Posts Tagged ‘Fruitfulness’

Seven Lessons from the Cat’s Ear

Seven Lessons from the Cat’s Ear

© C. O. Bishop 7/22/2019 THCF 8/11/19

Introduction:

Probably most people, hearing the term “Cat’s Ear” would normally assume I was talking about the feline auditory system…but, in fact, I am referring to something even more arcane—the plant (or weed) called “Cat’s Ear”…sometimes called “False Dandelion,” though that is not its name.

You might ask, “Why would I try to take a lesson from a weed?

Good question! In fact, I would not have thought to do so, either, except that one morning, recently, I was driving off somewhere, early in the morning, and (because my lawn mower has been down for repairs, for a while), I could see thousands of weeds blossoming in my yard. Most of them looked like dandelions, except they all possessed branched, wiry stems with multiple blossoms, unlike the hollow stems with single blossoms that characterize true dandelions. And, what caught my attention, as I headed due east, out of my driveway, was that every single one of those little golden flowers was twisted around to face directly at the rising sun! I remembered a song about sunflowers turning their gaze upon their god (the sun, in the song), at morning as well as evening, and wondered whether these little blossoms would do the same, following the course of the sun, throughout the day.

When I came back later in the day, they had all turned to follow the sun, as many plants do. But these are not stately sunflowers…these are weeds, from nearly everyone’s perspective. But something about them caught my attention, and I began to wonder what else was true of them. We frequently hear people admonish believers to “blossom where you are planted!” Well, no human planted these hardy weeds…but neither did they have a choice in the matter. They are a wind-borne seed, producing seed-heads chock-full of little parachute-like seeds, which blow and disperse on the breeze, and, wherever they fall to earth, they simply take root …or die.

Now I was beginning to think more clearly, remembering the parable of the sower (Matthew 13) as I considered what other lessons might be in this little weed. Consider:

  1. They have no choice about where they are planted.
  2. Wherever they land, provided there is soil and water (and not necessarily an abundance of either,) they dig in, and put down roots, aggressively reaching for water and nutrients.
  3. They persistently try to bear fruit and reproduce after their kind, hoping to send a fresh crop of Cat’s Ear seeds blowing in the wind, thus fulfilling their mission, to “be fruitful and multiply”…and most generally, they eventually succeed!
  4. No one particularly wants them, wherever they are: they are nearly universally scorned and rejected, and every attempt is made to discourage them. But they persist…they persevere!
  5. Mowing does not kill them: it only postpones their reproduction.
  6. To those who are willing to see it, they actually have a beautiful, vibrant yellow blossom…but few see it that way.
  7. And, finally, they constantly focus on the Sun. Their faces are turned toward Him, regardless of circumstances.

Parallels in Faith

Probably most of you have already seen the parallels to which I am alluding. But let’s consider them anyway:

Choices—mine, or God’s—or both?

I did not get to choose my place of birth, nor the gene-pool from which I was drawn, nor a host of other circumstances which set me on my way in life. God chose all these things for me.

But I did get to choose how to respond to those circumstances. I was not born to affluence, nor was I reared by a godly father. My mother did her best to set my feet on a right path, but like many young boys, I rebelled. No one forced, me either way. But there were “voices,” all along the way, of relatives, friends, writers, evangelists, and so forth, who kept shining the light of God’s Word into my life, at one level or another. And, I know that there were people praying for me, too, so that my heart was being moistened by the prayers of the believers, and the kindness of the believers who loved me in spite of my unloveliness. In Acts 17:26, 27 Paul preached that each of us has been placed by God so that we have an opportunity to respond to the call of God at some level.

So, within the circumstances in which I was planted, I had to make choices based upon the information I had. Eventually, I “chose life,” as God begs every person to do. Deuteronomy 30:19 says that we have a choice between blessing and cursing, between death and life…and He concludes, “Choose Life!”

