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We can read in Matthew 11:28 that Jesus said, "“Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” This scripture promise has always been so beautiful and intriguing to me. Here is a fun look back at something I wrote almost twenty years ago when I was twenty-eight, Katie was four and Kory was one:
It has been a hectic day. As a stay-at-home Mom / minister’s wife, I know that I do not have the kind of days that people with full time jobs outside of the home do. Before our first daughter was born, I taught school all day and then was a part of the ministry the rest of every day and night, so I am not complaining. But today was one of those days.
We were up very late last night with our annual Christmas banquet. Our girls had a wonderful time and went to bed happy but exhausted. Unfortunately, Friday is a school day for my preschooler, so 8:00 came early to two sleepyheads. Make the lunch, deliver her to school, then off to do the grocery shopping. But first return the stereo system we borrowed from one of the students, and then return the communion dishes to the church. Put away the groceries, put the baby down for a nap, start the laundry. Wrap a present for the bridal shower I’m hosting tonight for one of our student couples, then make the centerpieces for the cake and punch tables, and get the baby up from her nap. Feed the baby, pick up the preschooler and the dry cleaning while I’m out. Home again, finish the laundry, give the girls a snack, gather the rest of the things I’ll need for the shower, and head over to the student center to clean and decorate. Pick up the cake and punch ingredients on the way. Four hours later, after a successful shower and all the cleanup, return home exhausted. One of those days.
At the end of a day like this, I always make a beeline to one place before I try to do anything else. I still had several things left to do before I could climb into bed, but I set those aside for a minute while I headed to my pajama drawer. Tonight as I was hanging up my dress, putting away my dress shoes, and getting those awful pantyhose off (finally), I put on my flannel-lined winter pajamas and my warm slippers, and I literally felt all of the day’s stress fall away. It was such a strong sensation that it made me stop and take notice. The simple act of putting on my pajamas and slippers actually changed the way my mind and body felt. I suddenly ceased to feel rushed or stressed at all, and I felt my spirits rise. The rest of the night was slow and pleasant. The girls got supper and a bath, and went to bed happily. I was able read a little while and then actaully talk to my husband when he got home. LIfe is better when I am in my pajamas.
Then I thought about how Jesus said what He did in the scripture verse, “Come unto me, you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Jesus Himself offers us comfort. He says come unto me, and I will lift your burdens. Just as I make a beeline for the pajama drawer at the end of a stressful day, I need to make a beeline for time with Him…
That was just about as far as I got as a twenty-eight year old . But now, with twenty more years of life and ministry under my belt, I do have a few thoughts, observations and convictions about living a life infused with purposeful rest in the Lord.
Three decades in university campus ministry have given us a unique perspective on modern life. We see, up close and personal, the results of the modern mindset. The students of today have been raised by parents with the latest philosophies and world-views. and we plainly see the shattering results of selfishness. People do what is “right” for themselves - multiple marriages and divorces, drug and alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity and also taking sexual advantage of kids, emotional abuse, a life ignoring God… the list goes on and on, and we have seen the devastation this brings to the children raised in such “free” atmospheres. I am never fooled by the lies that say people can do whatever they want because it doesn’t impact anyone else. Wrong. It devastates the children raised in such chaos, and leaves them confused, bitter and lost as they enter adulthood.
There is one more seemingly innocuous part of modern life that also has great impact on all of us and our children, and that is our rush to do more and more with each day. We are all guilty of this. Advancements in technology have let us do more and be more connected than ever. Society has evolved to demand each of us participate in many things to the fullest - sports, work, school, other extra-curricular activities, and even church - we are maxed out on time and committment.
Interestingly, ease of travel has made it so we are all able to be at events very far removed from where we live. We go to weddings across the country, soccer games several counties away, and conferences on the other side of the state. Just this week, Eli and traveled to a city four hours away twice for different events. This is a relatively new development in life on earth. I actually have a newspaper clipping my grandmother gave me from 1948, when the family had an article written about them for taking a vacation from Texas to Missouri, so unusual was far-flung travel.
All of these things we participate in are good, and can be a very important and healthy part of a life well-spent. However, we should not wonder why we are all so frazzled and exhausted all the time. We are maxed out and missing one very important thing, and that is a healthy rhythm of work and rest.
We can read plainly in the opening chapters of Genesis that at the very beginning, God Himself modeled great and purposeful work for six days followed by a wonderful day of rest. He also created us with a built-in mechanism to knock us totally our for about a third of each day. Have you ever thought about how interesting sleep is? We are gone to the world for a significant part of every day - totally vulnerable and dependent on Someone Else to keep us alive and safe.
