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Secrets of the Mustard Seed
 
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SECRETS OF THE MUSTARD SEED

SECRETS OF THE MUSTARD SEED
Live by Faith
Make more of you by setting up a rendezvous.

(Here we see the most frequently given admonition, after the command to love, among the teachings of Jesus.)

Somebody cranked up the volume. Somebody pressed fast forward. Have you noticed? The world is getting a lot more intense, more demanding. Companies rise and fall with the speed of Internet access. We're phoned and faxed and e-mailed and paged and overnight delivered a flood of requests that find us wherever we are. And we have to respond in kind—or fall behind.

Even at home we often turn to multi-tasking just to keep up. What two or three things can you do at once? Take the girls to Little League and run to Albertson’s during innings when they’re not up to bat? Throw signs at your fifth-grader to keep off the Nintendo and concentrate on his homework while you’re doing the dishes and phoning someone to baby sit this weekend? Or maybe it’s just coming home Friday after another long day at work, collapsing in a heap on the couch—and then remembering the fix-it chores that have been piling up since Monday.

At some point most of us want to scream, “There’s just not enough of me to go around!” If only we could reproduce ourselves. After all, clones are people two. Or maybe we could use three or four. Well, the New Testament offers a remarkable solution to our problem, not through genetic engineering, but through a simple word to the wise that has enormous potential: live by faith. Christ’s apostles actually claim that faith can make more of you.

Faith stands out as the quality the New Testament talks about the most--483 references to faith, belief, believe. Jesus Christ kept pointing the lame, the blind, the proud and the broken to it as their only hope. It's at the heart of the teachings of Jesus.  The apostles center their gospel around it.

Furthermore they tell us that something extraordinary can happen when we do live by faith. In Ephesians Paul promises that Christ can live in our hearts through faith. And, since Christ is “the fullness of God,” we weak, mistake-prone human beings, can be “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

The faith connection we make with God is far more potent than any fiddling with DNA. It makes more of us in a most spectacular way—spreading us out into “the fullness of God.”

It’s not just that, as Jesus said, a mustard seed of faith can uproot trees or move mountains into the sea. (As if that wasn’t enough.) Living by faith actually multiplies us; we get to tap into God’s omnipotence and omnipresence. That’s a life-changing promise. That’s the great Mustard Seed Secret of faith.

Sounds fantastic. But how does this work in the real world? In the fast-tracked, high-tech present, people live by their wits. People live by the laws of science. People live defensively. We’re not tending sheep by still waters and green pastures. How do we accomplish more looking up? Options whiz by us every second and we can fall behind just blinking.

Try an experiment: set up a rendezvous. First spot a need, something on your long to-do list perhaps---your spouse is depressed, your child is having conflicts at school, you have to find a new job. Then brainstorm a bit about how God might meet that need. What’s a solution? What’s the first step from here to there? Pray about how you can cooperate with God’s efforts Finally set up a rendezvous, asking to meet God and his resources at the point of that need. Prayerfully decide to become part of the solution. It’s a simple, small mustard-seed step really. But I have been amazed over and over by how providences multiply as soon as I go where I’m pointing God. He somehow amplifies prayerful action and I find there’s enough of me to go around. Setting up a rendezvous means you don't go out there alone and try to play the part of rescuer. You don’t assume you have to make everyone happy. Instead, you respond to what God is nudging you to do; you cooperate with what he’s up to.

Setting up a rendezvous makes more of you without taking more out of you. You don’t get drained trying to keep up with all those needs out there. You’re plugged into inexhaustible resources.

I was teaching at a Christian language school in Japan when I first caught a sense of this kind of providential meeting. Early one morning I felt moved to pray for something to happen, really happen. I'd just read a few pointed verses in one of Paul's epistles on loving and serving one another. Tired of generic resolves to be nice, of sliding through days without any ripple, I felt an urge to take God from my devotions out into the next sixteen waking hours: somewhere surely there must be a specific rendezvous with his will.

