Devotionals, Faith, Life, Ministry, writings

Three Types of Spiritual Weeds

There are two kingdoms in this life:

The kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness; the Kingdom of Heaven, and that of our enemy, the devil Satan. And at the end of the day, the end of your life, the end of the age, you either belong to one or the other.

But, what seems like a clear either/or proposition is not that simple. You see, in the Parable of the Weeds, or, as I am going to keep calling it, the “TAREable Parable” (copyright pending), Jesus says there is the wheat but growing alongside are weeds. The wheat represents sons and daughters of the Kingdom of God, and the weeds are people who actually belong to the kingdom of the evil one.

By studying the parable a little deeper, you discover that the weeds are a type of plant called darnel that mimic wheat. Looks just like wheat and their roots are easily entangled. In fact, it’s not until it gets close to harvest and each plant is producing its fruit, that you can tell the difference.

You see, darnel is dangerous. It doesn’t just look like wheat, but it is prone to a fungal infestation that can lead to some nasty side effects if consumed. If wheat and infested darnel are milled together and the resulting flour consumed as bread, the darnel can lead to a serious complication resulting in what appears to be intoxication only it can lead very quickly to death.

To recap: Darnel looks like the real thing but it is a counterfeit. Not only counterfeit but dangerous. Wheat=good, darnel =bad.

Fake believers, counterfeit Christians, don’t only appear to be something they aren’t but they can be dangerous. Thankfully, our Lord promises at some point to rid the world of the crop of weeds and thus ensure safety. But in the meantime, the darnel is still causing harm. And it is heart-wrenching to experience as well as observe.

Fake believers, counterfeit Christians, don’t only appear to be something they aren’t but they can be dangerous. Thankfully, our Lord promises at some point to rid the world of the crop of weeds and thus ensure safety.

As I study Scripture and learn from other believers, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a spectrum of false Christians that ranges from the deceived to the deliberately destructive. For the sake of clarification and argumentation, I’ll share the three main categories that I find in life and in scripture:

1. The Deceived. There are many people who for various reasons think they are “on good terms with God” only to be blinded. 2 Corinthians 4:4 says “… the god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God”. For what it’s worth, I think this is probably the majority of “weeds” in our culture in the USA.

We have so many people that think that because they have some notion of a higher power that is vaguely similar to the Judeo-Christian concept of deity, have at least a notion of “traditional values”, and celebrate Christmas and Easter that they are born again believers. They talk the talk and will even use some occasional theological terms. Heck, they may even say grace before a meal.

They are sincere, but sincerely wrong. Perhaps well intentioned, but because the Holy Spirit hasn’t changed them, their spiritual DNA isn’t going to produce wheat. If it is producing anything, it will be more of that darn darnel.

2. The Deceptive. These are folks who for various reasons, intentionally or not, fake a walk with Christ. They are more self-aware than the previous category of people. They have an inkling that they don’t measure up to the Biblical descriptions of followers of Jesus. Yet, they will put on a mask on Sunday. And a heck of a good front on social media. They will even share scripture verses and say “God Bless You!” when someone sneezes. But they know full well they aren’t living for Christ. In my estimation, these make up far fewer than the “deceived” but there are quite a few of these weeds in the field. These are the hypocrites of Matthew 23 and elsewhere.

Why? Often times it is social pressure. For decades in our culture, if you wanted to be liked or well respected, you would go to church services on Sunday and if you weren’t a genuine follower of Christ, you knew you had to pretend to be one so people would patronize your business, come to your cookout, or vote for you in the next election.

As society becomes more and more anti-Christian, we are, thankfully, seeing this idea disappear. In many places in our country it is becoming less and less culturally important to attend church, so in a lot of cases these weeds are dying off.

But we still see it in people who feel pressured by family members who are believers. Maybe it’s the wayward son or daughter from a Christian home who want mom and dad to be proud, but they are just faking it.

