BIGGER OR SMALLER?

Once upon a time, at a tractor dealership, there were two tractors–Billy and Franklin. They couldn’t possibly be any more different. Billy was a used Kubota L180 and Franklin was a brand new, shiny John Deere 8345R. It was truly a Mutt and Jeff kind of difference. Franklin’s paint was green and pristine–not a scratch or dent anywhere. But Billy, well his orange pain was faded from decades of use. And their sizes? Just one of Franklin’s tires was taller than Billy.

Everyday Franklin would tease and torment Billy because of his small size. Franklin would say things like, “You only have 17 horsepower, but I, I have 345 of them bad boys! I have 4 wheel drive and you–you’re just a pitiful 2 wheel drive! I can do 1000 times more work than you! I can work 100 acres in less time that you could do just 2 acres! Look how clean my lines are–and just look at your faded paint and those scratches. I have a cab with an air conditioner for the summer and a heater for the winter to keep my owner comfortable! You don’t have a cab–and if anyone DID buy you, they would be forced to endure the heat and cold! Who in the world would want you?” Well, Billy just couldn’t help himself–next to Franklin he was indeed small and he believed he was useless. No one would want him.

One day a customer walked across the lot and was checking out Franklin. Franklin whispered to Billy, “See! I told you no one would want you.” The salesperson and the man talked a while and Franklin was so proud. The customer climbed up into that awesome cab and fired him up. The roar of power was something else! He gave that look of gloat in Billy’s direction. But to Billy’s surprise another man walked up to him, checking him out carefully. Billy thought, “He doesn’t want ME!” The customer climbed up on his seat and Billy also fired right up–but he didn’t sound anything like Franklin!

After the sound of their engines ended, Billy heard the man look at Franklin and say, “Oh, yes! I’ll take it!” Franklin had a smile as big as the Big Dipper as he looked at Billy. Billy was even sadder than before, though he was glad he wouldn’t have to hear Franklin’s boasting anymore. And he almost missed hearing the man looking at him say, “This is perfect and exactly what I’m looking for and need! I’ll take it!” Billy was confused; “How could I be perfect when Franklin, well, Franklin is everything I’m not?”

Customers and salespersons headed for the office. In just a short while, the man who said he wanted Billy came out with a smile bigger than Franklin’s. Franklin said, “I bet he’s changed his mind and wants a tractor like me!” As the man got closer, he saw he had some papers in his hand and said, “OK, let’s go home!” The other man was still busy filling out paperwork and arranging financing. Billy’s new owner climbed onto the seat, fired up his engine loaded Billy onto his trailer and went to Billy’s new home.

The man soon begin to put Billy to work, preparing a garden. Franklin eventually made it to his new home and began preparing the man’s crops. As Billy worked, he thought, “You know, I’m not doing near as much ground as Franklin. How can I be useful?” Harvest time came, and the ground Billy worked, though small in comparison to Franklin’s gound, did look good and bountiful. His owner gathered in those vegatables, and those vegatables fed his owner’s family, and even had enough to share with others who didn’t have any! He watched as people gratefully accept what Billy had helped to grow.

Now when Franklin’s crops came in, it took big trucks, lots of big trucks to haul off all he had helped produce. Those crops went to places where they were processed and prepared for people to buy. Franklin was very contented knowing he had produced far more in that one season than Billy could produce in years. But Billy–well, he was thankful that he had a part in helping some people enjoy fresh vegatables, and even enough to put up for later. Billy knew it wasn’t as much as Franklin’s harvest–but his little harvest meant a lot to those who enjoyed the fruits of his labors.

And the Moral Of Today’s Story is this: Our contributions to the Kingdom may not be as big and impressive as those in the limelight–but they are important, very important, to those who benefit from our contribution!

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Devotions Or Devoted?

As a pastor, I admit I tend to first read a passage through the lens of a pastor. I look for what I need to teach, share and preach in order to fulfill what I like to term the Ephesians 4:11-12 model–to build up and equip the body of Christ. But this journey through Acts, I’ve sought to read this first and foremost as a disciple of Jesus. And as I look at this journal I’m keeping, there’s this haunting question I wrote: “How devoted am I to Jesus?”

