The Farmer’s Impatient Daughter

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photo credit: yaxchibonam Dark orchard / Huerta oscura via photopin (license)

Once a little girl lived with a cult that kept her locked inside, chained to her computer all day, hungry and naked. She couldn’t do any serious study. In fact, she couldn’t do anything but play games online. In her favorite game, she got to be a farmer and grow beautiful fruit trees. She figured out how to work the game so at least some trees were in bloom or ready to harvest at all times.

Finally, the police came and freed her from the cult’s hands. After many scary, confusing days, one morning, her greatest dream came true. A farmer took her home to live with him forever. On a real farm! The girl was so excited when she spotted the apple trees. She looked forward to the leaves growing back, the flowers blooming, and the apples appearing. Should only take a couple hours.

So, after lunch, she asked her new dad if they could go pick the apples.

Her new dad sent her a curious look. “Beloved, it’s winter.”

So? The girl wondered. In her game, she’d harvested her apples at least six times a day in winter, too.

Her dad let her go outside and explore the farm, and the girl ran straight to the apple orchard. To her dismay, they still looked as sad and barren as they had this morning.

The girl screamed and ran crying to her new dad. “They’re dead! The apple trees didn’t bloom and bear fruit. They’re dead We need to cut them down and plant new ones!”

“Beloved, our fruit trees aren’t evergreens. They sleep through our cold, dark winters.”

“Well, they need to wake their lazy butts up, blossom, and make the apples appear already.”

“It doesn’t work like that, beloved.”

“Of course it does! I’m an expert farmer in my favorite game. I know all about farming!”

Her dad restrained his amused grin and hugged her. “Come with me.” Her dad led her out to the apple orchard and lifted the child up so a branch was at her eye-level. “See here? See these tiny little buds?”

The girl scrutinized the seemingly lifeless apple tree branch. It did have tiny little brown buds.

“Those, beloved, are our asleep apple trees, growing our apples. It’ll look like no apples are growing if you check them every few hours or even every few days, but they are growing.”

“Why so slow? What’s wrong with them? What can I do to make them grow faster?”

“Nothing, beloved. This is life, not a game. Real growth is not instantaneous. Nor does it only take mere hours for the fruit they’re growing to appear and mature. There is no hack that will give you real apples ripe for harvest year-round, not as cold as our winters get. I know it’s hard to be patient, it’s hard to see real growth happening,  but slowly, day by day, the season will change, the days will get longer and warmer. In spring, the apple trees will blossom. Their fruit will mature by harvest time, this fall. Then we’ll pick our apples and wait on the Lord through the next cold, dark winter.”

~~

We may laugh at this poor child’s absurd expectations for real trees growing real fruit. But many of us react similarly when God leads us or a loved one into a spiritual “harsh winter.” We don’t understand what God is doing, especially when the season lasts far longer than we think it should.

It can be hard to tell on a daily basis if a soul enduring a harsh winter is in fact still alive and growing. Let’s be slower to condemn and cut down. Instead, let’s be more loving and encouraging like the farmer in our story. Stay with the Lord through the harsh winter of the soul. I don’t know why you’re going through this. But I know he is with you and still at work in you, even when you can’t see it. And all you have to do is let him. Faith itself is a gift. Just cry out to the Lord and ask. It likely won’t be instantaneous, but spring will come.

[tweetthis]The Farmer’s Impatient Daughter #spiritualgrowth #shortstory #parable [/tweetthis]

[tweetthis]An expert #farmgame player learns real fruit takes longer than two hours to grow. #modernfable[/tweetthis]

Biases: Free Flash Fiction Friday

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random deli not affiliated with this fictional story.

random deli not affiliated with this fictional story.

The door chimed as a male, non-Jewish customer entered Rivka Cohen’s kosher deli. Her stomach churned. George’s dad was well known for anti-Semitism but surely he didn’t take after his dad. After all, she knew George’s wife from synagogue, though her friend hadn’t gone since they were little. She grinned and waved. “Hi, George. What can I get for you today?”

A light gleamed in his eyes. “Turkey and Swiss on rye with the works, please.”

“Coming right up.” She rang up the turkey on rye sandwich separately from his special request, the slice of cheese. Her stomach tightened as she made his order. His special request wasn’t kosher but he wasn’t of her faith, she didn’t have to eat it and surely she wouldn’t become ceremonially unclean over cheese. It wasn’t unclean according to Torah. It was the Rabbis who had interpreted “Don’t boil a kid in it’s mother’s milk” to mean not to even put cheese on a sandwich. They might judge her at her synagogue, if they found out, but no one would see.
turkey sandwich
She wrapped his sandwich, passed it to him, and gave him his total. After he paid, she handed back his credit card and said with a bright smile, “Have a good day!”

