Faith That Transforms A Mustard Seed Into A Mustard Tree

Faith That Transforms Mustard Seed Into Mustard Trees

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If you’ve been in or around church for any length of time you’ve probably heard someone quote the parable of the mustard seed in one context or another. Often it is used when speaking about faith, or prayer, or even the preaching of the gospel. It’s one of those parables and sayings of Jesus that we just seem to take for granted and believe that we already know all there is to know about having faith as a mustard seed. Just because you have a jar of mustard in your fridge doesn’t mean that you understand everything that Jesus was saying in Mark 4:30-32 (see also Matt 13:31-32, Luke 13:18-19), because there is so much more here than you could have ever imagined.

Throughout the gospels we have at least three instances where Jesus uses the humble mustard seed to make a point to the disciples. Since repetition is such a significant means by which God speaks to us through the scriptures (Gen 41:32) we need to pay extra attention to what Jesus is saying about these little seeds. But first let’s look at most recognizable place Jesus talks about mustard seeds:


Mark 4:30-32 “30 Then He said, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? 31 It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; 32 but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.” (NKJV)

What Is A Mustard Tree Anyway?

Through this parable Jesus is trying to explain to the disciples different pictures to describe to them what His Kingdom looks like and how it operates. In this case Jesus choose the smallest of the seeds in the region to show how something so unassuming can grow to be large and important. We look at this story and think that a mustard tree must grow to something large like a cedar, an oak, or even a pine. The thing is most of us have never actually seen a mustard tree, so we tend to imagine other trees we are familiar with when we read this story.

Jesus choose the smallest of the seeds to show how something so unassuming can grow to be large and important.

The reality is though is that it was less of a tree and more of a shrub. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (USA CANADA) speaks of how for the most part this tree was probably only four feet high, although some are able to reach over 12 feet in height. This is far from the picture that most of us think of when we read this story of a mighty tree filled with birds and fruit.

What is also interesting is that mustard trees are annual plants, so every year they die off and have to grow up all over again, it is not a plant which endlessly endures like the might cedar. This need to constantly regrow is probably why Jesus compared the mustard seed to our faith in Matthew 17:20, where he speaks about mustard seed sized faith being able to move mountains. The disciples had just failed to heal a demon oppressed child so they run to Jesus for help, and after healing the child He once again spoke to them about mustard seeds.

This idea of an annual tree and our faith are one in the same, both require constant regrowth, and both are unable to just sit back and relax while waiting for the next season. The mustard tree must grow and drop fresh seeds which will grow the next year. If it doesn’t grow there are no seeds for the next season and eventually there are no more trees in the area. Our faith must be constantly built up through prayer, scripture, relationship with God and going outside our homes and doing either the great commission or the discipling of believers. Faith must be constantly refreshed or one day we will find the garden of our hearts has become barren because we neglected our faith and relationship with God by relying on the cold hard stones of our natural ways.

We must resist the temptation to become complacent in our relationship with God, our prayer lives, our studying of the scriptures and the work we do to spread the gospel and build up the Kingdom. It is a hard thing to say but victories in life don’t produce faith, it is faith which produces victories in our life. When we realize that our faith is like this mustard seed and not a great cedar we can then begin realizing that what you did three years ago won’t benefit you today in what ever situation you may be in. You can’t draw water from a well once and expect that bucket to sustain you for months on end.

Victories in life don’t produce faith, it is faith which produces victories in our life

The Mustard Seed Is Only Doing Its Job

In Luke 17:5-10 Jesus puts an extra spin on his discourse on mustard seeds and trees, here the disciples are asking for their faith to be increased after hearing about their requirement to be forgiving. The disciples were asking for the ability to forgive according to Jesus’s standards and instead get a statement about faith as a mustard seed being able to throw mulberry trees miles away into the sea.

Then Jesus goes on and speaks about how servants are not praised or rewarded for what is expected of them to do. This is quite the contrast, in the same breath Jesus speaks about demonstrating supernatural power and being held responsible to do what the disciples as servants are expected to do; be forgiving in this context.