Maybe it is the person who began to spin a good yard of being the “good kid” and now they find themselves a volunteer or even on staff of a Christian organization or local church. They have to keep up the façade if they want to keep their job or their social circle.

3. The Deliberately Destructive. These are folks who are under the wholesale influence of the evil one. I wouldn’t say possessed, but the enemy has a lot of control and influence in their lives. These are ones who will intentionally infiltrate the flock to purposely sow discord, entice others toward sin, bring destruction in their paths.

I would love to say these people don’t exist. I mean what kind of twisted person would intentionally try to sabotage the Kingdom of God? What kind of person would intentionally teach false doctrine? Who in their right mind would do some of this stuff on purpose?

I think this is why this category, though I would estimate it to be the fewest in number of the three, is so dangerous: we don’t want to believe it is real. We want to believe the best about people we love and care about, so we convince ourselves that they are well-meaning but deceived.   

Jude, the half-brother of Jesus, talks about these people when he says, “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 4, ESV).

So, which kind of person are you dealing with? That person in your mind as you have read this… Which one are they? I don’t think we can fully know until harvest, until it’s too late. And that’s ok. We need to be on guard for the darnel.

But we also need to pray. Pray that if they are deceived, that the Lord would open their eyes and their hearts to Him. Pray for the deceptive to have a conviction from the Lord, a holy rebuke that brings them to genuine repentance. And pray that the Lord would safe guard us from the deliberately destructive.

I would love to tell you that Jesus is able to save all of these, that the Holy Spirit can do a work transforming the darnel into a good crop of wheat. I believe that I have seen it happen in the case of the deceived and the deceptive. What about the last category? I don’t know. I don’t doubt the saving power of our Lord Jesus Christ, but I do seriously doubt that a heart so hardened, so dark, would ever be receptive to the life-changing message of the Gospel. But I hope I am wrong.

So, friends, there are two kingdoms. But there is also some nuance. Just because someone hasn’t truly accepted Christ doesn’t mean they are a wolf. But it does mean they need to repent and trust Jesus.

So, friends, there are two kingdoms. But there is also some nuance. Just because someone hasn’t truly accepted Christ doesn’t mean they are a wolf. But it does mean they need to repent and trust Jesus.

Devotionals, Faith, Life, Ministry

Fruit Takes Time

“Ouch!” That was how I discovered I had a pear tree. Well, that’s how I discovered I had a pear tree that had actual pears on it.

When we bought our home, I was delighted to have so many trees on our property. I like trees. Sure, they’re a pain to mow around, but I love them. Our property had several ornamental pear trees, if they produced anything, it was a tiny inedible fruit that was perfect for birds.

This one particular tree in the backyard didn’t even produce these in the 4 previous years we had lived at our home. Then one morning in June I was mowing around this tree and forgot to duck. My head brushed against a branch and I was showered with 3 or 4 baby pears hitting my noggin.

We were delighted to know we had a fruit tree that would actually produce fruit! That summer we got a nice little harvest of pears, so sweet and juicy. We decided then and there to plant some more fruit trees.

But good fruit takes time. You don’t plant an orchard expecting a bumper crop in just a few months. It takes a long time for a tree to produce much, and patience is a must. I doubt the previous owners, who planted this pear tree, ever got to sample its fruit. But we’re thankful they planted a sapling that we can now enjoy the fruit thereof.

Earlier this week, I posted about the choice between fruitfulness and faithfulness. This is a continuation of that thought, if you will.

Jesus used a lot of agricultural parables in his teaching, something most of his audience could relate to. In Luke 13:18-19, He said,

He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?  It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”

Now, if you’ve read the Gospels, you’re familiar with the idea of faith the size of a mustard seed, a tiny seed that produces a large shrub or tree. In this instance, Jesus uses the mustard seed to illustrate the Kingdom of God. A quick study of this passage will lead you to the conclusion that Jesus’s teaching, which seemed insignificant to Jews seeking a political revolution, would lead to a surprisingly large change.

But I don’t know that this is the only application. I think there is some personal application here as well. If we compare this mustard seed the the mustard seed of faith, we see that a little faith can lead to a major impact.

