Highways To Zion
Highways to Zion is a weekly devotional message on WVMC designed to encourage you in your daily walk with Christ through lessons from everyday life. Click Here for an archive of past devotional messages. See what Judy has to encourage you this week...
Week of November 3rd
When I was a new believer, I thought the pinnacle of the Christian life would be to lead someone to Christ. If I had given it any thought at all, I would probably have come to the conclusion that such an ambition was unrealistic for my very introverted self. I had been painfully shy as a child and, even as a college graduate, I still found conversation to be a chore. Conversation with people I didn’t know was agonizing.
I’d gotten a job as a lab technician and not long after, a student working on his Ph.D. came to use some of our lab space for his research project. He was a nice guy, married and the father of a two-year-old. Our interaction was much like two, two-year-olds playing – in the same space, but each doing his own thing. We did usually have lunch together, along with the rest of the staff.
I’m really not at all sure how it happened. I remember there was a parenting program or seminar or something that I invited him to or told him about. He had some questions about the Bible. I listened to Christian radio in my cubicle. I never shared the Four Laws with him. Never had him repeat the sinner’s prayer. But somehow he came to Christ, and he credits me for having led him.
Leading someone to Christ was not at all what I had envisioned. I thought it would be an accomplishment, something I worked at and finally saw results. I thought it would be very gratifying. Instead, I found it a very humbling experience. I didn’t do anything. God did it all. Which is what He always does.
Years later, my husband and I bought a house. Along the side of the garage was a red raspberry patch. I learned how to care for the plants and soon found out one important thing about raspberries: when they are fully ripe, they drop off the plant very quickly. If it rained hard, many would be on the ground. It was easy to tell which ones were fully ripe. All you had to do was touch it, and it would fall off into your hand.
Every year when I pick raspberries, I am reminded of my friend who credits me with leading him to Christ. He was so ripe for the kingdom. I’m not sure I even needed to touch him. The breath of the Holy Spirit as we passed was enough to make him drop off into my unsuspecting hand.
I’ve never led anyone else to Christ since then, not even my children. God has not seen fit to use me that way again. But He knew the desire of my baby-Christian heart and gave me a wonderful gift. Not a trophy that I won through my own efforts, but the gift of knowing that He is the one who works all things. He can use whoever He wants however He wants whenever He wants. All we have to do is be His.
© J.H.Nichols 2013
Week of November 10th
POTATOES AND EGGS
So much of our culture today is shallow. We are only interested in what affects us directly. We don’t care what goes on in government, education, and the media, as long as it doesn’t bother me personally. Many people just naively listen to and believe whatever is put out in the news or entertainment. Others don’t even bother to be informed, let alone apply discernment or take action.
In explaining the parable of the sower, Jesus said the seed sown in the lives of such people might sprout, but would wither when trouble or persecution came (see Matt. 13:21). What struck me is that in the parable itself, Jesus said, "But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched and they withered because they had no root" (v.6).
The sun comes up every day, without fail. The sun is absolutely necessary to warm the soil so seeds will germinate. Sunshine stimulates bees to come out and do their work of pollination. The warmth of the sun is good, not trouble and persecution.
What I think Jesus is saying is that deep roots are essential. They are needed to enable the plant to withstand storms and carry the weight of fruit bearing. Shallow roots leave the plant vulnerable not only to tornadoes but also to moderate winds. A plant without an adequate root system can be decimated by tiny insects as easily as by voracious animals.
We need not think of armed robbery or state-sanctioned persecution or even a personal vendetta when we think of trouble or persecution. The vicissitudes of everyday life are enough to scorch a shallow-rooted Christian. A serious illness, personal conflict, financial reversal, accident, or any of a host of lesser trials come to mind as examples of "when the sun came up." These things happen to all of us at one time or another. The old saying that the same boiling water will soften a potato and harden an egg comes to mind.
These trials and problems that would scorch and wither a shallow Christian will draw a deep-rooted Christian closer to Jesus. They strengthen his faith and deepen his love for the Savior. The roots make all the difference. And what is this soil that we are to sink our roots so deeply into? None other than love, God’s love. In his prayer for the Ephesians Paul says, "And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:17-19).
To be rooted and established in love enables us to see how vast God’s love is, "reaching to even me," as the old hymn says. And seeing the boundlessness of that love draws us to dive into its immensity, to be joyfully enveloped in what we cannot comprehend. Sink your roots deeply into the fertile soil of God’s abundant, gracious, everlasting love. Be a potato, not an egg.
© J.H.Nichols 2013
Week of November 17th
BAIT AND SWITCH
We’ve all heard about bait and switch schemes, where a product or service turns out not to be at all what was advertised. In fact, the daily news is awash with what appears to be the most massive bait and switch scheme even seen and which is being perpetrated by our own government. But this is not a political piece.
Even the Bible has a bait and switch story. Jacob served Laban seven years in order to marry the beautiful young Rachel, but Laban gave him the ugly older sister Leah instead. It may have served Jacob right, since he was a deceiver himself, but it was clearly not what he signed up for.
In reading Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the sower, the first sentence stood out to me. "When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart" (Matt. 13:19). We interpret that to mean "when someone hears the gospel." But is the gospel we share – the message that Jesus died for our sins so that we can be forgiven and receive eternal life – the full equivalent to "the message about the kingdom?"
The good news that both John the Baptist and Jesus shared was, "The kingdom of God is at hand." God was instituting His rule over the earth in a way He had not done thus far. The Jews understood the Messiah to be the One who would inaugurate God’s rule over the earth. And to them that meant a military hero who would overthrow the Roman occupiers and set up God’s kingdom, with Jerusalem as the capital of the world. God would rule over the affairs of men directly. He would be in charge. People would not only worship Him, but would do whatever He said.
There are many who are happy to receive the "good" part of the gospel. They are relieved to have the guilt of their sin removed, overjoyed to be viewed by God as righteous because of the perfectly-lived life of Christ, and moved by the hope of heaven in their future. But have we done them a disservice by not telling them Jesus is not only their Savior but also their Lord, their Master, the Boss, if you will?
Do we contribute to their misunderstanding of the message of the kingdom by failing to tell them the whole story? Do we neglect to mention Jesus’ call to self-denial? Is His command to love and serve others, even the "least of these," forgotten? In this era of instant gratification, do we think the call to persevere to the end would be too much to ask? Are we afraid His warning that His followers would be misunderstood, persecuted, and even martyred, would scare them away? Don’t we owe it to them to let them know that, while it is pre-eminently worth it, there is a cost involved?
What are we looking for in our Messiah? Do we only want the goodies and a way out of our temporal and eternal troubles? The Jews were resistant to much of Jesus’ teaching (not to mention His claim to Deity). Are we resistant to His call to humility, service, righteousness, reconciliation, spiritual warfare, and perseverance in trusting Him through affliction, illness, trial, and persecution? Are we reluctant to share the fullness of the gospel with others?
Jesus was careful to make sure His followers knew the totality of what He was asking of them. He spent three years teaching His disciples both the good and the hard parts of what the kingdom of God would entail. Even when He appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, He said He would show him how much he would have to suffer for His name’s sake (Acts 9:16). His was no bait and switch scheme. May we follow in His footsteps, not only in faith and obedience, but also in making sure we are not a party to the evil one in his theft of what is sown in people’s hearts.
© J.H.Nichols 2013