The mustard seed has one job and one job only, to grow into a shrub so other seeds can be developed and dropped into the ground around it. We as believers also have a singular job, to serve Jesus and see ourselves developed from seeds to trees which can reproduce and see the land around us transform from barren rock to a lush garden. It is our duty to live this way and to serve Jesus in whatever capacity He has called us in.

We can have all of the spiritual power there is but if we are not faithful in living out our lives as Jesus commanded us to then we are still in darkness, and often are doing more harm to the Kingdom than good. When we stand before Jesus we won’t gloat over the number of visions we have seen, or healings we have performed, or the number of books we have written.

No our statement will be “we have done what was our duty to do.” That is how faith works, we serve Jesus and we go out and do what needs to be done so our master is glorified and others can see Him in His true light. Be it through preaching, compassion, miracles, prophecy, service, conversation, leadership, forgiveness, love or any other means.

To accomplish this we must be like mustard trees which must be continually refreshed and regrown so that our seeds never stop being produced. Our faith may begin small as a mustard seed but as Jesus has said it can have immense impact on this world.

But Wait There’s More!

This is where most people stop when they speak about the parable of the mustard seed, we focus just on what it means for us and how we can develop our faith. You see everything we have seen so far is only half of the story. The entire picture about mustard seeds and trees is not just about our faith or what we can do, but it paints a picture of who Jesus is. In all of the instances of the mustard seed Jesus was painting two very different but interconnected pictures. He was teaching us how our faith works but at the same time He was revealing not just the Kingdom but how He was the long-awaited King of the World.

Jesus was not revealing just the Kingdom but how He was the long-awaited King of the World.

We dedicate our lives to being like the servants in Matthew 17:20 not just because of the nice things Jesus has done for us but because He is our King. This isn’t just a theological idea it is reality, by confessing Jesus as your savior and Messiah you have declared Him to be King of Heaven and Earth. In the parable of the mustard seed Jesus was speaking to the disciples who He really was, but today we are oblivious to what Jesus was saying.

A Mustard Flavored Kingdom

Throughout the age of the Old Testament and into the time of Jesus it was a common metaphor to speak of a kingdom as a tree. We see this in scriptures such as Ezekiel 17:22-24, 31:6 Daniel 4:10-12 which use a picture of a tree to describe a nation or a kingdom. The Commentary on the New Testament Use of The Old Testament (USA CANADA) talks about how “Mark 4:30-32 is an ironic fulfillment of Ezekiel 17:23 the lowly annual shrub rather than a might cedar, lamb not a lion maybe. The people expected a mighty cedar, but God came as a lowly shrub which would be exalted over all else.”

The lost message of the Kingdom of God hidden here in the parable of the mustard seed, Jesus the great shrub has come to rule the world. Not a mighty cedar or acacia, or mulberry the humble mustard shrub despite its size and appearance had sprouted and would rule over all. Jesus didn’t come as a superpowered reincarnation of King David, He came as the suffering servant and laid hold of a greater kingdom then anyone of that time ever imagined.

The people and religious leaders were looking for a cedar but got a shrub, so they rejected Him. They were looking for a warrior but got a shepherd, so they persecuted Him. They were looking for an angel of death but got the forgiving Son of God, so they killed Him.

They forgot about Isaiah 11:1 and Jeremiah 23:5-6 where God spoke about a humble branch which was coming to rule and exercise judgment on the people. Jesus executed judgment on sin, He rules over His covenant people and one day He will judge those who rejected His Kingship.

We can’t have the benefits of mustard seed faith until we bow down before the mustard tree of Christ.

We can’t have the benefits of mustard seed faith until we bow down before the mustard tree of Christ. None of what we claim to believe matters at all if Jesus isn’t the King of not just the universe but our individual lives. Our faith doesn’t matter, the miracles we see doesn’t matter the lives we see changed doesn’t matter if Jesus isn’t our King and if we don’t act as grateful adopted servants.

