Thursday, November 26, 2015

Should We Tolerate Hell?

By Allen White

Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear. Matthew 13:36-43

Once again, the disciples received the answer, because they asked the question. The crowd heard an entertaining story. They left entertained, but not informed and certainly not transformed. They were weeds standing in the field.

The Kingdom of God is serious business. Everyone’s eternity hinges on one decision made on earth: do I accept Christ as Savior or do I go my own way?

We live in a tolerant world. Well, at least it’s tolerant of everyone except evangelical Christians. But, much of this tolerance has seeped into the church. We assume that people are informed enough about the Gospel to make a decision. If they don’t want to follow Christ, if they don’t want to attend church, well, that’s their decision. We have to respect their decision. Right? Wrong.

If a person decided to kill himself, should we respect his decision? If someone decided to cheat his investors to become rich, should we respect his decision? If someone gets into yet another bad relationship, should we keep our mouths closed?

“Well, they’re adults and they did make their choice.” Seriously, you’re going to cop out like that.

The most powerful tool at your disposal to help others is prayer. They don’t need a sermon. They don’t need a lecture. They don’t need a judgmental attitude. They need the power that raised Jesus from the grave activated in their lives. Your friendship and your prayers will go a long way.

The last thing any of us want is a forced conversation about spiritual things. But, as Rick Warren says, “If the fruit is ripe, you don’t have to yank it.” The very last thing we want to see is folks we care about spend eternity in Hell. For many people, you may be the only person praying for them.

Who in your life needs prayer? Your spouse and kids? Your neighbors? Your terrible boss? Your co-workers? Put their names where you’ll see them and pray for them. Set a reminder on your calendar to pray for them. Then, pray! See what God can do.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving Memories

By Allen White

When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”
Joshua 4:1-3

Thanksgiving has always been a special time of year for me. As a child, my family would travel out to Hayes, Kansas, where we would spend Thanksgiving with my Aunt Sally and Cousin Vhonda. This was one of the best things that my family did.

I remember eating plenty of food, putting on musical performances with my sister and my cousin – we had a lot of fun. The evening would usually involve watching The Wizard of Oz and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I still have nightmares of those flying monkeys.

My twelfth birthday fell on Thanksgiving Day. My aunt made a special Happy Birthday pumpkin pie for me that year. That’s still a special memory for me.

Your Thanksgiving may be filled with other things this year. I’m sure there’s food and football. Maybe a little family tension. Maybe a long walk on a cool Autumn day to work off the dinner.

Thanksgiving in November is a uniquely American holiday. Thanksgiving in Canada was last month (they get an extra month of Christmas shopping). In the Bible, thanksgiving is a heart attitude that goes beyond a single holiday.

In Joshua 3-4, we read how the people of Israel miraculously crossed the Jordan River. This was the final boundary into the Promised Land. After the tribes had passed through the river, Joshua instructed one man from each tribe to gather a stone. These twelve stones were placed in the river as a reminder of God’s work on their behalf. The intent was that years later when their children and grandchildren asked about the stones, parents and grandparents would stop and reflect on God’s goodness to them and His power to overcome an overwhelming obstacle.

As you celebrate Thanksgiving, stop for five minutes and think about how God has helped you to overcome obstacles in your life in the past year, five years or even your whole life. If it’s appropriate, share this with the others who are gathered with you.

Thanksgiving brings to mind the faithfulness of God, which gives us the confidence to face the future. Our memories may point us to monumental accomplishments of faith. Our memories may look back on the broken road that led us to Christ. Either way, God’s faithfulness is solid ground to build our futures on.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Is Your Dream Thriving or Dying?

By Allen White

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:

 “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.” Matthew 13:31-35

In these parables, Jesus compared the kingdom of God to something small that increases exponentially. A mustard seed is not the smallest seed on earth, but it would have been the smallest one known to His audience. Yeast is also very small. It doesn’t take much yeast to multiply dough.

Faith starts small, but has enormous potential. Just like a tiny mustard seed becomes a plant large enough to support birds or minute yeast rises and expands bread dough, the Kingdom started with One, Jesus Christ, who invited twelve, who gathered 120 in the upper room at Pentecost, who saw 3,000 saved in a day, who spread the Gospel throughout the known world. But, there’s another Kingdom principle here.

The seed of faith that once took root in each of our lives has enormous potential to transform our lives and affect the world around us. While we have an enemy whose mission is to kill, steal and destroy, we have a God who trumps him and intends abundant living for us (John 10:10).

I’m sure you’ve had the experience where you get an idea, get excited about it, then discouragement immediately sets in. “You can’t do that. Who do you think you are? You’ll never amount to anything.” Ever had thoughts like that? Those thoughts don’t come from God. Guess the source?

