I was watching a small black bird carefully weave its path through piles of birdseed recently kicked to the deck by a sunflower seed-thieving chipmunk. I was amazed at how carefully the bird chose which seeds to eat, walking right over some kernels while stopping to furiously peck at others. Despite a diverse mixture of shapes, sizes and textures, I consider the round-and-the-long to all fit into a single category: birdseed. Each and every kernel providing a perfect diet fit for any bird to eat.
And then the Lord brought the word wisdom to my mind. That quite-small bird possessed an even tinier brain. Yet its loving Creator had instilled the appropriate amount of divine wisdom within it to recognize and choose which seeds were most beneficial to eat when presented with a wide selection to choose from.
And in that moment, I “got the message” — at least one of the messages: quite often the seeds we choose to accept for our personal life-nourishment lack the wisdom God gave a bird.
Twice in Scripture, the word “leaven” is mentioned and each time it shares the same warning: “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?” (I Cor. 5:6, NASB) To the Galatians, Paul spoke, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.” (Gal. 5:9)
These are short but significant statements, worthy to serve as launch pads for personal reflection and assessment.
It’s no secret that the world offers us many different seeds; on some occasions, they are hurled in our direction with such force that it feels like we are being blasted by a sandstorm. Like the bird, we need to proceed with caution as we look around us and see what has landed at our feet. For each one will bear its intrinsic destiny of fruit. Just as we have the free will to choose nutrition-anemic Twinkies over vitamin-packed blueberries for our bodies, so we have the same free will to choose “junk food” (or even poison!) to plant the rudiments of future devastation into the soil of our souls, into the gardens of our faith.
Which brings us back to being mindful regarding the leaven in our lives.
Hebrews 5:4 teaches, “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” (NASB) The Passion Translation states that scripture in this manner: “But solid food is for the mature, whose spiritual senses perceive heavenly matters. And they have been adequately trained by what they experience to emerge with understanding of the difference between what is truly excellent and what is evil and harmful.”
Perceiving spiritual matters.
The most public current flowing through our culture is to portray “spiritual matters” devoid of any relationship with a relational, holy and good God. Or, to flip the coin, that same current pulls in philosophical and socio-political dregs that attempt to redefine the nature of the phrase “spiritual matters,” blurring and twisting boundaries between “truly excellent” and what may be categorized as “evil and harmful.”
Think about the practical applications of knowing and embracing this discernment: The difference between what is truly excellent and what is evil and harmful.
I sometimes feel like the Ben Gates character in National Treasure, when he reads a key phrase on future destiny from the Declaration of Independence and then states, “Nobody talks like that anymore.”
The truth is, we should.
We breathe and walk in the midst of a generation and culture in desperate need of understanding these two concepts. We carry out our everyday lives in the midst of a generation and culture whose surrounding influences have flipped and twisted the concepts of “truly excellent” and “evil and harmful” nearly beyond recognition, enticing us all to eat that harmful seed of non-distinction.
And some of us have. The leaven of each concept, mixed and roiling internal conflict within us, silences our voices and dulls our convictions.
Yet His Spirit encourages us with the words, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” (Phil. 4:8, NASB)
These are not mere “good thoughts” to keep a smile on our faces throughout the day. These are terms of warfare. Standards by which crooked paths may be set straight.
Truth. Honor. Right. Purity. Loveliness. Good repute. Excellence. That which is worthy of praise. Each of these is leaven to be stirred into the dough of our conscience, courage, and love towards others. Each of those, once planted, is a seed from which roots will form and a powerful crop will emerge. The enemy is always seeking to supplant each one with a counterfeit, a substitute loyal to himself.
Urgently, brethren, we need to order our path with “bird steps” – carefully examining the seeds that are thrown before us, rejecting as unpalatable those seeds that defy His wisdom. Let us carefully embrace and nurture those that will enable us to walk as He walked, “making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” (Eph. 5:16, NASB)