Mustard seeds can be tiny. Imagine trying to plant these suckers. I’d probably lose half of them. But they can develop into quite the plant. Faith is like that. Many times when a person comes to faith in Christ, the change, the difference, may seem tiny, even insignificant.

Sometimes as people of faith, we can get upset, angry even, with a new believer’s seeming lack of fruit. Don’t get me wrong, there should be fruit, just don’t expect a lot of it. Our sanctification and spiritual maturity aren’t instantaneous. In fact, in the parable of the soils in Mark 4, Jesus warns about those who immediately receive the Word with joy and spring up quickly. He says that because they have no root, they wither and die.

You see, when most seeds begin to sprout, they first send roots down into the soil to get nutrients and to find stability. This is what Paul is telling us in Colossians 2:6-7 which says:

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

If a tree or bush as a solid root system, it can grow and weather just about any storm.

Over time, with a solid root system, the mustard plant will grow strong and big. It’s the same with a Christ follower. As we draw strength from God’s Word and have both a vibrant prayer life and walk with the Holy Spirit, we grow. We begin to bear fruit. It may seem little at first, just a bloom here, a bud there. But given time, consistency will lead to a bigger and bigger impact.

Eventually, this plant that was barely producing fruit will be able not only to produce fruit, but able to have a significant impact on the world around it. Nests for birds, a place of rest for the traveler, a whole ecosystem impacted.

As we grow in Christ, we will impact the world around us in ways we never thought possible. But it takes times. Good fruit always takes time to develop. The spiritual fruit of our lives, made possible only by the work of the Holy Spirit in us, will grow exponentially. All coming from a little seed of faith. So don’t be discouraged with the lack of spiritual growth in your life or the lives of others. Pray for a work of the Holy Spirit and for consistency. After all, fruit takes time.

Devotionals, Faith, Life, writings

Faithfulness Or Fruitfulness?

What is more important: being faithful to God, or bearing fruit? Are these options mutually exclusive?

In Luke 13:6-9, Jesus tells the story of a man who had a fig tree in his vineyard because he wanted fruit. That’s the purpose of a fig tree, to bear figs. And after 3 years of no fruit, he was ready to cut the tree down. “Why should it use up the ground?” he asked.

When it comes to people who claim to follow God, there are lots of fig trees with bright, shining leaves. Shimmering in the sun, they look majestic. But when you get a closer look, do you see fruit?

In Matthew 21:18-21, Jesus sees a beautiful fig tree and he is hungry. He went up to the tree and saw no fruit. And he cursed it. The tree withered at once. While perhaps a nice looking tree, it was not accomplishing its purpose. It was a waste of space.

Fig trees are nice to look at, but they are made to grow figs. In the same way, Christians may be nice people, but they are called to produce fruit. We may look nice and have all the outward appearances of following Christ. But upon a closer look, is there any fruit?

When I first became a minister, my first congregation was quite small. We had 17 on my first Sunday. The congregation was in a poor, rural area and these folks had experienced a lot of hurt over the years. So I don’t blame them when they considered it a victory just to keep the doors of that little country church open. After all the heartache they had experienced, survival was a victory.

But one of the tragic consequences of experiencing trauma is to view survival as the ultimate goal. The view of a few became “we’re being faithful because we can pay the bills and have a service on Sunday.” During the COVID-19 Pandemic and related shutdowns, many churches have viewed it as a defeat by not meeting in person. But the purpose of the Church is not to gather on Sundays. It is to reproduce disciples of Jesus Christ.

But the purpose of the Church is not to gather on Sundays. It is to reproduce disciples of Jesus Christ.

Here’s what I am getting at: I fear that many Christians have confused faithfulness to events or certain standards with faithfulness to our Lord Jesus Christ. Being faithful means to be steadfast, consistent, trustworthy.

The fig tree in our parable in Luke 13 was consistent in it’s leafing, in it’s shade. But it was inconsistent when it came to producing a crop. Okay, maybe it was consistent. It was consistently fruitless.

