Several weeks ago I was feeling even more arrogant than usual. I had just published two new books – not as a ghostwriter this time, but under my own name. In a four-week period, I had also preached 10 times, more opportunities than I’ve had in any other month in recent years. In addition, I’ve been thrilled about several young Christian leaders God has given me to mentor.
Feeling rather proud of myself, I thought it might be a good time to fish for a compliment from the Lord.
“Father, why is it that I’ve become so fruitful in this advanced stage of my life?” I asked Him.
I guess I was expecting God to pat me on the back and thank me for my great faithfulness. Maybe He would commend me for my prayer life or my perseverance. Or perhaps He would even say, “I don’t have many other servants as dependable as you, Jim!”
Well, God didn’t tell me anything like that. Instead, He just showed me a picture, and it was a vivid picture indeed: In my mind’s eye, I saw a farmer shoveling manure onto his beautiful, lush garden.
“Jim, you’ve become this fruitful because you’re well fertilized!” was the Lord’s only comment on my humbling vision.
If you’re a millennial, you probably think fertilizer has always come from Miracle-Gro or Monsanto. But in the old days, the best thing for growing healthier crops was manure.
The Bible describes this principle in several places. In Luke 13:6-9, Jesus told a parable about what to do when you have a barren fig tree. Perhaps you’ve never had that exact problem, but it’s likely you’ve faced some other kind of barrenness in your life at one point or another. The solution prescribed in this story was to “dig around it and put on manure” (v. 8 ESV).
Yes, manure really does have some benefits if you want to be more fruitful.
Since God showed me this word picture of “The Manure Effect,” I’ve begun to see Paul’s famous words in Philippians 3:3-10 quite differently. After listing all the things he could have boasted about, Paul wrote that he was counting all those things as “dung” (KJV), i.e., manure (Gk. skybalon).
Yes, the positive experiences in our lives are meant to provide fertilizer too – if we don’t get puffed up in the process.
If you grasp this deep revelation about The Manure Effect, you will see your past in a whole new way. If you’ve experienced trials and tribulations such as betrayals, divorces, business failures, job losses, bankruptcies, sicknesses, church splits, persecutions, or bouts of depression, the Bible says to “count it all joy” (James 1:2-4). That advice seems completely nonsensical unless you understand that such things can fertilize your future hopes and dreams.
Yes, every hardship is meant to provide valuable fertilizer for your future. So rejoice! Instead of grumbling about your past failures and difficulties, thank God that He’s been fertilizing you for greater fruitfulness.
Manure stinks, but manure is inevitable. As the popular bumper sticker says, “Manure Happens!”
Yet instead of interpreting the manure in our lives as a sign of God’s displeasure, we must realize that the opposite is true: Whoever the Lord loves, He fertilizes.
So I encourage you to pause and thank Him for sending some manure your way. Don’t let it go to waste!
Recently I’ve been reflecting on the stunning passage of Scripture where Jesus tells some fishermen in Galilee, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). Captivated by this teacher and miracle-worker—later revealed as the Son of God—these men “immediately left their nets and followed Him.”
Think of how radical their response was. Without protesting or asking questions, they each left their livelihood in order to pursue an uncertain future as a follower of Jesus.
You see, right from the beginning, the Christian life was meant to be a GREAT ADVENTURE. But let’s be honest: Many of us who follow Jesus today have settled for a humdrum, risk-free brand of discipleship. Instead of being a great adventure, our lives could be described as a GREAT YAWN.
You’ve probably heard the principle: No risk, no reward. And often the greater the risk, the greater the potential reward.
Yet when was the last time you took a true step of faith in following Christ—some kind of action that would really cost you something if you got it wrong?
Well...a series of events, some expected and some not, have come together recently to propel me once again toward a more adventurous Christian life:
- My landlord decided to sell her house instead of renew my lease when it expired at the end of April.
- My daughter Abbie and her husband Hamish had my first grandbaby a few weeks ago, all the way in New Zealand.
- Hearing my initial plan to visit Abbie for about 10 days, my awesome boss suggested I take a longer period—even a month or two—“to figure out what God wants to do with the rest of my life.”
- Once again, my initial plan changed when I set out to find a new place to live after my sabbatical. Although I looked at several houses and apartments, I haven’t sensed peace about any of them at this point. So…believe it or not, I’ve moved everything I own into storage until I return. My only mailing address is a box at the UPS Store: 9789 Charlotte Hwy, Ste 400 #221, Fort Mill, SC 29707!
Right now I’m scheduled to be back in my office at Inspiration Ministries on June 19, but that’s about all I know at the moment.
When I tell people about this season of new adventures in my life, they nearly all respond, “Wow, Jim. That’s really exciting!”
Yes, it IS really exciting. But it’s also a bit scary! It’s like jumping out of an airplane and hoping your parachute will work.
I’m looking for people to join me in the GREAT ADVENTURE. Of course, I would value your prayers, and I would love to have you click this link to make a special donation to Crosslink Ministries: http://smplfy.cm/2pJozpo
But even more than that, I invite you to join me in the fantastic adventure of drawing near to God and listening for His instructions for your life. Rediscover what it means to trust the Lord and let go of the things of this world.
Genuine faith is exhilarating…FUN! But it’s surely no fun being in a rut and sleepwalking through life.
The Bible says God has an open door for you, and He’s beckoning you to enter in: “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this” (Revelation 4:1-2). Will you heed the call?