It seems I’ve been so focused on building up others, that perhaps I’ve forgotten how to build myself up. But any pastor who never or rarely asked themselves the tough questions they pose to the flock, well, let’s just say I wouldn’t stay with that flock very long. The verse that leaped off the page and sliced open my heart is in chapter 2, verse 42

All the believers devoted themselves…

Acts 2:42 (NLT)

It seems I’ve been quick to do my “devotions”, but I’ve come face to face with the issue of being “devoted”. These words sound similar, but they are light years away from being the same thing. I can’t complete shake the lens of being “Preacherman”, so I know that I am not alone in this issue. I have seen many others who have substituted “doing their devotions” for “being Devoted“.

I am coming to understand what being devoted as a follower of Jesus should mean. It is found in how Dr. Luke paints a powerful word picture of being devoted. As the Holy Spirit was wiping up all that blood that had gushed from my heart when He sliced it open, He looked up at me and said, “It’s about the foundation, Randy. The foundation holds up everything on top of it. If the foundation is solid and strong, it holds up the rest of it. But if it’s not……well, you know what Jesus said about that.”

After regaining my composure, I looked for that foundation built by those first believers. It’s found in what they were devoted to. I read that list, and saw ever so clearly why the Body of Christ in Africa, Russia, Asia and other places were growing and thriving, and why the Body of Christ in the Western World is declining and in such chaos. It all comes down to that word “devoted“, and what they were devoted to.

1] The Apostles Teaching: There was an insatiable appetite. It seems that they could not get enough of it. They were hungry for what God had to say. This formed their core beliefs.  These would be the things that everything else would be built around.  We would call them the non-negotiables.  And what they were teaching was what they were learning—from Jesus and through the Holy Spirit.  This happened because Jesus promised it would happen with the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

2] Fellowship with each other:  The Greek word Luke used is “koinonia”.  It means “joint participation”.  It’s a word used to describe close and caring relationships.  In fact, as the Gospel continued to spread, they weren’t known in their culture as “churches” but as Koinonia.  It was something everyone had a share in—a belonging.  It wasn’t a building or denomination that marked these early believers—but their desire to be deeply connect TOGETHER in Christ and with each other

3] Sharing in meals:  The Greek used by Luke is literally “the breaking of bread.” Now, when we think about the breaking of bread, what do we usually think about?  Holy Communion. But in the Middle East, and most of the Mediterranean breaking of bread meant a meal.  Meal time was considered special.  In fact, if someone invited you to a meal and you refused, it was considered offensive.  I know that one time my son Matthew told me when he was in Iraq, sometimes he had no idea what he was eating—but he never turned down any invitation to a meal.  Whether it was a meal or The Lord’s Supper, breaking bread was considered a sacred and holy moment.  See, there is something Biblical about Methodists loving to Meet And Eat.

4] They prayed: Early on they knew the importance of prayer.  Remember we are talking about the foundation.  Prayer wasn’t a last resort—but the first step. They really believed in the power of prayer because their faith was filled with that hopeful expectation that God was present and at work. And honestly, I don’t think their prayers were anything at all like those “stained glass prayers” spoken in church. For them, prayer was dialogue with God–both talking to and listening. They may have been considered by today’s standards, rather simple minded, but oh what results came from those prayers.

5] And remember, they did all this TOGETHER! What those disciples did just before the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit, being together, was so important and it continues to be important today.  Some of the later writing by Paul focused on the importance of TOGETHER, and said a lot of harsh words when TOGETHER was being broken.

This is the Kingdom Foundation.  What happens next comes out of that Foundation. Well, the Holy Spirit has stitched up my heart where He sliced in open, and it’s better now than before. So, to you the reader, remember the difference between devotions and devoted. Devotion are what we do. Devoted is the pursuing the Kingdom of God with all that is in us. It’s following the pull of the Holy Spirit into the direction of what God is doing in our world. Being devoted isn’t a casual thing, or a part time job as a follower of Jesus. It’s throwing yourself completely into the Kingdom of God and what HE is doing in our world.

Remember, love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

(P.S.–the next edition is about the kind of life that comes from our devoted foundation….)