Deeper Roots

“The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time, when trouble or persecution come because of the word, he quickly falls away.” Matthew 13:20-21
My mom always had the most beautiful flower beds in the neighborhood. Early mornings and evenings would find her tending her buds and blossoms and pulling up weeds. I don’t remember her ever purchasing flowers to plant in her beds, she always grew hers from seeds and bulbs. She knew just where to plant and how to water and tend the seeds until those tiny green shoots began to push their way through the soil. Mom had gladiolas, four-o-clocks, daylilies, zinnias, cosmos, daisies, marigolds, and more. I admired her talent so much, so when I moved into my own home, I decided to plant a flower garden. Let’s just say, I did not inherit my mom’s green thumb. My seeds barely sprouted, and what came up was thin and scraggly and quickly withered and died. When she came to my house, she took one look at my garden and said “You didn’t give them room to put down roots.” I had tried to make a flower garden in gravely, sandy soil. The plants sprouted where they could in the coarse soil, but didn’t have a strong root system to anchor them and draw nourishment from the ground. What came up wasn’t healthy and didn’t last long because there were no roots.
The same principle applies to our Christian faith, which is what Jesus is describing in the parable of the soils in Matthew 13:1-23. A farmer in those days would walk through his garden spot and broadcast seed by hand. Jesus describes seed that falls on the path that has been packed hard by many feet as those who do not receive the message of the gospel because their hearts are hard and Satan takes that seed away. Other seed find the soil, but are choked out by weeds, meaning the message of Christ is lost amid the cares and materialism of this world.
The seed that falls on the rocky soil are those who receive the message, but like my flower seeds cannot put down good roots. These are people who give up on their faith and the church at the first sign of any discomfort or struggle. They do not sink their roots in the rich soil of God’s Word, they don’t establish the habit of prayer and are often too distracted by the world to regularly attend church. They do not have strong roots. The seed that is planted into the good, healthy soil is the one who receives the gospel with an open and humble heart, who believes the message of Christ and sinks his roots down deeply into God’s Word, who seeks Him every day in prayer and who spreads his roots outward in fellowship with other believers.
Trees are a perfect example. I live in Florida, a state very prone to tropical weather systems. Walking the neighborhood after a hurricane is a real-life illustration of the importance of one’s roots. Trees with deep roots, such as oaks and nut trees are usually able to withstand the storm’s high winds, but shallow rooted trees such as maples, poplars, cottonwoods and willows will frequently be toppled by the strong winds, thrown aside with their shallow roots exposed. Trees with shallow roots draw from surface moisture, but trees that seek out water deep underground have deep, strong roots that anchor them firmly into the ground.
In case you haven’t noticed, storms happen in life. You and I will face strong, howling winds and pounding rain in the form of health problems, financial struggles, job loss, difficult relationships, depression, and on and on. If I have a shallow relationship with God, if I am being nurtured by the world, I will not be able to endure these storms. But if you have invested time in Bible study, prayer and fellowship, searching for the deeper things of God, your roots have grown deep and strong, and though you may sway and bend in the wind, when the storm passes- and the storm always passes – you will still be standing.
When God called me to write this devotional blog, He gave me the title: “Deeper Roots,” and that is the heart is my ministry, to help others develop roots that are secured deep in the rich soil of God’s Word and nourished by His truth and His character. What threatens your life? What storm rages around you? Are you anchored deep in the Word? Are you securely rooted in prayer? Are you being nurtured in the Christian fellowship of the church? Will your roots hold? If you are grounded firmly in God, in His Word and in His love, you are standing strong.
Holy Father, this life sends storms that threaten to knock us down. Help us, Lord, to put our trust in You and let out roots grow strong in Your Word and Your love. Give us deeper roots God. Amen.

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Guest blogging today…

I am so pleased and blessed to be a guest blogger today on Beverly Varnado’s site, One Ringing Bell. Bev is a novelist, screenwriter and blogger, her books, Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees and Home to Currahee are available on Amazon.

