“So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything… Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ “The older brother became angry and refused to go in”- Luke 15:11-32
Although it’s just a story, the parable of the two sons is rich with meaning and practical application for our lives. Upon first glance, a reader will want to identify with the prodigal son, a young boy lost within his own selfish ambition, lust for more and ingratitude for what his earthly (and ultimately heavenly) has given him. When we apply this to the series on spiritual cultivation, the main message is fairly obvious: it is through repentance that we grow in our relationship with our Father and that His unending love and forgiveness for His people supersedes any of our sins.
One thing I would like to point out about the use of the field in this passage is that the field offers hope, but it also offers lostness, too. For the Prodigal, the field full of pods meant rock bottom-- in his world, he could sink no lower than the same place the pigs ate. This is the place where his revelation and repentance takes place. But for the eldest brother, the field means a place of repentance and bitterness. After all, clearly the eldest father couldn’t possibly appreciate all his hard work, could he? For the eldest, the field is a place where he is constantly reminded of the betrayal of the prodigal to leave the eldest with the responsibility of taking care of the property. For the prodigal, the field is a place of true spiritual growth, as he learns hard lessons about gratitude, hospitality, forgiveness and repentance. For the eldest, the field represents a place where bitterness and resentment instead of the seeds of grace, take root.
Where are you in your spiritual growth? Are you in a place where bitterness and resentment have taken root? Are you willing to repent of those things so God can allow true growth to take place?
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. “He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’” Matthew 20:1-15
Working behind the scenes can be tough, especially when you are the person in charge of leading a ministry. I often work behind the scenes to organize and make sure the ministry program we are putting on actually happens. Since I'm a detailed person, I normally take care of all the intricate details. But sometimes when I work with someone and they are not as detailed as I am sometimes important details fall through the cracks, or worse that person takes credit for the work I have done. That causes me to get frustrated about small matters and I forget whom I am working for. My complaining overshadows the glory God gets from doing the program in the first place.
That 's what the workers were complaining about in this parable. The workers who began at the beginning of the day wee working tirelessly to make sure all the work was done and done well. The other workers who did not have to work as long, in a sense are getting the same credit (in this case the credit is money) as the workers who worked for longer time.
I, like these workers, struggled with this. When God gives me a task and I complete it and someone else doesn't do as good a job as I think I have done, I tap my foot in disgust, secretly muttering myself about how unfair God is to me.
For me to grow to spiritual maturity, I have to increase my humility and stop worrying about everyone else's rewards. Easier said than done. but I do believe if I switch my attitude from one of ingratitude to one of thankfulness for Gods provision, God will reward me with the humility I need to mature.
What about you? Do you silently compare your rewards to everyone else, or do you approach God with an attitude of gratitude, in humble adoration for his willingness to bless you with His provision?
“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Matthew 13:18-23
I have been in a small group for most of my years as a Christian. After a while, I get to know the name in the small group and can accurately assess if someone is demonstrating Christian maturity.
Or so I thought.
One particular woman in a group was going to get married for a second time and asked if my husband could do the wedding. Because we do marriage counseling with any potential candidate, we met with the couple before agreeing. After several red flags (including the woman marrying a non believer) and no response on the homework we asked them to do regarding finding Scriptures on marriage, there was no doubt in my mind this couple was not ready to get married. Despite our warning, they married anyway. In that moment that no matter what appearance a person has, all the Christian clichés that someone says or ho many church programs they attend, it is difficult to tell the difference between someone who is mature in the faith and someone who is just going through the motions.
Although this passage speaks to salvation, I think there is a lot a Christian can learn about how to tell if someone is good fruit. In an earlier devotion, I talked about knowing whether someone is truly a Christian by the amount of fruit he/she produces. This passage also speaks to how important where we are rooted the seeds are. It is clear if a seed has no root it is either snatched away by the enemy or falls away. Yet, the seeds that fall on good soil reap a harvest bigger than what the sower can measure or imagine. It says the seeds in good soil are those who hear the word and understand it. Why? Because hearing leads to changing a mind which then leads to a transformed heart.
Where is your seed? Is it getting choked out by the weeds? Is in between the rocks? Or is it producing a bountiful harvest?
