Meditating on the Commands of Christ (84): Sow, Reap, and Weep—Or Sow, Weep, and Reap!

“You’ll reap what you sow” is foundational, not only to farmers but to all of us as humans. Not only physically, but spiritually. That’s doubtless why Jesus urged us in Matthew 13:18 to “Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.”

Reaper by Victor Borisov-Musatov, 1897. Public Domain

What was that parable? “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. He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:3-9).

What did Jesus want his disciples to understand? “Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 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. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (Matthew 13:18-23).

If you’re a believer, then the message for us is to sow the Word of God (the Bible and the Gospel of Christ) liberally, everywhere, to everyone, without worrying about whether or not it will always be successfully received.

As a case in point, I eagerly received Jesus as my Savior the first time I ever heard the Gospel, which was at a Youth for Christ rally when I was twelve. The next day, I started trying to explain the great, good news to Jocey, who took clarinet lessons with me at our junior high school. “Oh, I’m already a Christian,” she replied casually. “I got saved when I was four.”

“Really?” I asked in shock. “Then why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“Because I didn’t think you were the type.”

Fifty-seven years later, I’m still pondering that one. Who is “the type?” I don’t think any of us can tell who might or might not respond to the wonderful news that God loved us so much that He sent his uniquely begotten Son (Jesus) to die in our place so that we can have our sins forgiven, be reconciled to God, and become his children—receiving his eternal life and being assured of going to heaven to be with Christ when we die.

Therefore, Jesus tells us to share the living seed of the Word of God freely. “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). The Bible also gives us several wonderful promises to encourage us in our task:

They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:5-6). So, beyond the “sow and reap” principle, there’s the even better, “sow, weep, and reap with joy” principle.

Contrarily, there’s the “sow, reap, and weep principle: “For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:8-9). How much better to continue in patiently sowing the Word of God despite persecution, belittlement, and weariness. God promises to bless us with everlasting life, and I think in this context, He’s not saying our own. Our own promise of everlasting life was secured for us when we committed our lives to Christ. The promise of Galatians is that we will reap the joy of seeing many other people receive everlasting life if we don’t give up!

Do you ever get frustrated and tired of sharing the glory of God with those who don’t believe a word of what you say and think you’re nuts? Don’t grow weary! Don’t give up sharing the blessed Good News of the Gospel! “But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6).

God wants us to keep sowing the good seed of the Kingdom of God so that some day we will be overwhelmed by the joy of seeing multitudes experiencing the bliss of heaven with us. Beloved, keep sowing and weeping. We may never know in this life the effects of our scattering God’s Word, but someday, in heaven, we will reap with joy!

The reaper after millet by Vincent van Gogh, 1889. Public Domain

(P.S.—As a tribute to Jocey, she became a wonderful friend, and her mother patiently drove both my sister and me to church several times a week for over two years until my sister got her driver’s license and we could get there on our own!)

Prayer Cooking

Last weekend, our deep freezer died, leaving me a small inheritance of quickly thawing, once-frozen berries which couldn’t be crammed into my refrigerator’s freezer because I’d already stuffed every inch of available space with frozen meats and veggies. Besides that, I had most of a flat of fresh blackberries that were dead ripe and needed to be eaten or frozen. The only obvious solution was to process my motley assortment of orphaned berries into a large batch of cooked, mixed berry jam.

Sadly, I had no pectin for cooked jam. Our family favorite is freezer jam, so I only keep a stash of freezer jam pectin available for that once-in-a-year special when strawberries are less than a dollar per quart. However, without fresh berries and freezer space, freezer jam would be out of the question this spring.

