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DO NOT BE DECEIVED BY LOOKS

Many of us are able to relate to plants. This is probably because they surround us, provide a source of food and oxygen and are a source of great beauty. Jesus was aware of this connection and made references to plants of one type or another during His ministry on earth. The growth of plants is influenced by the environment they are exposed to. Like plants, our growth as followers of Jesus is also influenced by the nature of the environment that we are immersed in. Chapter 13 of the Gospel of Matthew contains plant-based references such as, the parable of the sower (Matthew 18-23), the parable of the weeds (Matthew 24-30) and in a comparison of a mustard seed to the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 13:31-32). Through the parables of the sowers and the parable of the weeds we should be able to make the connection between desirable plants, undesirable plants and our lives.

 

AN ENVIRONMENT FOR GROWTH

Plum blossoms

Anyone who has a lawn or a garden will have noticed that changes have been taking place in the grass, shrubs and trees that have been largely dormant during winter. After a very wet winter, the edge of spring is upon us. The hope of warmer days and nights can be observed in the flower buds and new leaves that are now appearing on bare branches. The signs of new growth can also be seen in fresh leaves beginning to appear on deciduous trees. These signs represent new growth in response to changes in the environment. More light and more warmth.

DO NOT BE FOOLED BY LOOKS

Blue periwinkle and onion grass

There have been two changes that I have observed in my garden as the winter environment morphs into a warmer spring environment. Desirable plants are growing, but undesirable plants are also growing. Invasive plants such as onion grass and blue periwinkle are growing in an attempt to gain a foothold in my garden. The West Tamar Council publication, A Guide to Garden Plants that are Going Bush and Becoming… Environmental Weeds has been produced in a way that helps the reader to identify the offending plants and also provides advice on how to destroy them. The introduction reminds the reader “Don’t be Fooled By Good Looks!” Weeds are plants that become established in locations where they are not wanted. They are also plants that can become invasive and have adverse effects on the natural environment when allowed to get out of control. Examples would include plants such as Blue Periwinkle, Japanese Honeysuckle, Ox-Eye Daisy. These and other environmental weeds often have attractive foliage and flowers. They can been found in many gardens in the West Tamar area. The point to remember about such weeds is that although they are attractive, they are nonetheless harmful to our local environment. In the same way, there are activities that followers of Christ can choose to indulge in that they find enjoyable, and that make them happy. Commonly stated justifications for such activities usually go something like, ‘If it makes me happy how could it possibly be wrong?’ or ‘God made me this way, so why fight it?’. The teaching of Jesus makes it clear that this type of reasoning is flawed. Jesus compares the work of Satan as thorns that choke out growth in a Christian’s path towards becoming more like Christ.

As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
Matthew 13:22

Jesus also refers to weeds that can be sown into our lives when we are not being watchful.

but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.
Matthew 5:25-26

 

ELIMINATING UNWANTED GROWTH

The good news about weeds is that there are ways to eliminate them. This is not always an easy process and sometimes requires that the weeds are dug up by the roots and destroyed by fire so that they cannot regrow in the place where they are disposed of.

The good news about sin is that the plan for eliminating it is in play. Jesus has defeated sin and death on the cross. However, until His return we are required to grow as His followers in an environment that still contains thorns and weeds. Jesus lived as a man in the world and experienced temptation. He knows the weeds that can hinder our growth. He has provided us with an instruction manual in the Bible and has provided us with a guide in the person of the Holy Spirit. We also have access to God through prayer. Armed with these resources, it is up to us to use them.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
John 8:34-36

 

REMOVING ATTRACTIVE WEEDS

The West Tamar Council expects landowners to regularly check their properties for environmental weeds. Once these are identified we are expected to eliminate them. I believe that as Christians, we should also undertake regular life style checks. This can be difficult to start. One strategy that I have found effective is to find an accountability partner. This involves meeting regularly with a person we trust and asking each other some hard questions. These might include questions such as:

  • Have you been struggling with anything this week?
  • What have you been reading in scripture this week?
  • How have you been relating to others?
  • What habits have developed during lockdown and have become normalised over the previous 18 months?
  • Have you been watching inappropriate content on video streaming services?

This challenge is worth reflecting on. I have found having an accountability partner helps to identify weeds before they get a chance to take hold in my life. It helps to prevent our sense of what is moral becoming dulled.  Speaking at the Princess theatre this week, Martyn Ilse, Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) reminded the audience of the importance of being salt and light to a society where many people do not yet know the love that Jesus has for them. This is a message that most Christians are aware of.

