As we finish up a series here at church on lessons learned on the farm, I stumbled across this devotion from a copy of Our Daily Bread. And since this weekend is also Labor Day weekend, I found it only fitting that I should share it with you. Here was the short devotional:
“Chinese proverbs are common and often have stories behind them. The proverb, “pulling up a crop to help it grow” is about an impatient man in the Song Dynasty. He was eager to see his rice seedlings grow quickly. So he thought of a solution. He would pull up each plant a few inches. After a day of tedious work, the man surveyed his paddy field. He was happy that his crop seemed to have “grown” taller. But his joy was short-lived. The next day, the plants had begun to wither because their roots were no longer deep.
In II Timothy 2:6, the apostle Paul compares the work of being a minister of the gospel to that of a farmer. He wrote to encourage Timothy that, like farming, making disciples can be continuous, hard labor. You plow, you sow, you wait, you pray. You desire to see the fruits of your labor quickly, but growth takes time. And as the Chinese proverb so aptly illustrates, any effort to hurry the process won’t be helpful. Commentator William Hendriksen states, “If Timothy . . . exerts himself to the full in the performance of his God-given spiritual task, he . . . will see in the lives of others . . . the beginnings of those glorious fruits that are mentioned in Galatians 5:22, 23.” As we labor faithfully, we wait patiently on the Lord, who makes things grow.”
What we need to realize, is that we sow the seed, but God produces the harvest. It can be so easy to labor for the Lord, and feel discouraged when you see little to no results. Whether that is serving here at the church, ministering to those in need, helping to serve others around you, or just laboring to set a good example in the way that you live, when you see no real measurable growth, it can be downright discouraging. It can even be easy to decide to just throw in the towel and give up. After all, what good are you really accomplishing?
But, I have to go back to the first sentence of the last paragraph. WHAT WE NEED TO REALIZE, IS THAT WE SOW THE SEED, BUT GOD PRODUCES THE HARVEST. All we can do, is be faithful in laboring for Him. So, the next time you feel like you aren’t seeing any result, or you think your work for the Lord is not important or not producing anything, remember the words of I Corinthians 15:58, “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
To improve efficiency, a company hired a consultant, who called a meeting of all shop personnel. Stressing the need to listen to experts, he said, “Imagine you’re on the Titanic, and it’s sinking. You climb into a lifeboat. Which direction would you row?”
Then he asked, “What if you had the ship’s navigator with you? Now which way would you go? You’d row the way the navigator told you to, right?”
There were murmurs of agreement until one fellow in the back piped up, “Well, I don’t know. He’s already hit one iceberg!”
Now, I am not saying that our ship has sunk, but I think we all agree that we are in a season where we need to regroup and see what we can do to make the Sciotoville Christian Church all that she can be.
And one way that we can do that, is to seek advice. As many of you know, we are entering into an agreement with an outside consulting group that is designed to work with churches just like ours. Their goal is not to make a bunch of money off of us, otherwise they would charge us more. No, their goal is the same as ours, to see this church thrive once again, and be able to reach a lost and dying world around us.
Many times in life we find ourselves in need of some good advice. We consult with others about what college to attend, what careers to pursue. Sometimes, we seek counsel to help improve things like our marriages, or our health. Business many times will hire a consulting firm to help them manage their business the best they can. And the same can be said of churches. Sometimes even the church has to seek an outside perspective in order to how to go about making the church as healthy as it can be.
In the book of Proverbs, we are urged to get advice from the wise (1:2-7). And in Proverbs 11:14 it says, “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.” So, as we move forward with this consulting group, our goal is to seek wise counsel, and to do all that we can do to see the Sciotoville Christian Church thrive. So the question is, will you get on board? Looking ahead, what will you do to help us reach that goal?
While we were in Myrtle Beach, and a few weeks before that while we were hiking some beautiful waterfall trails in North Carolina, I couldn’t help but notice all the mess that people had left behind. Even in these beautiful places, people still didn’t have the common sense to pick up their trash. And as I reflected on that thought, I came across the following devotional from Our Daily Bread.
“Could they not carry their own garbage this far?” I grumbled to Jay as I picked up empty bottles from the beach and tossed them into the trash bin less than 20 feet away. “Did leaving the beach a mess for others make them feel better about themselves? I sure hope these people are tourists. I don’t want to think that any locals would treat our beach with such disrespect.”
The very next day I came across a prayer I had written years earlier about judging others. My own words reminded me of how wrong I was to take pride in cleaning up other people’s messes. The truth is, I have plenty of my own that I simply ignore, especially in the spiritual sense. I am quick to claim that the reason I can’t get my life in order is because others keep messing it up. And I am quick to conclude that the “garbage” stinking up my surroundings belongs to someone other than me. But neither is true. Nothing outside of me can condemn or contaminate me, only what’s inside (Matt. 15:19-20). The real garbage is the attitude that causes me to turn up my nose at a tiny whiff of someone else’s sin while ignoring the stench of my own.
Forgive me, Lord, for refusing to throw away my own “trash.” Open my eyes to the damage that pride does. May I have no part of it. Most of us are farsighted about sin, we see the sins of others but not our own. “Matthew 15:19-20 says, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts . . . . These are what defile a person.””
In today’s passage, Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, a group of the religious elite in Israel. They taught that obeying the law was the most important thing, so they emphasized external behavior. Jesus called attention to the condition of the heart and basically said to them, “It doesn’t matter if you do everything right. If your heart is bad, you are still defiled.”
I recently came across the following comments found in an Our Daily Bread devotion book. Here are portions of that article:
“Thanks to the ingenuity of our Chinese friends, we here in the US celebrate our independence this month with massive displays of colorful fireworks.
Every year when we sing our national anthem and enjoy the vibrant patterns created by “bombs bursting in air,” I remind myself that most bombs are deadly, not beautiful like the fireworks display. Although both use similar ingredients, one is intended to kill; the other to entertain. In this metaphor we see an example of how something can be used for both good and evil. In the hands of capable, careful, and caring people, something dangerous becomes glorious. But the opposite is also true.
Freedom, the very thing we celebrate with fireworks, can also be used for good and evil… When it comes to freedom, we must not use it as a weapon to impose our will on others but to display the glory of God’s will.”
Just yesterday, we shot off fireworks, we celebrated our independence, and we took a moment to recognize the freedoms that we have. However, just like the ingredients used to make fireworks can also be used to make bombs, we have to realize that when we go against God’s will, our “freedom” can be a bad thing.
In case you missed it, and I’m not sure how you could have, but recently people have used our “freedom” to justify everything from abortion to same sex marriage, and a whole lot more. But, just because we have freedom to decide these things, doesn’t mean that they please God.
The best freedom that we can have, is the freedom from sin, which was bought at a price. God sent His only Son to this earth, to die on a cross for our sins, so that we could experience that freedom. And as a result, our lives should be lived in pursuit of honoring God for the blessing of freedom that He has given to us.
No matter whether we are talking about freedom from sin, or our freedom as Americans, our ultimate goal should be to do what pleases God. It has been said, “Freedom doesn’t give us the right to do what we please, but to do what pleases God.”