Finding a Nest in His Branches

The last part of the parable has Jesus speaking about the birds of the air making nests in the branches of the fully-grown mustard tree. We take this statement for granted and don’t realize that to the disciples this was ridiculous. You see because the mustard tree regrows every year it can’t be developed enough to be ready for the time when birds make their nests. If one tried the branches would be too small or tender to support just a bird on it let alone a nest.

Here Jesus is again speaking in irony, just as the lowly shrub is King of the forest, so to is this tree which couldn’t before support dwelling places for the birds now be able to provide shelter and covering for them (Daniel 4:12).

We see then that Jesus has come to bring us a covering for our lives and that it is a foundational part of our faith. That covering of grace and atonement is our constant reminder that we can trust Him and remain committed to Him despite the problems of the world. Ezekiel used this same picture of birds finding rest in a tree to describe Egypt in Ezekiel 31:6, so how much grander and wonderous should that covering and shelter be for us who follow Christ our King.

Through faith we are able to go from mustard seeds to mustard trees and see great and mighty things happen in our lives. But we are only able to see such a transformation because Jesus the first seed which fell into the ground then died and came back as a King who has brought us under His covering of atonement. Now as redeemed, adopted servants we go out into the world and deposit new seeds into the ground so the whole world can be covered by the offspring of the great mustard tree.

Question: What can you do today to recognize Jesus as the King of your life?

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Faith That Transforms A Mustard Seed Into A Mustard Tree Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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Trusting the God of Hope When You Have None Left

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WITH ALL OF THE DIFFICULTIES, struggles, pains, losses, frustrations and general unjust craziness there is in this life it doesn’t take much to lose ones hope. We try our best to continue trusting the God of hope but so much in this world and in our individual lives tells us to give up the fight and settle into the lands of defeat. There is no fairy tale ending, so get a cozy chair and get yourself a nice view of the pit of despair.

We see bad things happen, or watch family members struggle with health issues, we struggle with finances, prayers don’t get answered so we are tempted to just give up trying to be optimistic or to cling to any sort of faith that God can change what is going on in our lives. Along with all of that we take the fallout from one unanswered prayer and use it to justify not having faith for God to do something next time. Or we allow one loss to cancel out dozens of previous victories, everything that God did years ago no longer matters because we feel that He wasn’t with us today.

These are difficult issues and hard questions to deal with and they can’t just be answered by telling someone that they just have to believer harder or that they should just read their Bible more. I’m not against faith or prayer or anything like that, I’ve personally witnessed the blind see, the deaf hear,  and the crippled walking out of wheel chairs. However, I have also watched people die from cancer, others struggle with issues from accidents, I’ve lost two friends to depression and suicide and I’ve had my own problems as well.

I have seen the greatness of God’s power in action and I’ve experienced the absence of it.

Hope in action vs. hope in the rear-view mirror

I have seen the greatness of God’s power in action and I’ve seen and experienced the absence of it, even with myself. For the past four years I have struggled with an ear issue that has left me with unending ringing in my ears, has cost me one third of my hearing ability and has made me unable to even worship along with the rest of the church I attend. Flashback ten years ago now and I was once in a market in Mexico City on a mission trip and we were praying for people. One day a woman came to get prayer for her ear. Me and another prayed for what we thought was an ear
infection and she was miraculously healed. What we found out after we prayed was that she didn’t have in infection but had actually ruptured her ear drum the day before and was totally deaf in the one side. After she said she could hear she pulled out the cotton ball from her no longer deaf ear that was stained with blood.

It’s not just a matter of going down to the Jesus store and picking up some joy with a side of milk.

This is where things get difficult when you know that God can and is able to move in power and He doesn’t. It’s not easy to keep hope alive, especially as the years go by, especially when those years bring more and more pain, frustration and loss. God is the God of hope according to Paul in Romans 15:13 and not only that but He is also supposed to be our source of joy and peace. The problem is though it’s not just a matter of going down to the Jesus store and picking up some joy with a side of milk. These are real matters of faith, not just superficial ones where we just try to whitewash what is going on inside of us.

