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

And When You Pray…


Prayer is such a tricky subject. It’s a concept we all think we know, one that we tend to overuse as well as over simplify, but is it really as straight forward and easy as we assume? When asked, most people today, would say that it’s a one-on-one conversation with God, and that’s not entirely wrong. It is that, but it is also a great deal more.

For context, here’s how the Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines prayer:

an address (such as a petition) to God (or a god) in word or thought; an earnest request or wish

And the word pray is defined as:

to entreat, to implore, to address God (or a god) with adoration, confession, supplication or thanksgiving

In Matthew 6, Jesus teaches us about prayer, what it is, what it is not, and that we should pray in a certain way. He says, “don’t make a big show of it, so that others can congratulate you on how great a “prayer” you are. If you do that, you are really praying for your own benefit, for your own praise. And, he says that there is no need for using lots of empty phrases, thinking that the bigger and more elaborate your prayer, the better. God knows what you need, before you ask him, so pray like this:”

Our father who art in heaven hollowed be thy name – Our creator, our progenitor, who resides in eternity, whose name is sacred to us, holy. We acknowledge and remember Your rightful status, Your greatness.

Thy Kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven – We recognize your sovereignty and authority in all things, and pray for Your will to be done, not ours, even when we don’t understand it, and especially when we think it is “wrong.”

Give us this day, our daily bread – Feed us, Lord, each day, not just our bodies, but also with “the bread of life.” Help us to know and understand your Word, fill us with your wisdom.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us – Forgive us for our transgressions into your realm, for trying to fill your shoes, for how we fall short, for grieving your Holy Spirit, and give us the courage, the strength and temerity to forgive those who have wronged us.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (the evil one) – Lead us away from the things that tempt us, the things that ensnare us and hold us in bondage, that mire us down in hopelessness and deceit, and save us from ourselves, from our propensity to make the wrong choices. Help us to recognize evil in all its forms and give us the strength to overcome, to turn our back, to walk away from it, as You did in the desert.

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever – It’s your creation, Lord, your playground, you are the potter, and it is through your might, your will, your love that you distinguish yourself, striking awe into the hearts of men that they may sing your praises without end.

I find it rather curious that in his example, Christ uses “our” and “us,” not “me” and “my.” As if to say, pray collectively while you pray individually. It also occurs to me that prayer was never meant to be about us individually, like a laundry list of things we’d like to get done, but an all encompassing notion that’s done best when we pray for more than just ourselves. Daniel didn’t pray for just himself, but for the whole nation of Israel (Daniel 9:4-19), and when Job prayed, it was his friends that he prayed for. As a result, the Lord restored his fortunes, giving him twice as much as he had before. (Job 42:10)

Whether we call it meditation, supplication, or whatever other name that strikes our fancy, prayer is a powerful tool. It’s something we all practice in one form or another, whether we realize it or not.  In Ephesians 6:18, Paul encourages us to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”

~SLM

Prayer of Gratitude

I am in awe of You, Lord, that You would call my name from among the millions of others You could speak. I am grateful for it. Even when I ran like hell in the opposite direction, alone and lonely, confused and afraid, You called to me, reaching out to take my hand and draw me toward You. Your loving kindness has blessed my life in so many ways – ways that I’m still discovering – that have lifted me up, when I needed lifting and knocked me down a peg, when I’ve gotten too full of myself.

Thank You for choosing me, Lord, for seeing in me what I could not, what I would not see in myself. You have brought me in and covered me with Your mercy, given me purpose, given me life.

From a parched and dry land you have led me to streams of “living” water that I may drink fully of Your grace. You have fed me with the bread of Your presence, Your mana, the mana that is every word that comes from Your mouth.

I will praise Your name all of my days, until my last breath.  ~ Amen

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Based on Matthew 18:12-14 ( The Parable of the Lost Sheep), “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury is a favorite of mine and is the inspiration for the above prayer.

Who I Am, A Prayer

Help me Lord to remember who I am and what I am supposed to be. You have called me to be a light in the darkness, a city on a hill, and that means I am to be a reflection of you. Help me, Lord, to be a mirror of your goodness, radiating your love into a world of brokenness and disillusionment, a world that’s lost and frightened, that needs you more than they can even know. Give me words to speak life, not destruction, words to lift others up and give them hope, to comfort and heal, not blame and accuse. In all that I do, fill my heart with your compassion that I may glorify your name, Lord, not take it in vain. ~ Amen

Let There Be Light

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was unformed and void, darkness was on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the water. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and God divided the light from the darkness. (Gen 1:1-4)

We are called to walk a path of light, to “be a city on a hill” that we may shine brightly before men, as a beacon, and that means to step away from the darkness, to leave its ways behind, to live in the light. In the beginning, God pulled the light from the darkness as a means of setting it apart, separating it, sanctifying it, making it a foil for the darkness. 1 John 1:5-6 tells us that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” We cannot live in the light while we relish the acts of darkness. They are mutually exclusive groups, sharing nothing in common, and are therefore incompatible.

What, then, is God’s light? How do we define it? Is it not but a contrast between two opposing elements, between black and white, between all that is good, right, and true with that which is not? In Ephesians 5:8-9, Paul says, “For you used to be in darkness; but now, united with the Lord you are light. Live like children of light, for the fruit of the light is in every kind of goodness, rightness and truth.” Truth is what gives contrast to darkness, what exposes all that we thought to be hidden. But more than this, contrast is also what brings to light all that lurks in shadow, because sometimes, “darkness” is more subtle than mere blackness. It can also be like filtered light that’s been misdirected and distorted until its purpose is obscured, no longer providing sharp relief, and no longer serving as a beacon. Paul continues in Ephesians 5:11-14 saying that we should “have nothing to do with the deeds produced by darkness, but instead expose them…everything exposed to the light is revealed clearly for what it is, since anything revealed is a light.”

Every instance of “light” in our world is just a reflection of God’s ultimate goodness. If you trace the light back to the source, it’s God! And, that’s why Paul tells us in Romans 13:12, “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” The light of God is not only our protection, but also our calling as His chosen people, His children. Every day we are in active battle with a world of darkness, and that’s why we’re told to “put our light on a stand, and not under a basket” and this means we must place it in the most advantageous spot for all to see, that we may provide a sharp contrast to the darkness. Think of a time when you were in a dark place, and the light brought you out of it. What form did light take in that moment? And looking back, can you see how it was strategically placed in your life to show you the way, to deliver you from evil and to bring you into God’s light?

The color black appears as it does, because it actually absorbs all visible light reflecting nothing back to the eye – it takes. Likewise, the color white is simply the reflection of visible light – it gives. What we learn from these opposing properties is this: When we choose not to be reflections of God’s light, only taking in, we not only live in darkness, but we also create darkness in our hearts. And in contrast to this, when we are reflections of God’s light, casting everything back, we become co-creators with him through Christ.

A Prayer:

Help me to remember, Lord, who I am and what I am supposed to be. If I am to be your light in this world, that means I am to be a reflection of who you are. Help me, Lord, to be a positive reflection, to remember that everything I do and say must reflect rightly upon you, that I may not take your name in vain, but bring honor and glory to you in thought, word and deed. ~Amen

 

~SLM

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Christ Jesus his son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 Jn 1:7)

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