“Thank you.” He tapped his fingers. “My daughter is having a bar mitzvah at our interfaith synagogue in four weeks.”

Ugh. Maybe she had misunderstood, and his daughter had decided to practice her mother’s abandoned faith? Muscles tensing, she forced her smile to stay put. “You mean a bat mitzvah. Girls have bat mitzvahs, not bar mitzvahs.”

“That is so sexist. Our interfaith synagogue practices true equality. Girls have bar mitzvahs, too, and you don’t have to believe Torah is the word of God or commit to keep the Torah to get one.”

That was absurd. She took a deep breath. This wasn’t the place for a religious argument.

The door chimed again as another customer came in. She waved. “Be right with you, ma’am.”

George cleared his throat and leaned over the counter. “You cater, right?”

A bat mitzvah being ignorantly called a bar mitzvah that made a mockery of her faith. She swallowed. It was surely unintentional. Best to let it go. She got out her pad of catering order forms. “Yes, we cater special events. What would you need?”

“Oh, about two hundred shredded pork sandwiches.”

Her face fell. That was it. She put away the catering order forms. “I’m sorry, I’d suggest you go down to Ted’s Barbeque. We don’t serve pork.”

“Excuse me? You got a problem with my love for pork? How dare you! Who are you to judge?”

Huh? “You’re not a Jew. What you eat elsewhere is your business, but we are a kosher deli. It says so on all our ads and signage. Pigs are among the animals of which Torah itself says, ‘You are not to eat meat from these or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.’”

“That is bigoted discrimination. A deli is a deli. I have a right to walk into any deli I please and order a pork product and get service, not judgment and hate over my love of pork. Besides, I am a long time customer, and you’ve regularly broken kosher laws for me.” He pointed at the turkey and Swiss on rye. “Thanks to that, you have to be willing to make me anything I order, for any occasion, or it’s discrimination. If you can’t make me shredded pork sandwiches for my daughter’s interfaith bar mitzvah, then you shouldn’t be in business.”

The bell rang as the customer who had been waiting behind him left.

“Sorry you feel that way, sir,” she said in the most professional tone she could muster.

Her childhood friend’s husband tossed his sandwich in the garbage. “I won’t eat what the hands of hate made. I will issue a stop payment with my credit card company.” He stomped out. “And I will sue and take you for everything you’ve got!”

She gulped. Thankfully, she wasn’t one of the hateful, discriminatory Christians who refused to cater gay weddings at their secular bakeries. Only others who hated Jews wouldn’t see through the ploys of the hateful, bigoted false friend seeking to ruin her financially over her faith. Surely her right to practice her religion at her Jewish deli would be upheld and his lawsuit dismissed.

[tweetthis]Kosher Deli owner is betrayed by antisemitic spouse of her childhood friend in Biases[/tweetthis]

Author’s note: let’s each work on being aware of our own biases. Let’s each work on respecting the rights of others to earn a living according to their own conscience even if we disagree with them on political, religious, or any other controversy of the day.

Judging Righteous Judgment

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purpleheart
“If you feel someone is judging you, feel free to judge them back and punish them until your wrath has been fully satisfied.” These words do not appear anywhere in the Bible. Yet how often do we, God’s people, behave like God said that? Who among us has never responded tit for perceived tat? We may do this based on assumptions founded on past experience or based on how we felt in response to something someone said.

To begin with, the past isn’t a reliable predictor of the present and future, and the hurt we feel in response to someone’s words isn’t an innately reliable indicator of whether the person intended any judgment. Our flesh’s pain and fear responses are ways of warning us of danger, but let’s remember our flesh’s warning system is broken. Galatians 5:17 (ESV) puts it, “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” So let’s practice resisting our flesh in how we respond.

Especially if we’ve been abused, there’s a risk our negative feelings reflect our own self-condemnation. If we stew, thinking how dare they judge us, we are vulnerable to the trap of transferring onto someone else our heart’s self-condemnation. When that happens, we commit the hypocritical kind of judgment that Christ forbid. What I mean by that is, we’re judging them as judging us, judging them for it, and we feel entitled to judge them because we’ve judged them as judging.

Such circular reasoning is illogical and dangerous for our soul. However, I’ve known people who quote Mathew 7:1 out of the biblical context. Sometimes I wonder if some folks consciously think Mathew 7:1-5 justifies them in going off on anyone who admits to trusting God’s judgment when the Bible says God has judged X behavior that they admit to doing to be a sin.

Why would God say “don’t judge” the way the world says “don’t judge”? God does reserve for God alone the right to judge what is right and what is wrong. However, in the dominant culture today, people “don’t judge” because people have assumed God’s right: “You judge what’s right for you, and I’ll judge what’s right for me, and we’d better leave each other alone ‘cuz it’s Mutually Assured Destruction if we don’t.” That is the world’s way, brothers and sisters, not Christ’s.