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
Matthew 5:13

Being held accountable by a brother or sister in Christ will help.

 

THE SOWER’S SONG

I believe that the second verse of Andrew Peterson’s, The Sower’s Song, from his album, The Burning Edge of Dawn captures the concept of us having to identify and remove undesirable growth in our lives. He writes,

So I kneel at the bright edge of the garden
At the golden edge of dawn at the glowing edge of spring
When the winters edge is gone
And I can see the colour green I hear the sowers song
Abide in me let these branches bear you fruit
Abide in me Lord let you word take root
Remove in me the branch that bears no fruit
Remove in me Lord as I abide in you

These lyrics speak of hope that we all have in Jesus Christ who is the Sower of all things good. They also speak of growth, taking root in our God and acknowledging that we need God’s help to keep unproductive and harmful growth under control. However, we also need to be on the lookout for un wanted growth in our lives and take action. Who could you approach to be your accountability partner?

Your Executive pastor,

Tony

Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.

1 Comment

  1. Vanessa

    Thanks Tony for your message. It is a great reminder that we really must be mindfull of “things” we allow into our lives, that, through what I call a ” slow fade”, take root and draw us away from not to Jesus.

    Reply

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THE PRODIGAL FATHER

 Does anyone know what the word prodigal means? Perhaps most people assume that it means: “wanderer”, or “rebel”, or perhaps even “backslider” or that it only applies to sons. This seems to be based on the story that Jesus told in Luke 15 to which most Bible Publishers assign the division title – The Parable of the Prodigal Son. But the word prodigal does not occur in this parable. Interestingly, there are three lead characters in this shocking and famous parable: the father and his two sons. One of these was genuinely ‘prodigal’, and, as Tim Keller points out, it was neither son! To appreciate what Keller means we might need to take another look at what the word prodigal actually means. It comes from the verb prodigious which means remarkably great in extent, size, or degree (New Oxford American Dictionary). It is a word often used to describe an author who regularly writes books – John Grisham is a prodigious author. A prodigal person is therefore, prolific, extravagant, excessive, and, lavish. Keller points out that even though most people ascribe this to the wayward son in the parable, it is more appropriately a designation for the lead character in the story, the father!

SUPER SUCCESSFUL CHRISTIANS

Spare a thought for those people who are often overlooked by churches—and if they are Christians—they frequently struggle to even find a suitable church where they can deepen their relationship with Christ. Often we think of those who struggle with life as those who are “down and out” and blighted by impoverishment, or destitution, or ill-health, or family breakdown, or poor mental health. But surprisingly, even those who are seen as super-successful because of their wealth, social stature, public acclaim or amazing achievements, are actually struggling with loneliness, emptiness, and poor mental health — even if they are a Christian. These super-successful Christians are CEOs of large companies, or world-class or national sporting champions, or internationally renowned performing artists, or A-lister actors, or media personalities, or highly sought after professionals such as surgeons or barristers. They often pay a high price for their success, including, long work hours, constant stress, public criticism, extended time away from their families, fierce competition, and strained marriages. These pressures are exacerbated by their constant travel associated with their work which also makes them vulnerable to exhaustion and extraordinary temptations. This is why these super-successful Christians need to join the kind of church that can provide them with the kind of support, counsel, and accountability that every Christian needs. Here’s how a church can become this kind of church.

MAKING CHURCH A WELCOMING HOME

For many people, making a decision to attend a church is a significant and potentially daunting decision. As they come through the front door they are entering an unfamiliar environment. It is also an environment that may be associated with preconceived ideas of what the expectations and rules of the church community may be. These people probably will not know anybody and they might have concerns that relate to their previous or current lifestyle. For those of us who are regular church attendees, it is possible that we may not fully appreciate the challenges a new attendee may be facing. When we can relate to these concerns, I believe we are better equipped to provide a warm and patient “welcome” to what we hope will become their new church home.

LOVE IN ACTION

Physical illnesses and stressful events are endemic in our society. They can be likened to the thorns that cause both pain and damage. It doesn’t take much for them to impact a person’s life in ways that they did not expect. I believe that we can become more resilient as followers of Jesus by applying an appropriate solution to a known problem. I believe that an appropriate and important part of the solution is for us to show love the way that Jesus demonstrated love during His ministry on earth.

THE TOOLS OF REMEMBERING

I like to think I have a pretty good memory.  I like to think I’m organised.  Generally, I am – I don’t double book appointments, I keep track of what I’m doing and when, I mostly turn up on time. But, on reflection, I’m not so sure this means I have a good memory.

