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

The Year of the Whale

whale tail1
“The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.” (Jonah 1:1-3)
Sometimes, Jonah is the story of our lives. We know what we are supposed to do, we know what is required, but somehow, we just can’t see our way to it. We run, heading off in the opposite direction, believing we can flee from it. But fleeing doesn’t necessarily involve going somewhere else. We can flee and never leave the comfort of home, because ignoring something, neglecting it or procrastinating is also a form of escape, a mental one. When we focus on anything and everything, but what we know we are called to do, we are just as guilty of fleeing from God as Jonah was, only without having to pack any bags or pay a fare.

Whether it’s physically or mentally, usually running away doesn’t turn out so well. Sooner or later, our actions cause the people around us anguish, putting them in distress for our sake, while we slumber through the storm, until we are roused from our stupor, are tossed into the raging waters, and find ourselves in the belly of a beast.

At times, we have to get to the very end of our rope, before we even consider that we may have made the wrong move, and in those times, we usually have to crash into the tumultuous seas of consequence, before we look up, before we remember God.

So what can we do, then, from the depths of our denial? Jonah’s answer was prayer. He prayed for forgiveness, for mercy, for repentance and thanksgiving, promising to turn back, to remember God and to make amends by saying, “what I have vowed, I will pay,” because the thought of being banished from the sight of the Lord, was scarier than setting out to do His will.

Jonah knew that submitting to God’s will is a hard task, costing us everything, and on occasion, even our very will to live. Maybe that is why we resist, because it doesn’t turn out to be what we hoped or longed for, what we expected for our lives, but is exactly what we knew He would do, what we expected of Him.

No matter how far we run, or how many times, the Lord, in his mercy pursues us with His abounding love and grace. He patiently waits for us to turn, to realize how fully we live when we submit to His ways, reeling us back into his presence with arms wide open.

And for his mercy, I am grateful beyond words. Praise God.
~SLM

A Grateful Heart: My Prayer

Gratitude is on my mind today. I’ve been wondering why we find it so hard to just be thankful. When did gratitude go out of style, become so uncool? Every day we are so “ate up” with what we think is wrong in our lives, with what we think is insulting or offensive, that we can’t see past the negatives to the abundance of positives.

We obscure our lives with so much wanting, confusing desire with need, that sometimes, it seems, we forget this uncomplicated truth: “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” We live in a time that is unprecedented in all of recorded history. We literally have almost anything we desire at our fingertips, at any given moment, and while there seems to be great disparity between those who “have” and those who “have not,” even the poorest among us still enjoy a standard of living greater than all but a handful of other countries.

We are blessed, more than any other people at any other time, and the simple act of counting your blessings makes all the difference in the world to your attitude about life, turning your attention away from the “don’t” haves and toward the “do” haves. Even on our worst days, when we we’ve gotten a rotten diagnosis, or we don’t know how we’re ever going make it another day, we still have more than we came with. We can still “count it all joy, when we meet trials of various kinds, for we know that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness,  letting steadfastness have its full effect, that we may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  And, we can still “give thanks in everything: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning us.”

So, here’s a prayer for a grateful heart:

Instill in me a grateful heart that I may know Your ways and live by them. That I may be thankful for all Your gifts, even when those gifts appear to me as trials, for it is through adversity that You draw me nearest to You, that You teach me of Your faithfulness and love, that You show me the meaning of perseverance, of trust, of faith.

Instill in me a grateful heart that I may see humanity through Your eyes. That I may be thankful for Your love, Your compassion, even when that love feels miles away and I cannot see it, knowing that each person I see faces the same fears, insecurities, and battles as I, for it is Your love which connects us all, which teaches us of hope, of tolerance, of compassion.

Instill in me and grateful heart that I may walk with you in love and joy. That I may be thankful for the tranquility of Your presence, even when I’m surrounded by chaos, and strife is the theme of the day, trusting that Your yoke is easy, that Your guidance will see me through, that I may find solace with a prayer on my lips and peace in my heart.

Amen

~ SLM

1 Timothy 6:7, James 1:2-4, 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Shemitah

eclipse_sunset

Sometimes, what we need doesn’t exactly line up with what we think we need. Our lives are filled with highs and lows, with straight paths and twisting, rock-strewn passages that take more stamina and fortitude than we are even aware we possess. It brings to mind Ecclesiastes chapter 3. The one that starts with “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time…” 2015, for me, was a time to be silent, to be reflective, in short, Shemitah.

As we count down the end to 2015 and look forward to the New Year, I’d like to share a few thoughts on my time-out, my Shemitah year.

  • When you promise God that you’ll do something, it’s best to be faithful to that promise lest he force you to keep that promise by any means necessary.
  • True forgiveness is a very hard pill to swallow, but once you’ve choked it down, I mean really let it go, there is such freedom in it, compassion, love, and joyous peace.
  • Trusting in God is something that has to be actively practiced EVERY day. It’s hard sometimes to give it over, but every time you do, it turns out to be soooo much more than you could ever have imagined.
  • Actively loving others is hard, very hard, and without God’s help, we pretty much suck at it!

Shemitah is a time of respite from your labors, a sabbatical; it’s about the space in between, the quiet void that speaks more loudly than the words that surround it, about what we learn through contemplation rather than action, about faith in God rather than our own earthly wiles and abilities, and why we are needed instead of what we need.