What is real faith?

You see real faith is not yelling at the top of your lungs that you have faith; real faith involves being honest with what is in front of us. Faith is never absent from realty, it recognizes what is really going on and looks towards God to change that reality to something else. Pretending that there are no problems is not faith it is delusion. Does that mean we can’t pray for a change? Of course not. What I am saying is that our faith and hope are not dependant on our circumstances they are dependant on the nature and character of God.

It takes infinitely more faith to declare that God is good and loving when your world is upside down than it does when you’re sitting in an air-conditioned church and everything is rainbows and sunshine. Real faith is when you are able to honestly praise God even when you don’t get your prayers answered, not just when you do.

“It takes infinitely more faith to declare that God is good and loving when your world is upside down than it does when you’re sitting in an air-conditioned church and everything is rainbows and sunshine.”

Just look at what Jeremiah said after the darkest day in Judah’s history at that time in Lamentations 3:25-26 “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; 26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (NKJV). Jeremiah didn’t write this after the people repented and had a great party, no he wrote this after the utter destruction of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah. How could he speak of hope after so much death and destruction? He could do it because He understood who God is.

That is where we find out great weakness, far too often we take the supposed and actual failures, shortcomings, and losses of our lives and place the blame squarely on God and we lash out against him like overly emotional teenagers in response. Everything bad was God’s fault and everything good is the result of my own hard work – is the lie we tell ourselves. You see God is good but we are temporary travelers in a world that is not good.

We live in a fallen and broken world and there are times when we don’t get our way, a prayer doesn’t get answered, a person dies, a job is lost or a life loses its purpose. Then rather than praise God for who He is and what else he has done for us we abandon hope because we believe it is better not to hope than it is to hope and be disappointed. We respond that way because it is all part of the plan, not God’s plan but Satan’s.

Why Satan comes to steal our hope

In Satan’s eyes a mute, broken and depressed Christian is the best one there is because he knows they will never do anything to weaken his kingdom. It is a campaign of disarmament where he and his forces go out and convince Christians that it is better to have never hoped than to have hoped and lost. It is a strategy where he convinces us that the weapons of our belief and warfare are too heavy to carry and actually do more harm than good. So we should throw them away and settle for a life under spiritual house arrest.

It is a campaign of disarmament where Satan and his forces convince Christians that it’s better to have never hoped than to have hoped and lost.

In Rick Renner’s devotional Sparkling Gems From The Greek (USA Canada) he talks about John 10:10-11 and unpacks the meaning of what Jesus meant warning us that Satan comes to kill, steal and destroy. Renner speaks of how the word kill does not mean to murder but has the understanding of a religious sacrifice such as when a lamb was killed on the altar. If Satan can’t destroy our hopes, dreams, purpose, life or anything else he’ll convince us to do it ourselves out of devotion or another reason. The same applies to our hope if he can’t crush it from within he’ll convince us to lay it down either for moral, cultural, religious, or emotional reasons. Or it could be as simple as feeling as if God is calling us to lay something down when in reality God is trying to awaken that thing you are about to kill.

What do we have to look forward to?

Proverbs 13:12 tells us that “hope deferred makes the heart sick” this is both a spiritual and a medical truth as the loss of hope has a tangible impact on our spirit, mind and body. However the verse continues and says that a “longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

We need both hope for today and for the future because we live in two worlds one of earth and one of Heaven.

In our opening verse Romans 15:13 the hope Paul was looking towards was the culmination of both Jews and Gentiles coming into the Kingdom of God together through the New Covenant (Titus 2:13). This is what drove him from nation to nation and from prison to prison preaching the gospel despite the problems he encountered because he saw a light at the end of the tunnel.

We also need that long ranging hope to carry us to the end of our lives, but we also need hope for today. We need both hope for today and for the future because we live in two worlds one of earth and one of Heaven. So our hope must reflect that we can’t have a hope that is based only in the future, but we must also have a hope that sees its results today, although to a smaller degree.