I invite you to read my devotional on Bev’s site: If You’re Having Trouble Seeing the Master Plan.

Thank you Beverly for this wonderful opportunity!

 

 

Why Are You Here?

“If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed.”  Mark 5:28

This beautiful story of the woman healed by touching Jesus’ garment has been one of my favorites.  Each time I read it I see something I had not seen before.  The Word of God is like that, because it is a Living Word.  The Word of God does not change, but my understanding matures, and God reveals new and deeper insights that perfectly address my changing life’s circumstance or need.   I’d love to share with you something new God has shown me in this familiar, yet fresh Bible story. Please take a few minutes to read the account in Mark 5:24-34.  I’ll wait for you.

Now, look back at verse 24 – “A large crowd followed and pressed around him.” Jesus had crossed the lake and quickly a crowd gathered around Him. So many people were there that day; Jesus was a very popular figure at the time.  Multitudes followed Him wherever He went, all pressing around Him, reaching out to touch Him.  Why was this woman different from all the rest? The crowd was jostling, bumping and touching Jesus.  What was different about her touch?

Both questions can be answered by one word in verse 34: “faith.”  She came to Jesus with faith.

This woman had suffered for 12 years from a bleeding disorder that has left her not only impoverished, but also ostracized from everyone.  The Levitical law stated that a woman experiencing a discharge of blood was unclean, and anything she touched was unclean.  Any one she touched would also be unclean. (Lev. 15:19-30) Including her husband and children, her neighbors and friends, people in the marketplace, at the well; and heaven forbid if she thought she could join in the festivals and celebrations of her Jewish faith. Leviticus 15:31 gives us some understanding of her helpless and hopeless situation: “You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness.”  For 12 long years she was shut out of every place where people might gather, so she would not contaminate anyone else.  She had spent all she had on doctors who could not cure her.  Look back at the Leviticus verse – even her death would be tainted, she would “die in [her] uncleanness.”

She came with nothing more than a gaping need and the faith to believe that Jesus could meet that need. Look at Mark 5:28, “she thought ‘If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed.’” She did not say, “I might be healed,” she said “I will be healed.”  And her faith proved true.  She touched his clothing, and “immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering” (Mark 5:29).   Her faith had led her to Jesus and to healing.  This is faith that pleases Him. Faith that reaches out knowing that He is the answer to every need.

Of all the people touching and bumping and jostling Jesus, He knew somebody’s touch was different.  Somebody’s touch had activated His divine power.  He asked who that somebody was.  Mind you, Jesus knew who had touched Him, and He knew why.  But He wanted this woman to know that her touch had touched His heart.  And I believe he wanted the crowd to know that this woman’s humble faith had ignited His healing power.   I love Bill Bright’s comment: “God does not require you to have great faith.  You simply are to have faith in a great God.”

Now here is the something new I’ve been pondering – who am I in this scene?  Am I one of the many who have come to rub up against this “magic man” and hope that something rubs off on me?  Am I one of the crowd who came to “see the show?”  I wonder, am I following Jesus because He is the popular one of the day?  Am I in the crowd because I think someone will see my empty cup and put something in it?  Why do you come to Jesus?  Because He has some wise words or teaching?  Because you admire His compassion and humanitarian work?  Maybe you follow Jesus because you want to be part of the crowd, after all it’s a good place to make connections.  Are you here to preserve your image as a “good Christian”?

In John’s Gospel, after Jesus had feed five thousand people, the crowds again gathered around Him.  Jesus made a bold statement: “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill: (John 6:26).  Everyone has a reason to come to Jesus.  Some come to fill their bellies, some come to fill their minds, but some come to Jesus to fill their hearts.

Why, with so many people around Him, did only one woman experience Jesus in a powerful, life-changing, transforming way? I believe it is because she came with a humble heart, believing that Jesus was truly God and He alone had the power to change her life.  She had no other agenda but to experience His power.