If those things were not enough to give us the message that we must have planned and purposeful rest in our lives, God included in the list of just 10 Commandments, “Honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.” This is not a long list - of all of the things in the world, God included purposeful rest as one of His top ten things not to be ignored. Imagine if we treated all of the other nine as flippantly as we do this one. Murder? Adultery? Theft? We know how awful it is to break these. The command to rest is just as significant as these other commandments, yet not commonly observed. We must at least consider that we might be doing great harm to ourselves and our society when we refuse to stop.
I taught a class to college students this past fall about some of these ideas. They were so surprised when I told them that when I was young, all of the three TV channels played the national anthem at midnight, and then signed off until morning. There was nothing but static all night long. No one believed me! I asked them why the store 7-11 is called 7-11 - and they had no idea. (Those were the hours of operation, and they were stunningly generous at the time.) Everything used to close for the day every day at about dinner time, and nothing at all was open on Sunday but the churches. This, of course, is not even touching the great curse of our day, the smart phone. This can glow all night long, robbing us of sleep and brain cells as we read yet another page of tweets or more facts about whatever it is. We look upon all of these things as improvements in society, but are we improved?
For the next two weeks, I hope to share with you some things we have learned about keeping a healthy pattern of work and rest. For now and as a simple starting place, let 28-year-old me, who was just beginning to investigate this idea of planned and purposeful rest, finish her thoughts…
Jesus and the Bible refresh my spirit every day. He really can and does deliver what He promised - Rest. Spending time with the Lord in worship, prayer, meditation and reading is a way to put on spiritual pajamas, and to experience that same kind of real and noticeable refreshing I felt at the end of my long day.
It doesn't matter what time of day you choose to make time for devotional time, nor does it matter what you do for meditation. Some days it is nice to read the Bible and think about it for a long time; other days it is great to just listen in silence out on the porch with a cup of coffee. Singing songs of worship is another wonderful quiet time activity, as is reading a great classic Christian book. There have been hundreds of incredible Christian thinkers throughout history who have written tremendous, challenging books to help us think and grow. Lastly, sessions of deep prayer are an amazingly refreshing time. There is no more productive pastime than spending time each day fellowshipping with God, who desires to have a real relationship with each of us.
Developing a regular devotional time, and being faithful to actually do it is one of the greatest things you can do in life. It will help you stay focused, keep your priorities straight, and to keep life clear of the clutter that tries to fill it up. Let Jesus give you real rest today.
I am so pleased to announce that my first book is coming out this summer! It is a devotional book focusing on spiritual discipline that I hope will be a great tool for you to use personally or with your small group. It is available for preorder here:
A glorious, blessed Easter to you! I hope that you had a wonderful Easter Sunday - we really did. The weather was perfect here in Huntsville and it was such a lovely time with family and friends, made even sweeter by the presence of our precious baby grandson at his first holiday gathering. There was something so stirring and hopeful about four generations coming together in celebration of our faith. I encourage all of us - myself included - not to do our typical thing of immediately putting yesterday’s holiday up on the shelf to move on quickly to the next one. We had forty days of Lent to prepare our hearts for Resurrection Day, now let’s take some time to really ponder what this tremendous event means for our lives.
I have been thinking about some things in my childhood that were truly foundational to my life and faith. My father was a career Navy man, which meant that we moved relatively frequently. Of course, moving means that you get a new house to live in, a new school to attend, new sports teams to be on, and a new church home. My favorite place of all was Gales Ferry, Connecticut - a beautiful little town near the seacoast of New England. I have such fond memories of our time there, and a great percentage of those have to do with our church experience. It was a Lutheran church and so many formative events in my life took place there - Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, singing in a choir, being an acolyte, going to church camp - it was all such a wonderful and important part of my childhood.
As an aside, to all of you who have teenaged and adult children who were raised in church but have wandered away from God, please do not despair. In my own experience, and having watched many thousands of students over the last decades, the strong foundation of faith that was laid in childhood did not go anywhere during my season of wandering and rebellion, and when I did finally give my heart and life to Jesus, that foundation proved a great blessing to me. Keep on praying for them and speaking truth to them in faith.
One of my fondest memories of that church body in Connecticut was the celebration of Easter weekend. On Good Friday, we had a brief worship service that ended at midnight. It made such a strong impression on my young heart - we gathered in quiet and reverence, and the entire santuary was in darkness, lighted only by a solitary candle on the altar. A woman in our congregation with a beautiful alto voice slowly and contemplatively sang the song “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord” with no accompaniment. The pastor gave a message about the severity of our sin and necessity of the Cross, and then blew out the candle. We stood in silence and total darkness for what seemed an eternity to me back then, and then we all filed out in silence behind the pastor to go home and consider what that holy night meant.