It is just like opening a present on Christmas eve and getting the rest in the morning.  Or taking a long-awaited road trip but also taking time to make stops along the way. You don’t wait until you arrive to enjoy yourself even though your ultimate enjoyment is at the end of the trip (serendipity). At other times you may discover that you only enjoyed the final destination because of what happened along the way, so it is with our hope in God.

Are there times when God will answer our prayers, yes, and are there times when He won’t (at least as far as we can perceive) of course. What is important though is not how God answers but how we respond to God afterwards. If we can turn to God with the same love and hope no matter the outcome then we have passed the test of faith and our hope is not in God’s ability to please us but it is based on our love for Him.

If we can turn to God with the same love and hope no matter the outcome then we have passed the test of faith.


Romans 5:1-5 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (NKJV)



 

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Playing With Shadows

Shadow in dogwood park

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AS CHRISTIANS AT TIMES WE CAN TAKE FOR GRANTED who we are and what we were like before we encountered Jesus. We sing the songs about being changed and redeemed but those just become words and it is easy to lose sight of the journey we have taken from where we once were to where we are today. You see before we were redeemed our lives could be compared to a shadow cast upon the ground. People could see us and there was some trace of us but it was only a faint outline of who we really are. Shadows can interact with each other, overlap and give the impression of life, but its life is based on something else, something real.

You can look at shadows and recognize people talking, walking, running, or sitting, but shadows are not limited only to people, anything exposed to light casts a shadow. The object is real but you can’t do anything with its shadow, I can’t drive around in the shadow of my car, I can’t walk into the shadow of a grocery store and come out with a snack. A shadow is only a projection of what is real and the shadow is revealed only when light is shone upon it.

Before we were redeemed, forgiven, restored and born again we were nothing but shadows of the person God created us to be. We were hollow and like a vapor, we were fully formed on the outside but missing a vital piece within us. We were like a vapor which had lifted off from a lake, and was slowly drifting away until we becomes completely dispersed in the air around us.

But God came into our lives (Mt 4:16, Lk 1:79) and we no longer live as a shadow cast upon the ground. We now through atonement and the New Covenant have taken our place as the person we truly are and have been created to be. None of this is because of our own goodness, hard work or devotion, we have been changed from shadow to person only because of Jesus.

Paul lays this out clearly in 2 Corinthians 3:18-21 but I want to emphasize what he said in verses 5 to 6: “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (NKJV).

The Shadow Remains

Despite the light and new life Jesus has given to us we still cast a shadow, the shadow of what we once were, the shadow of what remains from our old life (Rom 7:21-25). The struggles, the weaknesses, the sins, the old ways, selfishness, greed, pride and so on. That shadow is still there and not only that but through the light of Christ it appears even more detailed and richer than it had before. This is true for two reasons first your perspective has changed from that as a shadow cast upon the ground in a dark two-dimensional world to one standing above the ground in a fully lit three-dimensional world where you can see yourself and the shadow (Mt 6:22-23).

Secondly when there is more light a shadow stands out so much more because there is a contrast between the two. It’s hard to pick apart two shades of grey but very easy to see the difference between white and black. The more of the light of Jesus we have in and around us the greater amount of contrast there is between His nature and the one we had when we were still lost in sin and unforgiveness (Jn 1:5).

The more of the light of Jesus we have in and around us the greater amount of contrast there is between His nature and the one we had when we were still lost in sin and unforgiveness

How Do We Cast Off This Shadow?

Now what are we to do with the shadow of our old life that still clings to our feet and follows us around in our daily lives? It’s simple, get more light. Don’t misunderstand me I’m not getting metaphysical I am just painting a picture of what is happening within us, and it’s a picture which God uses frequently throughout the Bible (Jn 1:9, Jam 1:17). When I say get more light I am talking about things such as building our relationship with the Trinity, I am talking about prayer, faith, holy living, reading and understanding the scriptures, worship, thanksgiving and everything things else Jesus has called us to be and do in this world.

