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Posts Tagged ‘Pharisees’

‘My tomato bushes have started blooming again!’ our daughter announced recently with glee.

‘Well, I don’t think my one poor plant’s going to do anything more,’ I told her. ‘I’ll pull it out soon.’

IMG_20200207_093825904Somehow, that ‘soon’ of mine did not happen—and just as well, because last week, when I went to check how my other pot plants had fared in the recent heat, I discovered that tomato plant had taken on a new lease of life. There it was, standing tall and proud again, its new green leaves reaching high and with several yellow flowers on display as well!

As I looked closer, I saw how some of the dead branches that had already borne juicy, little tomatoes were still there, but had shrivelled up and given way to new, strong, green ones that had emerged from the main stem. Could this be possible? I checked online—and, sure enough, I discovered there actually are tomato bushes that produce more than one crop a season. I remembered buying my plant at a nearby market, with no idea what I was actually getting, except that it was some dwarf tomato. Now I discovered I must have bought what is called an ‘indeterminate’ variety, as opposed to a ‘determinate’ one that is programmed to bloom and fruit in abundance just once a season. So it seems I can look forward again to walking out onto our balcony and picking even more of those flavoursome, little tomatoes to add to our salads from time to time!

As I thought about my rejuvenated plant, however, it seemed to me that God wanted to show me something more through it. How many times in my own life, when I felt as if I had died inside after some bad experience or deep disappointment or loss, has God drawn me close, comforted me and given me strength to go on and keep being fruitful? How many times in my life, when I felt so disgusted with myself at making some sinful choice and ignoring the Spirit’s voice within, has God picked me up, forgiven me and set my feet on solid ground again? How many times even now, each day, does God lovingly continue to encourage and inspire me when I feel I have nothing much more to give?

I love the story of the lost son Jesus told to the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ who had gathered around him, as well as the critical Pharisees and teachers of the law listening in (Luke 15). The story ends on a gently rebuking but joyous note, as the father reasons with his older son:

‘My son,’ the father said, you are always with me and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ Luke 15:31-32

Yes, when I too was dead, God gave me new life, as I was born anew through the Spirit. And now, each day, God continues with such love and grace to restore and renew me, as I seek to bear more fruit. I am so grateful for that second chance in my life—but also for that third and fourth and fifth and …

Is that how you feel too?

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I wonder how important the cover is to you when choosing a book. If the book is by one of your favourite authors, perhaps you go ahead and buy it anyway, irrespective of the cover. Or perhaps if the title sounds interesting, that’s all you will notice. Or maybe someone you trust has recommended you buy the book – in which case the cover is pretty irrelevant yet again.

Recently, I played a part in creating the cover of my first work of non-fiction entitled Soul Friend: the story of a shared spiritual journey. Now I had certain ideas I felt might work to convey the main concept of the book. I even found possible images on the net that I thought might be suitable. And my publisher listened and took these into account. But there was also quite a bit of ‘to-ing and fro-ing’ involved, as we asked ourselves lots of questions and negotiated our way towards an agreement. Does the cover give a clear sense of the content of the book? Will the image we have chosen appeal to all ages or does it look too old-fashioned? Is it eye-catching enough? Does the main colour of the cover contrast enough with my other books? Is the title in the correct place on the cover? Does it stand out enough? Have we used the best font for this? Should there be an endorsement on the cover as well as a sub-title?

All these decisions – just over the cover! Yet what about the contents? What if the book doesn’t live up to that cover? How many times have you bought a book and started reading, only to find it does not capture your interest and leaves you feeling somewhat disappointed and disgruntled?

You know, in the midst of this whole process of deciding on my latest book cover, it occurred to me to wonder if I go through the same process at times in my own life. I might be somewhere where I am not already known, perhaps speaking in a strange place – so what ‘cover’ will I choose? What image should I present? How relaxed and ‘myself’ can I afford to be in this environment? But even broader than that, what about my life in general? Is there an image I like to present to those around me that does not line up with what’s actually happening in my heart and soul and mind? How authentic is my life really? How authentic is my relationship with God? Does it stack up when that cover is opened and people turn the pages?

It seems to me Jesus never pretended and that he easily saw through the hypocrisy and pretence in others as well. In fact, it seems some of the strongest words he spoke were to the Pharisees when he called them to account for their attempts to appear so holy. In Luke 11:39-40, after a Pharisee had judged him for not washing before a meal, he says:

Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?