But then, as it always and gloriously does, Easter Sunday morning came! We gathered together again in the full sunlight with sanctuary lights and candles blazing to declare with us the Great News that Jesus has risen from the grave! It does not end with death and defeat - rather Jesus’ death was the great victory and the Resurrection rings the truth that death has been defeated, and sin no longer reigns unchecked. We shared the broken body and blood of Christ together and then then absolutely belted out the song “Lift High the Cross” which even now as I write this, forty years later, is giving me chills as I think about it.
Come, Christians, follow where our Savior trod,
our King victorious, Christ, the Son of God.
All newborn servants of the Crucified
bear on their brow the seal of Christ who died.
O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree
your death has brought us life eternally.
So shall our song of triumph ever be:
praise to the Crucified for victory.
Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim
till all the world adore His holy name.
Easter is not a quaint American thing, about bunnies and colored eggs and chocolate with vague connections to faith and church and family. Honestly, Easter is not even just a Christian thing, as though it was some sort of museum piece or artifact that we alone can contain and curate. The death and resurrection of the Son of the Living God is The Thing, akin to the discovery of the cure for cancer or aging except infinitely more important - something bigger and more impactful than any of us can fully understand.
This season is not just for us to reaffirm our faith and keep on doing the best we can to keep it, is is an explosive reminder that the King of the Universe willingly gave His life for us so that we could truly live, now and forever. Everyone must know this! My children, my church - yes, of course. But also my neighbor, and the young men who keep getting into trouble in my town, and the woman in the hijab I keep seeing at the grocery store, and the little boy in the village I have never heard of on another continent.
We run the risk of treating our faith so flippantly, and of being lulled into an inactive and ineffective sleep in the long years of waiting for Christ to return. We run the risk of believing the lies that either none of this is true and there is no such thing as God, or that maybe the world is right and all roads lead to heaven. But even events of the last few weeks are telling reminders, as though the Lord were speaking to us. A black hole pictured for the first time, a beautiful cathedral buring and stirring our hearts and emotions so deeply for what we almost lost - the Bible is all true, every bit of it. God created the heavens and the earth, Jesus is the glorious and risen King, and He is returing again one day in glory. The great patience and love of God is what the long wait is about. He is not willing that any should perish without Him.
This is far too magnificent for us to keep to ourselves, and to just sit around and worry and fret endlessly about how people just don’t live right anymore. They have not yet had an encounter with the Resurrected King - we must tell them about Him. We must open our mouths and share the Good News. We must open our hearts and wallets and give generously to send missionaries around the world, so that everyone may hear. We must lift high the cross, today and every day until He returns, until all the world adore His holy name.
This week marks the Holy Week of our faith - commemorating the week leading up to the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. It began on the day that Jesus and his disciples came back into Jerusalem for the last time. They had been staying away because the religious leaders were determined to kill Jesus - He had embarrased them one too many times and they had had enough. Up until this time, it had not been the right time, but now Jesus’ time had come.
He led his disciples back into the big capital city, which was swelling with people because it was the week of the Passover feast. This was a huge celebration to commemorate the time many hundreds of years earlier when the people of Israel were still captive in Egypt, and Moses was pleading with Pharoah to let God’s people go. Of course, we know from reading the book of Exodus that Pharaoh continually refused and hardened his heart, so God sent ten terrible plagues to get the king’s attention. WIth the last and worst of the plagues, the angel of death swept through, killing all of the first born people and livestock - exept those whose homes were covered by the blood of a precious lamb that was slain. It was to remember that amazing night of deliverance that Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims and visitors.
So it was that day when Jesus arrived, a great crowd gathered to herald His entrance into the city. The Bible tells us in Mark 11: 8-10, “Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields.Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,“Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
They had seen and heard about this man, Jesus. He healed people, He set their neighbors free from evil torment, He had even raised a few people from the dead. He taught with such passion and truth - like no one they had ever seen. I am sure many people had heard, too, about the way the religious people hated Him and were out to get Him. That would still draw a crowd today, and people were curious and excited to see Him.
The account of this same day in the book of Luke gives more insight into what Jesus was feeling. It says in Luke 19: 41-44. “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
This week is a time for us to reflect on what the suffering and death of Jesus means.
Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. He has been since time without beginning, and was present for all of the events we now read as stories in the Bible. He knows intimately what occurred during all of creation, and also what happened on that terrible day of the fall of man, when fellowship between God and man was broken. Jesus watched on as Noah built the ark to specification and with plenty of room, and as everyone else just walked past and ridiculed, happy in their sin. He was the One who met with Moses in the burning bush in the desert, and told him, “I Am.” He certainly knew of the terrible night of the original Passover in Egypt, when warning and provision was made through the blood of the lamb, but as so many suffered for not heeding the warning.
Jesus also knew exactly what He was marching towards as He entered Jerusalem that day - the cross and the ultimate price that had to be paid for the sin of mankind. He knew how many people were once again seeing and hearing, but not caring enough to try to understand, and how horrendous and final a choice they were making in their hearts.
The city that He loved, the people that He loved - if only they would hear and see and understand what all of the old stories and experiences had been about. If only they would understand that God loved them and wanted to be with them forever, if only they would listen and repent. Our religious systems and governments cannot save us from our sin, and judgement really is coming. It came with the flood, it came with the angel of death, it came with the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, and it is coming again with finality, and soon.
Now it is our generation’s turn, will we heed the warnings and repent, or will we just gather in curiosity to watch? The people in all of those old BIble stories were people just like us. They were living their lives - planning weddings, taking care of their kids, worrying about how to pay their taxes, going to work. It is not hard to imagine people getting ready for bed the night before the rain began, or the passover, or the cross thinking, “That was such an interesting preacher I saw today. I wonder what they were so worked up over?”
This week is a reminder that our sin cost God everything, and that He lovingly and willingly paid the price with the precious blood and life of His own Son, Jesus. We know that the BIble teaches plainly in Hebrews 9:22, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Have our hearts been cleansed by His blood, have we received God’s forgiveness?
This week is a reminder that judgement really is coming some day, even if it seems to be taking a very long time. God is patiently waiting for every man, woman and child all over the world to hear the good news of His Son, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14.) We must not be the people who gather for a week to celebrate a great deliverance, but who refuse to try to understand what it all means and take action. The King is coming, and we must be ready. We must help others be ready.
This week, as we contemplate all that Jesus did for us, let us follow the prompting of the early church father Methodius who said,
“Instead of our garments, let us spread our hearts before Him.”
There is a wonderful book called The Face of Christ by John MacBeath. In it, the author speaks of the kindness in Jesus’ face. This is something to think about! He had such an amazing countenance that children flocked to Him, women instinctively trusted Him, and men left all to rally behind Him. I have had two children of my own and have also been an elementary school teacher for several years. Little children do not like to be near angry, sullen people. They certainly do not run to sit in the laps of frightening men. Jesus is the King of kings and the Lord of Lords, with more power and authority than we can even imagine, yet His face revealed His great kindness.
His kindness brought Him from glory to a humble manger in Bethlehem. His kindness led Him up Calvary to the cross so that we could be reconciled to God. His kindness is shown in His actions, and Romans 2:4 tells us that it is His very kindness that leads us to repentance. Jesus' kindness is proof of His love for us, and by it we respond.
In the same way, it is the kindness of Christians that could lead many to Christ. The problem is, of course, that most of us find it a struggle to be nice with much consistency. A poor night's sleep, a check-engine light, an unexpected bill, a frustrating situation at work - so many things can derail even the best intentions to be kind to others. And what about the way we act when no one else is looking? We have the strangest tendency to be the rudest to the people we love the most - the people right inside our own homes. We just don’t want to have to exert much effort at home. But we must. Nations are made up of families, and our nations suffer when our families suffer.
Kindness is simply love put into action. In an earlier blog post, l mentioned the idea that love will always find a need and meet it. A parent can show love by giving his undivided attention to sons and daughters. Spouses can show kindness with little gifts or notes, or with attention to details. If I am out in the car and know my husband has a business trip early the next morning, I could fill up the tank – even if it’s cold and rainy and I’d rather just go home. When I’m busy helping the children with homework, my husband could put up the dishes and tidy the kitchen even though he has other things to do.
Kindness often involves sacrifice on our own part. But that is the point. If love is unselfishly choosing for the highest good of someone else, the kindness is proving that I choose for that person’s highest good.
Our neighbors would be shocked if we did things like mow their yard, too, when we mow our own. Or wash their dirty car. Or offer to baby sit their kids, or even bring their kids to church. People need help, and we could offer to help them. Our churches are filled with widows, single mothers, and children without one or both parents. Are we doing our part to show kindness to them, or do we just look the other way and hope someone else will do the job? How many people, out of desperation, do things that can never be undone – like walk out on a spouse or strike their children? When someone around us is overwhelmed by life, we ought to strive to notice and offer them some help.
