Planting in faith for a better tomorrow.

(A quick read: 995 words.)

Recently I listened to a very encouraging and impacting message by Pastor Rick Warren: ‘What Seeds Will you Plant this Spring’. Using the example of a seed that is planted and harvested some time later, Pastor Rick described how a person reaps in life what they sow into it. For example, if you plant seeds of love you will harvest the fruits of love, if you sow resentment, you will harvest resentment. Yes, I’ve heard this statement many times before but Pastor Rick’s message helped me to understand the concept in relation to my faith and my Christian life.

It is now apparent to me that my relationship with God and my knowledge of him is, and will be, the direct result of what seeds I once planted and of what seeds I choose to plant: I am as close to God as I choose to be today but also because of the choices I once made.

Thinking this over, I find myself asking a few questions: what would my christian faith be today if I planted seeds of faith ten years ago and what will it be like tomorrow if I start planting good seeds today? I’m not lamenting my past, but it is in the looking back that causes me to carefully consider today what I want my life to look like in the future.

I’m content with where I am today, I can see that God has produced a good harvest for me even though I planted pitifully but I want to make sure that my faith significantly matures from here out. Pastor Rick’s explanation of seed and harvest has helped me to think of this in a practical manner: what I want is what I plant.

I want to know and understand the Bible, therefore I should develop and commit to a daily Bible reading plan. I want a ministry and relationship with my family, friends and church that is loving, kind, trusting, committed, supportive, forgiving and generous, therefore I should actively begin living my life like that. But how? How do you plant a seed of love?

I’m aware it’s a strange concept that doesn’t seem tangible at first and I suppose the answer will differ for everyone. Essentially it is up to each of us, but here’s a quick illustration that might make the concept easier to grasp:
A father who has not seen his daughter for some time decides that he wants to have a good relationship with her but given life’s circumstances the idea seems hopeless. He has two choices, either to wait and hope that one day she comes looking for him or he could move towards her with small gestures like sending a text message or a handwritten card, turning up at her soccer match, taking her out for a milkshake, or even driving her to school. With God’s help and his own care and attention their relationship will grow and change. Small seeds grow into huge trees.

The illustration makes me think of my own relationship with my children. If I desire to be a mother my children feel they can talk to tomorrow, and I do, then I better start listening and talking with them today.

And at church, if I want to have christian fellowship with that person who avoids conversation with everyone, then I need to show them love and respect each time I see them. A lifelong friendship can develop from a polite smile.

When considering faith, if a person wants a faith that is solid in it’s foundation, it’s a very good idea to start learning about God today. If Christians desire a life that bears the fruit of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control Galatians 5:22,23) then we need to be practicing that today.

There are so many seeds I need to plant; I lack so much of the ‘Christian character’. I’m not sure if people would recognize the fruits of the Spirit in my life at all. For example: generosity. I am not a regular giver of my time, money, patience, hospitality, love, or trust. (I know, so much to work on!) Therefore, after considering ‘plant and harvest’, I’m going to choose to plant a seed in the name of generosity. My hope, and aim, is that one day someone describes me as generous…now just to begin. What can I do today that is generous? What can you do?

I know that in life we want everything now. We want to have success today. We want to love and be loved right now. We want a partner, or kids, or a community, or all of that today. The problem is that life just doesn’t work that way. It takes time for a seed to grow, for a person to change and mature. The important thing is to sow in faith and be patient in God’s timing. Some seeds are harvested in a few short weeks, others take years to grow and mature. Thankfully we have a God who asks us not to worry about tomorrow, who urges us to trust him in all things and who says that “Those who plant in tears will harvest in shouts of joy” (Psalm 126:5).

Can you visualize what kind of relationship with God you want? Can you dare to dream that a terrible relationship with a family member could be made whole one day? If so, what kind of seeds do you think you can plant in hope today?

I am so taken by this idea, I’ve decided to buy a Planter Box and grow some vegetables from seeds as a daily reminder to sow in faith. I am not good in the garden and I expect there to be frustration, failure and unforeseen biological disaster but one day, with God’s goodness, I’ll be serving my home grown carrots to a room full of friends. What he gives, he gives so we can bless others.

I find some of the stories in the Bible so disturbing. Is it bad for my faith to question them?