When God plants a dream in our hearts, the enemy’s goal is to kill that seed before it can even take root. While the enemy can’t physically overpower us, he can certainly mess with our heads enough to squelch the dream. Sometimes he even works through the people around us to discourage.

Both mustard seeds and yeast require the right conditions to grow. Seeds need the right light, soil, minerals and moisture to thrive. Yeast requires the right temperature, light and environment to expand. How is your situation encouraging your dream? How is your environment holding you back?

God believes in you. God has great plans for you. God has planted His seed in your heart. Are you letting that seed of faith take over your life? Are you filling your mind with encouraging thoughts or are you listening to the old tapes? Who are you surrounding yourself with? Are they fueling your dream or extinguishing it?

As soon as you can (or sooner), get alone with God and ask Him to clarify the dream. Read His Word. Dream big dreams. Nurture that seed of faith, then watch it grow.

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Spiritually in the Weeds

By Allen White

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

 “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
Matthew 13:24-30

When we bought our house four years ago, we inherited a small flowerless flower bed. This little patch had more weeds than mulch and a pathetic shrub in the center. We weren’t winning “Yard of the Month” by a long shot. So, I decided to get rid of it.

I pulled out the shrub. I removed the mulch and lots of rocks. I focused on killing weeds and planting new grass. During the first quarter of the growing season, the new grass was in the lead. Then around halftime, crab grass and other culprits started gaining on the grass. By the end season, it was Weeds 100. Grass 0.

The next year I attempted the same strategy. (What’s the definition of insanity?) Sure enough, I achieved the same result. A beautiful green lawn with a patch of weedy, exposed red clay.

Last year, I tried a new approach. I focused on nurturing the healthy Bermuda nearby. The great thing about Bermuda – it takes over. No weed killer. I just gave the Bermuda a head start on the crab grass. At the end of the season, the score was finally Bermuda 100. Weeds 0. After all, the best weed killer is healthy grass.

Life would be easier if wicked people were removed from this world. Of course, that might eliminate a healthy portion of my readers as well as the writer for that matter. None of us has completely abolished our fleshly nature.

Before we pump up our canister of spiritual
Roundup, we need to keep in mind that separating wheat and weeds is not our job. God is the only one who completely understands the thoughts and motives of each person. He’s the only just judge. We are not qualified and not allowed to judge others (read more here). So, can wheat and weeds meaningfully coexist? The short answer is “no.”

But, here’s where the analogy stops – wheat can only ever be wheat, and weeds can only ever be weeds. In nature, there is no metamorphic process that transforms weeds into wheat. But, in the spiritual world, there is a transformation from departing the kingdom of darkness and entering the kingdom of light.

There are many things in this world that good Christian people would rather not associate with. But, if other Christians hadn’t influenced our weedy lives once upon a time, we would still be, well, in the weeds.

We were not placed on this earth merely to create comfortable lives for ourselves. Jesus said we would have trouble in this world (John 16:33). If the world isn’t giving you any trouble, then there’s cause for concern. Why are you fitting in so well?

Today, make a list of the weedy people in your life. This is not your Hit List. This is your Prayer List. Pray for these weedy folks.

Then, take a minute and write a Thank You card to someone who helped you out of the weeds. Don’t send an email. Write a note, address it and stick a stamp on it. (The average person gets something personal in the mail only once every seven weeks!)

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Keeping Up with the Joneses or with Jesus

By Allen White

“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Matthew 13:18-23

Two different groups of people heard the parable. Only one group got the explanation. The crowd heard the story, and then went home. The disciples stayed around and asked questions about what Jesus meant.

The crowd was made up mostly of the hard soil. The seed of God’s Word was sown, but they didn’t understand it. It was snatched away.

The disciples, however, came out of the crowd to get the meaning. They asked the question and got the answer. They were fertile ground. They were teachable – not distracted, not uninterested, not lacking understanding.

Most of us understand the Parable of the Sower as each person representing a small plot of soil – hard, rocky, thorny or fertile. Hard soil would be atheists. Rocky soil would be people with big problems that keep them away from Jesus. Thorny soil represents people with too many toys or misaligned priorities. Then, there’s fertile soil – church-going, Bible-believing, dynamic, exuberant believers like you and me. Are we?

Most of us are probably more rocky or thorny than we care to admit. Don’t get me wrong. There’s good soil in there. But, we’ve allowed problems, worries, possessions and recreation to get in the way.
What’s getting in the way of you fully embracing the Truth of God’s Word in your life and putting it into action? If reading the Bible has become yada, yada, yada, maybe it’s time to hear things from a different angle.

Let a book like Radical by David Platt or Crazy Love by Francis Chan give you a new point of view on God’s Word. If you’re focus is on keeping up with the Joneses rather than keeping up with Jesus, it’s time to weed your garden.