The other problem was that I wanted to use all the berries, not just X cups according to some recipe . . . even if I could I find one (which I doubted). For instance, how do you suppose Google would respond to “recipe for approximately 5 quarts of mixed berries, some mushy and defrosted but others firm and fresh”? It is possible to make jam simply by boiling down your fruit with or without sugar until it’s approximately thick enough to make jam, and that was my first thought, so after dinner I processed the fresh berries, added the defrosted berries, and set the kettle on to boil while I washed up the dinner dishes. What’s that about the watched pot never boiling? I left the kettle a little too long and it boiled over. 😦

 “Drat!” I thought. “Okay, Lord, I have no option here of simply using my head. It’s too late to go to the store (and I’ve been avoiding stores anyway because of COVID concerns). I need your Spirit to guide this process.” Frankly, I pray every morning for the Holy Spirit to lead me into the ways of truth and righteousness. I pray for wisdom and grace and sensitivity to the Lord’s leading. I try to walk by faith and practice the presence of God. I talk to him while I work. At that moment, I recalled the passage I’d been memorizing from Psalm 119:57 -58, “Thou art my portion, O LORD: I have said that I would keep thy words. I intreated thy favour with my whole heart: be merciful unto me according to thy word.” 

“Lord, will you be merciful unto me according to THIS very word? Will you help me make jam that isn’t too runny and isn’t too firm? I can’t wing this one. This is something new. I have no experience in this type of jam making and know I don’t have the right supplies for any recipe. I need to clean up this sticky mess and get the jam finished so I don’t waste the good food you’ve blessed us with. Will you guide me?”

After cleaning up the jam that had overflowed onto the stove, I returned to my project, brought the fruit to a boil again, dumped in about half of a 4-pound bag of sugar, and entire bottle of freezer jam pectin, a large packet of strawberry jello powder, and 3 individual packets of gelatin into my goopy kettle, stirred until it was all smooth and abubble, then turned off the heat and ladled it out into all the glass jam jars I had on hand. It made just a little over a gallon of jam. I wiped off the bottles and screwed the lids on tightly. (No, I didn’t have proper canning supplies either, having given away most all my canning jars after our kids grew up.) Some of the jars eventually self-sealed as they cooled, but I stored them all in the refrigerator that night just before I went to bed.

Some of the jars of Mixed Berry Jam

There’s an old saying about throwing bad money after good, and so I wondered if I was wasting my pectin, gelatin, and sugar in an effort to save all the berries, but I was comforted by the next two verses of Psalm 119:59,60: “I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies. I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments.”  I went to bed, thankful to have felt God’s guiding hand and feeling like I’d done the best I knew how to do . . . and willing to accept whatever verdict the Lord would pronounce over my prayer-cooked jam. “At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee, because of thy righteous judgments” (Psalm 119:62).

The next morning for breakfast, I served bowls of fresh blackberries with cream and English muffins with our new jam. Both my husband and youngest son (who still lives with us) said the flavor and texture of the jam were excellent, so I breathed a great sigh of relief, thanked the Lord for his mercy, and sent one jar off to work with my son to give his girlfriend. Thank you, Lord! “The earth, O LORD, if full of thy mercy: teach me thy statutes” (Psalm 119:64).

So Will I

On this last day of April, I would like to share one of my all-time favorite poems/songs. The lyrics and music are beautiful beyond description, like the God about whom it is written, and the visuals on this rendition leave me breathless and overflowing.

So Will I (100 Billion X)
Words and Music by Joel Houston Benjamin Hastings & Michael Fatkin
© 2017 Hillsong Music Publishing CCLI: 7084123

VERSE 1
God of creation
There at the start
Before the beginning of time
With no point of reference
You spoke to the dark
And fleshed out the wonder of light

CHORUS 1
And as You speak
A hundred billion galaxies are born
In the vapour of Your breath the planets form
If the stars were made to worship so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You’ve made
Every burning star
A signal fire of grace
If creation sings Your praises so will I

VERSE 2
God of Your promise
You don’t speak in vain
No syllable empty or void
For once You have spoken
All nature and science
Follow the sound of Your voice

CHORUS 2
And as You speak
A hundred billion creatures catch Your breath
Evolving in pursuit of what You said
If it all reveals Your nature so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You say
Every painted sky
A canvas of Your grace
If creation still obeys You so will I

BRIDGE
If the stars were made to worship so will I
If the mountains bow in reverence so will I
If the oceans roar Your greatness so will I
For if everything exists to lift You high so will I
If the wind goes where You send it so will I
If the rocks cry out in silence so will I
If the sum of all our praises still falls shy
Then we’ll sing again a hundred billion times

VERSE 3
God of salvation
You chased down my heart
Through all of my failure and pride
On a hill You created
The light of the world
Abandoned in darkness to die

CHORUS 3
And as You speak
A hundred billion failures disappear
Where You lost Your life so I could find it here
If You left the grave behind You so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You’ve done
Every part designed in a work of art called love
If You gladly chose surrender so will I
I can see Your heart
Eight billion different ways
Every precious one
A child You died to save
If You gave Your life to love them so will I

TAG
Like You would again a hundred billion times
But what measure could amount to Your desire
You’re the One who never leaves the one behind

By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them
by the breath of his mouth” (Psalm 33:6).

For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?” (Matthew 18:11-12).

The Importance of Stress Relief: Meditation and Looking Unto the Hills

I wrote a few years ago about attending a lecture at Harvard’s Annual Intensive Review of Internal Medicine on the importance of daily meditation as one of the medically verifiable “best practices” for Mind-Body health. In our world of frenetic activity, meditation has almost become a lost art, but I want to stress (??) the importance of this ancient practice and encourage all of us to pursue meditation, particularly during our time of world crisis.

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.” ( Psalm 121:1-2).

According to the gurus from Harvard, even twenty minutes per day makes a statistically significant difference in a person’s emotional/physical health. A healthy immune system is our first line of defense against COVID-19 (and myriad other infections), and long-term stress and fatigue clearly reduce the human body’s ability to fight off infections. SO, we not only need to practice “sheltering in place,” but we also need to eat right, sleep enough, exercise, and as much as possible reduce stress and learn how to relax.

The Harvard research group studied the health benefits of meditation on people from various religious persuasions, but because I am a Christian, I am going to explain meditation from a Christian perspective, which has been my personal approach for the past 55 years. Meditation, by definition, is contemplation on a subject. Unlike some Eastern religions, which teach that people are to clear their minds and “think about NOTHING,” Christian meditation has as its goal to focus our attention on God and find our rest and peace in Him.

Yesterday I got a note from a dear friend who returned from visiting India (her homeland) recently with double vision. Mayo Clinic was able to determine that her problem is caused by a palsy of her sixth cranial nerve with no “pill” to ameliorate the symptoms. She has to wait six months to see if her nerve will heal spontaneously, but if it does not, she will need surgery by a neuro-ophthamologist. Meanwhile, one of her friends recommended that she practice an ancient Indian Ayurveda exercise called “Trataka,” where the person sits quietly, intently focusing her gaze on the tip of a candle flame. After doing this exercise for a few days, my friend feels like this is actually helping!

This is a perfect example of spiritual mediation on God and His Word. As we focus intently on God, our blurry, double spiritual vision becomes clearer. God instructs us to meditate daily on the Bible: “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Joshua 1:8). Want a promise to cling to in this troubled time? I’ve been clinging to this one since I first learned it!!

How does one meditate? I usually try to memorize a verse or passage on which to focus, and as part of that process, I pray and ask God to teach me what it means for me at this time in my life. As a girl, I was taught that meditation is like cogitating on a thought the way a cow ruminates on its cud. The cow chews its food, then swallows it, where it is fermented by microbial activity in a specialized stomach before being regurgitated as a “cud.” The cow continues to chew on the cud for a while before eventually swallowing it again (and so on) until it is finally digested.

