Seedlings

Our daughter loves gardening. While looking through seed catalogs, she decides what she wants to grow in her garden. Then she purchases the seeds. Zucchini – tomatoes – peppers – cucumbers.

Since warm weather is slow to arrive in New York state, she gets an early start by planting seeds indoors. Her seeds have become seedlings by the time she transplants them outdoors. I think the seedlings appreciate her TLC.

We can follow her example with spiritual seeds we plant in our hearts. Instead of looking through seed catalogs, we can look through our Bibles and find what seeds we most want to grow during the upcoming months. We, too, can give our spiritual seeds a head start by digging deeply into what scripture tells us about specific seeds.

Here are a few options of the spiritual seeds we can plant.

Faith
Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.Hebrews 11:1 NLT

Hope
For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.Romans 8:24-25
Hope is confident expectation.

Love
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.I Corinthians 13:4-7

Forgiveness
Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.Colossians 3:13 NLT

Joy
This is the day the LORD has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.Psalm 118:24

Although Jill gives her plant babies proper attention and extra nutrients, her seedlings are still delicate. However, they are one step ahead of seeds planted directly into the ground. The seedlings must be handled with care.

We will be wise to give our spiritual seedlings a little extra TLC before we transplant them into the world around us. The sprouts of our spiritual seedlings are fragile. They need our attention. They cry out for nourishment and water. Revelation 22:17 says, “Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.II Corinthians 9:10 says, “Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.

Once planted in the garden, our daughter’s vegetable seedlings grow rapidly with abundant sunshine and rain. However, weeds also grow. Jill now has a new project – pulling weeds. This is a continual part of gardening throughout the season.

Our spiritual seedlings also like Sonshine and heavenly rain. Ezekiel 36:25 promises. “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.” We will encounter weeds when are in the world. Ephesians 4:31-32 says, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” In these verses we not only discover weeds that need to be uprooted but we also learn how to get rid of them. Acts 3:19 tells us, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” Yes! Let’s wipe out all the weeds that want to crop up in our hearts.

From one little zucchini seedling, Jill gets enough zucchini to make multiple loaves of zucchini bread, to serve many dinners that include some kind of zucchini dish, to eat it raw with humus, and still share some of her vegetable produce with us. One zucchini seed or seedling can grow into a plant that yields many zucchini.

Our harvest from a spiritual seedling has the same potential. For instance, let us take a little seedling of love that is allowed to grow to maturity. Ephesians 3:17-19 says, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. The amazing thing is that a spiritual seed or seedling grows best when shared with others. We want the fruit of our labor to be more than seedlings. We want fruitfulness!

Just as vegetable seedlings grow in fertile, watered and cared for ground, spiritual seedlings will sprout, grow and flourish in our hearts. I want to restate the last part of Ephesians 3:17 Living Letters,May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love.Let us nurture and care for these tender sprouts. However, may we not be content with just seedlings. May our plantings produce godly growth we can share with those around us.

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Fear Not, Shepherds

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid;
for behold, I bring you good news of great joy
which will be for all the people;
Luke 2:10

Fear not! Fear not! Fear not! Fear not! This is the fourth week we have heard these words. We need to be reminded to not be afraid numerous times throughout our lives. It is easy for us to be overcome by fear. However, God wants us to replace fear with faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” In the natural, we tend to become fearful of something we cannot see or understand. We feel anxious and uneasy. However, God wants us to trust Him regarding unseen things. He desires our respect and reverence.

Over the past few weeks, we have observed the evidence of God’s faithfulness to Zechariah, Mary and Joseph. They did not need to fear. Today we will study our final example – the shepherds.

It was dark. It was night. Shepherds were taking care of their sheep. Suddenly, the light of the glory of the Lord shone around them. Darkness disappeared and angels appeared. An angel spoke, “Do not be afraid.” The angel continued to tell the shepherds good news – the Savior of the world had been born.

So much for the shepherds to think about! I would like to have heard their conversation after encountering the angel. We only know that they decided to go see this newborn baby. (see Luke 2:16) Upon their arrival, the shepherds discovered that the prophecy of Isaiah 9:6 was fulfilled before their eyes, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” What a wonderful experience they encountered because they were not afraid!

The shepherds did not let fear prevent them from going to see Jesus. Neither should we allow fear to hinder us from developing a personal relationship with Jesus. Deuteronomy 31:8 tells us, “The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

During the time the shepherds traveled from their flocks to Jesus, they exchanged scared fear for sacred fear. We, too, must let go of our terrifying fear and grasp hold of reverential fear. Proverbs 3:7 warns, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD.” Psalm 34:9 exhorts us, “Fear the LORD, you His holy people, for those who fear Him lack nothing.