“The royal line of David will be cut off, chopped down like a tree; A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord--
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.” Isaiah 11:1-3
Outside our home we have a beautiful oak tree. Every fall I love to watch as my kids play in the leaves, making piles and jumping in the leaves that fall above. It gives us great shade and is a wonderful look to our outside. However, last spring, my husband noticed a branch that was discolored from the rest. That lifeless branch has stopped producing leaves, which indicates the inside is decaying. This fall, more branches are turning that same lifeless color, letting us know we have to cut the tree down before it becomes dangerous to our children and our home as the next major storm may prove too much for the decayed tree.
It never ceases to amaze me the depth of God’s grace with his people. It says in chapter 10 verse 12 of Isaiah that “after the Lord has used King Assyria to accomplish his purpose, then he will turn upon the Assyrians and punish them too—for they are proud and haughty men.” David started out with good intentions. He had a heart set on following God and following his decrees. But the wealth and prestige as his position as king hardened his heart. Soon it became easier for his thoughts to stray from godly ones to selfish, sinful ones and soon his heart followed. God knew he had to cut him off before his actions posed a danger to those under David’s rule.
God, being both a God of justice and mercy, allowed David his time, but soon had to cut him off, chopping him down like a tree whose roots had rotted. On the outside, the tree may look fine, but on the inside the roots have rotted, making them useless against trying to be the support to give the tree the life giving food it needs. David on the outside looked like he ruled with God by his side, but God knew better. His roots had rotted, too, rendering him useless to accomplishing his work as king.
What about your roots? Are you rooted in God’s word and attached to him through prayer, or have they rotted away from the ways of this world?
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.“ Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it”- Matthew 13:44-47
One wintry day, I was walking out to the mailbox and accidentally dropped an envelope with money onto the cold, snowy ground. Because the envelope was the same color as the ground, I did not see I had dropped it. My son, proudly walked in after picking it up and announced, "looking for something?"
I had been looking for it. I had torn the whole house apart, begging god to give me some idea where it had gone. It was my sacred treasure. I would have done anything to find it, including selling my other possessions just to have it back. Once I had reclaimed it, I rejoiced over having found my lost treasure.
This parable illustrates the same point. The person who has found the treasure believes it is his most prized possession, so he hides it again so no one will find it, sells all he has and recovers it, knowing he has everything he could ever want or need.
Jesus feels this way about us, his most prized possession. Unfortunately, we don't always feel the same about him, throwing away our treasure instead of selling all we have so we can cherish it even more.
Is Jesus your most coveted treasure? Would be willing to sell everything you own to get closer to him or to follow Him more closely?
“Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”- Matthew 13:30
As I prepared to participate in our first church sponsored service event to beautify our community, I started out pulling on Main Street. Some weeds were easier to pull. But some, rooted more deeply in between the cracks in the sidewalk, wee more difficult to get rid of. As I looked down the street and saw how much I had left to do, I began to get discouraged. An hour had already gone by and I was only a quarter of the way through! What helped was that I had other people from my church also working so I wasn’t alone in my endeavor. In fact, conversations with friends from church made an otherwise tedious task bearable!
As I drove away reflecting on our hard work and a job well done, I thought about what it is like in my spiritual life as well. When I think about all the issues and sinful behaviors I have to change to develop the Christlike character Jesus wants from me, I get discouraged because I have a long way to go. Without other brothers and sisters in Christ supporting me in my walk and walking alongside of me in my journey, I’d probably quit before I ever got anywhere. Changing patterns and behaviors is difficult without the accountability and loving correction of other people who are trying to pull the weeds out of their lives, too.
I wish everyone saw the church this way: a place to go with arms lovingly waiting to embrace you, support you, correct you and keep you on the path of righteousness, even if they have to pull a few weeds in the process.
Who do you have in your life to help you pull the weeds in your life?
“No,” he said, “If you pull the weeds you might uproot the wheat with it. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'" Matthew 13:30
During our church’s day of service, we made a goal to beautify our community by performing menial tasks around town. Our first task was to pull the weeds out from among the sidewalks that line the businesses on Main Street. To be honest, I was a bit nervous about the work that would require of me. In last week’s post, I shared about the garden my husband and I had when we first married. We planted the seeds feverishly in the hopes of a good crop. When we went away on vacation, we neglected pulling the weeds for a week. When we had gotten back, not only did we have a large crop of veggies, but the weeds had overtaken the entire area. We learned then that gardening takes a lot of hard work, perseverance and diligence to yield a good crop in the end. Since then, I have not planted a garden because of the amount of work it takes!