Perhaps it’s time to ask the question: Why do we come to Jesus?   Because He is a good teacher and is kind to the downtrodden? Or because it’s what we’ve always done?  Do we come to Him for what we think we can gain from Him?  Or do we dare come to Him because He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Do we come to Him because He is the source of light and hope and peace?  Will we come to Him because He is God?

Oh that we would come just because He is.  Love. Mercy. Hope. Grace. Peace. Joy. Redemption. Eternity. God.

Lord Jesus, I confess that often I have come to You with my own selfish motives in mind, wanting to have my fill.  Please give me a pure and humble heart that seeks You because of who You are, not just for what you can do for me.  Amen.

Will You Deny Christ?

“Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword.” Hebrews 11:36-37

Would you be willing to die for what you believe? Would you surrender to the executioner rather than surrender your convictions?

In the New Testament we read the accounts of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60) and James (Acts 12:2), the first to follow Christ in death for their faith. History tells us of the deaths of many of Jesus’ disciples – like Peter and Paul – who not only died for their faith, but endured great agony and suffering before the relief of death. I’ve been studying Church history, and the men (and women) who were martyred for their belief in Jesus. I was especially moved by the story of Perpetua, a young woman who, despite the pleas of her beloved father and the knowledge that she would leave behind a very young child, refused to recount her faith, but went courageously and gloriously into the Roman arena, counting herself blessed to suffer for her Savior, Jesus Christ. Her friend, Felicity was in the same arena, just days after giving birth, giving up her life for her uncompromising faith. Still today, Christians in around the world face the sentence of death for refusing to deny Christ. The recent news told the story of another mother in a Muslim country who faced a death sentence for her faith, and would not recant her Christian testimony. Even in the United States, some who said “Yes,” when questioned about their faith paid with their lives.

I want a faith like that. I want a faith that stands the ultimate test. I want to face every opposition with the bold proclamation: “Yes, I am a Christian – a follower of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”, even if it meant my death. I am blessed to live a country that offers “freedom of religion,” though that is being tested and pressed and is shaping into a “freedom from religion.” Still, I am not likely to face government executions for being a Christian – at least not in the present.

But is that the only time my faith needs to stand? Is the threat of death the only time I might stand at the crossroads of holding onto my Christian conviction or denying Jesus? I have become convinced that we stand at that same point of decision every day; for every day we make choices that either confirm or deny that we are surrendered to Christ. Will I deny my Savior in the things I watch and listen to? Would your internet history prove or deny your faith in Jesus? What does my bank account say about my faith? Do my conversations and my language say I am a Christian? Or the way I act toward others? Will I chose to act in love, will I chose to forgive, to bless like my Savior, or will I deny Jesus with hate, grudges and cursing? Will you be obedient when the Spirit says give, or dismiss the one in need and miss the chance to be a witness for the Gospel? When we chose to follow the world, follow our flesh, or ignore the voice of God, we are denying that Jesus is Lord of our lives, and the consequences may not be death, but rather the slow death of our faith. If we deny Jesus in these lesser, daily decisions, how will we ever stand in the face of true persecution? In the face of death?

In the accounts of the Christian martyrs, many people came to faith in Christ by witnessing the strong convictions of these believers in the face of death. We have the same opportunity to be a witness today when we choose the things that honor and please God. The world will take notice. Yes, they will jeer and criticize – but they will see people who will not compromise their faith in Jesus, in matters great or small. They will see men and women, young and old, of every race who so firmly believe in the truth of the Gospel that they cannot be forced to deny that Jesus Christ is Lord, no matter the cost. The world desperately needs to see people who stand for the One who died for them.

I want a faith like that, because I have a Savior like that.

Holy Father, the greatest witness we can offer to the world is to live every day with an uncompromising faith. Give us that kind of faith Lord. Give us faith that stands up to every test, no matter the challenge or the consequence. Amen.