Kindness needs to extend beyond our own homes and churches, as well. The volunteer effort of Christians could meet many needs and alleviate much suffering. It was tremendous to see the outpouring of manpower and material aide from churches and individuals to the victims of Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago. We ought to prove our love with our kindness and resources when people have lost everything they have. It will open many doors to sharing the gospel with people.
I am reminded, too, of the option of adoption and fostering children that Christians have. Our heavenly Father has adopted us into His family, and what better way can we show kindness to the orphans of this world than by taking them into our homes? We have been so blessed; we must in turn bless others. Just as God lifted us out of the slimy pit of life without Him, so we can literally save a child from a horrible life and bring them into our godly homes.
We have some wonderful friends who have a ministry called Family First. This ministry equips and empowers entire churches to engage with the foster system in their town. Everyone can participate, whether it be through actually taking in children, or donating materials, or learning to give foster families regular breaks. Through these efforts, two entire counties in Texas now have more good families on the waiting list than kids in the system! (https://northtexas.ag/family-first/)
There are many avenues and outlets available for Christians to prove their love and the love of God for others. It is time for us as Christians to make good on our responsibility to swell the ranks of volunteers in this nation. We read far too many disturbing stories of awful predators who fill volunteer positions - could this happen so often because the rest of us won't do these jobs?
The opportunities are endless. Following is by no means an exhaustive list of volunteer opportunities in groups and organizations which would love your help:
-Crisis Pregnancy Center
-International Student Office at Universities (need adoptive families)
-Domestic Violence Shelters
-after school programs
-foster care programs
-kids’ athletic programs
-church youth groups
The list could go on and on. Who better to do these jobs than a follower of Jesus? The world is suffering, and people need desperately to see the love of God in action – through the kindness of Christians. The only thing that is holding us back is our own reluctance to give of our time and money. But when we came to the cross, we gave up our “right” to these things – all of it belongs to our master, Jesus.
As with all of the other fruit of the Holy Spirit, we will find that when we show kindness, we will find ourselves filled with yet more kindness to give. There is no limit to the kindness the Lord lavishes on us, and He will give us as much kindness as we are willing to give away to others.
Something Special -
My good friends Andrew Youngblood and Krystopher Scroggins have a wonderful production called the Campus Ministry Leadership Podcast. This past week, I was privileged to be the featured guest, in an episode called "Developing a Culture of Reading." I invite you to take a listen here...
Your Word, O Lord, is eternal, it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures.
- Psalm 119: 89-90
The amazing thing about this piece of scripture is that it was written thousands of years ago by a simple shepherd boy who later became a great soldier and king. Throughout the ages, this very song of God's faithfulness has rung true to people of every walk of life. God has made himself known to kings of the earth, and to a dying thief on a cross. Men and women of every age, color and class have known Him and his saving grace, and can attest to His goodness. Some of the greatest and most influential people of all time have walked with Him and talked with Him, and - this is something that I will never cease to find amazing - I know Him, too!
The faithfulness of God is beautiful. He has always been and He will always be, and He never changes. The Bible tells us that God is loving, merciful and just, and He always will be. He is loyal, constant and steadfast. No matter what grievous sin a man or woman has committed, God is faithful to forgive when that person repents because He graciously paid the price for our sin with His Son. Jesus Himself told us in Matthew 28, "And surely I am with you always, even to the very end of the age." Moses encouraged Joshua so many hundreds of years ago in Deuteronomy 31, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified…for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you or forsake you."
God's promises are many, and He has never failed to uphold a single one of them. Men fail and fall short and discredit the name of Christianity as a religion, but God has never failed. Try as people throughout the ages might, no one has been able to tar the name of the Lord.
Human beings, by our own sinful nature, are not like this. We, every now and then, have been known to do some noble and selfless things, but for the most part we are entirely selfish and self-seeking. Often times, even when we do something good or kind, it might be for a selfish motive. We become weak and lose heart and back down just when we are needed most. We let down the people we love, and we let down ourselves.
Husbands and wives are unfaithful to one another physically and emotionally. Parents neglect their children emotionally and in every other way. Workers are unfaithful to their employers in poor effort and lack of commitment to a job. Citizens are unfaithful to their governments by not paying taxes honestly and by not voting. Church members are unfaithful to their church home by not participating in the mission of the body with their time and finances. We talk about friends behind their backs, and we can be bought for most anything with a very low price. Faithful is not a word that could be used to describe the human race.
