Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Beware Bad Seeds!

I woke up last Thursday feeling rather strange; my face felt tight. When I looked in the mirror I hardly recognized what looked back at me. My face had puffed up; my eyes were little slits peeping out at me, begging for help. For two days I’d been sneezing and blowing my nose constantly. Now, my body was itching with an all-over rash. What was left of my vision was blurry and my eyes itched like crazy. I went to Urgent Care where they gave me a steroid shot in the hip and a selection of meds to clear up a severe allergic reaction to a plant in our yard.
How did this wicked plant get in our yard? 

Two years ago I bought a packet of sunflower seeds. Somehow, a random seed made its way into the packet. I watered and coaxed the sunflowers through the season, but they never did well. The mystery plant, however, grew quickly and thrived. Since it was growing…well, like a weed, and had interesting feathery leaves and spire-like heads (and was somewhat attractive), I let it grow. I had one giant healthy mystery plant in a row of sickly sunflowers.

This summer, none of the sunflowers reappeared, but the mystery plant came back. And I let it grow again. Why not, it was healthy? Little did I know its agenda—to take over our yard while Kelly and I were on vacation!

When we returned it was three feet high and four feet across, and spreading across the walkway behind our deck. So I trimmed it back. My nose rebelled. I sneezed and blew my drippy nose until the skin started to peel on both sides. One miserable day later I yanked that plant out completely and put it in the trash. But not before it thoroughly coated me with a massive dose of whatever it had to muster as I carried it to the garbage can. 

And I must have rubbed my face at some point—thus the tiny-eyed woman in the mirror pleading for release.

I couldn’t help but compare this evil seed to James’ words, “My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water” (James 3:12). We can’t expect to grow something good from a weed seed any more than we can expect to speak or do things that glorify God from seeds of the flesh. 

Living a godly life isn’t easy. Like the sunflowers I intended to grow, developing love, kindness, faith, courage, and other godly fruit, takes work and attention. It’s much easier to let grow what comes naturally—selfishness, boasting, impatience, gossip and much more. 

Why do we let them grow? Because it’s easier than fighting our sin nature; they look somewhat attractive; they make us feel good at the moment. But then, like the plant in our yard, what started as a single seed begins to take over and, in the end, causes pain and distress. 

That plant got hauled off by the garbage truck, but I’m sure it left behind seed. Next year, however, I won’t be so gullible. I will know what to look for, and rip it out quickly before it gains any ground. I need to do the same when I recognize worldly thinking growing where there should be Son-flowers. Whatever doesn’t line up with what Jesus taught I need to root it out. Weeds like: self-indulgence, faithlessness, a defeatist mindset. Unless I rip them out they will cause great harm, and leave me weak and useless for the kingdom of God. 

Have you let any weeds grow in your garden lately?
Good seed; good things!

kale, blueberries, and fresh tomatoes

peas and beans bursting on the vine

#whatyouplantwillgrow #weedseed #james3:12 #lifeintheflesh #dangerousweeds

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Faith and Feelings

It’s pretty cool to read and drive at the same time; even better enjoying the scenery around you while you enter another world. That’s what I did on my recent trip to California. I read a couple audio books and it was marvelous. I made it through two, despite some shocking language and interesting theology. I kept listening because I heard in both memoirs the aching need to find God and be at peace with who they were. And I desperately wanted to see them get there.

A common thread in both books, and one that seems to keep popping up since I’ve returned, is our tendency to put faith in feelings. I’ve learned, and keep learning, that emotions come and go. They’re affected by many things. Scrooge didn’t immediately believe the ghost before him was his friend Marley in A Christmas Carol because, as he said, “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato.”

Our feelings change according to what we’ve eaten, the amount of rest and exercise we’ve had, our insecurities, our life experiences, and what we’ve been plugging in to our brains. So if we base our relationship with God on how we feel, we’re going to be all over the place.