I fear that many Christians have confused faithfulness to events or certain standards with faithfulness to our Lord Jesus Christ.

In John 15, Jesus tells us that if we remain, are consistent (read FAITHFUL) in Him, we will produce much fruit. True faithfulness to Christ will always result in fruitfulness.

True faithfulness to Christ will always result in fruitfulness.

But this leads to a big paradox. The fruit of being in Christ, of being faithful, cannot always be measured. In Galatians, we find the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I can’t take a survey of a congregation to determine how much patience we have. That’s only known by knowing someone. While fruit can be counted in some ways, such as people led to the Lord or discipling relationships, much of it is only seen by taking an up close look, like Christ did with the fig tree.

Last week, I shared about the danger of viewing God As a Means Rather Than the End. And we have must be careful that we don’t focus on simply doing things for God, and miss the importance of being consistent or steadfast in our love and devotion to Him. But the other side of the coin is that if we are faithful, there will be results of His presence in our lives.

So today, don’t settle with simply “being faithful.” Be consistent in a way that leads to fruit in your life. The best way to do that? Spend time with Jesus in prayer and Bible reading, asking the Holy Spirit to convict and encourage you. Remember, He is faithful, and He will produce fruit in your life.

Uncategorized

The Rock is Real

I read recently on social media a story of a couple with small children, getting divorced. Without giving away too many identifying details, the opening of the post said this:

“They told us we built our house on a rock. They didn’t tell us the rock wasn’t real. How can a house stand on an imaginary foundation? The walls cracked. The floor buckled. The entire house groaned. So we’re leaving the house before it collapses and kills us all. Leaving is painful and hard. We were told that divorce is wrong, that it’s the ultimate failure. But it’s not. It’s an act of love.

Poetic, isn’t it? It’s a shame that it’s riddled with so many things contradictory to the Christian world view.

My issue here is not to address the couple getting divorced or anything specific to their situation—I wish them both well, and that God would work in their situation for their good and His glory.

My hope here is to address some of the commonly held misconceptions that I see in that post. And yes, I know people will disagree and the disagreement ultimately comes down to conflicting worldviews.

I’m going to start with a few presuppositions: There is a God who has made this universe and everything in it, and He has revealed Himself to us through nature and conscience, and though we may deny it, it is something we all at onetime believed until we suppressed that knowledge (see Romans 1 and Hebrews 1).

“They told us we built our house on a rock. They didn’t tell us the rock wasn’t real. How can a house stand on an imaginary foundation?

I could be misreading the intentions of the author here, but to me, this is a clear reference to the idea of Jesus Christ as the Rock. Some of you may remember the song from Vacation Bible School or Sunday School, “The wise man built his house upon the rock” and it is now stuck in your head. You are welcome.

In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus uses the story of two men building houses to illustrate how important it is to follow his teaching. Verse 24 & 25 say “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”

Contrast this with the foolish man in verses 26 & 27: “And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

There is a Rock. It does exist. The variable here isn’t if the house stood or fell. The root of the difference between these two houses is the choice made by the builder. You see, both men heard the words of Jesus, they both knew there was a rock to build on. One dug down and laid a foundation upon solid stone. The other decided to build on the constantly shifting sand of man’s own inclinations.

What particularly grieves me about society today isn’t so much the fact that people who have never heard of Christ build their lives upon the sand. Yes, of course it burdens me, and saddens me, and our call is to reach those people for Christ. But what really makes me angry and sorrowful at the same time is when I see people who have heard the words of Christ, and simply allow them to go in one ear and out the other.

Of course, we all from time to time fail to live up to God’s standard. Christians mess up. We fall. We stumble. We sin. But Jesus said that his sheep hear his voice and they follow him (John 10:27 Hyperlink). We don’t hear his words and think, “Oh that’s nice. Nah.”