That is what makes the work of the Holy Spirit so amazing. Through the power of the Spirit, God imparts His faithfulness to us; we who are unable to be faithful on our own are changed.
Think how different the world would be if Christians allowed the Holy Spirit to bring an increase of this fruit of faithfulness into their lives! Faithful - never leaving, never forsaking, never even considering leaving or forsaking as an option.
What if Christians started being faithful as Christ Himself is faithful? What if we suddenly began staying true to our wedding vows, and began raising our children with love, discipline and kindness? What if we began serving our neighbors, our companies and our churches faithfully? What if we began taking the Great Commission seriously and either gave heavily of our finances for missionaries to go, or went to the mission field ourselves?
The rest of the world would sit up and take notice if the church suddenly began acting like her Master.
We lose much of our impact when we are not faithful. The world will not look to us when we are no different, and the people around us have a much harder time seeing a true picture of Jesus when we misrepresent Him. Our own children will not follow Christ if they leave our homes with the impression that Jesus has not the power to make life different.
There is good news, of course! The bottom line is that the Lord is different. He is who he says that He is, and nothing will ever change that. God is faithful, and His Spirit will impart this to us when we ask. He will deliver us from our selfishness and unfaithfulness, and will help us become men and women who impact the world with the faithfulness of our God.
All of the signs are pointing to the fact that springtime is coming in Huntsville, Texas. The weather is entering its most Jekyll-and-Hyde phase, freezing cold one day and then eighty degrees the next. But the most sure sign of spring is the explosion of yellow pine pollen that is hovering over our entire town like a cloud. This happens every year and lasts about three weeks, and during this time everything is covered in a thick layer of yellow dust. It is not very pleasant or attractive, but it means that the piney woods are alive and growing.
It is this time of year that many people are driven outside into their gardens. There is something deep within us that loves to be a part of the growth that happens there, whether it be fruits and vegetables or flowers. It is so satisfying to put in the work and then be able to see or even taste the fruits of your labor.
How interesting that mankind's story begins in a garden. We can read in the book of Genesis that in Eden, the tremendous creativity of God was on display in the flora and fauna of the earth, as was His great heart towards His creation as He stopped each day to admire His handiwork. God loves all that He created, and wants us to be fruitful and to multiply. He has also made everything work together so beautifully that much of what we need to know about spiritual life can be seen in and through the material creation. No wonder Jesus spoke numerous agricultural parables – this is something that so many of us can relate to and understand.
One of the most well-known passages of scripture is Jesus' Parable of the Sower:
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” - Matthew 13: 1-9
There is so much to learn from this story. Here are a few thoughts to take from this parable today...
1. We can read all we want to about gardening, and technically be “gardening experts”, but nothing is going to grow until we actually plant some seed. We must take care not to fall into the trap of being Christians who are all knowledge and no action. Many of us have read so many books, have heard so many sermons, and could repeat everything you need to know about walking with God. And yet the statistics prove that so few of us have fruitful lives; so few of us regularly lead people to Jesus. We do often wonder why so many people around us are lost and hurting, and we are concerned about the lack of morality in society, but we do little actual sowing of the seed of the Good News of Jesus. Perhaps it is because we are afraid to try and fail. Or perhaps we lack the faith to believe that something might actually grow if we plant some seed. We have many reasons and excuses not to do it, and when we plant nothing, we get nothing every single time. But the mystery and miracle of it is that when we do plant seeds in the ground, very often something grows!
2. Once the seed sprouts into a tiny plant, it needs daily nourishment and tender care to thrive. It is wonderful and beautiful when a new life is born, when someone is born again. The gardener sees this miracle in the natural when the seeds she planted push up out of the soil into the sunlight. But if you let those little seedlings sprout up in the starter containers and then walk away before you get them into the ground where they can really take off, they are likely doomed to failure. They will be green for just a short time before they wither away and die. And the weeds - where do they come from, and how in the world do they grow so fast? You can pull all the weeds in a certain corner of the plot, and two days later they are back and threatening to choke the plants. All of this is the same in the spiritual - it is not enough just to take someone to a worship service or big event where they hear the gospel and respond. We must take them by the hand and go with them as they learn to really walk with the Lord. We must help them learn how to feed themselves, how to grow, how to thrive, how to deal with the weeds of life, and how to be fruitful themselves. This, of course, takes a lot of time and commitment. We must leave behind our selfish excuses and become willing to sacrifice our time and lives to build the Kingdom.