There’s something about the Bible. It is capable of evoking joy in those that choose to believe it or it evokes anger in those that choose to discredit it. Oftentimes, it can evoke anger and joy in those who believe it too. Most of us modern day thinkers find many chapters (or the entire thing) in the Old Testament too terrible to comprehend. Much of the old testament speaks of brutal war, murder, rape, plagues, sin and sorrow. The Israelites were themselves brutal in their conquering of their enemies as they took hold promised land. In Deuteronomy 3:6-7 Moses, the author of the book, puts it bluntly: ‘We destroyed all the people in every town we conquered – men, women and children alike. But we kept all the livestocks for ourselves and took plunder from all the towns’.  In my opinion that is horrific, barbaric, and wrong! I am forced to ask ‘what kind of God could do that?’ And, if I take this further, I must consider if a God like that is really God at all because shouldn’t God be all about loving thy neighbor?

Somewhere along my journey of faith, perhaps when I heard Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in the United States say that it is ok to have doubts, I came to realize that it is good to have questions too. In fact, more than that, it is essential to have questions, to mediate and think about God and what all of this means. Questions and doubt are not something to fear or to feel guilty about. It is part of who we are and how God made us. The intelligence he gave us is to, first and foremost, think.  And in our thinking and questioning we should not feel the need to hide from our christian friends, pastors, leader and churches. They too should not shy away from the deep questions we ask for there is opportunity for everyone to grow in faith and knowledge. Questioning God isn’t an act of doubt, it is an act of belief! If there was no belief, or no desire to believe, why bother questioning? There would simply be no reason to. It would be a waste of our precious time. To question then, is to desire understanding and meaning. Nothing wrong with that! 

So how then do you and I read the Bible? How do we continue in relationship with God when there is so much we don’t get and empathize with in the book? I suppose we need a little bit of faith, even just a tiny bit, to begin. Faith is that thing we can’t see but might be able to feel in our hearts but is also something we choose to have. It’s like saying ‘I don’t know about that but I’m going to trust that one day I will and that it will be good for me’. ‘But how do I even get to have faith, I don’t even know where to begin?’ 

Faith is found, seeded, and grown in hope. Hope comes from trusting a God who promises life and blessings to those who believe in him. We hope that the good stuff in the bible is true, we trust that it is. Trust is made manifest in the questions, trials, tribulations, joy and goodness that can be found in relationship with God (all those times we can see that God worked the good into our lives). Trust grows over time and relationship with God comes from time spent together with him. That’s time spent in thought, prayer and reading his word (and other writings that encourage you). Time given to thinking though God’s purposes and meanings. Wrestling over the purpose, meaning, and character of a God who stood by as the Israelites slaughtered thousands, means that you haven’t given up, you haven’t lost faith in God, it means that you desire peace in your heart over something that doesn’t sit right. And it doesn’t. I admit it. The slaughter of children never sits right. But then I wonder, why doesn’t it sit right? It seems like many ancient cultures killed children in war. In fact, many ancient cultures sacrificed their own children to gods (Deuteronomy 12:31b). Is there a difference in how we see children, or how we value life now in comparison to then? Yes. There is. Obviously.  

The reaction of many of governments around the world to bring their nation’s economy to a standstill in favor of protecting it’s citizens during this Covid-19 pandemic reveals something striking: life is valued. It is valued more than the billions of dollars lost. It is valued more than winning the next election. A world at standstill, in lockdown, in isolation to save the lives of people indicates more than strongly that we are valued. I am valued. You are valued. It seems that governments are acting in good faith that there is no financial loss that could be considered worse than losing one life in this pandemic. In Australia, where I live, to date, 97 people have died. The dollars spent to protect them – it’s not countable. So what happened? How is it that we read the Old Testament with such disdain, disgust and interrogation when ancient cultures and it’s celebrities, including King David (the most celebrated Israelite (human) king), read it with acceptance and understanding? They even agreed with it! So, what changed us? The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ did. It was he who offered a profoundly different way of thinking and living. In doing this, he also brought about a different way of relating to God. 

When Jesus was ministering in Israel, the nation was under the command of the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire, famous to many of us now for it’s architecture and Gladiators, waged war for centuries with millions of people across land and sea. It was also a people who, if a baby was not wanted, it was put into the street to be ‘exposed’ to the elements so that it would die. Children were not valued anywhere. Was it shocking for people to witness Jesus reprimanding his disciples for attempting to stop children approaching him? And when Jesus placed his hands on the children’s heads and blessed them saying ‘Let the Children come…For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children’ (Matthew 19:14), doesn’t this infer that Jesus placed value and equality of the lives of children, on all of us? Similarly, when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman (Samaritans were despised by the Jewish people), and at such length, he broke all social custom and treated her as equal. Most distinctly, when he commanded that we should love our neighbor (Mark 12:31) he said something that no one before him had done. The act of loving our neighbor as ourselves makes us equal in ways that the Old Testament did not do. It is this, this idea, that our western civilization, our world has profited from. For now, in our hearts, we abhor murder, rape, war, and all evil treatment to our neighbors and children alike. We are a changed civilization. Our perspective has been altered and it is for this reason that we have difficulty reading, understanding, and empathizing with parts of the Old Testament. But that’s a good thing! We are not meant to empathize, how could we, we view things in the light of Christ. We’re the lucky ones. We have an enormous benefit of seeing the story played out in God’s word. The ancient Israelites did not, they only knew the beginning of the story. For that’s what the Bible is, it is a story, it is history, as in HIS story, describing how God plans to bless all nations through the birth, death, and resurrection of his Son.

