a large bush? A small bush? A bush at all? How will this all come to pass? Will other mustards like me? Can we have pizza tonight?" and other such questions.

See, I've seen a mustard seed, and while I didn't think to ask at the time, I'm quite sure it didn't ask these sorts of questions of itself. Nevertheless, devoid of people-like questions, the mustard seed indeed grows into a bush - a large bush - with no worries at all.

As I was considering this parable one Sunday morning, the Holy Spirit brought these other verses to mind and presented it all together in a nice package. An "aha!" moment.

Consider this:
  • "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1)
Faith, however small it may be, is not based on today. Faith lives in the future. Faith believes in and hopes so much for what God will do in the future that it can touch it now. Faith is so sure of the future promises of God that they become tangible today - that which is unseen becomes clearly visible right now. How good will my future be? As good as the promises of God!

How is possible to be so sure of that which has not yet happened? The beginning of Philippians (1:4-6) reads:
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Paul states that he always prays with joy because of his confidence that the "good work" that was begun will be brought to completion. His today-confidence in future-completion is so sure that he's joyful "now."

Mmm... Lasaaagna!
Have you ever thought about mid-way through the day that you'd really like to have lasagna for dinner? That kind of thought can become so real that you can taste the lasagna. You can smell it. Right then and there, hours before eating, you're having lasagna. It's a cruel trick to be sure, but it can be quite real. I believe that Paul must have had a similar picture in his mind of what the future would look like for the Philippians as they grew in faith.

To scope this out more fully, it's critically important to note that the evidence that Paul was using for his today-joy regarding the future-completion was based on the person doing the work - the "he" in "he who began!"
  • "He who began the good work in you is faithful to complete it" (Philippians 1:6)
Paul's faith in the completion of the good work that was started was based on the faithfulness of the "he" in verse 6. How was Paul so confident about the future that he was joyful "today"? Because God was faithful. How can you be so sure that the lasagna will taste like you love it? Because of the cook, of course!

See, Paul knew that the heartbeat of God for the Philippians was that the seed that was planted was going to grow and would be brought to completion. Paul knew that God had planted a seed there with the intention of caring for it until it was fully grown - completed.

Concerning the analogy of the mustard seed, faith is the confidence that the bush will be there when the seed grows up. When through the growing season there has been rain, sun, fertile soil and regular weeding, the seed will someday be a large bush. When? Dunno. How? Dunno. Will it happen? For sure. For me, today my mustard seed-sized faith is full of mustard bush-sized hope.

Mustard Seed Growing Guide
Is your faith the size of a mustard seed? No matter - it'll be a bush someday. Quit focusing on the seed. How can you be sure of the bush? God gave you that seed so that it would be a bush. Feel the sun today? Smell the rain in the air? Don't worry so much - you can't control the sun or the rain. They'll come and go whether you worry or not! Those are simply there to grow your seed of faith. Maybe you need to weed a bit in your spiritual garden? By all means, it'll help that seed grow, and if you don't, those weeds may choke your seed out.

Today, have hope. Your faith may be small by someone's standards, but it's as big as the God who gave it to you. How big will your faith be? As big as God is faithful to grow it up. That's where your hope lies - in the faithfulness of God. Follow God and your faith will grow too.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Power of Imagination - The Battle of Good and Evil

I just watched the third movie in the Lord of Rings trilogy as it appeared on cable television. I own the trilogy and really enjoy it but I haven't seen it in a while. One of the things I enjoy is that I am reminded of the power of the imagination - particularly when imagining the great struggle of good and evil.

Ephesians 6:12 (NIV) states:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
As true as it is, this truth sometimes gets drowned out in the monotony of day-to-day life. Going to work, buying groceries - it's all so uneventful. But movies, songs, writings make dream worlds almost tangible. They transport us to new places in our minds. The imagery of written words can become palpable through movies designed in imaginations of the producers. There's something very powerful about seeing it!

While viewing this particular movie I find that I can't help but think about the ongoing battle with sin in this world. Sin that cannot be seen by the eyes sometimes lacks ugliness, but viewing the reality of what sin is through imagery is compelling. The truth is that sin is on orders of magnitude more destructive than the epic T.V. battles that can be created. Sometimes reality just can't be seen with the naked eye.

For us, we look forward to the day when Christ will return and destroy forever the power of the "spiritual forces of evil" that Paul speaks of in Ephesians. We battle with those forces every day, with an enemy that comes to destroy us. We take heart, however, because God himself states that "the battle is the Lord's" and the war is already won.

Sin is ugly. For us as Christians, however, it is merely reason to fight more fervently.

Do you know someone overcome with sin? Your co-worker? Your family member? Yourself? There's no need to be captive to sin: Jesus has overcome the world and we are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ.