Those Who Mourn

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Matthew 5:4

Normally when we think of mourning, we associate it with death; the death of something or someone we have loved. For me, last year was a year red-letter year for bereavement – my mom, my cousin Donna, my uncle Jack, friends and mentors from church all passed from this life. Not only these personal losses, but it was also a grief-filled year of corporate sorrow that marked many changes in so many ways. Loss, whatever it may be, is a turning point, a moment of demarcation, a moment where we realize life will never, ever be the same again, and mourning it is how we confront the changes that are inevitable. Noted grief councilor and therapist, Dr. Alan Wolfelt describes mourning like this: “Grief is what you think and feel on the inside, and mourning is when you express that grief outside of yourself. Mourning is grief inside out…mourning is how you move toward hope and healing.” Ultimately the goal is healing, which is a form of restoration, and hope for the future.

While I have no doubt that God is near the broken-hearted (scripture tells us this is true in Psalm 34:18), and he certainly is a comfort to us during difficult times, I have to wonder if is there more to it than simply seeking comfort for a loss . When Christ uttered “blessed are are those who mourn,” I can’t help but suspect that he meant it for something spiritual as well as corporeal. Mourning is bigger than a mere longing for something we have lost – think Adam, Eve and the fall from grace, or bigger yet, think Christ hanging on a Roman torture device for the sake of all. When we mourn, we are yearning for what was and no longer is, and it gives us an opportunity for reflection, recalibration. If forces us to confront the part of ourselves that has become disconnected, to work through the changes we are facing because of the loss. When you stop and really think about it, mourning is a prerequisite to repentance. We must weep for our loss, mourn it first. We can’t really atone for something, unless we first grieve for it, and our grieving cannot end, until we understand our sorrow. It humbles us, puts us in that raw space from which only God’s comfort and guidance can redeem. In this sense, our mourning is a sorrow which flows out in tears, a sadness that cleanses and restores, a grieving over sin itself and the stain which it has left upon the soul.

It’s interesting how Webster’s defines the words blessed, mourn and comfort. To be blessed is to be fortunate, happy, or envied. To mourn is to lament, to feel or express guilt or sorrow. To be comforted is to be given strength and hope, to be called near, or invited in. So Matthew 5:4 could be said like this: Happy and fortunate, envied are those who lament or express feelings of guilt or sorrow, for they will be called near, invited in and given strength and hope. God promises us that if we express our feelings of loss, of guilt and sorrow, repenting of them, He will bless us by calling us near [to Him] and inviting us in [to His presence] and give us strength and hope.

Jesus tells us that in order to live, we must die; die to ourselves, to this world, to sin (Luke 9:23-24). It is through death that resurrection and renewal come. We are blessed when we mourn, because our grieving is our opportunity to honestly and openly confront ourselves head-on, to assess, recalibrate, renew. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a job, a way of life, or our connection to God himself, lamenting our losses is cathartic in more ways than we realize.

~SLM

Don’t Be Afraid, I’m With You

He saw them straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Very early in the morning he came toward them walking on the sea and wanted to pass by them. When they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke with them and said, ‘Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased.

Mark 6:48-50

I’m not a very good swimmer. I can admit that, and while I don’t shy away from it, I also don’t usually plan any long distance swims in open water, just for fun, either! Like a lot of people, there’s something about deep water that just scares the bajebers out of me. It’s unsettling, and when the water is rough as well and I’m struggling to stay afloat, the survival instinct kicks into high gear, creating an emotional state of sheer panic. I think that’s what the disciples must have felt as the wind kicked up and they began to struggle. I can relate to the fear they felt as they struggled with their task. There have been times that I have struggled, too, and to make things worse, right in the middle of it all a storm pops up to add yet another layer of fear and anxiety.

Earlier in the chapter (v. 45) Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go ahead of him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he went up to the mountain to pray. He set them to their undertaking. God does this sometimes. He puts us to a task, watching and praying over us from afar as we struggle with it, trying to figure it out on our own, saying “I got this” while He waits for us to realize that the task is given to us so that He may work through us. His purposes are not at all clear to us, catching only small glimpses at times, but His simple request of us is that we yoke ourselves to Him and trust that He’s got this.

This whole tale, as Mark tells it, is a metaphor, an observation about just how difficult it can be to follow Jesus. He sets us in our boat (life) and sends us out into the deep (the world) to accomplish his will. It’s not easy. We push against the oars, struggling with the prevailing winds of popular opinion and “consensus” that surround us with doubt and uncertainty. We become mired in the moment, following fear rather than faith.

Similarly, this same story in Matthew, where Peter tries to walk on water, is also a commentary about how we handle the tasks that God gives us to do. It goes further by illustrating how hard it can be to keep our faith during times of turmoil, even when we know that Jesus is right there in front of us, ready to help as we call out to Him. We still stumble, lose our focus and let the fear of the unknown control our actions as He stands by with outstretched hand. He simply asks us to not only believe in Him, to also believe Him, to keep our faith, to trust, to let Him take control of the yoke that guides us to where He would have us go, all the while telling us, “have courage! Don’t be afraid. I am with you.”

A Prayer: Heavenly Father, Help me to know beyond all doubt that you are there, beside me as I struggle through this life. Give me Your strength, Your courage to move forward without fear. Give me eyes to see Your will for my life and ears to hear Your voice as you whisper, “I am with you.” Amen

~SLM

How We Measure

For you will be judged by the same standard with which you judge others, and you will be measured by the same measure you use. Matthew 7:2

Making a judgement call seems to be human nature. We see, we assess, we decide in the blink of an eye. We do it all the time without even giving it a second thought, not only with our words, but also with our tone, and our demeanor. When we say that some one is “unbelievable” or “ridiculous” what we’re really doing is measuring their worth. The word ridiculous means that what we’re commenting on is worthy of ridicule, and we say it regularly, without thinking of what we’re really saying. When we say that someone is unbelievable, what we’re really saying is that we think their behavior is unacceptable to us, or that they are scarcely credible, they are too improbable for us to believe. And when we use these types of terms in these ways, we’re not complimenting someone, we’re belittling them.

It is so easy for us to belittle others when we think we are seeing rightly. We call them sick, brainwashed, crazy, idiots, disgusting, and worse. It’s not just how we measure that will be handed back to us, but also what we measure. If we measure hate, distrust, self-righteousness, disgust, discord, or whatever we fill that cup up with, that’s what we’ll get right back in our laps. “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over” (Luke 6:38). Usually, when we reap the seeds we’ve sown, enough time has passed that we have completely forgotten that we are responsible for what we face. We judge, we blame, and we blindly measure out a little more, resulting in a downward spiral that’s difficult to break. It becomes us (the righteous) or them (the whichever derogatory name we choose).

I think this is why Christ advised us not to point out the splinter in someone’s eye, while we have a board in our own. It’s not a very good idea, because we tend to look at life through the narrow prism of our own desires and preconceived ideas, and no matter how smart we think we are, we have a limited view of truth. We are constantly barraged with opinions about reality, and we’ve become reliant upon those opinions. Frankly, one of our downfalls, since the fall, is that we’re quite lazy creatures. We gravitate toward what appears to be accurate, or worse yet, what we want that accuracy to look like, and not what our spidey-sense tells us is really true. It’s easier to reiterate what someone else tells us is right, than to use discernment. Discernment requires effort. It entails using our ears more than our lips, and making the effort to see the whole picture, not just the part that pleases us. Many times it’s those desires and ideas that become the “board” that blocks our vision.

Lately, I’ve seen so many people willing to throw away life-long friendships, or decide they will no longer speak to a relative, because they have convinced themselves of their own righteousness, their infallible perception of truth. I find it very sad. It brings to mind Matthew, the publican and disciple, with whom the Pharisees condemned Jesus for associating. The man who ended up recording the life of the One, Christ Jesus, who called him to a higher purpose and altered his life irrevocably. Or the Apostle Paul, who was hell-bent against Christ and his disciples, had an awakening, and found himself 180° from where he began. What did Paul see and what did he come to understand? Whatever the Lord had shown him, we know through Acts 9 that “the scales were removed from his eyes,” and unless the scales are removed from our eyes, too, we cannot perceive the truth at all. Without having eyes to see, we are bound to continue our default pattern of inappropriately consigning others to damnation by accusing them of all the butt-headed things of which we ourselves are guilty of as well. Whenever we “point the finger” at someone else, there are three that point back to us, that accuse us of what we find so offensive, so condemning.

A Prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Forgive us for clinging to our short-sightedness, to our preconceived notions. Open our eyes, let the scales fall away so that we may see as you see, so that we can love like you love. Help us to be aware of how we measure, to remember that all fall short in Your sight. Give us eyes to see that we may look at others with compassion in our hearts, forgiving their faults as you have so graciously forgiven ours.

Amen

~SLM

What Lies Ahead?

One of my all-time favorite contemporary Christian artists is Arron Shust, and since mid-November, I’ve listened to his song My Savior, My God, almost daily. It’s become my anthem, and it begins like this: “I am not skilled to understand, what God has willed, what God has planned.” What a perfect sentiment for the year! Other than Proverbs 16:9, which I’ll get to in a moment, if there’s a more appropriate quote for 2020 than this, just leave it in the comments, because I can think of none.

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.

Proverbs 16:9

If ever there was a year to bring Proverbs 16:9 into sharp focus, it’s been 2020. I can unequivocally say that this year has certainly been unexpected. The new year began as it had on many previous occasions with a renewed hope for future possibilities, new plans and goals, and a pot of beans.

On January 1st of this year, life was straight forward, predictable. Our plans were pretty much business-as-usual as we set new goals and dreamed new dreams. But God had established different steps for us, steps that forced us to take paths we had not know existed. We were awakened to realities that we had never considered before. Realities like loss of income, loss of property, loss of certain freedoms, loss of loved ones. I can’t think of one thing that has gone as planned, and honestly, it’s not been easy. Yet throughout the year, the words of Proverbs 16:9 have been my constant companion. That recurring voice, the one which patiently repeats that I see only through a mirror, darkly, that I am the pot, not the potter, reminds me of just who is in control: God.

This was my New Year’s posting on social media last year. It was an awesome New Year’s posting. Usually when we post something like this, it’s because we’re excited to see what God has in store for us. We think of Jeremiah 29:11, and all the good that He will do for us. Looking back, I have to laugh, because God was indeed doing a new thing, just not the thing I thought it would be. That “new thing” came with an acronym: COVID-19, which may as well have been called the black plague for the havoc it brought! The year was a true “teachable” moment, or a string of moments, right?. We learned that, sometimes, things have to be different from what we’ve come to expect, that what we consider to be inconvenient and troublesome is actually a blessing when viewed from God’s perspective. Many of the things we thought we could rely on were, indeed, not at all reliable. This storm has raged and the waters have been rough for nine full months, and one thing I know is that when you’re in the middle of the storm, it’s hard to look up, hard to stop an ponder where it’s all leading, where God is directing our footsteps.

While it has been a study in, trusting, in patience, and in love – remembering, or at least trying to remember, to love those whom we find it difficult to love – I’m still counting on God to do a new thing in 2021. Even if that new thing is not what I have envisioned, I can thank God that He threw 2020 at me. Because of this year, because of all the twists and turns the path has taken, I know that no matter what trials or stumbling blocks I may face, He will continue to direct my steps: My hope is in the Him.

And as I begin to navigate the new year, I will exchange one Arron Shust song with another: My Hope Is In You. These words,

“I won’t be shaken by drought or storm, a peace that passes understanding is my song, and I sing my hope is in You, Lord”

My Hope Is In You written by April Geesbreght, performed by Aaron Shust

are the perfect anthem for what it means to fully trust as God charts His new course for the coming year.

~SLM

What’s In The Water

“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person…”

Matthew 15:18-20

Sometimes in life, it’s hard to keep things in perspective. We get wrapped up in the drama and begin pulling it into our lives. We get so involved with the whirlwind that rages about us, the insignificant crap, the little minute details that we’re so sure make us better than others, that we forget to guard our hearts from destructive outside influences. With everything that 2020 has offered up, it has become easy to drink from a poisonous cup, to join in the clamor without a second thought, and forget to check what’s in the water before we gulp it down.

Recently, a  friend posted this note on social media in reference to Isaiah 43:2 as a reminder to put things into perspective: 

It was a welcome reminder about how and why ships sink. It’s not what is raging about us, but rather all the crappy things we drag into our boats that weighs us down, that causes catastrophic failure, sending us spiraling to the bottom of the abyss. That’s why Jesus warned us in Matthew 15:18-20 to guard our hearts; to be aware of the thoughts and energies we pull into our boats, to be cognizant of all that we chewing on both mentally and spiritually. When he says “it’s not what goes into the mouth, but what come out of it,” He tells us exactly what it is that defiles us in God’s eyes, and to be honest, it’s not pork and beans or crab legs. It’s the thoughts and actions that spring forth from what we’ve pulled into our hearts.

It’s interesting how scripture seems to wrap in upon itself, folding together like origami. Matthew 15:19 tells us what’s in the water: It spells out the things that Isaiah 43:2 tells us lurks in “deep waters” and “rivers of difficulty.” When we face the obstacles of which Matthew 15:19 warns, Isaiah 43 assures us that those frightening, crazy things happening all around us, trying to jump into our boats, will not sink us. When we keep our focus on the Godly rather than the worldly, we need not fear being carried away, being overwhelmed or drown, because God is with us.

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;

Isaiah 43:2-3

Isaiah 43 also tells us that God has called us by name, that he has chosen us to be His treasure, and that because of His love for us, he has redeemed us and is our salvation. He reminds us that no matter what surrounds us or how impossible the odds appear, He is there to guide and protect us, to see us through every sort of adversity. Whatever happens in our lives, no matter what outside influences threaten to drag us under, we need not be afraid, because He is our salvation. He has already done all the work, and our job is to simply keep all the crap out of our boats and to remember that we are redeemed.

~SLM

Have Mercy

“Oh, Lord GOD! You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too difficult for You! 

Jeremiah 32:17

There are times in our lives when things don’t go as we thought they would. The unexpected always has a way of popping up, unannounced, interrupting our preconceived notions, testing us, putting us through trials for which we are totally unprepared. Life is messy, and when things get so out of control that they are basically a dumpster fire, prayer suddenly becomes our BFF. We instinctively know it can help turn things around.

But prayer without repentance is merely a hollow recitation of words. Repentance is what gives prayer power, because its prerequisite is humility. A humble attitude is the polar opposite of pride and arrogance. It’s the one thing that makes us stop and realize the situation is beyond our purview, beyond our ability to control. It forces us to recognize just how imperfect we are, that we aren’t as smart or wonderful as we’d like to think.

Humility is, in fact, the key that unlocks the door of repentance. Without it, we cannot turn or perspective in another direction, away from who we are and toward whom we are meant to become, which is what repentance does for us. Even king David realized the importance of humility and repentance as a primmer to prayer when he wrote:

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.”

Psalm 51:1-4

Sometimes the most powerful prayer we can pray is simply: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It’s saying, I’m not in control, and I’m at a loss for what to do, only You can do this, Lord. That’s why the tax collector’s prayer was so powerful; he knew that there was nothing he could do to help himself – not a lot of pretty words, or creative justifications, or a laundry listing of the many things that he thought he had done right or better than anyone else. He knew that he didn’t know, that when he measured himself against the precepts of the Almighty, he was found lacking – only God’s mercy could save him from the abyss, nothing less.

So, today I say, Lord have mercy. Have mercy on me, for I am a sinner. Have mercy on this stiff-necked nation, for it has lost its way. The great city on a hill that You raised up has lost its light, those who You set up as salt for the world have lost our saltiness. We are not worthy to even raise our eyes heavenward, for we have failed You in so many ways. But with You, there is forgiveness, there is mercy, so I also say:

“Create in us a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within us. Do not cast us from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from us. Restore to us the joy of your salvation and grant us a willing spirit, to sustain us.” Amen.

Psalm 51:10-12

~SLM

What God Sees

When evening came, the disciples approached him and said, “This place is deserted, and it is already late. Send the crowds away so that they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”

 “They don’t need to go away,” Jesus told them. “You give them something to eat.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is five-loaves-two-fish.jpg

“But we only have five loaves and two fish here,” they said to him.

“Bring them here to me,” he said. Then he commanded the crowds to sit down on the grass. He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he blessed them. He broke the loaves

and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. Everyone ate and was satisfied. They picked up twelve baskets full of leftover pieces.

Matthew 14:15-20

There are so many things happening in the world right now that are hard to wrap my head around, and it has me thinking of the miracle of the fishes and the loaves, and the fact that what God sees is vastly different than what we see.

So many times, we are so focused on our lack, that it’s impossible for us to even consider what God has in store for us. Like the disciples, we see an impossible task. We see what it will take, and compare that to what we think we have. Jesus told them to feed the multitude. He tells us to “feed our multitude” too, and like them, the first thing we think to do is argue, to say to God, look this is all we have, how can we get more at this late date? It’s impossible. We’re so concerned with how we’re gonna do it that we forget two things: One, we forget that no matter how great or small, what we have was given to us by God, and more importantly, we forget that God can do anything, nothing is greater than His ability!

In his book, The Circle Maker, Mark Batterson tells a story about how his struggling church was led to start a praise band. An opportunity presented itself for them to buy an awesome set of drums, but they weren’t sure what to do. They had no drummer, and they had no money. So they prayed about it, and God told them to buy the drums, and they threw caution to the wind and used money they needed for other things, which in human terms seemed to be more important than a set of drums.

No sooner than they took their “imprudent” step, a new fellow started attending their church, and he was a drummer. You see, God knew he was sending them a drummer and He needed them to be prepared. They didn’t know what God had planned, and the whole thing seemed like an insane idea, but from that praise band their numbers swelled. God blessed them.

Many times God asks us to do something that goes against all logic. While we see two fish and five loaves, God sees a multitude fed and twelve baskets of leftovers. 

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.

 Isaiah 55:8

God  see things differently than we do, and He simply wants us to give Him what we have, so that He may bless it. Even if what we have seems woefully inadequate to cover the need. All we need to do is offer it to Him and let Him bless it, let Him multiply it, let Him do miraculous things far and above our wildest imaginings.

~SLM

Well Maybe, I Guess

Say just a simple ‘Yes, I will’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Your word is enough. To strengthen your promise with a vow shows that something is wrong. Matthew 5:37

Sandy, mom Sharon and I (Sheryl is MIA- must be the photographer, or in the kitchen with granny!).

When I was a teenager, one of my mom’s best go-to answers for many of my adolescent requests was “well maybe, I guess.” It was standard issue, when I asked her permission to do something or go somewhere that she was skeptical about. It drove me crazy because I didn’t consider it a “real” answer. Actually, it was the perfect non-answer. It gave me hope while giving her an out at the same time. It was a way to deflect, to not commit, because it wasn’t exactly yes or noOver time, I came to realize that what she really meant was “no” and for whatever reason, she just didn’t want to say it outright.

Sometimes, as believers, I think we’re a lot like my mom was with me back then.  We can be dubious about what we think the outcome should or could be, so we say “well maybe, I guess,” too. It’s a way to keep our options open, a way to have things on our terms, especially when we don’t agree with what God has in mind, with His timing, with the people He brings into our lives and the things He uses to to accomplish His purposes. We get too caught up in trivial things, or better, yet, we get too full of ourselves to remember who is He is and what He can do…”He leads forth the starry host by number; He calls each one by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing” (Isaiah 40:26). We doubt His intentions. We doubt His faithfulness. 

One thing I’ve come to have no doubt about is this: God is true and faithful to His word. He says what He means, and He does what He says. He tells us exactly how it is – do this and that happens, do that and this happens – straight up, no sugar coating. We are the ones who play games with words, who “tweak” their meanings to fit our idea of what is good and true. We even try to use His words against Him, twisting them to suit what we want, saying things like, “you say ‘ask and it will be given to you,’ but you still haven’t given me what I’ve asked for,” never realizing that what we’re really asking is for Him to bow down before us, to acquiesce to our will. 

Now that mom is in full-blown dementia, she uses her old stand-by a lot. She says “I guess” because she can’t remember, and is therefore unsure, and sometimes that doubt is expressed in emotional outbursts. As I watch her slip further and further into the abyss, I have a new appreciation for the breadth of God’s love for us. It brings to mind 2 Peter 3:9 which says, “The Lord does not delay his promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.”  We can be so defiant and “stiff-necked,” and no matter how many times we deny we know him, He’s still there, standing beside us, patiently forgiving our doubts, helping us when we cry out to Him. He’s willing to wait, to take the insults, the accusations, the disbelief. He’s willing to die for us –  that’s how much He loves us – even when we tell Him, “well maybe, I guess! “

~SLM

The Trouble with Weeds

“The field is the world; and the good seed–these are the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the children of the evil one.”  Matthew 13:38

close-up-crop-cropland-539856

The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (weeds) is a lesson drawn from the garden, about seeds and planting and weeds and harvesting. Gardening is something I really enjoy doing, and if you’re into it too, you’re very aware that gardening can be tricky, especially if you start your plants from seed. When your newly planted seeds begin to emerge, it’s difficult sometimes to tell the difference between your intended crop and the weeds that sprout up to choke them out. The trouble with weeds is that they have an incredible ability to mimic other plants. I think that’s why the master tells his workers to let the young sprouts his enemy has sown be, until it’s harvest time, when it’s much easier to tell what’s what.

Recently, I read an interesting commentary on Matthew 13:38, where Jesus is explaining to his followers the meaning of the parable he just told about the wheat and the weeds. The most striking part of the commentary was this:

“He [Satan] has spies, moles, and plants right in the church…smack-dab amongst us, and they are so cleverly disguised that we cannot tell the difference between them and true Christians. They are so well disguised that they do not know who they are! “

Wait, what? They don’t even know who they serve? We’re normally taught that we live among the weeds, but we sit with them in church, too? Yes, we do. It’s so tempting to get wrapped up in the idea of Satan having sons and servants that we can easily misunderstand what Jesus is telling us, and what I thought was a key point presented in the article: Weeds are not easily recognized when viewed at ground level, when we’re stuck in the mud right next to each other. Did Caiaphas know that he wasn’t serving God when he hatched the plot to have Jesus arrested and killed? No, he didn’t. He thought his actions were responsible and righteous, that he was serving God! What about Paul? Did he know before that fateful day on the road to Damascus, when God smacked him up side the head and asked, “why do you persecute me?” He, as well, thought he was serving God, but wasn’t.

The point of the commentary was not that Satan has sons, servants, ministers and even apostles, which according scripture is most certainly true, but that they are like the young weeds in the garden. They, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13:15, “disguise themselves as servants of righteousness,” making them practically indistinguishable from true believers. Like the weeds in the parable, they are planted among us, and not just in the house next door, the cubical beside us, or, sometimes, at the Holiday dinner table, but also, in the pew in front of us, unwittingly working against us, against the tender, young sprouts of “good” seed which the Master’s servants have sown. Our enemy is that subtle in his efforts hijack God’s plan and to steer us in the wrong direction, away from the path that Jesus came to show us, and ultimately away from the Father.

~SLM

“but test everything; hold fast to what is good.” 1 Thessalonians 5:21

 

Mustard Seeds

Recently, our Pastor gave a sermon on Matthew 17:14-20. In this story, Jesus is up the mountain with Peter, James and John, and when they come down a man approaches Jesus to ask him to help his son, who is demon possessed. The man had asked the disciples to help, but they could not do it, so Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, telling it to leave the boy, and it did. The disciples didn’t understand why they were unable to cast it out, so Jesus tells them about a mustard seed.

Our pastor was using these passages in scripture as an example of how faith works. That it only takes the smallest, really almost microscopic, amount of faith to move whatever your mountain, because nothing is too large for God to accomplish. But as he was telling the story, I couldn’t help but think that maybe there was more to the story, maybe it wasn’t just about how faith works, but also about how misplaced faith never works.

In the story, Jesus says, “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” and I love the Contemporary English Version which states, “You people are too stubborn to have any faith.” When he says this, Jesus is not only talking to the people who are continually hounding him for a miracle, but because they ask about why they couldn’t do it, he’s also talking to his disciples. He tells them they have a faith problem, that they “don’t have enough faith,” and that if they had “faith no larger than a mustard seed, they could tell a mountain to move and it would.” A mustard seed is really, really small, and Jesus tells them that they didn’t have even the tiniest bit of faith. 

Wait, what? They didn’t have faith the size of a mustard seed? That would be like having no faith at all, and they’d been healing the sick and such all day, so they had to have something, right? It occurred to me right then, what Jesus was alluding to. It wasn’t necessarily that they had no faith, but moreover that their faith was resting in the wrong hands. It was misplaced. They had started to convince themselves that they were the reason the miracles were happening, they got full of themselves, and when they came up against a hard one, they lost sight of God, lost faith and gave up. Their faith in their own abilities had begun to eclipse their faith God’s ability, and because of that, they had no faith.

Whenever we forget about the “one who brought us,” failure is always waiting in the wings.  We lose faith, because we realize that we can’t, and we forget that with and through God, nothing is impossible! That’s why he told them about a mustard seed. Saying look you don’t even need a lot of faith. All you need is faith the size of this small seed, because that small seed, when planed in your heart grows into something much larger than yourself – trust me just this little bit and see where it takes you, and what you are able to accomplish, put your faith in me, instead of in yourselves.

It also got me thinking of Lazarus. Jesus wept for his friend, and just before he called Lazarus out of the tomb, he said a little prayer, he said, “Father I thank you that you have heard me. I knew you always hear me, but I said this on account of  those standing around, that they may believe…” And this, to me, is the most powerful example of faith; a simple prayer that doesn’t ask God if He can, but rather states, “I know You hear, I know You can – thank You.”

~SLM