This is what God wants us to do daily! Jesus taught us in Matthew 4:4, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” The Bible is our daily spiritual bread, and God wants us to munch on it . . . chew on it . . . think and rethink on it . . . focus on it . . . feed on it, until it is absorbed into our very being to strengthen us! Meditating on the truths in the Bible feeds our spirits! (It also helps reduce stress and relax us as we’re able to trust God to help us with our burdens.) My girlfriend who’s been struggling with double vision has a lifetime mantra that she also passed on to me: “Feed your faith and your fears will starve.”

Feeling fearful and stressed under all the pressure? I am! Let’s lift up our eyes and focus our hearts and minds on the flame of God’s love. Let’s meditate on our heavenly Father, who is our creator, our sustainer, and our help!

Psalm 121: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

Adjusting our Attitudes: A Testimony by Charles Spurgeon

Although this Covid crisis is the greatest global challenge of my lifetime, I think it helps to remember that our world has suffered more deeply—and recovered. It’s just that we weren’t around during the Spanish Flu of 1917-18. We didn’t personally survive World War 1—or the Great Depression at the end of the 30’s, nor did we live through the horrors of World War 2. Now we are facing the possibility of our world—as we’ve known it for our lifetime—coming to an end.

Not long ago, I memorized Psalm 91, and in the process, I came across this reassuring story by Charles Spurgeon (known as “The Prince of Preachers” among western European Protestants):

“In the year 1854, when I had scarcely been in London twelve months, the neighbourhood in which I laboured was visited by Asiatic cholera, and my congregation suffered from its inroads. Family after family summoned me to the bedside of the smitten, and almost every day I was called to visit the grave. I gave myself up with youthful ardour to the visitation of the sick and was sent for from all corners of the district by persons of all ranks and religions. I became weary in body and sick at heart. My friends seemed falling one by one, and I felt or fancied that I was sickening like those around me. A little more work and weeping would have laid me low among the rest; I felt that my burden was heavier than I could bear, and I was ready to sink under it. As God would have it, I was returning mournfully home from a funeral, when my curiosity led me to read a paper which was wafered up in a shoemaker’s window in the Dover Road. It did not look like a trade announcement, nor was it, for it bore in a good bold handwriting these words: ‘Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.’ The effect upon my heart was immediate. Faith appropriated the passages as her own. I felt secure, refreshed, girt with immortality. I went on with my visitation of the dying in a calm and peaceful spirit; I felt no fear of evil, and I suffered no harm. The providence which moved the tradesman to place those verses in his window I gratefully acknowledge, and in the remembrance of its marvelous power I adore the Lord my God.” (The Treasury of David by C.H. Spurgeon, commenting on Psalm 91:9-10.)

Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling” (Psalm 91:9-10.)

A Million and Ten Thousand Flowers

If you live in the Grand Rapids area and haven’t experienced Rebecca Louise Law’s “The Womb” exhibit at Meijer Garden, I want to encourage you to take time to visit before this spectacular artistic creation ends on March 1.*

What is it? An entire gallery filled with a million flowers and plants from Rebecca’s personal collection plus ten thousand botanic treasures gleaned from Meijer Garden, all dried and strung from the ceiling in delicate chains on tiny copper wires.

Why? To give you an intimate and immersive experience of feeling like you’re personally enveloped in a warm cocoon . . . complete with the comforting sound of a beating heart.

In Rebecca Louise Law’s own words: “I like to capture and treasure small beautiful natural objects to create an artwork that can be observed without the pressure of time. Preserving, treasuring, celebrating and sharing the beauty of the Earth with the world is what drives me.”

And, who is Rebecca Law? She’s a British installation artist—born in 1980, grew up in a little village in the U.K, and studied at Newcastle University’s School of Arts and Cultures in England.

(As a fun side note, my daughter-in-law Gerlinde also studied at Newcastle University about the same time!) Law has exhibited at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the Royal Academy of Arts and the V&A (all in London) as well as in galleries in NYC, San Francisco, Athens, France, etc.

