Mixed signals

Weeds can ruin a beautiful garden or farm field.

A tiny mustard seed can grow into a big tree.

A little yeast can make bread rise – or can contaminate it, if it’s bad.

Hidden treasure is a good thing, if it’s discovered.

A fishing net nabs good fish and rotten ones at the same time. They must be sorted.

Got it?

In Matthew 13, Jesus runs through a bunch of parables, includes most of these, with his disciples.

“Have you understood all this?” he asked them in verse 51.

They answered, “Yes.”

I wonder if they really did.

Parables

At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus told them the parable of the four soils, which the disciples then asked him to explain. Jesus did that, in detail.

The four soils describe people who aren’t listening to God, those who turn away from God when bad things happen, those who get distracted by the things of this world, and those who follow God completely.

Jesus also explained the parable of the weeds, pointing to the coming Judgment Day when God will send angels to “collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire …” (verse 41).

Jesus didn’t explain the other parables.

Contrasts

In Matthew 13:33, Jesus told his disciples that a little yeast leavens an entire loaf of bread. Soon after, in Matthew 16:6, Jesus said, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” In other words, a little false or deceptive teaching can ruin good theology.

We shouldn’t mix good and evil. Nowhere in the Bible does God allow a middle path. Follow the narrow path of salvation, or we’re on the wide path of destruction. There’s no third path (Matthew 7:13-14).

Good and evil. Heaven and hell. Male and female. Obey God or disobey God. Grain or weeds. Life and death. Light and darkness.

Whenever I read the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), I see that every person Jesus encountered was forced to make a choice about him. Follow, or walk away. You’re with me, or you’re against me (Matthew 12:30).

Many walked away.

Jesus did not pursue those who rejected him. Do you notice that? He let them go.

Mixed signals

But everyone who met Jesus changed, and that still happens today. There are ramifications either way. We reap what we sew (Galatians 6:7-9).

If we don’t want God in our lives, God will honor that. He’s not an arm-twister. But as with every decision we make, there are consequences, good or bad.

This life often sends us mixed signals. Go or stop? Depends which way we are going.

lights 1

Soon after moving to Elyria six years ago, a policeman stopped me at this traffic light at 1:15 in the morning. I was weaving between lanes in my big white Grand Marquis. New to town, I didn’t know immediately which lane I wanted to be in.

The officer thought I was drunk. He engaged me in conversation and quickly discovered that I wasn’t under the influence of anything; I was just confused. After giving me a warning, he sent me on my way. (I turned left at this intersection, by the way.)

Life shouldn’t be this difficult to navigate, but often it is, isn’t it?

Almost 11 years ago, I got downsized from a job I enjoyed for more than two decades. What was my next step? It wasn’t clear. Indeed, I didn’t do much of anything for a long time after that. Lesson learned: Doing nothing is not a good next step.

Eventually, I took a job out-of-state. Many changes and consequences followed. Unexpectedly, the job didn’t last. Another out-of-state job relocation took place. That job didn’t last either.

If only every signal was either a red light or a green arrow.

I thought I saw green arrows, but the light changed. Frequently.

Everything changes on this earth. We all know this. We graduate, then have to do something with our lives. We get sick. We grow old. Many of us marry, and have children. They grow up. Spring follows winter. (Not all change is bad, right?)

Green light go

With that backdrop, I read this: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

There are days I literally have nothing else to hold on to. Change is the one constant. I’ve seen plenty of it, especially in the past decade: New jobs. Getting fired. New friends. New volunteer opportunities; some of those don’t last either. Our church opened a satellite campus last week, so I’m worshipping in an entirely new place now, leaving behind (but not forever) some very good friends.

When we moved to Rockford, Illinois, we did not know a soul. When we moved to Elyria, Ohio, less than a year and a half later, we did not know hardly a soul here, either (my aunt lives 20 minutes away, so that was cool).

But because Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever, once we found Bible-believing churches in both locations, we had instant friends. The path might be narrow, but there are quite a few people on it. Really.

