On baking and transformation

Have you ever tried to make yeast breads?  I grew up making quick breads like biscuits or muffins.  We threw a little baking powder in with the other ingredients  and they rose and baked up so well. Perfect  every time.

Then when the boys were little, I decided to venture out, so I bought a book about yeast breads and decided to try.  The trick when working with yeast is that it takes time.  You mix the dough, you knead it, you let it rise.  Then you often need to let it rise a second time.  This takes time and patience and the right environment in the room.  Sometimes my dough rose and sometimes it didn’t. But we read in Matthew 13 about leaven or yeast that always works.

He told them another parable, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” – Matthew 13:33

Whether we see it or not, the kingdom of heaven is advancing and growing here in the earth as the hearts and lives of people -you and I- are being transformed day by day. But the transformation process is often painful and slow and tedious and requires much patience.  It is so easy to become frustrated with ourselves and others when we don’t see the outworking of the inner process that is taking place. We think, “I should know better,” or “I should do better,” or “I should not get offended,” or “They should know better, do better and be nicer.”

But little by little and day after day, as we are faithful to listen and hear and apply God’s word to our life, it is like leaven that is growing in our lives, transforming us, changing us and making us more like Jesus.

Jesus, help us to be patient with ourselves and others in this ongoing transformation process in our lives and thank you for your mercy and grace that is new every morning.

Seeds and Weeds

This morning I read The Parable of the Weeds in Matthew 13.  Jesus uses this parable to explain more about the kingdom of heaven.  He uses the example of a man sowing good seed in his field, but while he was sleeping, the enemy came and sowed weeds.  So when the plants came up, the weeds appeared also.

This made me think about my flower pots again. Every year, I battle with weeds. I didn’t plant them, but still, they are there, and I have to deal with them, or they will take over the beautiful blooms that I planted.

This led me once again to my heart. Perhaps I can’t keep my flower pots from weeds but I can keep my heart. Proverbs 4:23 says, “keep your heart with all vigilance for from it flow the springs of life.” I must prepare the soil of my heart and plant good seed.  And then I must protect my heart and the seed that I have carefully planted there  to prevent the enemy from sowing weeds.

I don’t like pulling up weeds, whether they’re in my pots or in my heart. It’s tiresome and time consuming.  I would rather just have a really good harvest of peace and joy and love and patience and kindness and gentleness.

How do we keep the enemy from sowing weeds in our hearts?I believe the primary way we keep our hearts is to spend time every day reading and meditating on Scripture and taking time to pray and ask Jesus to help us apply the scriptures to our lives.

We can’t afford to sleep in the spiritual sense. We must be alert and spiritually strong at all times and in all seasons.  Time spent reading and meditating on Scripture and in prayer will help us keep the weeds from our hearts.  The choices that we make in life will also protect our hearts from weeds.  Choices about what we watch, or what we listen to or what we think about.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8

This verse convicts me every single time I read it.  Imagine what our lives would look like if these are the things we think about.

Jesus, I pray that you will help us all to stay awake and alert spiritually, and be careful to keep our hearts with all vigilance.  Help us to be faithful to read and meditate on Your Word every day, and think about that which pleases You. And may the good seed we plant in our hearts grow and bloom into much beauty in our lives.

On loving what you do & things that matter most of all

nothing_left_unsaidWe flew home from Manila to Nashville a few days ago.  On the long flight from Tokyo to Atlanta, I was browsing through the movies trying to decide which one to watch and stumbled across “Nothing Left Unsaid.”

In this movie, Anderson Cooper interviews his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt,  about her life and accomplishments.  The movie was filled with old photos and stories of her childhood and the custody battle when she was a child,  and then her very colorful and accomplished life though the years.  Though she has accomplished much in her life,  and was born into a life of great wealth and privilege, she has experienced so much sadness and loss too.  Yet in spite of all the sorrow in her life, she continues to go into her art studio every day and do what she loves to do.   And she is 91.

I hope at 91, I am still getting up every day and doing what I am called to do.

The movie inspired me. But it also made me so very sad as it made no mention of her spiritual life.  I wonder if anyone has ever shared with her the good news of the gospel.  I wonder if she is familiar with John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  I wonder if she has any idea how much God loves her and that Jesus came to earth and died and rose again so that she could know Him and be forgiven for her sins.  Her accomplishments here on earth will not matter in eternity.  All that will matter in eternity is if she put her faith in Jesus and what He did for her on the cross.  And that is all that matters for any of us.  Regardless of wealth or status or nationality, Jesus died for all. And we must acknowledge our sin and our need for a Savior and put our faith in Christ. May we all live for Him and for His glory and tell everyone the glorious good news of the gospel.

And I pray for Ms. Vanderbilt and Mr. Cooper, that they will come to know and understand the greatest love of all and put their faith in Christ.

What are you planting?

If you have read the last few blogs, I have written about preparing the soil of our hearts for good seed to grow. Last week, I wrote about keeping our hearts so that the enemy can’t sneak in and plant weeds that we will have to pull up later. This week, I am reading and thinking about the Parable of the Mustard Seed.