So, this is a young and upcoming internationally acclaimed artist with a heart for beauty and nature . . . and the warmth of the womb, exquisitely portrayed through blown glass and paintings which compliment her sublimely sensual experience (in the best possible way) of being encompassed in a womb of flowers.

As I wandered through the quiet beauty, I felt more than anything a silent witness to the sanctity and miraculous nature of life. And death. The natural flow from life to death in the drying flowers.

I tried to imagine 1,010,000 flowers all fresh and alive with color and fragrance. Can you imagine?

Visiting “The Womb” Exhibit at Meijer Garden with my brother

Although I’ve been back repeatedly and taken all my favorite family and friends who’ve visited since the exhibit opened last September, it wasn’t until last weekend—strolling through the halls with Alan—that we realized he’d somehow missed seeing this exhibit!

We’d been there the weekend before and meandered through all the snow-covered gardens outside.

We’d visited Meijer Garden with the family at December when we admired all the Christmas trees adorned so brightly with ornaments from countries around the world.

How was it possible that he’d missed seeing this stunning exhibition? We had to walk right past the door into the art gallery on every visit, where the name of the latest exhibit is proclaimed clearly on the wall.

Is it possible that you—like Alan—are walking right past the door to a wonderful opportunity every day of your life without taking time to read the signs or explore the goodness within? It’s so easy to focus on what we know and already enjoy without taking time to look around. In this world of distractions and time measured mechanically rather than spiritually, are you missing out?

God is a God of abundance and joy, which He offers to each of us. Jesus taught in John 10:10, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” The psalmist also reflected this thought in the Old Testament: “How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings. They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures. For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light” (Psalm 36:7-9).

Looking Up from Inside “The Womb”

Although I think for many of us (at least in America), trusting under the shadow of God’s wings often leads to physical abundance, it doesn’t always. I don’t believe in a “wealth gospel.” However, I firmly believe in a gospel that brings spiritual abundance: “They shall abundantly utter the memory of thy great goodness, and shall sing of thy righteousness” (Psalm 145:7).

Notice what is abundant here: goodness and righteousness. If you want a life blessed by an abundance of goodness, righteousness, and the pleasures that flow from a life lived in the light of God’s presence, then please, please put your trust in God, our refuge and fortress, and in his Son, Jesus, our Lord and our Savior!

A Photo I Took Trying to Capture the Feel of Being Inside R.L. Law’s “The Womb”

I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust” (Psalm 91:2).

Painting by Rebecca Louise Law

Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:27-29).

*This exhibit has been running since September and will continue through February until Sunday, March 1.

If you go Sunday, March 1, it will be super crowded, but you will also be able to experience the first day of “Butterflies are Blooming” in the conservatory, which is always like a gulp of springtime air for winter-weary hearts. So, if you don’t mind crowds, that would be another excellent option. Also, the first photo is from Meijer Garden’s website. The rest are mine, taken at Meijer Garden.

When the Doctor Becomes the Patient

Recently Alan and I had the privilege of listening to the reflections of the surgeon who had operated on Alan 11 years ago. When Brian cared for Alan’s medical needs, he was young— a freshly minted surgeon who had settled in Grand Rapids after graduating from Yale, graduate school and a medical degree from the University of Michigan, and residency at Cleveland Clinic. With both PhD and M.D. degrees, Brian was on the cutting edge of research and technological training. We have been grateful for Brian’s continuing, compassionate care at his office, and we also see him often in passing at our church, where we all attend.

Brian is about the age of our oldest son (45), so we were shocked when we heard that he himself had been diagnosed with cancer, but it wasn’t until a few days ago that we heard more of his story at the January meeting of our local CMDA (Christian Medical and Dental Association). As it turns out, eighteen months ago, Brian was diagnosed with two primary cancers: sarcoma and renal.