TRUTH vs SOMETHING BIG AND HAIRY

“You were lying in your bed, you were feeling kind of sleepy.
But you couldn’t close your eyes because the room was getting creepy.
Were those eyeballs in the closet? Was that Godzilla in the hall?
There was something big and hairy casting shadows on the wall.
Now your heart is beating like a drum, your skin is getting clammy.
There’s a hundred tiny monsters jumping right into your jammies”!

These are lyrics from a song on the very first Veggie Tales video every made. The title of the song?  “God is bigger than the Boogie Man”. Junior Asparagus was lying in bed frightened, and Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber appeared to tell him that he doesn’t have to be scared of the imaginary monsters because, “God is the bigger.” My childhood night-time fears weren’t so much about big and hairy monsters, aka boogie men, or Godzilla in the hall. My fears were house fires – our home burning down, and “burglars” or “robbers”. But I certainly identify with lying in bed, my heart beating like a drum, my skin getting clammy, my imagination in overdrive.

CLOSING THE DEAL

In 1871, the American evangelist, Dwight (“DL”) Moody was preaching to huge crowds each night in Chicago. At the end of each message he would give an appeal for people to either respond immediately to the gospel message he had just presented, or at least go home and consider it. But on Sunday October 8th, 1871, a huge fire broke out in Chicago. It burned through the city for days and became known as The Great Chicago Fire. Around 10,000 people were homeless as a result, and hundreds of people lost their lives. Moody was heart-broken when he realised that many of the people who had died were the people who had attended that Sunday night meeting where he had urged them to consider accepting Christ. His deep grief over this tragedy led him to make a vow that he would never again merely urge people to simply consider accepting Christ. From now on, he vowed, he would plead with all those he preached to – to immediately turn away from their sins and turn to the Saviour. DL Moody committed his life and ministry as an evangelist to be someone who would always strive to close the deal because he was now aware—more than ever—that people’s eternal destinies were in jeopardy! 

BUILDING A MOODY CHURCH

The three things that make the Christian life exciting and enthralling are the same three things that enable a believer to develop a closer relationship with God. The combination of these supernatural gifts gives the child of God an awareness that there is more, much more, to this world than we can see, touch, taste or feel. When the Christian’s faith is grounded and buttressed in God’s Word, godly prayer, and God’s house he or she flourishes. But there are forces at play that are determined to stop the believer from reaching their spiritual destiny. While we might think these enemy forces only use the fiery darts of doubt to hinder the believer’s journey to glory, there is something that they successfully use far more often: our mood. This is why, for any church to be successful, it must discover how to build moody church.

PRAYING PRAYERS

The amazing thing about prayer, is that nearly everyone does it – but hardly anyone thinks they do it well. If you visit any Christian bookstore you will notice that the largest display of books is about prayer. And it’s not just Christian bookstores where you’ll find books on prayer. Regular bookstores also sell a wide range of books on prayer (even if they do classify them as books on ‘meditation’!). One of the most frequently searched questions on Google is, “How to pray” (which then points enquirers to over 2.3 billion web pages answering their question). But in all of human history – and two thousand years before anyone but one had ever heard of Google – there was just One person who was supremely qualified to answer this question. And fortunately for those of us who really want to know the answer to this question (without having to peruse more than 2.3 billion web pages!) He gave us the answer.

WHY SOME BELIEVE

Why is it that two people can look at exactly the same evidence and can come to completely different conclusions about it? Even more puzzling is how two equally qualified scientific experts can look at the same data and utterly disagree about what it means. This happens many times in court cases where the prosecution will call their “expert witness” to give his or her professional opinion to verify that the defendant is guilty only to have the defence to present their “expert witness” who gives his or her professional opinion as to why the prosecution’s expert witness was wrong and to prove that defendant is innocent! This at least illustrates why it is not always the quality of the evidence that leads a person to accept or reject a claim. This especially apply to the claims that Jesus Christ made. Of the four accounts in the New Testament written about His life, three of them were written by eye-witnesses and the other one (Luke’s) was written by someone who interviewed many eye-witnesses. It is with interest that we turn to the last one to be John’s Gospel, where he describes dramatic proofs that Jesus was who He claimed to be. Yet despite these otherwise inexplicable proofs that at times thousands of people witnessed, many still wouldn’t believe. But it seems among those who did believe they all had one thing in common.