If we’re still not sure the Bible doesn’t sanction us for judging someone if you feel judged by them, such behavior also violates the law of love, turn the other cheek, forsake wrath, answer softly, forgive one another, be respectful to one another, etc, etc.

To make the irony of the world’s abuse of Mathew 7:1 complete, the Lord was not saying to ignore God’s judgment of behavior that someone admits to. 1 Cor. 5: 12 does say, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” Let’s leave unbelievers alone unless they ask, a situation arises where we feel a need to explain why we can’t join them in sin, or we feel a strong urging to warn them that we are certain is from God.

However, most of 1 Cor:5 consists of Apostle Paul rebuking a “non-judgmental, loving” church for boasting about not disciplining a brother for unrepentantly engaging in sexual sin. The citizens of the Kingdom of God don’t get to follow God when we feel like it and do things the world’s way when we don’t feel like it. We need to choose. Are we going to follow Christ or not?

Don’t get me wrong. Making that decision doesn’t mean we won’t ever be weak, loose our footing, and stumble into the ways of our flesh. It doesn’t mean we won’t have blind spots or that we will always win our battles with sin. We are saved by grace, through faith in Christ’s full atonement on the cross, not by works, not by our obedience. God wants us to obey God out of sheer gratitude, trust, and love, not out of the fear of Hell. We all fail; We all give in to sin, we all fail to see the true nature of what we’re doing and how it breaks God’s heart. Thank God for grace.

All I’m saying it is dangerous to walk in sin because we’ve flat out ignored God’s judgement. That is self-idolatry. We set ourselves up as our own god when we judge what God’s word says is wrong as right for us. That robs us of a close relationship with God, it hinders us from operating in our spiritual gifts, and it stifles our spiritual fruits. It makes us vulnerable to the enemy influencing us by phone: getting us thinking down is up and that up is down, provoking us to hate Christians who haven’t also been taken captive by the enemy, and using us against the God we love and against God’s people.

I am not writing to this to condemn anyone. The goal is to open our blind eyes so we’ll seek deliverance from bondage. While I hope I never fall as far into self-idolatry as I’ve just described, I’ve struggled to some extent with such tendencies as we all do.

When we see others in the grip of what I’ve warned us about, let’s remember we too struggle with self-idolatry and deal with us first, then we may see clearly to offer our brother help.

Lord, help us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Give us supernatural power to react to verbal abuse not in the flesh’s wrath but to respond in a loving, kind respectful tone as we explain calmly how their words hurt and why they offended. When our hearts condemn us, help us to remember the words of 1 John 3:19-24

By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

[tweetthis]#Jesusneversaid “If you feel someone is judging you, feel free to judge them back.”[/tweetthis]

Envy Those Who Rejoice, Rebuke Those Who Mourn (not)

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“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” — Romans 12:15

Most of us immediately will recognize and acknowledge that the Bible says envying those who rejoice is sinful rather than godly behavior, but most of us honestly believe they’re doing what the Bible tells them to do when they rebuke those who mourn for mourning. We think they’ve cried long enough, that it’s time for them to pull up their bootstraps, stop “dwelling” on that, and move on.

I’ve even heard well-educated pastors who ought to know better say that we should rebuke brothers and sisters who mourn longer than we think is proper. The problem with that is it is quite arrogant of us to presume to know how long a mourner should weep when we aren’t going through what the mourner is–even if we’ve been through our own sorrows. We have no way of knowing what is in their heart, whether they’re wallowing in misery or pouring it out to God.

That’s why the Bible doesn’t tell us to take it upon ourselves judge whether someone has mourned long enough. It says to mourn with them and weep with them for however long they’re mourning. Even if you’re rejoicing in your own life, don’t demand the mourner stop mourning and rejoice with you. That’s not your job. What you’re called to do is to mourn with them.

That said, “rejoice with those who rejoice” also doesn’t have a clause after it saying, “unless you are in mourning.” When we’re in mourning, and a blessing comes to Sister Pollyanna as it always does, and she’s rejoicing and excited about it again, we may be sure  that Paul’s thorn in his side was a Pollyanna. We can react with anger and jealousy and resentment and punish our fellow believer for being blessed when we’re hurting.

That is not only wrong, it is our own wrong attitude that is hurting us not our Sister Pollyanna. Mourning does not make it any less a sin for us to be envious, jealous, and bitter toward those who have what we lack. It is not Sister Pollyanna’s job to walk on eggshells around us to avoid setting us off. We’re the ones using our sorrow and pain as an excuse to wallow in a sin that ranks up there right beside adultery, murder, and idolatry. We’re the ones responsible for our own attitude and our own behavior, not Sister Pollyanna.