Because the weeds were such a nuisance to us that first year, I assumed it was necessary to rid the garden of the weeds. But according to this verse in Matthew, Jesus actually wants them to remain. Although the weeds proved difficult and cumbersome to the garden, they never produce any long lasting harm to the crop’s presence. The weeds, despite how big they grew, never deterred the crop from growing. Although the weeds grew amongst the crop, both were rooted deeply in the ground. But only one produced something valuable to the person who yielded the crop.
It’s easy to see the weeds are the difficult trials and circumstances in our lives. Although they can feel like they overtake our lives, Jesus weaves the difficult circumstances in our lives among the fruit we are producing. If we are deeply rooted in Christ, the weeds will never squash the fruit He is producing in our lives.
Matthew 13:4-8 NIV says, “As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”Christians all have soil that, when cared for, leads to salvation. Here are the four types of soil we can have in our lives:
Shallow soil- This type of soil has no seed because the birds snatched it away. These are the sermons, spiritual gifts and wise counsel we hear, but do not apply to our lives. It gets snatched away by the cares of the world.
Thorny soil- Thorns are the trials and hardships that cause us to lose our hope in God. Job loss, a preoccupation with finances and loss of a loved one are all thorns that cause us heartache. When those thorns prick our hearts, the pain and disappointment forces us to take our eyes off of Christ and onto other things.
Rocky soil- The rocks are the things that cover over what soil we have, preventing it from receiving the sun and water it needs to promote good health. These are the sins that consume our lives. Unforgiveness, pride and selfishness are all examples of sins that cover over our soil.
Good soil- Good soil always bears fruit. Our fruit are the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22). When we display our fruits to the world, we influence them to be good fruit, which leaves a lasting legacy with all who we encounter.
People will know we are Christians by the fruit evident in our lives. Which soil are you? What will you do to allow it to be the good soil worthy of reproduction?
“The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire”- Matthew 3:8-10
When I became a Christian, I thought my life would get easier. At least, that’s what I saw in the people who led me to Christ. But soon after my conversion, my life got a lot worse. I prayed, I asked people. I read my bible, but nothing seemed to work. Through that time of trial, God did a lot in my soul. He tore down strongholds, healed old wounds and taught me the power and importance of forgiveness. Those years were some of the worst in my life. However, I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
Let me explain.
Part of growing in our walks with God is the pruning process. As much as God’s will is for all to come to know him, he knows that may not happen. Not everyone will follow God’s will by choice. God, giving us the gift of free will, knows some will choose to break off their relationship with Him, just as Adam and Eve did. He also knows that we, who want to follow His will, sometimes let sin rule our lives instead of god. When that happens, he must cut off the dead parts of us so new growth can occur.
Pruning is hard! It hurts. There are moments when we would give anything for it to be over. I can only imagine if a branch had feelings how painful it is for it, too.
But when all the hard, painful parts over, something miraculous happens. The beauty of growth takes place and it gives birth to life giving fruit.
As people, our tendency is to wish for the pain to go away. But without the pain, beauty can’t emerge.
Think of a time when God had to prune you. What did he have to get rid of? What emerged as a result?
“For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.”- Isaiah 61:11
In my children’s book Daddy, Am I Beautiful? I wrote about my daughter who loved to put on her princess dresses, twirl around in front of my husband and ask “Daddy, Am I Beautiful?” The father in the story teaches Leah that beauty comes from the inside not on the outside. He demonstrates this by showing her a seed. A seed, although small and plain, contains everything necessary inside for the beauty to come forward. Leah can demonstrate her beauty by the acts of kindness and goodness that allows the beauty to shine through. Like the book illustrated, seeds only grow in an atmosphere where growth is encouraged. Seeds have to have all of the necessary ingredients to make them grow, or else they won’t.
So, if these ingredients are what seeds need, don’t we need it and then some?
According to this Scripture the garden is what makes seeds grow. As a gardener, no one just plans just one of any vegetable, fruit or flower, but many of each item. We weren’t meant to grow alone. We were meant to grow together in community.
But so often we choose to journey along on our own, rather than surround ourselves with others who will help us grow. We need wise counsel, no matter where we are at in our spiritual journeys. We need the other seeds to help us grow in the garden. They help us find out if the soil is good, if we have received enough water and sun and if the soil has been tilled so optimal growth can occur.
Do you have a garden where you allow your seeds to grow? Do your seeds grow aloe or in a community?
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