Growth is also a Choice

How I responded was up to me. God does “cultivate” the seed, and encourage us to take hold and grow, but we have to make a choice. In 1st Peter 2:2, Peter commands the new believers, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” This is a command to all believers. We are to choose to hunger after God’s Word, and feed upon it so that we may grow thereby. We grow by feeding on God’s Word!

And it is by choice that we dig into His Word, “putting down roots,” as it were. Colossians 2:7 admonishes the believers tobe“rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith…” Ephesians 3:17, 18 addresses that same concept, being a little more specific; that we are to be rooted and grounded in Love, so that we will be able to comprehend along with all the believers, the full magnitude of our relationship with the Lord, and to fully experience His love, which surpasses the bounds of knowledge. Even the Proverbs make it clear (Proverbs 2:1-8) that unless we hunger after God’s Word, and His Wisdom, we will not understand Him, nor His provision in our lives.

It is part of the normal Christian life that we hunger for God’s Word, and deliberately choose to feed deeply upon His Word. It is fascinating, to me, that He refers to Himself as being the “Word.” Not just once, but several times. John 1:1, 14 says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…” and later, when He returns to Earth (Revelation 19:13,) He is called “The Word of God.”

It seems to me that how we respond to the written Word of God, the Bible, is ultimately the way we also respond to the Living Word of God, Jesus, the Savior…our Master.

Consider how those little weeds all put down a deep taproot…and when drought comes, they survive, where other plants dry up and die!

We are called to bear fruit!

Jesus said that this was what we are ordained to do: (John 15:16) “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit…” (By the way, lest you think that this “ordination to bring forth fruit” was only for the apostles, remember that the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) told them to teach us to “observe all things whatsoever He had commanded them!”) (In science, we call that a “chain-reaction!”)

So, these little cat’s ear plants don’t have to be told! They just dig in by their nature, in harsh circumstances, and force that little taproot down between rocks, or clay soil or even in cracks in pavement, and find the nutrients they need, so that they can grow, so that they can bear fruit, and multiply! And, that is what we are called to do, as well! The problem is that we have a choice to make, but they just do it, because that is their nature! We are afraid of public opinion, and so we close our mouths, rather than sow the seed of the Gospel.

But we are definitely called to “be witnesses,” to tell what we know about Jesus, the Savior. To share the bread of life with anyone hungry enough to receive it! To pour ourselves out as living sources of the water of life, so that anyone who thirsts will be drawn to Jesus. Jesus Himself made that offer, in John 7:37, 38, saying “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (That’s us!) Are you looking to share that bread of life, and extend the living water to other thirsty souls? Or are you holding back? Remember who sent you, and what He told you your purpose is: to bear fruit and bring glory to the Father by so doing.

The World will hate us, just as they hated Jesus!

1st John 3:13 Says, “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate thee!” This echoes what Jesus said, earlier, that the World will hate the believers. (John 15:18) says that “if the World hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you.” You see, we are “weeds”, to the unbelieving world! We are an “invasive species” from their perspective! And, indeed, we are “in enemy territory!” The adversary of our souls, Satan himself, was cast down to the earth. He knows that his own eternal destruction is coming, and he is determined to take the human race with him.

Jesus said that we are “in the world, but not of the world.” We are a foreign irritant to the world system of thought. If they could be rid of us, they would do so. I saw a bumper sticker, a year or so ago, saying “Come the Rapture, we’ll have the whole Place to Ourselves!” It was very sobering, and sad, to see it, because it was clear that the writer knew of the New Testament teaching that the Church will be removed from the Earth, and that he or she not only rejected it but mocked it, saying, in effect, “Good riddance! We will have a great time after you all are gone!” Sorry, no! It is going to be the very worst period of time in the history of the earth!

Notice, however, that “hating the weeds” does not eradicate them. Poisoning the weeds works, but it is dangerous, as we frequently kill desirable plants in the process. We are an irritant to the World, and they will continually try to eradicate the Gospel.