Anyone is welcome to travel the narrow path, but only a few find it. That’s what Jesus said.

That narrow path extends to just about every place where people live. I find great comfort in that. While life changes all around me, there’s one constant: Jesus Christ. He is the solid foundation, which remains in place even as the storms of life rock it (Matthew 7:24-27).

That’s why I’m a Christian.

Choices

The Bible makes sense. It fits together. Its signals are not mixed.

That’s why so many of you have trouble with Jesus. He forces a decision on you. Yea or nay. No third option, much as we try.

For those of us who follow Jesus every day, his singular love for us helps us keep on track, and he brings us back when we fall off track – which happens often. We shouldn’t, but we do.

Yeast works both ways. Ugh.

I want the good yeast in my life, not the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

If only I could keep my eyes on the green light all the time.

Disappearing colors: What if?

Imagine discovering that a color has vanished! How would it change a life, a town or a world?

Youthful Destination Imagination participants in the Fine Arts challenge this spring had to answer that question and create an eight-minute skit about it. DI, as it’s called, requires other elements in the skit as well.

It’s awesome to see what elementary, middle school and high school students do with a question like that. As the Region 16 (Cleveland area) challenge master in Ohio for that challenge, I saw some creative solutions. I saw more creativity at the statewide event several weeks later.

Without pilfering any ideas from teams of young people that I saw, I decided to come up with my own answers. What do colors represent? What would life be like if a certain color disappeared?

As with all Destination Imagination challenges, there is no one correct answer. Red, for example, has many “meanings” – danger, anger, blood, courage, sacrifice, a sunset, autumn, lips, heart, passion and energy, to name a few. What does “red” conjure up in your mind and soul?

What might happen if a color vanished, and could we get it back? Here’s a few ideas to stoke the creativity in all of us:

Black

black

Black represents justice, as portrayed in the robes of a judge or clergy.

With no justice, it’s every man and woman for themselves. No laws or morality exist to reign in abusive behavior. There are no such things as right and wrong, because there’s no one to define them, and no respect for anyone who would try to determine them.

To find black, we’d have to discover – before we killed ourselves off – that setting standards higher than ourselves is essential to our survival. There has to be a higher purpose than self-centered idealism. A judge somewhere will have to enforce laws that all of us must follow, whether we agree with them or not, or we will perish as a human race.

Blue

blue

Blue means cold. No cold means no snow. No ice, outside or inside. No cold drinks, only lukewarm sodas or milk.

No refrigerators, since cold doesn’t exist. Meat and dairy have to be eaten as soon as they are processed. They won’t last long enough to buy at the grocery store.

Antarctica disappears. We have one less continent on Earth. And all of the oceans and seas are warm enough to swim in, year-round (even Lake Superior, for my up-north Michigan friends).

No coats needed, or long pants. Every day is warm or hot. Sunburn proliferates, since we can’t put ice on it. No icing a muscle cramp either.

How do we find blue? We discover that the ocean is deep, and it’s cold down there. We’ll draw up that deep water and spread it around Earth, re-creating cold.

Brown

brown

Brown is soil. With no soil, nothing in nature grows. No grass. No flowers. (No weeds.) No trees.

With no plants, we’d have no strawberries, no blueberries, no other colorful fruits and vegetables. Animals would have to eat other animals almost exclusively. They couldn’t hide in the shade of those non-existent trees.

As with blue, we’d have to dig deep to find brown. A deep layer inside Earth would harbor soil, which is dirt down there. When exposed to sunlight and water, dirt would gain the nutrients it needs to become life-giving soil.

Gray

gray

Gray signifies old age. With perpetual youthfulness, we lose everything old age represents – wisdom, experience, long life, discernment, silence at times, patience, perseverance, deep knowledge about any subject.

We would have to learn by our mistakes, over and over, with no wisdom to teach or guide us.

If we survived long enough to see this, we’d discover, for example, that two vehicles colliding head-on frequently causes a fatal crash. So, we’re not going to drive like that, which increases our life span – and our experience and wisdom.