Depending on where we fit in story, in that timeline, we will all view things differently and have many different and similar questions. The more I read the Bible, the more I can see one thing in particular common to all peoples at all times: God is there and waiting to be found by those who seek him. So ask, think, ponder, doubt, talk to others, and even celebrate about what you think it all means. Thinking, meditating, questioning and seeking is a privilege – a God given one. What question is on your mind? 

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Matthew 6:33 NLT

The Israelites in their wilderness saw God, they saw his incredible miracles and they still doubted. I don’t see God, is he talking to me at all?

Three weeks ago I began reading the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. Aside from skimming over the details for the building and presentation of the Arc of the Covenant and the Tabernacle, I read it as closely as I could. I underlined, I made notes, I asked questions, and I discussed it with a person who knows the scriptures better than most (my mother). I wasn’t surprised by the violence; ancient cultures are known to have been barbaric. The strangeness of the plagues God used to expel his people from Egypt didn’t astonish me for I have known this story since childhood however, I found myself in awe of the constant complaints and failure of the Israelites. I came to understand that Exodus and Deuteronomy are not only about how God rescued his people from slavery, it is a record of how the Israelites kept getting it wrong. And in their failure, this record stands as example of God’s perfect and loving grace. 

I was dumbstruck to learn that within days of fleeing Egypt many Israelites (or Hebrews as they were known as at the time) doubt God’s deliverance and wish to return to slavery for ‘its better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness’ (Ex 14:12). I could not believe that even after they witness the extraordinary parting of the red sea, experience God providing care, food and water for them in the wilderness, and seeing God’s daily guidance and protection manifest in a pillar of cloud in the day and a pillar of fire at night, they still doubt! Can you believe that before the first year is out they even take their jewelry and form a carved idol, which they then celebrate with a big party declaring that idol to be the god who brought them out of Egypt? (Ex 32:1-8) How did these people forget him so quickly? Did they have amnesia? 

In 2020, thousands of years after these events, it’s easy to judge the Israelites. They had physical proof that God was with them! They witnessed miracle after miracle! They were guided daily by God who even went ahead of them and chose the best campsites for them to dwell in (Duet 1: 32-33), but they still didn’t trust the Lord God! And here we are in May 2020 never having seen, or likely to ever see, anything remotely like this, yet we are still asked to put our trust in him? They had it so easy! So much easier than us. God appeared to them, time and time again, but there are probably millions of Christians today who don’t even believe that God has ever, or will ever, communicate with him. To him, he’s a distant God, not an interventional God, but one still worth believing him. When comparing us to the Israelites at the time of the Exodus with a God that so obviously showed up, it is difficult to comprehend their mistrust of him. Worse, when God after a short time takes them to the Promised Land and tells them to enter it, they refuse in fear. They still do not trust him. Their failure in this resulted in another forty years in the wilderness!

I wonder, what would my belief have looked like if I was among the Israelites? Would I have given my jewelry to be melted down and made into an idol? Would I have failed at the tests God gave them? Tests that God had already provided the answer for? What about you? Do you think you would have trusted him? When overlooking for the first time the land that God had promised to give them, all they had to do was enter and take it, instead they let their own fear and worry consume them. By not trusting and obeying God, they missed the blessings he had prepared for them and they were ordered back into the desert to learn again what God had already taught them – ‘Trust me and I will provide for you’.

Covid-19 and the enforced isolation that comes with it, feels (and looks) like a wilderness. It is unknown, it is mundane, it is a place a fear and loneliness, it is something all of us wish to turn away from. But I must wonder are God’s blessings, his provision and his very presence in this Coronavirus desert too? This may be a time of unprecedented change, worry, sickness and grief (don’t forget boredom too) but it can also be a time of trust, peace, faith and understanding. We may not have pillars of clouds or fire to guide us but God has already provided guidance for us in his word. 

The bible isn’t a book about God’s commands, punishment and law, it’s a book expressing God’s grace and unfailing love to a people who continually failed him. It’s a book that can be a light upon our path as we walk through these days. It is a book with a personal message of hope for you and I, if we decide to take the time to read it. The more I read it, the more I can see that God’s plan was, and will always be, good for those who put their trust in him. What will you discover?