3. When the seed falls in good soil, a great harvest can take place. I love the generous nature of God. He did not just make a flower or a tree, He made a grand array of types and colors and varieties. And He made them so that when their seeds fall into good soil, the reproduction is thirty, sixty, even a hundred times what was sown! This is true in the spiritual sense as well. When the seed of the Good News of Jesus falls into a ready and receptive heart, that person can be so fruitful and lead many others into the Kingdom. It is true that some hearts are stony or thorny or shallow, but none of those things are scary to a seasoned gardener. It just means some good hard work of getting the soil to a healthy place. Every gardener learns that you have to dig out the rocks, pull out the weeds and thorns, add nutrients to poor soil, and shoo away the birds. Not all soil is good for growing things, but it can almost always be made that way with time and care - and the same is true of the human heart. Some hearts are like the desert, but with someone's time and care and prayer, and with the love of Jesus, that barren heart can turn into a fertile field.
I think there is such a beautiful poignancy to the fact that the amazing story of humanity begins in the Lord’s garden. We too often settle for such a drab and stunted version of life, when all the while God wants us to know and share in His abundant and vibrant reality of fruitfulness. This is a beautiful season to bloom and grow.
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.
- Zephaniah 3:17
Years ago, we had access to a cabin in the woods. It was about thirty minutes away by way of the back roads of East Texas, and it was nothing short of wonderful. There was no electricity and no running water, but that made it such a great place to go and relax. It was so quiet and peaceful – no traffic sounds or electronic noises, just the trees and the birds. It was always so pleasant to spend a day there.
My best memory of that camp house happened one winter day. My husband and I brought our girls, who were probably 13 and 10 at the time, out for a day of hiking and a picnic. As we pulled in, the three of them took the dogs and went for a hike, and I stayed back in the truck to take a phone call (not too far out in the woods for cell phone towers!) It was cool outside - maybe somewhere in the 50’s - breezy, with not a cloud in the sky. It was a little too chilly just to stand around outside, so I stayed in the car and was on the phone for at least twenty minutes. I started to get a little warm, but I did not have the keys and could not roll down the window. So in the middle of my phone conversation, I opened the car door to let in a little cool air - and then chaos broke loose!
My husband, as is his habit, had locked the doors of the truck as they walked away because he always likes to make sure we are safe. I still do not know exactly what happened, but when I opened the door the car alarm was activated. I had no idea how loud a car alarm could be until ours was blaring in the middle of that once-peaceful clearing. I shut the door, nothing. I opened the door again, nothing. I got out, I got back in – it was ridiculous. My poor friend on the other end of the phone call was laughing with me until we finally hung up, but I just couldn’t seem to figure it out. The horn blared away for what seemed like a very long time.
What happened next will definitely remain one of my treasured memories for the rest of my life. Up the path, through the trees came my husband. He was running fast, his strides long and steady, arms pumping, heading right for me and the truck. His hair was shining in the sun - it was even better than something out of a movie! Just then, the alarm finally quit and the woods were silent again.
He was at the truck in a moment, and saw that everything was okay. We laughed when I told him I made all that noise just by opening the door. He and the girls had been pretty far away in the woods when they heard the horn, and he thought something was wrong and that I purposely had set off the alarm to call for help. A couple of minutes later, two girls and two bulldogs came through the trees, breathing hard. Their dad had told them, “keep up!” when they all heard the alarm blaring. We had a good laugh and a good time sharing our version of the story, and that picnic day is a great memory for all of us.
But here is the thing - I will never forget seeing my handsome prince come charging through the woods at full speed to rescue me. Every time I think about it, I get chills. That man was sprinting back through the forest to help me when he thought I was in danger. He did not just send one of the girls back, he did not just call my cell phone to check – he dropped everything and ran back towards me.
This is a perfect picture of the way God comes to the rescue when we call to Him. The human condition is dire - our sin separates us from God, and there is nothing that we can do to rid ourselves of it. There is no self-help trick or medication that will remove our sinful natures. No amount of strong will or determination can change our hearts. Only Jesus, who paid the penalty of our sin with His own life, made a way for us to be free from our bondage and to be with God forever.
When we are lost in our own sin and selfishness, He is there at the ready when we cry out to Him for help. When we are sinking in mud and muck of our own poor choices, He is there to wash us white as snow - all we have to do is cry out to Him. There is nowhere too far for Him, and not one of us is beyond His saving reach. "The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing."