It’s no use trying to pretend to God, he was reminding those present. God sees beyond that outward image and right into our hearts. And I’m glad of that. I want what I appear to be on the outside to match what’s on the inside, don’t you? I want people to open that ‘cover’ and not be disappointed or put off God as a result of who I really am and how I live my life each day.

How about you? Is that your desire, too?

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We have a very cute grandson. He is five months old now and has reached the stage of making interesting noises when you smile and talk to him. He has his own little language and loves it if you repeat the sounds he makes to him.

One day last week, I caught our daughter trying to teach him to say ‘Mum, Mum’. She’s hoping to get in quick, before he decides to say ‘Dadda’ first! How anxious we are to hear those first words from our children and grandchildren! It’s like they are real little people then, able to communicate with us on another level.

At the same time as my daughter was trying to get our grandson to say his first ‘words’, however, I was busy editing my two latest books. With the shorter of the two, I dispensed with over five thousand words. With the longer book, so far, over seven thousand words have wafted off into cyberspace somewhere. And that’s even after many previous edits. Now the irony of this situation soon struck me. Here was my daughter, trying hard for that very first real word from our Zain, while I, on the other hand, was wishing I had not been so verbose!

Words come so easily to so many of us – particularly writers. Yet with them comes a big responsibility. How many glib statements can slip from our tongues or end up on that computer screen when we dash off an email? Recently, I found an interesting verse in Ecclesiastes 5:2:

Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

It reminded me of a time years ago when I was speaking regularly in our church. I felt then that God warned me not to get up and speak until the words I planned to say were burned into my own spirit. I felt God was pointing out I had no right to say things that were not true in my own experience and that I was not putting into practice myself. I am still glad of that strong warning today, as I prepare to speak somewhere and even as I write these blogs. No, my words are not often ‘few’, I have to admit, so in saying or writing the ‘many’, I know I need to be even more careful to honour God through them all.

I am reminded, too, of Jesus’ very stern words to the Pharisees on one occasion:

You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned. (Matt 12:34-37)

Now I will rejoice as much as our daughter when our little grandson says those first words – but I will also pray for him to speak words that honour God throughout his life. And may this be true for each of us. May our words, as the writer of Proverbs puts it (Prov 16:24), always be ‘sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

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Is there one overriding quality in a person you find essential for any deep and lasting relationship?  There definitely is for me.  And that quality is honesty or, if you like, integrity.  I like to know that you are undivided, that you say what you mean and mean what you say, that there is no duplicity going on.

So you can imagine how, when I first saw the plant lunaria or, as it is more commonly called, honesty, growing in a friend’s garden a few years ago, I desperately wanted it for my own garden.  I was duly given a few seedlings and, to my surprise, they survived, eventually developing into quite tall plants with large, dark green leaves and beautiful purple flowers.  I loved watching my honesty grow and flourish and burst into bloom – truly a challenging parable unfolding before my eyes.  But it was what happened subsequently that I loved even more.  As the plant began to die off, the dry stems and the oval shaped seedpods were left behind.  And I soon discovered how to remove the outer skin of these seedpods so as to leave the translucent, pearly inner membrane attached to the stems, which I then placed in a large vase in our lounge as a special, home-grown dried arrangement.  And it is still there to this day, reminding me of the value of integrity in my life.

It’s so easy, isn’t it, to opt for half-truths in order to get ourselves out of a sticky situation or to embellish the truth to make ourselves look better than others.  Some time back, in a phone conversation with a business associate, I was left wondering whether to trust his word about anything, as he asserted he would do this and that and tried to explain away various broken promises from our past dealings.  That is disquieting to me – particularly when this person claims to be a Christian.  But I know within myself it is very tempting at times to claim more holiness or more wisdom or even more integrity than I actually possess.  As Jesus pointed out once, it’s very easy to judge others without honestly taking a look at oneself:

You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:5)

Jesus certainly didn’t mince words when it came to hypocrisy or pretence.  On other occasion he said:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything uncleanIn the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.  (Matthew 23: 27-28)

So I get the picture that God values honesty and integrity – that it’s really important for what we say to match up with how we live and act.

Is that what you figure too?  Is that how you live?

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