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven  is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.  It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

Jesus was talking about the kingdom of heaven.  But I will apply this principle to our hearts. When a farmer goes to the trouble to prepare his fields for planting, he doesn’t just go through and throw out random seeds to see which ones will grow. He plants what he desires to harvest. Not just tomatoes, but those big, red juicy delicious ones we have in South Georgia in the middle of summer.  I love Tennessee, but the tomatoes don’t compare to the ones I grew up with in Georgia.  And then there are the peas, so many varieties, and butter beans and squash and okra and cucumbers and corn and watermelons.  I digress–I think I may need a vegetable garden instead of just flower pots–but back to the point.

We must be intentional about what we plant in the soil that we carefully tend in our hearts.  What do we want to reap in our lives?  More faith instead of fear and worry?  More joy?  More peace?  Then we must carefully plant seeds that will cause these trees to grow in our lives.  Don’t be random in your time that you study scripture.  Prayerfully figure out what needs to grow in your life in this season and study the scriptures, memorize those scriptures and pray those verses.  And watch as trees begin to grow in your life of faith and hope and joy and peace and blessing that will astound you.  The intentional seeds that you plant in your heart will bear fruit in you life for years to come and change you in ways that you can’t imagine.  What are you planting?

Dull Hearts

Have you ever had a conversation with someone, and felt like they weren’t really listening, couldn’t see what you were saying, and, most of all, didn’t seem to care?

We all have.

Hopefully, we will give the person the benefit of the doubt and try again, but if this trend continues, it will kill or certainly minimize this relationship for us.  None of us like to be in relationships like this.  Neither does Jesus.

In Matthew 13 after he had spoken to the crowd about the parable of the sower, his disciples asked him why he spoke in parables.  In verses 13 to 16, we find the answer:

This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
    and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and with their ears they can barely hear,
    and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
    and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
    and turn, and I would heal them.’

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

What a terrible dilemma.  I actually looked up “dull.”  It means lacking interest or excitement or brightness. So the question is this: how do we approach Jesus as we come to him each day to read our Bibles and pray? Do we have dull hearts weighted down with the busyness and many distractions of this life, and ears that don’t really hear because we are not really listening, or do we come in awe and wonder and a sense of the great privilege it is to know Him and to be known by Him and to be able to hear from Him?

Jesus I pray that we would come  to you each day with hearts that are tender and excited and wholly yours and ears and eyes that are open to hear and see what you will say to us.

It’s time to plant

It’s summertime in Nashville. Time for me to plant my flower pots that sit on the fireplace on our patio. These pots should have been planted already, but due to a hectic travel schedule, my gardening is behind this year.

I am not much of a gardener. I just don’t seem to have the knack–or the interest, to be honest–in working in the garden. Maybe it’s too hot. Maybe I just don’t know what I am doing. Probably a combination.

But I do love my flower pots and they add much needed color to our patio, so I plant them most years.

I will go to Home Depot next week and buy fresh soil, some flowers that the nursery has already started for me, some Miracle-Gro, come home and put it all in the pots, water it, and they will be so lovely. Instant gratification pots. They will grow more during the next few months and fill out, but I can have beautiful pots in a matter of a few hours.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could plant good seed in our hearts and yield results so quickly as well?

We know it doesn’t work that way. In Matthew 13, Jesus is in a boat on the Sea of Galilee and speaking to the crowd on the shore.

“And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” Matthew 13:3-9

If we want our hearts to be good soil, we must prepare our hearts daily to receive the word.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10

Just as a farmer must carefully till the hard soil in his field so that the seeds will have good soil, we too must allow God to gently till the soil of our hearts so that we can plant seeds in good soil, seeds of faith and hope and love and trust and courage and protection and provision -all promises in God’s Word. And then we must sow, faithfully sow the promises of God into our hearts daily as we read and mediate and memorize and pray through Scripture. And then we wait with great expectation for the seed planted in good soil to produce a rich harvest in our lives.

Jesus, I pray that we will be faithful to daily allow You to till our hearts and prepare good soil and may we be faithful to plant Your word in our hearts every day.

A Day by the Sea

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.

Matthew 13:1

A day by the sea. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?

But if you read Matthew 12, you see that Jesus already had a rather busy day. He started out in the grain fields with hungry disciples who ate. Then, He had to deal with the Pharisees about what was lawful on the Sabbath. Then He went to the synagogue where He healed the man with the withered hand. By this time, the Pharisees conspired against Him and planned how they would destroy Him.

Jesus was aware of this and withdrew from there, with many following him, and He healed them ALL.  Next, He healed a blind, mute, and demon-possessed man. More Pharisees to deal with. Then they ask for a sign.  He tells them about Jonah and the queen of the South.

Steve and Deborah Murrell, "Following Jesus"
Steve and I on the sea of Galilee

Like I said, Jesus had a busy day.

So now He goes out of the house and sits by the sea. He probably needed time to regroup. Pray. Talk to His Father. Rest. Be alone.

Guess what happens next?

Matthew 13:2 says, “And great crowds gathered around him, so that he got into a boat and sat down.  And the whole crowd stood on the beach.”

While the Pharisees were conspiring against Him, these people followed Jesus.  They wanted to be with Him, be near Him, and learn from Him. So many missed Him–another blog about that–but these people followed Him.

I want to be one who follows Jesus every day.  I want to “gather” around Him and listen and hear what He will say to me as I study the Word and pray.  Jesus, may we be like these people who followed You to listen and learn and draw near.