Someone recently pointed out to me that if the Bible was just a myth, or a fairy-tale, no one would have a problem with it. No one burns people at the stake for the sake of Cinderella, or Snow-White, or even Santa Claus! They went on to say that there are currently 52 nations on Earth where the Bible is a forbidden book. There is a focused attempt to eradicate the Person of Christ from all public fora, even here in the United States, as well as from schools, and social media. It’s strange: you can spout off about any sort of conspiracy theory you want, and no one will bother you. Join the “Flat Earth Society”, and, though people will mock you, no one will persecute you for that belief, though it is patently false.

You see, the problem is Jesus! He is the actual object of their hatred. So, if you are being hated along with Him, you are bearing the Cross along with Him. Be blessed! You are right on course! Does that mean it will “feel good” to be rejected and maligned as fools and falsely accused of all sorts of wrong? Nope. But, like the Cat’s Ear weed, we persevere! We persist. We “soldier on,” knowing that we are indeed the soldiers of Christ, and, as good soldiers, we are called to endure hardness. (2nd Timothy 2:3)

Persecution has always strengthened the Church

We don’t like persecution, and we fear it…but, historically, the persecution always had two very positive effects:

  1. Persecution scattered the Church, as they fled the persecution, but every believer, wherever they went, spread the Gospel to their new surroundings, just as weed seeds are scattered by the wind, and spread the weeds to new locations. Acts 8:4 concludes the account of the first persecution, saying “therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word.”
  2. Persecution purged the church: Jesus predicted this in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:21), saying that there are people who gladly respond to the Gospel, but in whom there is no real root, and when persecution arises because of the Word, they are offended. He actually demonstrated the “falling away” idea in John 6:60-66 where He had concluded his teaching about the Bread of Life, and many of those who had been following him said “This is a hard saying, who can hear it?” and they went away. He asked his apostles, “Will ye also go away?” and Peter said, “To whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life!” You see, the apostles persisted! They pressed closer when things got hard. The false brethren will usually drop their pretense when things get rough. So, the core that is left are the real believers, and to them will be drawn others who see the light of their lives and respond in faith.

There is a Beauty in the Church

Not everyone sees the believers as fools or hypocrites. There are some who see the transformation of our lives, and recognize that something real has happened. And they are drawn to it, because they see the person of Christ reflected in our lives. But not all will see us that way. Don’t expect people to respond kindly to your kindness, or respond lovingly to your love. The fact is that most will not receive us well. Consider how they responded to the Lord Himself.

But Jesus is working a transformation in His Bride, the Church, and there will come a day when all will see the beauty of the Bride. The reason we don’t see the beauty of the Cat’s Ear blossoms, as well as that of the Dandelions, and the European daisies, and the Clover, etc. is because they persist in growing in places where we would rather they did not grow.

The Church, regardless of the blessing it bestows upon the world around it, will never be welcome. We are “not of the World!” Try to not allow the World to coerce you into seeing the Church as a whole, through their eyes. Does the church have faults? Yep! It is made up of saved sinners, and every one of them has faults. Also, there are those who have infiltrated the church, and pretend to be believers, but, in fact, they are not. So some of the sins that we are accused of are actually committed by those who have no connection with the head at all. In biological terms, we might call them a parasitic organism, or, perhaps a cancerous growth. But the World sees them as “Just another Hypocrite!” and condemns the entire church and Jesus with them. Try to avoid being influenced by such thinking. You would not reject your precious child because she contracted head-lice. You would deal with the lice, and love the child.

Focus Your attention on the Son!

This is the bottom line for each of us! We are to follow Jesus, not each other. We are to focus our attention on the person of Christ and allow Him to deal with the circumstances around us. Even other believers are not to be our focus. Peter asked Jesus (regarding John) “What shall this man do?” (John 21:21) Jesus effectively told him that it was none of his business, and that he (Peter) was to follow Jesus!

It was such a powerful testimony to me, to see the dawn breaking over the weedy lawn, and to see that, without exception, the army of Cat’s Ear blossoms were turned to greet the rising Sun. They did not do it as a “group exercise:” every single one did it because it was in its nature to do so, whether in a group or alone.