If you had just 20 minutes to prepare a sermon, what would your topic be? That was my uncomfortable predicament while visiting friends in Auckland, New Zealand recently.
My friend Rob was scheduled to preach at a Filipino church that Sunday, and I was expecting just to sit in the front row and cheer him on. I knew he was dealing with some health issues, but I always thought he would rally in time to preach.
But in the 20 minutes it took for his wife to drive us to the church, it became clear that I better get serious about giving the message. Up until that time, nothing was on my heart, but I suddenly got inspired by God’s incredible question to Moses in Exodus 4:2:
“What is that in your hand?”
When the Lord asked this question, the only thing in Moses’ hand was a crude shepherd’s rod. It wasn’t much. Just a piece of wood. An inanimate object. A tool of Moses’ trade.
God was commissioning him for the daunting task of delivering over a million Israelites from slavery in Egypt. And all Moses had in his hand was the wooden staff he had used for 40 years to tend his flocks of sheep.
Do you see how powerful this message is for you and me? Like Moses, we’re being called to do great things…supernatural things…things much bigger than we could ever accomplish without divine assistance.
Too often we think our problem is that we lack some important ingredient or resource for success. But notice that God wasn’t asking Moses to give Him something he didn’t already have. Instead, He asked Moses, as He is asking us today…
“What is that in your hand?”
Moses had been carrying around that ordinary piece of wood for many years, and nothing dramatic had happened as a result. But after Moses surrendered the wooden rod to the Lord, it became “the rod of God” instead of merely the rod of Moses (Exodus 4:20). No longer a mere piece of wood, this rod enabled Moses to part the Red Sea, bring water out of a rock, and defeat enemy armies.
What is in YOUR hand, my friend? Money. Time. Possessions. Influence. Some kind of special God-given aptitude.
If you’re honest, the thing in your hand probably seems totally inadequate to meet the needs around you. However, you’ll be amazed by what can happen when you surrender it to the Lord.
- Samson slayed hundreds of Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey.
- David defeated Goliath with a slingshot and five smooth stones.
- Jesus’ used a young boy’s lunch—five loaves and two fish—to feed thousands of hungry people.
So go ahead and give God what you’ve been holding on to. It’s not doing you much good in its present condition anyway, is it?
Don’t delay. Anytime you transfer what’s in YOUR hands into HIS hands, miracles happen. He will give you back the rod you’ve surrendered, but this time it will be infused with supernatural power to change the world.
Several friends rebuked me last week when I posted a picture on Facebook of the bloody mass a surgeon removed from my back. Simply too gross and inappropriate, they said.
In my defense, I told them I posted the gory post-surgical picture while I was still heavily sedated. I had hoped all my Facebook friends would rejoice with me at how the fatty lymphoma was successfully removed. But, oh well…
Always looking for illustrations to use in my sermons and blogs, I learned some great lessons from my surgery. Even if you weren’t able to rejoice in my gory Facebook picture last week, I hope you’ll at least rejoice in some of the important spiritual principles I gleaned:
1. God’s blessings come not only through what He gives us, but also through what He removes. Actually, the two things are often just reverse sides of the same coin. My daughter Molly was in town for my surgery, and she helped me upgrade my wardrobe. This involved two distinct steps: She helped me go through the clothes in my closet to get rid of stuff I no longer needed; and she also took me to the store to purchase some new items. Both steps were important and necessary. Why? Because you can’t keep adding things to your life unless you’re willing to get rid of some other things.
2. Sometimes our surgery is long overdue. The fatty lymphoma first appeared on my back nearly 30 years ago, and I probably should have had it removed decades ago. But the lump seemed mostly asymptomatic until the past few years, and I was just too cheap to spend money on surgery. The turning point came when the lump started causing back spasms, and I couldn’t procrastinate any longer. The experience made me wonder whether there might be some other toxic or unproductive elements in my life that I’ve tolerated far too long.
3. When the Master Surgeon gets out His knife, it’s not a good idea to protest or squirm. Resistance is futile, as the old saying goes. Squirming will just make the process longer and more painful. In the case of my surgery last week, the wise surgeon pumped me so full of Valium that I couldn’t help but be submissive.
4. Often God’s remedies are bloody rather than pretty. Can you imagine if Facebook and Twitter existed when Jesus died on the cross? Calvary was one of the bloodiest scenes in human history, but it was the necessary remedy for our sins. Today most of us have attempted to “sanitize” the gospel, removing all the blood and gore. We’ve created a bloodless Christianity—which, of course, is no longer the true gospel at all. The fact is this: You and I couldn’t have been saved without the shedding of Jesus’ blood. In contrast, our crosses today are mere ornaments of silver and gold, free of the blood and gore of Golgotha. We wear the cross, but seldom bear the cross. So it’s no surprise there’s such little transformation in our lives or impact on a watching world.
5. The knife demonstrates God’s love, not His necessarily His judgment. Remember the knife Abraham wielded as if to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac? (Genesis 22) The result was a new revelation of God as Jehovah-Jireh, our faithful Provider. And Jesus assures us in John 15:1-5 that His gardener’s knife is not designed to destroy us, but rather to enable us to be more fruitful.
Can you see why I’m so happy I went “under the knife” last week? Yes, there was some momentary pain, but God meant it all for good (Genesis 50:20, Romans 8:28).
In the same way, I’m convinced He has a great plan to bless you today—both through the things He ADDS to your life and through the things He REMOVES. Don’t miss His blessings when they come!
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