So I said, "Lord lead me to someone I can really help today." It was not your everyday nod toward goodness. I wanted to be aimed at a target.

My morning classes passed uneventfully. But after staff meeting, a teacher named Peggy stopped me in the hallway. "I need to talk to you," she said with unsettling directness. "Can we go somewhere?"

We entered an unoccupied classroom and she spilled the beans: “I feel like a total fake. I don’t even know why I’m here as a missionary.” Peggy unleashed a flood of insecurity and inadequacy that was welling up from a chaotic childhood. The English teacher dissolved into a hurting, fearful little girl.

Some of us had written Peggy off as one of those loud, graceless types you just have to tolerate. Not exactly the prom queen. But now I was looking past the packaging.

Nothing like this had ever happened to me before. I’d never been much of shoulder to cry on, just the old male cliche: doing my own thing, live and let live, content with work and an occasional game of football.

But now I was so excited about having reached that rendezvous with the person God wanted me to contact that I did become all ears. I did try to understand Peggy’s longings and frustrations. And I even managed to get her started in a kind of devotional life that made her life a little more stable.

To my great surprise, other earfuls would follow from other teachers. I became someone much more than myself--a counselor they trusted. There was more of me to go around because it was God’s eagerness to help and heal that had built momentum inside me. We were on a roll together only because his skill at touching people was nudging me into places I’d never been.

God made more of me to go around. Part of the dynamic of setting up a rendezvous is that it focuses us on what God can do, not on what we can’t do. We accomplish more because we work better when we’re working with a creative, dynamic, positive individual. When two blind men by a Galilean road accosted Jesus, he got them to focus on his power: “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They did and he did. On another occasion, when a leper approached Jesus and said, "If you are willing, you can make me clean," the Master rewarded his faith immediately, healing him of his disease.

Jesus wanted these individuals to affirm the fact that he could meet their needs. He wanted them thinking about his abilities, and not just their disabilities. He wanted people looking not at how big (or small) their faith was, but at how big God is. Faith helps to calm us—so we don’t waste energy banging against a brick wall. Faith helps to focus us—so we don’t get paralyzed by the problems. Faith connects us to a God who’s simply bigger than our biggest challenges. He has an infinite number of solutions.

One blustery, rainy day, a farm boy named Raymond huddled in the family cellar with his trembling sister among the carrots and potatoes, listening as a tornado rampaged through Texarkana, littering its wake with telephone poles, livestock and post offices. Raymond's eyes were glued to the rattling cellar door. He thought any second the storm would plunge in and drag him away.

The tornado passed, however; the homestead was repaired, and life resumed its slow rhythmic pace. But the terror remained for Raymond. After that day, the very earth--which had once been so solid--seemed to expose him to the weather's violent whims. Every darkening of the sky, every gust of wind through the treetops, froze the boy’s pulse. He could hardly function, shrinking inside a fear he thought would never leave him.

But one Sunday a visiting minister came to the white frame church two miles down the road. He spoke about the power of faith and prayer. He insisted that God is big enough to meet our smallest and greatest needs.

Raymond decided to try it out. Slipping off into the scrub oak woods by himself, he looked into the sky that had gone berserk and told God he was awfully tired of this fear and would he, Sir, mind taking it away from him? Then he went back to plowing the cornfield.

A few days later, Raymond realized he hadn't felt afraid since making his petition in the woods. A few grey clouds had gone by, the wind had picked up a couple of times, but that acid fear in his stomach was gone. Apparently God had simply dissolved it, without benefit of progressive desensitization, positive thinking, or any other mental exercise.

Some years later, Raymond found himself on a navy ship in the middle of the Pacific. A fierce storm came up and quickly lashed the sea into wild gyrations. Fifty-foot waves exploded against the taut steel of his troop carrier. As the fury of the squall mounted and the ship swayed and pitched, everyone fled below deck. Only a few officers remained on the bridge trying to hold the ship on course.