How would it affect the testimony and behavior of the church, if every member of every assembly was as fully focused on the person of the Risen Christ, as those simple little weeds are upon the rising sun? Give this some thought, and meditate upon God’s Word. See if you can be drawn, as they are, to set your affections upon Him, instead of all that surrounds you here on Earth.

Lord Jesus, fix our hearts and minds upon yourself, so that we no longer see ourselves as the center of our existence, but readily, continually recognize our utter dependence upon you. Change us into your likeness, and lead us to follow in your footsteps, in Jesus name.


Paul’s Prayer for Believers: Part 1

Paul’s Prayer for the Believers: Part One

© C. O. Bishop 9/19/17 Cornell Estates 9/24/17

Philippians 1:3-8; Acts 16:12-40

Introduction:

These opening verses are further evidence of the tender love Paul felt for the believers at Philippi: He begins the epistle by spelling out his relationship with them, and their responsiveness to both himself and God, as evidenced by their voluntary, earnest involvement in Paul’s ministry, right from the beginning.

Some History

If you recall, from Acts 16:12-40, when Paul and his entourage had first entered Philippi, unlike many cities, there was apparently no synagogue there, as, instead of gathering at the local synagogue, with the Jews first, and sharing with them the news that the Messiah had come, he went outside the city walls with Silas and the others (Luke was with them by this point), because he had reason to believe that there was some sort of worship being carried on, down there by the river. This was evidently not an idolatrous worship but a group of people who believed in the God of Israel, mostly Jews, though at least some of them seem to have Gentile proselytes. There were a group of women there who met together for prayer. At least a few of them believed the Good News that Paul and Silas brought, and one of these, Lydia, was baptized, along with her family who evidently also believed. She begged them to stay in her home, as her guests, and they did so, while they expanded their ministry in Philippi.

The trouble started some time later, when a young demon-possessed woman followed them around, shouting that they (Paul and Silas) were servants of the Most High God, and were there to tell everyone a way of salvation. Paul finally decided that enough was enough, and he turned around and ordered the demon out of her. Ordinarily that would not have been a problem, perhaps, but the woman was a slave, and her owners had been making money off of her affliction, by selling her talents as a fortune-teller. It seems sad, but that was how they saw things. They were not one bit concerned about her welfare; only their profit margin…and Paul and Silas had just ruined it. So they dragged them in to the courts and accused them of spreading false doctrine and “anti-Roman” behavior.

Paul and Silas were savagely beaten, without benefit of trial, and left in the inner prison cell, bleeding, in stocks and manacles. But, at midnight they were praying, and singing psalms, and an earthquake occurred: a very odd earthquake—it shook everything, destroyed nothing, but made everyone’s manacles fall off. Very odd!

The jailer was ready to kill himself, thinking the prisoners had escaped, because he knew he would be tortured, but Paul called to him, saying, “Don’t hurt yourself! We are all here!” That whole experience convinced the jailer that the message they were preaching was worth hearing, and he asked what he had to do to be saved. They told him “Believe in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” So, he and his household believed the Gospel, and he took Paul and Silas into his home (probably attached to the jail), and washed their wounds, and treated them well. The next day, the magistrates, realizing that they had committed a serious error of judgement, in flogging un-convicted Roman citizens, apologized for their error, and begged them to leave town.

So, the small group of believers from the riverside gathering, and the Jailer’s family were the core group of believers that Paul left behind when he and his entourage left for Thessalonica, via Annapolis. That leaves me with the question: “Where did the elders and deacons come from?” Paul had only been there for a few weeks at most, as far as we can tell, and one does not ordain as an elder or deacon people who are novices in the faith (Paul says so…). So where did these leaders come from?

I have to assume that there were at least some Jews among the group of believers, as Paul always sought out the Jews first to offer them the Gospel of Christ (see Romans 1:16). If that is so, then it all makes sense: the Jewish men all had good training in the Scriptures, and, as it seems that some there were already believers, in the Old Testament sense, then they would make the “shift” to being quite mature Christian believers pretty rapidly. The Gentile believers would take some time to catch up, since they had no such training.