Gold

gold.png

Gold reveals wealth. If no one had wealth, then everyone would have the same standard of living. Wealth is a relative term, which needs poverty to define it. No wealth means no poverty. We all have the same bank accounts.

Which can’t last long, because a creative mind or two will find a way to increase wealth and productivity. Is money a finite resource that can’t expand when someone gains wealth? If so, wealth comes at the expense of people who then become poor.

Green

green

Green represents new growth, especially in springtime, or youth. With no green, we lose all that youth represents: inquisitiveness, energy, enthusiasm, willingness and ability to learn, a body and mind that are still developing.

We would be born “old,” like Adam, which means our values are set and difficult to change, also like Adam. We are already developed, never growing. We can’t handle a second career or move to a new town, because youth teaches us to be pliable, and that ability is gone.

We become experts in our field but can’t learn a new skill, since that requires growth. And we can’t handle change.

To find green, we discover we have ears. We can listen to what others say. By listening, we hear ideas we hadn’t heard before. That’s how we learn a new skill.

And that’s how we become young.

Orange

orange

Orange exudes warmth and happiness. Take those away, and we’re left with indifference and sorrow.

With no happiness, what is there to live for? Life expectancy will plummet. We find no pleasure in anything, only drudgery. Pleasurable things don’t even cross our mind.

To find happiness, we’d have to do something unintentionally that sparks enjoyment in us. A hug, perhaps. A high bowling score. A beautiful painting. A delicious meal.

Pink

pink

Pink reveals femininity. Imagine if there were nothing or no one feminine among us. We’d lose sensitivity to anything, deep feelings, romance, attention to detail, family life, beauty, knowledge of upcoming trials and possible trouble, inner strength, calm in the storm … love. So many things.

Please, God, bring back pink. Help us to see the beautiful strong soft side of life all around us.

Purple

purple

Purple shows off royalty – power, inheritance, lineage, wealth and status. With no royalty, there’s no inherited leadership. Our leaders would have to fight for prominence, since there’s no line of succession. We don’t elect power and status; we forcibly take them. At least, we think we do.

Those of us who are subjects can take them away. Perhaps we just won’t give power and status to a leader we don’t want to follow, and instead follow someone else.

Would we be better off without purple?

Red

red

Red means anger. Wouldn’t a life without anger be wonderful? No screaming at politicians, no teachers’ strikes, no sibling rivalries, no boss-employee charades … we would all get along with each other just fine.

For example, Democrats and Republicans would actually respect each other. They’d listen to each other and, surprise, solve problems.

We could treat each other honestly and respect the outcome, whatever it was.

A world without red, in this scenario, is a good thing.

White

white

White reveals honesty. With no honesty, we wouldn’t trust each other in our families, as drivers on the highway, in the classroom, in our politics or in our friendships. We’d break rules, then lie about it. Why not? Everyone is doing it.

To discover honesty, we’d have to realize that when we lie, we’re hurting ourselves as much as we are others. If I’m not honest with my wife, I can assume she’s not honest with me, if honesty doesn’t exist. What kind of a marriage is that? Either we trust each other or the marriage dies.

Honesty must win.

Yellow

yellow

Yellow represents brightness, sunshine. With no sun, only night remains. All is dark. We can’t see anything, as though we lived in a coal mine; our eyes are useless.

We depend on electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When the electricity goes out – as it surely will on occasion – we can’t see our fingers in front of our faces. We must remain in place until someone fixes the electricity. Hopefully someone has a flashlight that works.

We’d better develop batteries that last a long time.

With no daytime, we’d be tempted to sleep in a lot later than we do now. Our productivity would fall. Our energy level would drop.

To find yellow, we’d have to find a way to let the sunshine penetrate the darkness enveloping Earth. We could invent a huge light that connects the ground with the atmosphere and beyond, providing a way for the sun’s light to connect with our light and make it permanent.