The more light we can have shining upon us from different angles makes it so there is less room in our lives for shadows to find a place to rest. This is all no different than how it is in film making or photography. In these industries they use multiple sources of light to get rid of any unwanted shadows in a shot. Sometimes two, three, four or more lights, types of bulbs, diffusions, soft-boxes and so on are needed to cancel out any unwanted shadows that another light source could be casting.

We have to look at our lives the same way, when we come to Christ and receive His gift of atonement and forgiveness whereby a great purifying light is shone upon us (Jn 8:12). That light makes our old shadow look so much more evident that we need more light to surround and radiate from us (Mt 5:16) us so that there is no more shadow, or at the very least one that is barely noticeable.

All of this takes not just work but more importantly relationship building between us and God, we must go beyond a Sunday morning only Christianity and move into one where God is a living part of our daily lives. Then and only then can those shadows of our old ways, the world and the flesh can be drowned out buy God’s light, love, holiness, justice, forgiveness and covenant goodness. The first step though is looking behind yourself and recognizing that shadow behind you and then we look forward towards Jesus and invite Him to shine even brighter in our own lives.


John 3:18-21” 18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (NKJV)


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Outsourcing God: How Good Sheep Get Lost

outsourcing God by Cameron Conway

Podcast Of This Message

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GOD IS GOD AND I AM NOT, it’s an easy thing to say but it is entirely different to live out on a daily basis. We say that we pray and have faith in God but over and over again we seem to either grow impatient or deep down we believe that God won’t actually listen to our prayers. It feels as if our heart has outsourced God’s power, rulership, authority and holiness and replaced it with our own. This is especially true if you have had several prayers which have gone unanswered.

Have you ever wondered why some believers have a harder time trusting God for great things to happen? It’s not because of “backsliding” or sin, or unbelief but it is because they have over and over again faced this fork in the road and chosen the wrong path. The crossroads between what God wants and what we want. I’m not picking on certain believers, but this applies to all of us, myself included.

There are times when God moves mightily and then there are other times where it feels like He took a vacation in the Andromeda galaxy right when we needed Him the most. How we respond in each of those situations will determine how our heart reacts the next time there is a need for prayer.

Our Source of Strength

We can either look to our own strength or the strength of others to help and guide us or we can put our trust and obedience in God. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t ask for help in times of need but I am encouraging you to look inside yourself and see who your faith is in. Is it in a person, a group, a thing or even yourself instead of God? Jesus once told a parable about building a house either on sand or on the rock (Matthew 7:24-27) and the same principle applies to us here.

If your foundation is built on God and His rightful place in not just the universe as a whole but your own heart then you with withstand the storms of life. If however you have set yourself above God in your thoughts, actions, prayers or in any other way you will either find your house toppled over or you will slowly sink down in the sand until there is nothing left of you for anyone else to see.

We picture ourselves with rippling muscles moving whatever stands in our way but in reality from God’s perspective we are just silly sheep bashing our heads into a log.

A great test to see where your heart comes in this question: Do you even bother to pray in your daily lives when there isn’t even a crisis? This matter is critical, and not just because of some religious obligation but because of relationship. Without relationship we are just treating God like a genie or as a vending machine that is supposed to spit out whatever we ask for as long as we drop in a few quarters or our tithes. When we think and act like this God is no longer God in our hearts, but merely our servant.

Look at what it says in Psalm 100:2-3 “…Come before His presence with singing. Know that the Lord, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” (NKJV) Notice here that it doesn’t say come to God with your shopping list, or a work order we are to come before Him in joy. Not the joy we experience when we get what we want on Christmas morning, but something deeper and more wonderful.