 The wilderness the Israelites experienced destroyed many of them. My prayer for you and I is that this wilderness called Covid-19 and all the stress and discomfort it brings will not be a time of failure to trust, or a failure to hope or a lack of wanting to seek God, but rather a time of growth and blessing as we search for and rest in his comfort and guidance…as we seek him – the God who wants us to remember the miracles he did to rescue his people, knowing that one day when our time to be on this earth would come about that we would be blessed by what he did then.  I wonder, was King David thinking of the Exodus when he wrote Psalm 25:6 ‘Remember O Lord, your compassion and unfailing love, which you have shown from ages past.’ His love, the same love that dragged a stubborn people out of slavery so that he could honor his promise and bless them, is the love that God still has for his people, all people today.  Just now to trust him. 

“Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands…He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” 

Deuteronomy 8:2-7 NLT

Surely a God, if there was one, would not allow this Coronavirus to happen. Why doesn’t he put an end to it?

Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…

Daily, the global news about COVID-19 gets worse. More infections, more death, more isolations, more panic, and more unemployment. With so much uncertainty, it’s hard not let anxiety grip us. The fear of the unknown is a real threat to the erosion of our society and our very own character.  How could God do this to us? Are we being punished? Why is God so unfair? Why would he want this to happen? Does God care about me, doesn’t he know that I can’t afford a Global meltdown right now? For it sure looks like it is that.  Could you ever have imagined the day that countries would close their borders to tourists, to everyone? Could you ever have imagined seeing an elderly couple standing bewildered in the grocery store wondering what happened to all the toilet paper? Worse, no one wants to give them any of theirs? Where is God in this? 

When Jesus suggested how we should pray, one of his sentiments provides a huge clue as to why any bad thing happens on earth. ‘Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is heaven’ (Matthew 6:9-13). God’s will then (when humans are involved), is not done on earth.  Most of the Bible is a compilation of stories about how people fail to do what he wants. Right from the beginning of the Bible when Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit, and all the way to the end, where in the Book of Revelations it describes people even coming out to fight the Living God in the clouds, people aren’t doing God’s will. Our entire history is lived in the wrong. We do the wrong thing to people and they do the wrong thing to us because in God’s good creation (his words), he gave us the one thing that has the potential to be a blessing to the planet and his people or to be a curse to it; God gave us free will.  (And then he had a book written to show us many examples of how it hasn’t been used wisely.) 

God didn’t create COVID-19, humans did! By circumstance or design, it doesn’t really matter for the sake of this argument, human interaction and international travel means that we now have a global pandemic that threatens all of us. Could God make this virus go away tomorrow? Heck, yes! But when God willed Christ to come to earth and suffer horrendously while he was here for the purpose of our salvation by God’s grace, he also made a man perfect in his eyes. Christ embodied the perfect will and character of God and in doing so he provided the example of person, of character that we should be. God could take this virus away immediately however, when he’s asked to clean up our human messes, he also provides an opportunity for us to grow in him. God’s more interested in how we react, in how we decide to trust him, and in how we set about serving others, than simply providing a quick fix. Why would God allow such pain and misery, how could he be so cruel just to ‘test us’? 

The greatest example and testimony of God’s will being done on earth is in the death and resurrection of his son, Jesus. This event changed, for the good, the entire course of history! One practical and very relevant example of this is in the early christian’s decision to exercise Christ’s command to ‘love one another’. In the great (flu-like) plague of Rome (250-270AD), it was the christians who went to the sick, feeding, housing and nursing them, knowing full well they were risking their own lives. But still they went: God cares for all lives. This action led to many, many converts and paved the way for the idea of the hospital. (If you want to read more about that, read Rodney Starks, The Triumph of Christianity) 

God never made the promise that you, or anyone else on the entire planet, would live a a problem free existence. In fact his word says the opposite. It states that you will have trials in life, that you will suffer heartbreak but the good news is that God promises he will bring good out of all things to those people that love him. Not everyone, but to those who love and trust him (Romans 8:28). God didn’t will this Coronavirus to happen but he knew it would. He also knows how he is going to help you through it. For it is in our grief and dark moments that God’s grace and promises can be made known. I think that when most people cry out and seek God is when they are in trouble, rather than when they are happy and content. Focus then on what God considers to be good and noble, not on what social media or the news says. Seek him first and all these things (peace and understanding) will be given to you. This is what he promises. This is the good news we need to be reading everyday.

