25 Aug 2013

An old man lies dying in his bed. He suddenly smells the aroma of his favorite homemade chocolate chip cookies wafting up the stairs. He gathers his remaining strength and lifts himself from the bed. Leaning against the wall, he slowly makes his way out of the bedroom, and with even greater effort forces himself down the stairs, gripping the railing with both hands.

With labored breath, he leans against the door frame, gazing into the kitchen. There, on the kitchen table spread out on wax paper are dozens of cookies. Is it heaven? Or is this one final act of saintly love from his devoted wife, seeing to it that he leaves this world a happy man? Mustering one great final effort, he throws himself toward the table. The aged and withered hand, shaking, makes its way to a cookie at the edge of the table, when he’s suddenly smacked with a spatula.

“Stay out of those,” his wife says. “They’re for the funeral.”

A thirty-something-single woman says, “My old aunts used to come up to me at weddings, poking me in the ribs and cackling, ‘You’re next!’ After a while, I figured out how to stop them. I started doing the same thing to them at funerals!”

We all face situations that seem like they could bury us: the loss of a loved one, bad news concerning our health, a divorce, a rejection of someone who was supposed to love us. It’s easy to feel like we’ve been buried, but when you put a seed in the ground you don’t say, “I’m burying this seed,” you say, “I am planting this seed,” because you know it’s going to grow.

What’s interesting is the only difference between being buried and being planted is the expectancy of what’s going to happen next. Think about it. When a pet turtle or bunny dies, you don’t say, “I am planting this rabbit.” You say, “I am burying the rabbit.” You know it isn’t coming back.

When you go through disappointments, you’re in tough times, you might feel like you’d been buried, but the fact is, you’ve simply been planted. That means you’re coming back. And you’re not just going to come back, you’re going to come back better, stronger. What was meant for your harm, God will use to your advantage. You go in one way, but because of the life of God inside, you come out another.

Jesus talked about this in John 12:24. He said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and is planted, it will not produce fruit.” You can have a seed lying on the shelf for a lifetime, it will never become what it was created to be until you put it in the ground. As long as it’s up on the shelf where it’s comfortable, where it doesn’t have to stretch, doesn’t have to deal with any adversities, that potential will remain locked up dormant inside. A seed knows how to use adversity to grow to its potential.

I heard a rough and tumble type of story. It’s about a farmer that had an old mule that had fallen into an empty well. The farmer was really disappointed. He loved the old mule; but when he surveyed this situation, he realized it was going to be impossible to rescue it. The well was narrow and it was cramped at the bottom. He figured the mule was already seriously injured. As much as he didn’t want to, he decided the mule wasn’t worth saving.

So he decided to fill the well with dirt and bury the old mule. He began to shovel dirt in, one big shovelful at a time. But when that old mule felt the dirt hit its back, he didn’t just let it bury him. He would shake it off and step up, shake it off and step up. Time after time, no matter how tired he felt, he kept shaking it off and stepping up. Finally, after hours of doing that, he was able to step over the wall of the well and walk out!

The dirt that was meant to bury him, saved his life.

When you feel the dirt hit your back, when life treats you unfair, when you’re going through disappointments, don’t let it bury you: Shake it off and step up.

I’m sure if you were to ask the seed, it will say, “I don’t wanna be planted. It’s lonely in the dark by myself. It’s dark. It’s uncomfortable.” It feels like it’s been buried; can’t see any light, people walking on top of it. The truth though is it’s not buried, it’s only planted. As scripture says in Romans 5, “…suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been (planted in) our hearts through the Holy Spirit….”

Sure enough one day, that little seed breaks the surface of the earth. It’s no longer buried, no longer hidden and alone. No longer has people walking on top of it. It’s got a new beginning.

You need to get this deep down into your spirit: No matter what comes against you in life, you are not buried, you are planted.

And things can get tough, as you may know. You or a loved one may have to fight through an illness, a business you start could fail, homes are destroyed by fires or floods. There are people who have to live with addictions and struggle daily for months and even years. Your job is not bringing you the financial security you and your family seek. Here’s the thing: The only difference between being buried and being planted is what you expect. If you expect that difficulty to be the end of you and you give up, it’s not gonna happen.

You know, the Rev. Martin Luther King, jr. expected better. He didn’t feel he was buried. Even when things were toughest, he kept his faith in God and America. He dreamed a dream at a time when what he saw was by faith alone. And when he planted that seed of our great nation’s future fifty years ago this Wednesday with his great speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial, America grew better and stronger.