I can do baaaaatter

Throughout the scriptures we are faced with this truth of God being the high and mighty one while we are the equivalent of sheep (Psalm 95:7, Isaiah 40:10-11). We at face value might be a little offended by that, sheep are not known for being the smartest of animals. They get stuck in ruts, overgraze if left alone, go on mad stampedes, drink tainted water if not forced to good streams and so on. Being called a sheep would be considered an insult to many and even in our culture someone who is seen as being a blind follower is often referred to as a mindless sheep. (For an in-depth and life changing view on this subject check out “A Shepherd Looks at Psalms 23” by W. Philip Keller. Click here: US Canada)

What we need here is perspective, when we compare ourselves to a sheep we hold up our intelligence, creativity, technology and ability to express and go “ha take that sheep, now into the oven with you.” We see ourselves high and above those natural sheep because in our world there is nothing higher than mankind. But now let’s flip the perspective lets compare ourselves to God, if we hold ourselves up against Him it is not wonder why God’s favorite nickname for people is sheep.

We are no where near as intelligent, powerful, caring, wise or highly exalted as God is. Compared to Him we are nothing more than dumb and stubborn sheep, who need constant guidance and supervision, so we don’t drink poison, fall off a cliff, get turned upside down or die of starvation because we ate all the grass and are too lazy to move on. If a sheep ran into an obstacle on the path do you expect it to muster the other sheep together so they can all lift it out of the way?

No, that would be ridiculous to expect, so why is it we think the same way about ourselves. We see obstacles in our lives and have these thoughts that we can just go over there and pick up the log or rock and hurl it out of the way. We picture ourselves with rippling muscles moving whatever stands in our way but in reality from God’s perspective we are just silly sheep bashing our heads into the log.

Jesus the sheep herder

Our help and redemption though comes from Jesus who said in John 10:14-16 “14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” (NKJV) Jesus is the one who can come and move those logs and obstacles from our lives, well as long as we are on His path and not some dark forest trail we ran off into.

Jesus is the one who can come and move those logs and obstacles from our lives.

Jesus through his love and compassion sees us as these loveable, stubborn, and helpless sheep and He offers us the opportunity to join His flock and to be under His protection (Mark 6:34). No longer than are we to act as if we are king of the sheep or can we convince a fellow sheep bring over a trench coat and stand on our shoulders so we appear to be like the shepherd. No, no matter how hard we try to live our lives as the one in charge, or how cleverly we pray, or how independent of God we consider ourselves to be it will never change what we are.

We are created in God’s image but we are not independent from Him, we are not gods, or not the rulers of the universe, but we are children of God adopted into the family because of the sacrifice of the good and great Shepherd. When we follow (2 Peter 2:25) and depend on Him everything changes, yes there are still bad days, loss, pain but we know that we are following Him on a path which leads to better things. We are no longer alone, and we are no longer trying to solve God problems with the methods of a sheep.


John 10:14-16 “14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” (NKJV)


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Outsourcing God: How Good Sheep Get Lost by Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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The Roots of our Identity as Christians

Roots of our identity as Christians - CCR dogwood forest 1

Podcast Of This Message

EACH ONE OF US IS LIKE A SAPLING IN THE GARDEN OF GOD, we bask in the light of the sun and strive to grow higher and closer to the source of our nourishment. We push through the dirt of this world and continually look up higher, all the while we are trying to understand our identity and what we are supposed to look like. A plant has no idea what it looks like, it just knows it’s a plant. It’s identity is based on what it does, so it digs into the soil, baths in the light of the sun and produces seeds so that the area around it will be filled with more plants like it.

There is no striving or confusion, the plant doesn’t try to be like a rabbit or a rock it is living out the purpose God created for it. It is the same with us, God desires for us to be like this plant for us to grow, develop, reproduce and enjoy the life God has created for us to partake in. We are to follow after the nature and purpose God has created us to be like, for those who have been redeemed by Christ and were brought into the New Covenant our spiritual DNA has been transformed from that of a rock to a living plant. No longer cold and hard but alive and drawn to the light of the sun.

Our identity then doesn’t begin with our name or our personality it begins with something deeper, it begins with the roots we are all connected to, Jesus. In John 15:1-8 Jesus speaks of those who follow Him as being like branches which are connected to a grape vine which is Himself. He goes on to speak of how we cannot produce fruit without His presence and support and without Him our branch simply dries out and is thrown away. We see then that Jesus is our source, He is our battery, He is our wi-fi, He is our water and so much else.