Psalm 103:11 says, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him.” The heavens reveal the vastness of God love. While watching their sheep this particular night, the shepherds saw angels in addition to stars in the sky. The angels may have caused them to be fearful but God’s love helped them overcome their anxiety. Sacred fear is more powerful than scared fear. Psalm 103:17 gives us an awesome promise, “But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear Him, and His righteousness with their children’s children.

John Bevere explains that moving from fear to faith (reverential fear) involves an inner transformation of the heart. He goes on to say, “Holy fear gives God the place of glory, honor, reverence, thanksgiving, praise, and preeminence He deserves.” David asks in Psalm 56:1 NLT,I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?We will deny God what He deserves if we focus upon being afraid of what mankind can do.

After seeing baby Jesus, Luke 2:20 NLT says, “The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” Their joy overflowed. When the shepherds refused to yield to emotional fear, they experienced reverential fear. Psalm 128:1 NLT declares, How joyful are those who fear the LORD–all who follow his ways! Now it is our turn to decide whether we will act out of fear or in faith. Psalm 145:3 NLT says, “Great is the LORD! He is most worthy of praise! No one can measure his greatness.”

In just a few days we will celebrate Christmas. Let us exchange fear for fear. Celebrate the birth of our Savior and Lord with reverential awe and adoration. He is Emmanuel – God with us! Psalm 147:11 says, “The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.”

Fear Not, Joseph

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife,
because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 1:20

 

We are now in our third week of Advent – preparing our hearts and homes for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Joseph is the next Christmas character we will consider who faced fear.

Mary had broken the news to Joseph that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. He had to decide what he was going to do. Being a righteous man, he considered quietly divorcing Mary as his way of getting out of this predicament. God had other plans and He needed to get Joseph’s attention.

God spoke to Joseph a dream.

Let’s think a little more about dreams. The Lord says in Joel 2:28-29, I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.Chronologically, Joseph was a young man. However, I believe his spiritual maturity qualified him as an older man. Joseph’s dream was a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. This prophecy was also fulfilled at Pentecost. (See Acts 2:17.) The Holy Spirit still speaks through dreams. Be alert. The Lord may choose to help you overcome fear through a dream.

God gave Joseph instructions through a dream – and he obeyed. Joseph’s obedience is a good example for us. Jesus says in Luke 11:28, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Since God could trust Joseph to hear and obey, He spoke to him three more times through dreams. Each time the Lord gave Joseph further guidance. There accounts are found in Matthew 2:1-12, Matthew 2:16-18 and Matthew 2:22. Joseph’s encounter with the Spirit of God was not a one time experience. The Holy Spirit also came upon the disciples more than once. Acts 13:62 NASB says, “And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit wants to speak to us as well. And, He will speak to us numerous times!

Last week we emphasized that Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. This week we find Joseph was guided and instructed by the Holy Spirit. Both of them listened to the Spirit. Joseph was not fearful because he was not afraid of what God was doing.

Joseph entrusted Mary’s life as well as his own into the hands of God. Joseph felt no reason to fear the Spirit’s work – neither should we. Hebrews 13:5 NLT declares, “So we can say with confidence, ‘The LORD is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?’”

Jesus tells us in John 14:16, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.Different translations use different words to describe the Holy Spirit – Advocate, Counselor, Comforter, Helper. All these terms help us understand the role of the Holy Spirit.

God had a plan for Joseph. Joseph was an integral part of the birth of Jesus. God also has a plan for each of us. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” With this promise, we need not be afraid. We are simply to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Georgio A. Dano has said, “Fear ends where faith begins.”

Fear Not, Mary

 

Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her,
“for you have found favor with God!
Luke 1:30

Today we continue our Advent study of Christmas characters who were told not to be afraid. May we also be encouraged to discard fear from our lives. We must remember that these are real people who had genuine encounters with God. We are not just reading fictional stories.

Let us look closely at Mary.

One of the first things I notice about the scripture of Luke 1:30 is that the angel addressed Mary by name. God knew her name! He spoke personally to her.

The Lord says in Isaiah 43:1, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” God addressed Isaiah with these words. He spoke similar words to Mary approximately 700 years later. Now over 2000 years later, He still speaks these words. Place your name in the blanks and hear the Lord say, “________, don’t be afraid; I have called you by name. You are mine. ________, do not be afraid.”

What was happening for Mary before she heard God calling her name?

Mary lived in Galilee and was planning her marriage to Joseph. Suddenly there was a change in plans when an angel appeared. The first thing the angel told Mary was to not be afraid. However, being told not to fear, did not mean she would not encounter fear.