Faith is the belief you’re not alone. If you believe you’ve been by yourself your whole life, then all those times and people who knocked you down and around were too much and too many for you to handle. But faith tells you that you haven’t been by yourself through the tough times. Faith turns the battle in your favor because now you’ve got God on your side—and you always did. You’ve got the Lord standing next to you. And like any father or mother, our God doesn’t like to see one of his children pushed around. The Lord is just waiting for you to reach out, take his hand, and lift you up.

Because we know God is by our side, and we are being lifted up, we believe all things are possible. There’s nothing too heavy the Lord can’t lift. There’s never too much dirt coming down that well that God can’t help you step out of.

This is what Job found out. He went through a season where anything that could go wrong went wrong. He lost his business, lost his health, lost his family. It looked like God wasn’t even concerned about him. It got so bad his wife said, “Job just curse God and die.” She was saying, “Job, it’s over, it’s done, just give up.” But he didn’t. Because of his faith in God, he kept it together. At the end, God brought him out of all that mess, and set Job’s feet on a solid place.

In our scripture we hear how we are the ones who are the soil. Jesus tells us that God keeps throwing good seeds on us, but we keep shaking them off. We live too fast. We live without caring for loved ones, friends, our neighbors deeply enough. We resist having the Lord plant his word of life and love in us. But we’re the ones missing out.

Let God plant his word in you so you can be planted in the word. If you don’t let God bury his life in you, then the world can end up burying you. Christ was crucified, died and he was buried. Then he rose again because of God’s overwhelming power to raise up new life when it’s buried in God’s love.

I came across the following story the other day. “I was driving my grandfather to a doctor’s appointment. I grumbled when I had to stop at two red lights in a row. My grandfather snickered and said, ‘You always complain about the red lights, but you never celebrate the green ones.’”

How often we focus on the stops and fail to see the goes. We grumble about the drab days, but do we celebrate the sunny ones? Start something new and better: Cheer at the green lights. And when you’re sitting at red lights, try to be happy for the people who are going through on their green.

I heard the story of Jim, who grabbed his suitcase off the luggage carousel and headed outside to hail a taxi. A taxi promptly picked him up and they were on their way. Ten minutes into the ride Jim had a question for the taxi driver. He reached across the back of the driver’s seat, and tapped him on the shoulder. The driver let out a scream, “AHHHHHHH,” and began swerving the taxi across three lanes of traffic. He finally stopped the car on the opposite shoulder.

“What the heck was that all about?” demanded Jim thoroughly shaken. “I’m sorry,” said the taxi driver, “this is my first day as a taxi driver. I’ve been driving a funeral hearse for the last thirty years!”

You may feel your life is sitting at a red light right now but keep your foot on the gas. I’m telling you, God can do amazing things with you and your God-given dreams in a moment’s time, with the flip of a switch. As fast as red turns to green, the Lord will bring someone to you that you’ve needed. God will open a door you thought was closed. The Lord loves us and is trying so hard to make the good things happen that should be happening.

There are folks however who believe since they were young, when they were born or who knows even earlier, they’ve been buried. Now some have had it so tough that it’s not fair or right just to dismiss what they’ve had to go through to get where they are. But, you know, people who have been abused often don’t call themselves abuse victims; they call themselves abuse survivors.

I know someone who ever since he was a child believes he has had it tough, tougher than others, tougher than most. He can’t shake it off; he can’t let go of the thought he’s had a lot of dirt shoveled on him. What’s going to bury him however is not all those things that have already happened—which by the way he has already survived. What’s burying him now is his unwillingness to let others off the hook, to get to God, to start anew, to realize he’s bigger than all that—to celebrate the greens instead of seeing only reds!

He needs to believe that God is a surprising God who opens up tombs and resurrects people to new life. He’s got to stop lifting up the bad and the hard and instead lifting up the good and the Lord. When he does that, then who knows the good things that God will be able show him.

Friends, don’t live your life with a chip on your shoulder. Don’t go around dwelling on your disappointments—what didn’t work out. Bitterness will keep God’s seed from taking root. Self-pity will keep you deep in a well. Condemnation of others for what they did to you will keep you buried. Stop feeling like you don’t deserve goodness, love, and God’s grace. It’s time to spring forth and get to growing. It’s time to believe in God’s surprising and wonderful ways.

No matter what comes your way, it’s not a surprise to God. It’s not meant to bury you. Let the tough things increase your godly strength. Let the dirt of life increase your dependence on the Lord. And let his love shine light on your way upward to what’s better no matter where you find yourself. Can somebody say, “Amen.”

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