Everyone fled, that is, except Raymond. Soaked with spray that shot high in the air from the roller-coastering bow, this sailor hung tightly to the upper deck railing. He found himself enjoying the storm immensely. His own youthful energies, cramped for so long aboard ship, seemed to shout with the forces clashing from horizon to horizon. It was exhilarating. The untamed animation of sky, wind and water left him breathless.

It seemed like a mid-ocean rendezvous with God's majesty and omnipotence. That’s what he was celebrating. In contrast to the false bravado of men below deck psyching themselves up for battle, Chief Yoeman Raymond Mosley, my father, felt awed and humbled before the vast drama around him. Faith expands us in all “the fullness of God.” Faith makes more of us.

When storms threaten, faith lifts a sail. When gloom descends, faith lights a candle. When “can’t do” rules, faith creates a “can do” coup. When loneliness stretches to the horizon, faith taps into the height and breadth and depth of God’s love.

The writer of Hebrews celebrates ordinary men and women who accomplished great things by faith, people "whose weakness was turned to strength," people who "quenched the fury of the flames," people of whom the world was not worthy, who were "longing for a better country--a heavenly one." They are a cloud of witnesses above us, cheering us on. They are telling us that we can be part of this glorious heritage; we too, by faith, can do great things for God.

I heard that calling one night in my living room. I heard it through my father's voice as he read Scripture. There was something about that voice that got to me.

A few nights before, I happened to catch my baby's voice in the still of the evening. I'd just put my daughter in her crib and was about to work on a script at my computer. But then I stopped. She was cooing. She was talking in that language before language, throwing out sounds just for the pleasure of it. And in this child's guileless voice I heard the goodness of God. It was new, like something at creation, and so very contented. I imagined her to be instinctively living by faith. And I knew how precious this human being really was.

Then came another still evening. I picked up Dad's voice from the guest bedroom. He was reading one of Paul's epistles to my step mother. And he was speaking with great difficulty. A year before, my father had suffered a massive stroke that left him partially paralyzed. It had taken months of therapy for him to be able to speak again, and even now the words didn't come easily; they were always taking detours in his brain; he had to track them down.

But still Dad wanted to taste the Word of God in his mouth; he wanted to form the words of faith out loud. So he struggled to get each phrase out, each one of Paul's descriptions of a glorious Savior. Sometimes he strained to grunt the syllables together. But there was also a gentleness in his voice.

I listened almost without breathing. This was my father's faith ringing out in the dark. It made him larger than life. This was the man who stood on the deck of the ship as it bucked in a mid-ocean storm. This was the man who had replaced fear with a trust in the unbounded Almighty.

For me, my daughter's cooing and my Dad's reading formed book-ends that encompassed all there is to say about trusting God. I realized that I want faith to be there at the beginning and I want faith to be there at the end. That's the only way to live. It’s the Way of Love.

My father died a year later, but I can still hear his voice. And I still want to join him in that great cloud of witnesses.

When I fail miserably I want to turn my face in faith to God. When it's dark I want to speak about the light that illuminates every child born into this world. When I'm hurting I want to affirm my allegiance to the One who took on our afflictions. When I'm confused I want to praise the wisdom of the heavenly Father anyway. When I'm angry I want to acknowledge the love that won't let me go. When I feel misunderstood or betrayed I want to give thanks for the One who sees into my innermost being.

And I want to send all the joys of my life up to the One who is the source of every good and perfect gift. Yes, I want to live by faith.

We can all celebrate this Mustard Seed from the teachings of Jesus: live by faith.

REFERENCES
Live in heart by faith Eph. 2:17
The measure of all the fullness Eph. 2:19
Fullness of God Col. 1:19; 2:9,10
Uproot trees Luke 17:6
Move mountains Mark 11:23 Believe I am able Matt. 9:28 If you are willing Mark 1:40 Heroes of faith Heb. 11:32-40
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