I look forward to resuming my postings in the coming months, and wish all a happy and fruitful new year, and may your 2016 be blessed beyond measure.

Shalom

~SLM

Whatever Happens, Be Thankful

It’s so easy for us to be thankful when Life goes the way we think it should, we say “Praise God,” or “God is good.” And it’s also easy to forget. When life smiles on us, the stars align, and we seem to dance into our future without a care, we get all full of ourselves, feel entitled, forget to be grateful, and when life throws us a curve ball, we can’t bring ourselves to it. But gratefulness is important, whatever happens.

In 1 Thessalonians 5 Paul tells us to be thankful in every circumstance. No matter what the situation we find ourselves in, whether joyous and care-free or stress-filled and disastrous, we can be certain that we are exactly where we have been called to be. God has put us there. Paul tells us in Romans that all things work together for God’s good purposes. At any given time, we are where we are most needed to do honor and glory to God, even when we can’t see it. We must press on, remembering that where we find ourselves is merely a weigh station along the road, a pause, a side trip, not the final destination.

Here is the constant: God is good, and no matter how bad I’ve been, or how I perceive the circumstances that I may find myself in, He still is. So, thanking him every day for whatever life throws my way is the best way I know to be faithful to Him, to honor Him, because He has put me here, this is where he needs me most at this moment in my life.

~SLM

 

Unsettled Waters

Sometimes it’s remarkable to me how certain snippets of scripture in moments of synchronicity stand out in our daily lives, asking us to ponder them, to go deeper, and to consider what they can teach us. Lately Matthew 14:25-31 has had such a place in my life, and specifically verses 28-31 where Peter says to Christ, “if it is really you, tell me to come to you on the water, and Jesus says, “come.”
It occurs to me that whenever we move through anxious times, through rough spots in our lives, where everything seems upside down, and we aren’t sure how it will all turn out, this is the time when we have our best opportunity for spiritual growth. It’s the time to be single-minded in our attention, having the strength of faith to keep moving forward, trusting God’s promises to us. This passage is about stepping out in confidence, leaving the safety of the boat to move across the unsettled waters with our eyes fixed on the goal, trusting that we will be held safe in the journey. It’s about letting the storms, no matter what they are, or how they present themselves in our lives, rage about us as they may, without losing our devotion, and coming into the embrace of our future selves, our new selves in Christ.
What I get out of it is this: If we trust in God, we have to trust in His promises, completely, without dropping our focus. It’s when we lose focus, letting the raging wind and churning seas fill our sight, that we fail, that doubt creeps in and we lose faith; our faith in our ability to follow, and more importantly, our faith in the fact that it’s the loving arms of Christ which supports and sustains us, which gives us a “bridge” for troubled waters, and allows us to carry on in miraculous grace.
And so to end, a prayer…
Thank you Lord for your loving care, for your wisdom and guidance. You know just what I need, and you fill my life with peace and love, each breath I take with the wonder of your graciousness. Let me know the meaning of faith with every fiber of my being, know that no matter how it appears, I am fully taken care of, and know that all of my needs are met at every moment. Amen
~SLM

 

Update:  Songs on the theme that presented themselves over and over…

  1.  www.youtube.com/watch?v=dy9nwe9_xzw

 

Deuteronomy #1 Wandering in the Wilderness

In Deuteronomy Chapter 1, verse 2-8 tells us that it is eleven days journey from Horeb (Mt Sinai) to Kadesh-barnea by way of Mt. Seir, and that in the 40th year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the children of Israel, expounding on God’s law, telling them that God had kept his pledge, had placed the “promised” land before them and that they should go in and possess it. I’m struck by the fact that it took the children of Israel 40 years to make an 11 day journey. 40 YEARS! Two whole generations have passed before they are even in sight of the “promised” land.

Even God’s people can get side-tracked.  An inadvertent decision can change the direction of our lives so profoundly that a new course must be charted to get us to the intended goal.  In the blink of an eye, everything changes, and we can feel that change in our hearts. We know, and it’s too late to turn around and choose differently, as if we, in our willfulness, mired in the situation, could even remotely comprehend the master plan. But, there it is, that streak of arrogance that sets into motion a whole new game plan, and God says to us, “OK, you want to go down that road? We can do that. I can do that, but know this; it is the road of your choosing, not mine, and if you insist on your 40 years in the desert, we can do that, but you will have a time of it. ”

Sometimes our journey requires a detour, a side trip, a scenic route that’s designed to hone us into the kind of person who is ready to take on the challenges of the “promised” land. A seemingly insignificant choice has affected a thousand other choices – our own as well as those of others – and now we must live by our choice. We have already set into motion a chain reaction that will not only impact us, but also countless others, too, and so the wandering begins, our time of drifting, our season of testing.

It’s not God who loses faith, it is us. We are the breakers of promises, the destroyers of covenant, and the seekers after “other” gods, like money, fame, praise, and all manner of material things. We are the faithless ones, and how long our detour takes, the scope of its width depends on us, on our action, or lack thereof, and sometimes it can take a lifetime to circle back to where we belong. And once we have returned, we are to “go in and possess” that place that God has set aside for us.

~SLM