This explains why it was possible for Paul to preach in a town for just a few weeks, and leave behind a functioning New Testament Church that was complete with qualified elders and deacons, and fully equipped to continue as a church without “outside help”. The Church at Philippi was one of these examples. The Church at Thessalonica was another.

Paul quite reasonably might have felt a good deal of concern about these “baby Christians” he was leaving behind. He didn’t leave them after such a short time by choice: he did so for their safety, when riots began among the unbelievers. He left, but he actively prayed for them. So, how did he pray for them? We will examine this in two segments, the first being “thanksgiving.”

How Paul Prays for the Believers (1:3-8): Thanksgiving!

3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,

It is interesting to me, and a little intriguing, that Paul refers to God not simply as “God”, but as “my God”. Why the possessive article?  We need to remember that these people were living in a land where polytheism was the norm. In fact, everywhere Paul went, he had to deal with idolaters of various stripes, some quite hostile to the Good News of Christ. These believers already knew the Lord, so perhaps Paul is only underscoring the fact that both his relationships with them and his relationship with the One God of the Bible, were personal, not theoretical or academic in nature.

Paul thinks of them a lot, and gives thanks every time he thinks of them. He felt this way even toward believers he had never met, as seen in Romans 1:8. But especially for the believers whom he knew personally (1st Corinthians 1:4, etc.), and, these at Philippi were especially dear to him, as he explains in the next few verses:

4 Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy,
5 For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;

It is heart-warming to see that the veteran missionary, Paul the Apostle, was genuinely thankful for the believers at Philippi. (v. 3, 4) I would think for a man with as vital and important a ministry as Paul had…(and he knew it; in spite of the rough service, he knew he was “the apostle to the Gentiles”—he says so in Romans 11:13)…it seems to me it would have been easy to become a little proud, and feel that everyone else should be grateful for him. But Paul had a truly humble spirit, which we can see over and over in the scriptures. He was grateful to God every time he thought of these believers, and joyfully prayed on their behalf, not just once in a while, or when he remembered to do so, or when he looked at his “prayer-list”. He says he prayed for them continually, and rejoiced every time he thought about them.

Thanksgiving for Fellowship

But why did Paul feel so grateful for them (v. 5)? The first thing he mentions is their “fellowship in the Gospel”. Now, we tend to think of fellowship as “standing around drinking coffee and eating finger food”, or maybe sitting around a table at a potluck, and talking about whatever we feel like discussing, from golf scores, to weather, to politics, to gossip…but that is not fellowship. The New Testament sees fellowship in a very functional light—fellowship means “having in common”—“partnership”.

In fact, the NASB translates this word “participation”. That works well, and it is accurate enough, but: as long as we can see that the word “fellowship” always means partnership, participation, etc., then I prefer the word fellowship, because it also implies “unity”. When I am in fellowship with God and other believers, I am in partnership with them and in unity with them. (No coffee or doughnuts required.) I could be in a “partnership” at a business level, with people for whom I had long since lost all respect, or whom I did not trust at all, anymore. The partnership would be real, and legally binding, but unity would be non-existent, and fellowship would be unthinkable as a word to describe our relationship.

The Philippian church had served as Paul’s fellow-workers in Christ, from the beginning. That’s the kind of thing to make any veteran missionary grateful. We fellowship in the person of Christ, when we talk of things that pertain to His glory, when we worship together, sing praises together, witness together, study together, and/or serve together, in sharing the Gospel with those around us. Even when we are apart, working at our assigned tasks, we are partners in the Gospel: we have in common the Love of Christ, and we are in unity regarding our priorities and worship. That’s real fellowship: the kind Paul is talking about, here. What would have to change in our churches to make this kind of fellowship a living reality? (There’s something to ponder….) And they had evidently born fruit, as we will see later. What kind of fruit?