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Your God Is Too Small

By Allen White

In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

   “You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
   you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
   they hardly hear with their ears,
   and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
   hear with their ears,
   understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.”

But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. Matthew 13:14-17

Driving a familiar stretch of road doesn’t require much thought. You know every curve and every bend in the road. Mentally, you might even check out and drive it on autopilot. Then, you wonder a few miles later, “How did I get here already?”

Once upon a time, you had to consult a map or GPS to discover this route. Now, you know it like the back of our hand.

Once upon a time, you couldn’t think of anything else but getting together with a special someone in your life. You gave him or her your full attention. You were fascinated at how you could finish each other’s sentences. Now, things are familiar. You know exactly what they’re going to say…do you have to hear it again?

Often familiarity breeds contempt. What was once an exhilarating discovery has now become “Here we go again.” For some of us, sacred things have also become familiar.

I remember a time in my life when I couldn’t get enough of the Word of God. I devoured my Bible. It is so highlighted and marked up that I can’t even use it now. But, after a while the Word of God became familiar. Bible reading can also go on autopilot. What happened?

Danger lurks when we come to believe we have it all figured out. Whether we try to text and drive or neglect our spouses, we’re headed for a wreck.

The religious leaders and others of Jesus’ day believed they had God all figured out. They felt their understanding was so complete, there was nothing else to learn. Their knowledge got in the way of their learning.

For those of us who grew up in church, we have a similar problem. All of those years in Sunday school give a sense that we’ve got it all covered. The old, old story seems sort of old. But, a childhood understanding of the Truth of God’s Word is insufficient to lead our adult lives.

Sure, Noah and the ark hasn’t changed. But, how do you reconcile that with “Noah got drunk”? (Genesis 9:21-27). We didn’t have a flannel graph lesson for that story.

Now that we’ve faced a certain amount of disappointment and unmet expectations, how do we trust God as an adult? We know what we’re supposed to believe, but what do we really believe?

If we think we’ve got the message of the Bible down pat, we might just fall into the category of “hearing but never understanding…ever seeing but never perceiving.” If we can listen to sermon after sermon, Sunday after Sunday and it makes no impact on our lives, it’s not necessarily the preacher’s fault. If the once fertile ground of our hearts has begun to harden, the Truth will just sit on the surface and have no effect.

But, there’s a way to avoid all of this. Rather than just taking in the Word with eyes and ears, the prophet added one more vital sense: our hearts. “They might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” Our heads may understand academically, but what do our hearts understand?

When we allow God’s Word to speak deeply into our lives, we gain a new understanding of the things of God. Our life experiences add a richness to our understanding of how God works. When we once thought God would solve all of our problems, we later accept He will be with us no matter what – and that’s good enough.

How does God’s Word affect you lately? Does it inspire you to move ahead? Does it hit you right between the eyes on a failure in your life? Does God’s Word convict you of meaningless distractions and challenge you toward meaningful work?
If God’s Word is in one ear and out the other, the problem doesn’t lie with your ears. It’s a heart condition.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Asking Questions or Skimming the Surface

By Allen White

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. Matthew 13:1-13

Why did the disciples receive the secrets of the kingdom, but not the crowd? The disciples asked. The crowd didn’t.

The crowd heard an interesting story and went home. The disciples stayed and asked. Jesus gave them the kingdom. The crowd didn’t get it. The disciples would end up with abundance. The crowd would be left with scarcity.

The crowd didn’t hear or understand. We might think, “That’s unfair.” Let me remind you, we don’t want fair when it comes to spiritual things. Fair means we are punished for all of our sins. Grace blows fairness off the map. Grace is undeserved. We need what we don’t deserve. We don’t need fair.

The crowd could have heard and understood, if they had stayed. They heard Jesus’ introduction, but they left before the points were made. Maybe they were confused. Maybe they weren’t interested. Maybe they had places to go.

Jesus wasn’t being exclusive as much as He was efficient. He taught the interested learners. Jesus didn’t case His pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6). Just like He instructed the disciples to find the man of peace (read more here), Jesus wasn’t pulling the unripe fruit from the tree.

We have a choice with God and His Church – we can be part of the crowd or we can be disciples. We can take the message at face value or we can dig for its meaning for our lives. We can run out the door or we can stick around and build relationships. Better yet, we can get in a group where we have the time and space in our lives to see how God’s Word applies to us.

If you’re familiar with this chapter in Matthew’s Gospel, you know that in a couple of days we will get to the Jesus’ explanation of the parable. You and I understand what Jesus was talking about in the parable of the sower. We understand because the disciples stuck around to ask the question.
What do you need to ask? What are you just assuming? What do you know? What do you lack? How do you get what you need?

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