Understanding who Jesus is becomes our first step in understanding who we are

Understanding who Jesus is becomes our first step in understanding who we are, before we were disciples we saw our identity according to our own accomplishments, hobbies, desires, talents, jobs, education and so on. However, something changed when we entered into that covenant through faith in Jesus, our identity is no longer grounded in who we are but in who Jesus is. I am not saying through that we all have to wear the same clothes, listen to the same types of music, have the same hair cut or anything else like that. No, what I am saying is that Jesus becomes our common language which we speak. Jesus becomes the air which we all breath, and Jesus is the roof which covers us all, when we understand this then and only then can we live out the revelation of Galatians 3:28.

With plants there is an infinite variety of types shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors, even with these differences they are still all plants. They all still live in the ground, absorb water and soak in the sun, they are still part of the same “family” despite their differences. So it is with all of us who are united in Christ, we were each created with infinite creativity and uniqueness and we are not destined to simply be clones of one another. We are individuals with varying interests, hobbies, cultures, languages and tastes but there is something deeper which unites us into one family.

Looking to Jesus for our Identity

When I speak about rooting our identity in Christ I’m not talking about walking around in a tunic with shoulder length hair and a beard (which would be extra awkward for women) I am talking about being reflections of Jesus’ words, compassion, justice, mercy, power and love. Jesus is the supreme prototype for how we are to live. We can see Him as the great tree which all other plants not only emerge from but are dependant for nourishment.

It is through our compassion and actions that we imitate Jesus in this world.

When we look at how Jesus lived in this world we see that He demonstrated compassion, love, frustration, emotion, grief, and a whole host of other expressions. He was merciful when mercy was needed but he was also firm in times of conflict. He offered grace to the woman caught in adultery but held the Pharisees to a standard beyond what they were used to. He rejoiced when the people came to him and he lamented when towns rejected Him, with these towns Jesus did not call down fire on them but spoke with a broken heart because He knew the consequences of their actions.

Jesus then becomes the gatekeeper, or firewall which determines what comes out of our mouth, what dwells in our minds and what we do with our hands. This is what Paul eluded 1 Corinthians 11:1 when he declared, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (NKJV).  In John 13:12-17 Jesus commands the disciples to follow His example of washing each others’ feet as an act of servitude and humility. Notice He doesn’t say to wear their clothes in a certain way, or to wear a custom bracelet to show the world they are Jesus’s followers, no it is through their compassion and actions that they imitate Jesus in this world.

I am who I am says I am

With this abundance of uniqueness which God has blessed each of us with it is no wonder why we have such and expansive list of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 15, or it is why we have a five-fold ministry instead of just a singular priesthood. God made us all unique and so that we can fulfill the totality of the Great Commission, there are those of us created for compassion, some for teaching, some for artistry, some for business, others for evangelism.

There are those who are introverts others extroverts, some are exuberant while others are soft spoken and no one is better than the other. Each one was uniquely created to serve God and to have an impact in the place and time God created them to live in, because there are people both inside and outside of the church who can only be helped but someone just like you. For God crafted you to be unique, quirky, flawed, talented and so many other traits right from the beginning.


Psalm 139:15-17 “My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them. 17 How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!” (NKJV)


 

What do we do next about our identity?

Going forward we have to first learn and understand who Jesus is and use that inspiration and foundation to build our own identity upon. We are to be holy, but not “holier than thou”, we are to be loving but not taken advantage of, we are to be firm in our biblical convictions but not judgmental, we are to live by faith but not by wishing, and we are to be ourselves but without the flaws of the flesh. At the end of the day you are to go out and live like a plant, be it a tree, flower, grain, bush, vine, grass it doesn’t matter what kind you are.

What is important is that you remain rooted deeply in the ground, your drink in the water of life, you bath in the light of the sun and your grow and grow so you can produce fruit and seeds so the great garden continues to spread throughout the earth.