The details of his journey are his to tell, but I have asked permission to share some of his reflections on dealing with the cancer in his life and how it has impacted his practice. He was very open about the terror he felt in waiting for further testing to actually understand the extent of his disease and get a feeling for his prognosis. Even as a believer, it’s excruciating to be in the emotional limbo that is inevitable as you wait to hear if you’re going to live or die.

He mentioned crying out to God in deep anguish, not asking to be miraculously healed, but just asking for his testing date to be moved up so he didn’t have to wait so long to know how serious his illness was. During that prayer, his phone rang, and a secretary told him there had been a cancellation so that he could be seen earlier! This answer to his specific prayer gave him a deep sense of peace that God did see and hear him, and that God had everything under control, even though Brian did not! This settled peace allowed Brian to feel secure in God’s love and trust Him, no matter what comes.

It also reminded Brian of the importance of committing our ways to God not just once, but at all times, to daily work at becoming all that God has created us to be, and to be good stewards of the time, talent, and treasure God has given us.

Brian also reflected on the benefits of being a patient. It has made him more compassionate and concerned with the quality of life, not just how long a person has to live. He now understands first-hand the terror of not knowing and how painful it is to wait for testing and results. One of the take-homes for me (as a non-medical person), is simply to be more empathetic with people who are having to deal with all the unknowns of their disease—ultimately, what are the chances for life and risk of death?

During the Q&A afterward, I asked Brian to elaborate more on decision-making styles. He said people fall into three main groups: those who want to make their own decisions based on information the medical system provides; those who want to work closely with the physician to form a treatment plan that seems good to both; and those who ask the physician to make the decision based on the doctor’s best judgment. (“What would YOU do if it were you?”) Brian says the hardest patients are those who make their own decisions, sometimes based on opinions very contrary to the best that medical wisdom can offer. He has never “fired” a patient (refused to care for them), but he says some surgeons will send patients elsewhere if they believe the treatment plan the patient demands will be deleterious to the patient’s health.

This makes me think of the way people respond to the Great Physician, the Lord God Almighty. Some people come to God, crying out for mercy and do find “grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16) as Brian has done. They are willing to trust God and surrender to His superior wisdom, recognizing his love and knowing that His plans are best, even though they are not what he (we) might have chosen. Some people bargain with God, trying to work out a plan based on God’s input but making their own final decisions. Some people listen to God’s Word but then disregard His teachings and choose their own way. These people are headed for disaster. I don’t think God “fires” anybody either, but He will let us go astray if we want to. Why? Because ultimately, freedom to choose is a litmus test of love and respect. God gives us the gift of freedom because He loves us. Yes, He will intervene if we cry out to him, but He won’t force us to do things HIS way.

Are you struggling to make a good decision about some problem in your life? It might be a medical issue, or it might be one of a thousand other issues, but know that God Almighty is there, and He really does care! If you cry out to him in repentance and faith, He will listen, and He will help. Trust Him! He knows what’s best for each of us, and He is not silent if you seek Him with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:11-13, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”)

I just finished memorizing Psalm 34, and it is so full of wisdom that I’m going to include the entire psalm. Please read it! You can read it all in under two minutes. Think of it as rubbing healing balm onto your sore soul!

I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together. I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them. O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him. O fear the Lord, ye his saints: for there is no want to them that fear him. 10 The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing. 11 Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord. 12 What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good? 13 Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. 14 Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. 15 The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry. 16 The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. 17 The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles. 18 The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit. 19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all. 20 He keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken. 21 Evil shall slay the wicked: and they that hate the righteous shall be desolate. 22 The Lord redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate.”

2020 Vision

“Twenty-twenty” vision means our eyes can perceive what a person with normal, healthy vision can also see from twenty feet away. I don’t know about you, but it’s been years since I’ve had perfect vision, although thinking about tomorrow being the first day of “2020” makes me wish I could somehow have perfect vision again. If you’ve lost your 20/20 vision, wouldn’t you like that too?!