She probably isn’t really a Pollyanna at all. She may have suffered long and hard herself and has finally gotten victories that she should rejoice in and thank the Lord for. We have a scriptural duty to rejoice with her, though we will need to first acknowledge our stinky inclinations to God and ask him to give us the strength to obey this command and genuinely praise God with her.

She should also acknowledge to God any times she’s lacked compassion and ask him to give her the strength and wisdom to know when to put an arm around us and when to weep with us and let us know she understands we’re going through a hard time right now and that she’s praying for us.

Keep in mind, these are not exclusive states, I promise. It may feel impossible right now to both rejoice and mourn, but God can give you the grace, compassion, and love to both cry and pour out to God your own heartbreak and to genuinely celebrate and praise God for the blessings of others.  God has brought me to a place where I can be genuinely happy for friends who get pregnant and rejoice with them even while I’m mourning the children we couldn’t conceive. When a mother loses her baby after conception, I am able to cry with her rather than wallow in a perverse, irrational envy that she got to know her child at all. It takes time and prayer to get there, but you will.

Lord, wherever we are today, give us  the wisdom, strength, humility and compassion we need to mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep. Show us any wrong attitudes in our hearts toward either those who weep or those who rejoice. Enable us to feel safe confessing our faults to you and seeking from you the grace and power we need to walk in your ways whether it a season of joy or sorrow. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

 

Christians Known By Love, But Defined by Truth

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“for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:24-25)

An internet meme asserts that Jesus said Christians will be known by their love, not by their doctrine. Even pastoral sermons can fall into this trap. Yes, trap.

The problem with this meme is two fold. One, it presents a false dichotomy, pitting love and truth against each other. The scriptures on Christian love are a vital part of sound doctrine. You don’t have sound doctrine if you don’t have sincere Christian love. Secondly, the idea that you can have true Christian love without sound doctrine is a lie based on cherry picking scriptures, taking them out of their context as our verse of the day does. Verses 22-23 read:

2Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love,  love one another earnestly from a pure heart,  since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;

So after asserting we are to be holy (verse 15) and we are told the sincere love we are to be known by is a product (fruit) of being purified of sin through obedience to the truth. Christian love comes from a pure heart, of being born again through the imperishable seed of the Word. It is in that context we are reminded that, though our lives in the corrupt sinful fallen bodies of the present are like grass and fading, the word of the Lord remains forever.

Further this, according to Peter, is the very gospel itself, the good news that the apostles preached and that authentic Christianity still preaches to this day. Not love above truth at any cost, as some false teachers espouse, but rather love born of truth and eternal life itself from being born again of the truth, by faith, through God’s grace at work in us, not of our own efforts, lest any boast.

Christ our Lord said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” not “I am the Love.” Yes, we are known by our love, but we are defined by the truth. Our love binds us to Christ and one another, and it is certain that we don’t even know what love is until we stand at the foot of his cross where God’s love sent his son to die for traitors. But it is the truth that sets us free from the bondage of sin, which is what divides us and creates bitterness, anger, malice, confusion, selfishness, and all manner of unloving behavior. It is equally crucial to have true doctrine and sincere love for God and one another. Truth and Love are conjoined twins. Damage to the one inevitably impacts the other.

The most grave damage from divorcing love from truth is that, to be consistent, one must claim the Apostles who wrote the bulk of the New Testament, and preached “love one another,” were themselves judgmental hate mongers. In the pages of scripture, the apostles thrash Christian sects whose doctrine differs with their own, denouncing the adherents as heretics and the leaders as false teachers leading people astray from God. Paul encourages us to imitate him, even, and makes no exception for his combative defense of sound doctrine.

Per the world’s definition of love, we must conclude the apostles were wrong to judge the very salvation of those who disagreed with their doctrines. Instead of fighting with these “false teachers” and their followers, they should have done as we do and embraced them as saved fellow Christians who loved Christ as much as they did and simply had different views on scripture than the apostles.

Students of history will be aware the Church has long disobeyed the apostles’ doctrine and murdered each other over disputable matters. The definition of love in reaction to this evil, however, shows its own demonic origins by subtly standing in judgment against the very bible those taken captive by this lie claim their love and faith are based on. It is double-minded inconsistency to embrace the authority of the apostles to write scripture on one side of the mouth and on the other stand in judgment against those God appoints today as defenders of the faith and promoters of the spread of the apostles’ soul-saving doctrine.

Lord, give us wisdom to know your truth and discern the error that tugs on our ears and sounds so good. Give us a desire to grow in holiness and sound doctrine as well as the love and grace and forgiveness that spring up from maturing in the truth. Prick our hearts with conviction when we detach the flower of love from the vine of truth, for blooms detached from their roots quickly die and fade away, and branches that do not flower and bear fruit will be cut off and burned. Either way, keep us safe and growing in you. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.