For a Christian to deliberately turn their back on the voice of Christ, there must surely be intense spiritual and emotional anguish inside their heart and mind. It is not an easy thing for a sheep to turn back from the shepherd. And so we are left with two possibilities: either they never heard the voice of the shepherd to begin with, or they have deluded themselves entirely. I’ll allow the Calvinists and Arminians to fight this one out.

But the author is right… A house cannot stand on an imaginary foundation. And yet, that is precisely what it is build on when not built on Christ.

The social climate of today is willing to disregard every standard, every norm, in the name of happiness. Where Christianity teaches finding contentment in all circumstances (Philippians 4:11) with ultimate satisfaction and joy found in Christ and eternity with God, mankind’s sinful lust still cries out for happiness.

Happiness is a feeling. “But Adam, what’s wrong with happiness?” Nothing. But it’s a really bad idea to base your existence upon a feeling that can change moment by moment. Yet sadly, for many, this is precisely what drives them. Not being good, not living out God’s purposes for them, but focused on what makes them feel good for the moment.

Doing what makes you happy means you make stupid, inconsistent decisions. It means you break your marriage vows because you want to “have some fun” with someone else. It means you leave behind your kids to follow a “dream” that means more to you than our own children. It means throwing everything away for a moment or two of fame, ecstasy, or simply to find something new.

I’ve noticed a major shift in the last few years. More and more families are breaking up because a spouse decided that they weren’t happy and wanted to try some new path. You and I both have seen an increase in marriages breaking up, not because of abuse, or even infidelity, but because someone just decided they weren’t happy, and come hell or high water they were going to get happy.

Do I want to be happy? Yes. Of course. No one goes around wanting to be unhappy. And fortunately for me, I have moments of deep happiness. Watching my children sleep snuggled in bed. The birds singing in the trees at 7 AM. My wife smiling as we somehow made it through another day. A new package from Amazon. A flower in my garden. The feel of a new book in my hands as I turn the pages. A good movie. A good steak. An evening with friends. Teaching. An afternoon in my hammock.

But my life is not always happy. I get upset. I get hurt. I get refused or rejected. I fail. I realize how out of shape I am. I have an argument. I think about something stupid or hurtful someone did or said.

But I’m not going to throw my life away because I am unhappy. For the Christian, happiness is not the goal. God’s glory is the goal.

Divorce Is An Act of Love

Look, I get that people get divorced for all sorts of reasons. My purpose here is not to litigate the merits or theology of divorce and remarriage. I recognize that some folks have gotten married who should never have even gone out on a first date. I have friends who have had unfaithful or abusive spouses and for them, they have found a new life or new sense of freedom since that failed marriage.

But let’s recognize divorce for what it is: the tearing apart of a life. When two people are married, they become one: physically, sexually, spiritually, and emotionally. Many of my friends who have gone through a divorce say that is very similar to a death. That’s because it is. It is the death of who you were during that marriage. Regardless of whether the marriage was good or bad, or the divorce justified or not, it is not easy.

No one wakes up one morning and decides “Hey, I want to get married and then go through a divorce in a couple of years.” No sane person anyway.

Here’s the mindset of the quoted post: I want to be happy. Right now I am happy with you. When I stop being happy with you, I will discard you gently and look for some other way to be happy.

That’s not Godly. It’s not mature. It’s not marriage. What it is is dating in Jr. High. That kind of mindset takes marriage from being a covenant made between two people to being a simple social status, a temporary state of being instead of a lifelong commitment.  And because we are so focused on the right now, on immediate gratification, we throw away relationships like yesterday’s trash.

So what do we do? Is this just the ramblings of an old-fashioned Bible-thumper? Maybe. But I have a suggestion:

Let’s build our lives, our metaphorical houses, on the Rock that is Jesus Christ. Let’s actually do what he says instead of doing our own thing while pretending to follow him. Then we have a foundation for not just our marriages, but for all of life.

And if you are married, if you and your spouse will both put in to practice the teachings of Jesus, it won’t be easy, but it will endure. And in the end, it will be worth it.