The angel gave Mary a revelation as well as a warning. She was told she would conceive a baby by the Holy Spirit. It would be scary for any unwed young woman to find out she was pregnant. But there was more for Mary to learn. Things got even scarier when she found out the conception would take place by the Holy Spirit. She could not comprehend how this could happen.

Mary needed to grasp that although she was in a scary situation, God was with her. She did not need to be afraid. Something good was coming – the birth of the Son of God and Son of man. Emmanuel, God with us, would be born through her body.

Mary did not have the scripture of II Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” These would have been comforting Mary. The are reassuring words for us today.

Although we may be told not to fear, it is not always easy to avoid fear. Fear often leads to worry. Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The angel informed Mary that she had found favor with God. This meant He was pleased with her. He loved her. According to gotquestions.org, those who are favored of God know that God is with them and that nothing can happen to them apart from His good purpose. Romans 8:28 says, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Those who receive God’s favor also have the assurance that the Lord is attentive when they walk through difficult times. According to Psalm 34:15, “The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are attentive to their cry.” When we have the favor of the Lord, we rest in quiet confidence. Isaiah 30:15 NLT tells us, “In quietness and confidence is your strength.”

When Mary followed the Lord’s plan, His plans were fulfilled. Mary had been preparing for her marriage celebration to Joseph. It didn’t go exactly as she planned. However, she did not walk in fear. Mary set an example for us. We must not become fearful when everything does not go as we have planned. Let us be impregnated with Jesus and His ways. God’s plans may be different from ours. Matthew 6:34 says, “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Fear Not, Zechariah

Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer.
Luke 1:13

Do not fear” is a command given by God. Numerous people heard these words throughout scripture. God speaks similarly to us today. We must remember that these words are a command. They are not just a suggestion. It is interesting that God often follows this directive with a further revelation or interaction. When He requires us to do something, He helps us do it.

According to the Christian calendar, Advent will begin Sunday. This is a time of preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. May we also use this period as a time of preparing our hearts to gain insight of how not to fear.

Between now and Christmas, we are going to look at four Christmas characters who were told to not be afraid. Today we begin with Zechariah.

While Zechariah was in the temple burning incense, an angel appeared to him. Luke 1:12 says, “Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear.” I can’t blame him! An angel would startle anyone. There were two reasons for him not to be afraid. First, he was not to be fearful of this heavenly being’s appearance. Secondly, he was not to be afraid that God had not heard his prayers.

The angelic messenger told Zechariah that Elizabeth would finally have a child. According to verse 14, Zech and Liz would experience joy instead of fear.

We can be assured that God will also answer our prayers. Psalm 91:15, “He will call on Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.Calling is praying.

The Lord says in Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Zechariah heard things he did not understand. He was not confident about what he was hearing. In Luke 1:18, Zechariah asked, “How can I be sure of this?” After questioning God, Zechariah was not able to speak until his son John was born.

During this time of silence, I assume that Zechariah’s fear was replaced with faith. He had a lot of time for quiet meditation. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” This verse applies to us as well as Zechariah. When we become anxious and fearful, let us be quiet and listen for the Lord. We must allow faith to overpower our fear.

Hebrews 11:1 NLT states, “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” I also like the New King James translation which says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” A note in the Spirit Filled Life Bible points out that this is not a definition of faith. This is a description of how faith works. Faith is the assurance of what God promises. Faith is being confident that God is constantly working behind the scenes in our lives even when we do not see any tangible evidence.

An anonymous quote says, “Faith allows things to happen. It is the power that comes from a fearless heart. And when a fearless heart believes, miracles happen.This was true for Zechariah. When he replaced the fear in his heart with faith, the miraculous birth of John the Baptist transpired with Zechariah and Elizabeth being the parents. God’s faithfulness was stronger than Zechariah’s fear.

Fear and faith cannot coexist. My Reader, may you not only hear God say to you, “Do not fear.” – also hear Him say, “Have faith.”

Continually Give Thanks


G
ive thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
I Thessalonians 5:18

In the United States of America, we will be celebrating our national holiday of Thanksgiving tomorrow. It is an opportunity for us to pause and thank God for His blessings upon our nation and our families.

All of our family will be together. Before we eat, we will pray and thank God for the food set before us. We will ask for His blessing upon our Thanksgiving dinner. While eating, each of us will express gratitude for at least one thing. It is easy to give thanks for situations where we have seen God move. However, can we give thanks for a blessing we have not yet received?

Jesus sets the example for when we should give thanks. Before Lazarus was raised from the grave, Jesus gave thanks for what was about to happen. John 11:41 says, “Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard me.’” However, it is not until verse 43 that Jesus commanded Lazarus to come forth. In verse 44, Lazarus came back to life. Jesus thanked His Heavenly Father for what He was confident His Father would do. Jesus gave thanks before He received the answer to His prayer.