One scene in Father Joe pointed this out beautifully. The author came to know the Lord as a young man and had spent every moment since preparing to enter the monastery. He read theological works voraciously, delighted in Gregorian chant, and recited scripture and prayers with enthusiasm. Then just as suddenly as his joy in Christ had come, it left him during his evening prayers as if sucked out of him like a vacuum.

He struggled and prayed far into the night and when he woke, he was kneeling by his bed in a crumpled heap. After school he took the train to his beloved mentor, plagued by doubts and arguments disproving the faith he had held so dear. Father Joe welcomed him with love and warmth, and listened as he poured out his deepest fears.

He comforted the boy and sent him off for some much needed sleep. In the morning, they were able to talk rationally about the difference between faith and feelings.

“You fell in love with God, you see, and now the romantic part is over. It happens to us all, I’m afraid.”

“I’ll never have that feeling of light and certainty again?”

“Someday you’ll experience a much greater light and certainty than just feelings.”

“Feelings are not good?”

“Feelings are a great gift, but they’re treacherous if that’s what we live for. They drive us back into our selves, you see. What I want. What I feel. What I need.”*

This Father, who had become like his own father, took time to explain how our relationship with God is like a marriage. When we first fall in love we’re high on emotion; that energy drives and motivates us. But after a while, that high fades and we have to move from emotion to something much better. Whether we feel like it or not—when we’re sick, when money is tight, when we disagree on how to discipline the kids, and life gets choppy—commitment is what makes love last. Then the feelings swell once again, only deeper. Faith is like that.  

Maybe you’re at this point in your relationship with Christ, or in your recovery, or marriage, or job. Emotions can’t be trusted to carry us the distance. They come and they go—including how we feel about ourselves.

Trust in the timeless Word of God to find out who He is, who you are, and how to keep from blowing apart in this world of cultural fads and shifting philosophies. Pour out your doubts and fears to God like this young boy did, and let Him, your Father God, calm the storm within you and set you back on course.

*from Father Joe by Tony Hendra (read with caution; lots of language)

#don’ttrustemotions #factbasedfaith #ourFatherlistens #runtoGodwithdoubts #whenemotionsrunfaith

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Grieving With Hope

Another shocking death rocked our community last Friday—a recent high school graduate. It seems like there have been an unusual number of fatal accidents and terminal diagnoses the last few months. They’ve affected both young and old. Death jolts us with finality; grief hangs over us like a cloud. 

No matter how old, we’re never ready for our loved ones to die. Even though we know it’s inevitable, death still surprises us. We wish we could have just one more day with them. We cry, we question, we rage, and, when we let ourselves, we work through the grieving process. Yet some people live with hope.

Our bodies are destined to die, but our souls live forever. For those who follow Christ in this life, there is the hope of eternity in heaven with Him. We still miss our loved ones, but we know it will only be a little while until we can see them, never to be parted again. 

Paul wrote this to the believers in Thessalonica:

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:13-18).

What does all this mean? Here’s a bite by bite:

Death is not a permanent state. For the Christian, it’s a passageway to eternity with God. That’s why when a believer dies, no matter how sudden or tragic or young, other believers are confident they will see them again. 

Christians base their hope on the fact of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. We are looking forward to the Rapture—when Jesus comes back to earth to gather His children and take us home. 

When He comes, He’s going to bring everyone who died as Christians with Him. What a reunion that will be!

This is encouraging news, even though we miss those who’ve died. We still ache to hold them; the bed still feels empty; we miss their laughter; and the holidays are never the same, but we have hope.

What about unbelievers? Not everyone who dies goes to heaven to be with Jesus. The Bible is very clear. God does not send people to hell; they choose it themselves when they turn away from Him. God will not force anyone to spend eternity with Him in heaven, who does not want to know Him while on earth. He gives us the freedom to choose. 

For the unbeliever, death is the entrance to eternity without God. Now is the time to decide—glorious hope, or uncertainty and despair? 

My dear friend, if you don’t know Jesus, I encourage you to check out His story in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John of the Bible and decide for yourself. 