As the world panics around us, may we as Christians be steadfast, loving and generous. What then, could come from our choices to shine our lights and be the love that Christ and God wills for us? God is with us, now and tomorrow as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  Because,  that’s what this is. As the world cries out in grief and mourning, may we seek him and may he be found by us. Then, through our tears and confusion we will feel his guiding peace and love. That’s what he wills for us, to know him and trust him daily. 

I am well aware that this is a brief discussion about a vast topic of God’s sovereignty that gives cause and reason for our human identity and condition, however, my purpose here is to encourage and inspire you to think more of it. God loves questions and is not at all afraid of your anger or your doubts. It’s better to doubt than not to think about things at all. 

Coronavirus inspired me to read The Bible (and to make this blog).

In March 2020 the novel virus, Coronavirus Sers Covid-19, changed the world. Countries around the world closed their borders, stopped working, and sent their people into isolation to deter the spread of the potentially deadly virus. As the virus took hold, thousands of people lost their lives and hundreds and thousands more were sick. Economies were at a standstill. 

On March 16 my husband, John, returned to Australia from a five day trip to Los Angeles.  That day, any arriving passenger from overseas was ordered to remain at home in quarantine for two weeks. Arriving home, John coughed a little and felt rundown. Four days later I had a headache. John was declared Covid-19 positive on the 23rd of March. My results came back positive on the 28th. Rough days. 

I began writing this blog, my Counter Covid-19 attempt to Be the Light to a worried and isolated at the beginning of March when the news of virus was spreading faster than the virus itself (at least in Australia). I managed to write four posts before I no longer felt well enough to read or write.  It was a long sickness and it has been a long recovery process. I had a slight cough that I could not shake. Finally on the 4th April both the Public Health department and NSW Health declared me officially recovered. I’m a Covid survivor. I had no previous illness or concerns and this virus knocked me flat. It was the sickest I have ever been in my life. I did not go to hospital. I suppose I am one of the lucky ones. John was sick too but in some ways I was worse. Now however, I seem to be more recovered than he, meaning I can run a little without having to catch my breath. He will need to work up to this. 

No doubt, these are extraordinary days. We are all living through an unprecedented moment in modern history. Our daily lives are greatly affected as we all wait in isolation distanced from our family and friends. ‘Social distancing’, effective from spreading the virus, does seed suspicion of every person encountered in a grocery store or on the footpath. This suspicion, ‘Does that person have the virus’ , breeds mistrust in our families, friendship and communities yet as a population we are being asked to place unquestioned faith and trust in our leaders, police and governments.  Freely and readily freedoms were given up as people stopped working and going about their daily lives in the hope that someone one day will come up with a vaccine so that life can ‘go back to normal’. As a people we trust that those freedoms will be returned to us. All around the world people wait for a better tomorrow.

Believing in God’s word, God’s story, as the beginning and end of everything, I wonder what is He wanting us to learn at this time? What lessons, what grace, what blessing, what change, what warning is there for us in this moment? What, if we wanted to listen, would he be whispering to us in this new found quietness we find ourselves in? For surely, in between our zoom sessions and Netflix binges, it is quiet. ‘Be still’, He once said. ‘Be still and know that I am God’. (Psalm 46:10)

So that’s what I am going to attempt to do. I am going to read my Bible and see that if, in these times, God does speak to me (and you) through it. I confess, I’ve read a lot of the Bible already and most of it hasn’t made much sense or given impetus for further thought but that was then, this is now. I am much more interested. Things change. Life obviously changes. But what I am pretty sure doesn’t change is the Bible, or the character of God. He remains the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow and He promises that while the ‘earth remains there will be planting and harvest, cold and night, summer and winter, day and night’. (Genesis 8:22)

This time will end. There will be an end to our isolation. There will be a day to get back to work. This coronavirus disaster will one day be a time to remember. What then, will you remember it for? There are opportunities here for this to be a time of generosity, love, compassion and learning. There are opportunities here to sow seeds that produce marvelous fruits of the spirit. There are opportunities here to look for God and for Him to be found by you. There are opportunities here for you to trust and grow in faith. God promises good things to those who love and follow him. There are opportunities here to change your life and the lives of those you love for the better. What will you do? Who will you become? Will this be a time of growth or a time of lament. The choice is yours. As always, the choice is yours. As for me and my family, we choose to serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15)

Please know that I am not a theologian, rather just someone thinking through the Bible and please afford some grace to my writing. I confess I struggle to share my thoughts in writing, I err and um and ah over every written word. I have very little confidence in my ability to clearly express myself however, as these are extraordinary times, I will attempt to explain my Bible studies in the hope that someone, just one person even, will be encouraged by it.