In her book One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp explains that eucharisteo – thanksgiving – always precedes the miracle. Ann writes, “Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives. Thanksgiving is the manifestation our Yes! to His grace.”

Thanking God in advance may not appear to make sense in the natural. However, Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Giving thanks prior to receiving the answer to our prayers reveals our confidence in God’s willingness and ability to answer our prayers.

Psalm 119:90 states, “Your (God;s) faithfulness continues through all generations.” The fact that God is faithful to answer our prayers is a valid reason to give thanks.

Giving thanks before we have received our request is an expression of our faith. Hebrews 11:1 NKJV says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

In I Chronicles 16:34 NIV, we are told,Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever.Ephesians 3:20 NKJV says, “(He) is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” God is good and God is able. Two reasons to give Him thanks – even before we have His response.

Psalm 71:14 NLT says, “But I will keep on hoping for Your help; I will praise You more and more.” We thank God for what He has done. We praise Him for who He is. The more we praise God for who He is, the stronger our faith becomes regarding what He will do for us.

Philippians 4:6 tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Asking and thanking are both aspects of prayer. God gives us the privilege of asking. We have the responsibility of thanking.

The Thanksgiving holiday gives us the opportunity to focus upon giving thanks. Most of the time, it is easier to ask God for something than it is to thank Him for what we have received. It is even harder to thank Him for what we are still waiting to receive.

I encourage you to take your thankfulness to a deeper level this season by giving thanks in all circumstances. God will bless you in return. He loves to hear you say, “Thanks, God!”

 

Dot-to- Dot


Do you remember doing dot-to-dot pictures when you were a child? Following the numbers from 1 to 20 (or higher), I would make a picture of an animal or a flower or whatever else might appear. If I did not follow the number sequence correctly, the picture would not turn out as expected.

I think God may have a big dot-to-dot picture in mind for our lives. The Lord says in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Each of us creates a unique picture designed by God. According to Psalm 139:14, we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

As a child, I made mistakes in my dot-to-dot books and had to erase improper lines and try again. Most likely, we will make a few mistakes while completing our life pictures because Romans 3:10 says, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” Thank God for His holy eraser of forgiveness that allows us to erase and retrace a few of our steps. According to I John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” There are times when we draw lines between dots according to our own will rather than those directed by the number sequence. These choices may disfigure the image God originally designed for us. However, He is willing to work with a few of our distortions. Proverbs 16:4 says, “The LORD works out everything to its proper end.”

Like a child who may be required to redraw some of the lines of his picture, we may need to make a few changes in our lives. We do not always get it right the first time. Hebrews 10:36 tells us, “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.” The Lord simply requires us to keep trying. Micah 6:8 says, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Within the passage of Ephesians 5:15-18, Paul cautions, “Therefore be careful how you walk. . . . Do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. . . . Be filled with the Spirit.” To apply these words to a dot-to-dot picture, maybe we should say, “Be careful how you draw your lines. Don’t be foolish, but follow the correct numerical sequence. Help is available.” My mother would help me if I could not find the next number of my picture. Today, we have the Holy Spirit as our helper when we are making decisions. Jesus says in John 14:26, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” Romans 8:26 assures us that the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness.

Our preference may not always be the way our life picture is to be drawn. We may not like what the dots involve. However, we are reminded in Romans 8:28-29, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.” Our final life picture will reveal the image of Christ in us. Graham Cooke has said, “You are here for one purpose only and that is to be made in the image of God. Every single situation, oppositional feature, difficult person, everything is designed to make you in the image of God.”  That means every dot! 

We are given guidance in Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your hear. And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Although we may not understand why some dots are included in our life’s picture, we need to remember Psalm 33:11, “But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations.” God has a whole book of dot-to-dot pictures including the images of all the people of the earth. God’s plan does not begin and end with each of us individually. He has a greater eternal purpose in mind for all of His people.

Let us agree with the words of Job 42:2, “I know that You can do all things; no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” May we remember I Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” This includes times of joy and sorrow – times of adversity and prosperity.

No matter what we encounter while connecting our dots, we have the promise of Hebrews 13:21. God will “equip us in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ.”

As a child, I remember sometimes singing while drawing dot-to-dot pictures. This may be a good idea for us today. David says in Psalm 34:1 NLT, “I will praise the LORD at all times. I will constantly speak His praises.” With God’s help, the final picture of each of our lives will reflect the image of God. According to II Corinthians 3:18, we are “being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

Our lives are not just a bunch of unconnected dots of happenstance or coincidence. Our lives are God ordained. My Reader, along with Paul, I am “encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom and glory.I Thessalonians 2:12.