Okay, so maybe that’s not going to happen for us in this life here on earth, but aren’t you glad we have glasses to correct our vision? I used to think Ben Franklin invented glasses back in 1784, but then I learned Salvino D’Armante made the first pair of glasses 500 years earlier, back in 1284. However, glass has been intentionally produced for more than 3,600 years, and where there is glass, there is likely to be magnification used to enhance eyesight, so I’m not sure if we will ever really know who first used glasses to improve vision. I even heard years ago that a pair of glasses was found next to the imprint of a dinosaur track, although I can’t find any photos to corroborate this claim, so it may be bogus!

Photo taken via Hubble Telescope of Star Cluster Pismis 24 with Nebula

Still, it is certainly true that our human vision is limited but can be improved by magnification. For instance, the Hubble telescope can magnify objects 4,700X, so we can see images of the heavens like this. The universe appears to be perhaps infinitely huge, so we’ll never fully understand it, but it would be impossible for us even to begin exploring outer space without the help of such telescopes.

Fluorescent Endothelial Cells

Similarly, electron microscopes can magnify up to 10,000,000X, allowing us to see images of incredibly small “inner spaces” such as the cells within our bodies. Without the help of microscopes, our understanding of life and how even our own bodies work would be extremely limited.

Saint Paul Writing His Epistles-by Valentin de Boulogne. 1618-1620 AD.

I believe with all my heart (and experience) that the Bible corrects my spiritual vision just like glasses help me see more clearly in this physical world. The Bible, like a Hubble Telescope, helps me catch a vision of the magnificence of heaven, even though I can’t perceive it with my limited eye sight. Through meditating on biblical passages, I can learn about the deepest recesses of my heart and mind. Like a fluorescent microscope, the Bible lights up my inmost being and illuminates my spirit.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Day . . . the first day of 2020. My vision for 2020 is to develop 2020 vision spiritually . . . to regain clarity, to focus more intently, and to respond in faithful obedience to the spiritual light I receive. I hope to share some of the highlights with you, and I hope you’ll share what you’re learning with me as well! For starters, have you made any New Year’s Resolutions yet? I’m working on mine, and chief among them is to meditate on scripture daily (which I’ve been practicing for many years) and to memorize at least one psalm per month. For many years after being spiritually born again,* I worked on memorizing Bible verses every day, and I suspect I had closer to 2020 vision back then. Sadly, in the past 15 years or so, I stopped memorizing, and I’m sure that’s effected my spiritual vision. I declare 2020 as my year of attaining spiritual 2020 vision! Want to join me?

O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together” ( Psalm 34:3).

“Be Thou My Vision”
(Ancient Irish song translated by Mary E. Byrne)

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heav’n’s Sun
Heart of my own heart, whate’er befall
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

(*If you’re not sure what I mean by the term being “born again,” please click on the “Coming to Christ” link at the very top of this post. Without being born spiritually, no one can even begin to understand the spiritual world and is as blind to spiritual life as a babe still in the womb),

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (61): Judge Not

This has been a really challenging post for me to write, because by nature I am a moralist, and as I’m slowly learning—also a legalist. So, to figure out what Jesus was teaching—and is (present tense) expecting from those of us who attempt to be his disciples, I studied every verse in the Bible that talks about judging. . . and there are literally hundreds! From Genesis 18:19, where Abraham is commended as someone who will “keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment” all the way to Revelation 19:2, where God is worshiped because “true and righteous are his judgments,” the Bible is filled with admonitions about the importance of understanding and keeping God’s laws, of living justly, and doing right.

So, what did Jesus mean when he said, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged” (Luke 6:37 ), and “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 7:1-2)?