Thanksgiving for Fruitfulness

Every faithful man or woman of God is hoping to bear fruit that will bring eternal glory for God. The Fruit of the Spirit is certainly one sort of fruit-bearing, and we will discuss that subject more fully, later on; but the other kind of fruit-bearing is found in spiritual reproduction: leading others to Christ and then raising them up as genuine disciples. There are few greater joys than that of seeing one’s children in the Lord walking with the Lord, and leading others to Him. Evidently that is what the Philippian believers had been doing; and it brought constant joy to Paul.

Thanksgiving for Future Fulfillment

6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:

Paul’s confidence, even in his absence, is that the Lord Jesus Himself would continue the work in their lives. This verse (Philippians 1:6) is frequently used as a verse to teach assurance of salvation…and it does teach that. But the primary teaching in this verse is that the Lord will continue His work in their lives, and continue to perfect it, or carry it to completion, until either they go home to be with Him, or He comes to get them.

In a broader context, it could be argued that since it says “until the day of Jesus Christ”, it could mean that the Lord will continue to complete the church until the rapture. That’s a possible understanding, and certainly true, but considering the rather personal tone of this book, it seems more likely that we are to gain confidence from this passage that God will not give up on us, personally, and that He will continue to patiently, individually, mold us into the likeness of Christ until the end. That is the way I take it, personally, and it is especially precious to me in that light, as I frequently have felt myself to be a failure, and have wanted to just give up.

I remember one particular time, driving home from work, in deep depression, and grieving over my inability to walk with the Lord in a stable manner, I said, “OK, then, I quit! I cannot do this!” This verse instantly came to mind, as God quietly assured me that He was not quitting. I confessed my lack of faith, thanked Him, and was strengthened to press on.

Thanksgiving for Shared Bonds

7 Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace.
8 For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.

Paul feels extra confident about these particular saints, because he has seen how they have faithfully joined him in the work; not allowing themselves to be “put off” by his imprisonment, but taking full partnership in his ministry. He says, you were “partakers of my grace”—partners in Paul’s gift of apostleship. In light of this, He calls on God as his witness that he greatly longs after them, and specifically that this longing is fully in keeping with the heart of Christ—however Jesus feels toward his beloved flock, that’s how Paul is feeling toward them.

I wish I could consistently say that of myself. Unfortunately, I am all too human, and frequently forget that this is God’s beloved flock, and just grumble to myself about the behavioral problems of sheep in general, including myself. But what if we earnestly prayed for one another, and gave thanks regularly for the Grace of God in one another’s lives? Wouldn’t that tend to change our perspective? It is hard to grumble against someone for whom you are constantly in prayer. Thanksgiving is an important part of maintaining unity. This is something I want to see changed in my life as a believer.

Paul was genuinely thankful for the brethren. We need to be that way, too. How do I know?

God says it is His will for us!

Thanksgiving and the Will of God

1st Thessalonians 5:16-18 says,

16 Rejoice evermore.
17 Pray without ceasing.
18 In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus, concerning YOU!

God has clearly stated that our giving thanks is part of His will for us. Over in Romans 1:21, it says that the people, when they knew God, did not glorify him as God, and they were not thankful. And what was the result? The scripture says that “their foolish hearts were darkened, and they became vain in their imaginations”: they succumbed to idolatry, turning their backs on the reality of God.

Gratitude toward God keeps our attention pointed toward Him. We need to move back toward thankfulness, gratitude, and the common courtesy of giving God his due honor. We need to honor him with our lives as the Creator and Master and Sustainer of all things. And, since He commands us to give thanks in ALL things, perhaps the very best move we can make regarding “difficult” people is to pray for them and give thanks.

In the meantime, let’s at least take Paul’s example, and pray for the brothers and sisters around us, giving thanks for them, and rejoicing that God has made His Grace known to them as well as to us. We can rejoice in the fellowship and partnership we can have with them in God’s work.

Next time, we will continue and see the things Paul specifically prayed for in the believers’ lives.

Lord Jesus, teach our hearts, and draw us along in your Love and Grace. Teach us a heart of gratitude for one another, and love for one another.