Was He who He claimed to be? 

Did the prophecies about Him throughout the Old Testament come true? 

Could a mere man predict specifics about his birth, death, and resurrection and make them all come true? 

Do you want to be free from sin and guilt?

You can be. Ask Jesus to reveal himself to you. And learn what it means to hope even when you’re grieving.

#lifeafterdeath #grieving #whenJesuscomes #Rapture  #1Thess4:13-18

Thursday, June 14, 2018

What My Father Taught Me

One of my favorite commercials shows a boy riding in back seat of the car with his dad. The boy’s looking out the window while he’s on a work call, until his dad says, “No, I’m sorry, I just can’t do that. I may lose the account, but it wouldn’t be honest and I can’t do business that way.” The son listens. A lesson has been taught.

The next scene shows the son at school. There’s a pop quiz in class and he’s not ready. Another boy offers to let him copy his answers. He thinks about it, then replies, “No I just can’t do that. I probably won’t do very well, but it wouldn’t be honest.”

Dads are teaching, even when they don’t realize it. I’m thankful for all you dads out there who actively, purposefully teach your children right and wrong, and even more, for you who live it out day by day. I applaud your diligence and integrity.

My dad did both and I’m grateful for his influence in my life. Here are a few things I’ve learned from him:

How to laugh
My dad has a great sense of humor, but he doesn’t laugh at the expense of others. He laughs at himself, and the funny and ridiculous turns of life. I love to hear his laughter.

The joy of music
Music was Dad’s work, but it’s also his delight. There was always music in our home—from the stereo, or someone practicing piano, flute, saxophone, clarinet, or voice. He and Mom played piano and trombone for years, then tried their hands at piano duets. They sang in the choir and we sang as a family. Our two “Halleluia” rounds are my all time favorites, but so are the silly songs we sang on camping and road trips, “Bill Grogan’s Goat; I’ve a Pair of Fishes; Tumba, Tumba; and Senor Don Gato Was a Cat.

How to take care of your body
Dad has always worked out. When I was a child he would change out of his suit and tie into a white t-shirt and sweats to do his military calisthenics after work. He loved hiking and playing tennis. He’s still going to the gym and playing tennis several times a week in his 80’s. And even though we all share a great love for food, Dad eats a healthy diet to keep his weight down.

That humility is strength
My dad is human and he has made mistakes. But I think I’ve admired him most when he humbled himself to apologize for a wrong or overly harsh response. He willingly asks for advice and learns from others.

The value of work
Work is a positive thing in my family. Mom and Dad praised our efforts, even when they were less than perfect, and they encouraged us girls to get jobs as soon as we were old enough.Working and practicing good stewardship taught us how to handle money, and we took pride in doing our best even when no one was watching.

How to balance work and family
But it wasn’t all work. Some Saturdays we took off for the beach or a hike. We traveled, played games together, and watched movies. When we were together Dad was fully present in our conversations and set work aside to be with us.

The importance of putting God first
My dad says he’s not much of a reader, but he’s been studying God’s Word as long as I remember. A born teacher, he likes to discuss whatever he and Mom are teaching in Sunday school. Dad doesn’t attend church, read the Bible, or do the right thing just when he feels like it, but because he’s committed to living every moment for Jesus.

About spiritual leadership
Mom and Dad led us in family devotions—not every day and it was not always fun. But now that we’re adults, my sisters and I all love talking with them about God whenever we’re together. Dad was the spiritual leader of our home, not because he demanded it, but because he accepted his God-given role and rose to the challenge.

I’m so thankful for my Dad and all he’s taught me. I could say much more, but I want to give you the chance to share what your fathers have taught you. Click on the Comment button and share a favorite memory, or what your dad is currently teaching you. And be sure to share with your dad how thankful you are for his words and example.

Happy Father’s Day!

#Father’sDay #teachingbyexample #actionsspeaklouderthanwords #bettercaughtthantaught #godlydads #loveyoudad