The first thing that struck me from studying is that Jesus doesn’t mean, “Don’t attempt to discern right from wrong.” The entire weight of scripture promotes a life of knowing and keeping the “way of wisdom,” embodied in knowing and keeping God’s laws: “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” (Psalm 19:7-9). Being a moralist and a legalist is not all bad. God wants us to know and do what is just and good. “Mind over matter.” “Do right ’til the stars fall.” “Keep on keeping on.” These aphorisms are right and good! Don’t shove your moral compass (the scriptures) into a back drawer; keep your Bible as the GPS on your dashboard!!

The second thing I learned is to distinguish between discerning good from evil and judging people. I think Jesus is saying, “Judge not [people], that ye be not judged [by other people].” So, the standard is personal purity for ourselves while not assuming responsibility for the actions of other people . . . or passing judgment on them. You can call it a “Double Standard” if you want, and I think that’s almost appropriate, but the double standard puts the burden for purity and uprightness squarely on our own shoulders. It is up to us to do right regardless of what anybody else does.

What does this look like day to day? Jesus didn’t come only as an example to us (He came to die for our sins and become our redeemer), but He is the perfect example for us to follow, and in studying the life of Christ, we have many accounts of how he interacted with people—all of whom had character flaws, and some of whom were characterized by immoral behavior. Jesus never shunned anybody! (If you can correct me, please do, but I haven’t found a single instance.) Jesus rebuked those who confronted him with sinful behavior: “Sin no more” (to the woman caught in adultery, John 8:11) and even “Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men” (speaking to his most passionate disciple, Peter, in Mark 8:33). Jesus’s most violent reaction was to the religious leaders who had turned God’s temple into a “den of thieves” (Mark 11:17). Jesus was clearly enraged by the spiritual leaders hypocritically oppressing the people, and he cleansed the temple, but he didn’t lay a hand on anyone . . . anyone. If Jesus—who could have called down fire from heaven to devour evil men—never harmed anyone and only rebuked sinful behaviors, then none of the rest of us ever has the right to attempt to take justice into our own hands and repay evil with evil.

How do I know? Because the scriptures are crystal clear on how God intends for judgment and justice to work:

*God is ultimately responsible for judging: “He cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity” (Psalm 98:8-9).

*God, as the creator, ruler, and sustainer of Earth, is the only one with the ultimate right to judge: “For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us” (Isaiah 33:22).

*God is the only one who can judge and execute justice perfectly: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). “For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people” (Hebrews 10:30).

*Furthermore, God does care about good and evil, and He is at work, even though it’s not always obvious to us: “God is angry with the wicked: God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11).

*God has ordained governments and church leaders to serve as judges in disputes between people: “And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him” (Deuteronomy 1:16). Also: “And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the Lord thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:12).

*In situations where we are being personally oppressed, we are free to pray for relief and for God to judge— based on our personal uprightness and innocence: “The Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee” (1 Samuel 24:12). ” The Lord shall judge the people: judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me” (Psalm 7:8).

*Because Jesus did not come to earth to judge, we are relieved of that responsibility at this time also: “And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world” (John 12:47).

*Our responsibility is to teach the Bible to others so they’ll understand right from wrong, because it is ultimately the Word of God in the Bible by which people will be judged: “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).

*We are specifically warned against judging other people: “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4).

* We are reminded that we are also not without sin: “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things” (Romans 2:1).

*Instead of being judgmental, we would do well to pray for those who are trapped in sinful lusts, doing everything we can to help them overcome: “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).

*Instead of being angry and shunning those who are doing evil, we need to learn to be broken-hearted for them, as they will eventually become miserable, whether or not we can observe it from the outside: “Unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil” (Romans 2:8-9).

*Lastly, let’s remember that there will ultimately be a judgment for our entire earth, where good will be vindicated and evil punished: “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God” (1 Corinthians 4:5).

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works” (Revelation 20:12-13).

*Still confused? I am sometimes! But thankfully, if we are believers, we have the resource of the Holy Spirit to teach us how to interact with others, and we can remember that it’s HIS JOB to convict people of their sins, not ours!If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:7-8). “When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin” (Ezekiel 18:30).