Many of us also have people in our lives who are lost and hurting, living without God. Some of them have never known Him, and others have willfully walked away from Him. Share the love of God with them as often as you can, and realize that Jesus loves them, no matter how far away they are. Know that God waits eagerly and expectantly, watching for them to turn to Him. Pray for them frequently and in faith, remembering this picture of God as a mighty warrior who saves, and Who is always ready to come running to the rescue. As the great preacher Charles Spurgeon once said, "Think not of the sinner or the greatness of his sin, but think of the greatness of the Savior!"
The last few days, I have been around friends with young children. My youngest is about to be 20, so it has been striking to me to remember the commitment it is to raise a little child. When you are in the thick of it, it seems perfectly normal and comes naturally to most people, but it is truly a massive undertaking. Taking a helpless newborn and nurturing them, training them, helping them learn to walk and talk and act properly, and eventually to be independent is no small achievement. It is a long game, and takes much patience, day after day, for many years.
If any of us were to try to select a word that perfectly described the heart of American culture in 2019, several words might pop into mind - rushed, busy, plugged-in, frustrated - but patient is not likely to be anywhere near the top of the list. You read all the time about road rage, fistfights on Black Friday, rude comments in response to social media posts, and so many other incidents of complete impatience and annoyance. Beyond that, we have become so used to things happening instantly that we have lost the ability to wait for anything. We want what we want right now, and tend to become frustrated when it does not happen. Fast food used to be a novelty, and two-day shipping was unheard of. Now we are mad when the order takes fifteen minutes or if the package comes a day late. Carefully and lovingly written letters used to be something we took the time to compose - and how wonderful it was to anticipate the reply. Now we are frustrated when people do not respond to our quick text within the hour. We are not patient as a collective.
The older translations of the Bible sometimes used a different word for patience, a word that has sadly fallen out of common use, and that is long-suffering. What a great term - it clearly describes the reality of the parent/child relationship. It plainly spells out the fact this is going to take a very long time and cost me a great deal. But implicit in the parent-child relationship is the truth that all of the long-suffering is absolutely worth it. Patiently helping our little ones learn and grow has great reward and pleasure that far outweighs the personal sacrifice of time, resources, and energy.
This understanding of patiently and selflessly helping others who need care ought to be treated seriously in each of our homes, but could also transform our neighborhoods and cities. Things are not ideal in our society, and most of us are perpetually disheartened. We all look around for someone else to fix things, and quickly, but it never seems to happen. What could happen if every Christian embraced this long-game mentality like that of a parent with a child, and really helped others learn to grow in the grace and knowledge of God?
One of my favorite Psalms has always been Psalm 40. Verses 1-3 say...
“I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me up out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and the mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.”
This is my personal testimony. As a college freshman, I had selfishly opted out of the lifestyle in which my parents had raised me – one of godliness, temperance and faithfulness – and jumped wholeheartedly into the college scene. Jesus indeed lifted me out of a slimy pit – I hate to think of what my life would look like now if He hadn’t saved me! He truly set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand; He did put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.
This psalm is my story - with one great difference. I was not the person who waited patiently for the Lord, it was a wonderful woman named Melanie who waited patiently on my behalf. I have no doubt that she will one day receive a great reward in Heaven for her long-suffering and selflessness. Eli had been attending a Bible study that Melanie's husband held that year, and had a tremendous salvation experience. Melanie introduced herself to me and invited me into her home and into her life, and very kindly began causing me to question some of my beliefs and behaviors.
Over a period of months she listened to me and loved me – without judging me- and patiently guided me to the feet of Jesus. I am quite sure that without her influence I would not know the Lord as I know Him today, nor would every person that I have been able to help over the years, nor the ones that they have helped in turn. When I think back to the year I spent in her care and discipleship, I am amazed by her patience. I vividly remember some of the jumbled thoughts I shared with her, sadly unaware of my own spiritual ignorance, but she never gave up on me. Melanie and her husband poured themselves into us for months, tirelessly guiding and redirecting us until our feet found that firm place to stand. They could have done so many other things with their time, but they chose to spend it helping us learn to walk with God and to care for others around us, and it changed our lives.
God has dealt so patiently with me. He sent a woman into my life who took me by the hand as I stumbled, and who helped me fan my faith into flame. Now I must ask myself whether I have done the same for others. Have I been unselfish with my life, choosing to give my time to people who need some guidance and encouragement? We have a saying in our ministry that we try to impart to everyone who comes through: what God does in me, He wants to do through me. In other words...
I am never an end for the blessings of God to flow into and just remain. I am a conduit for the blessings of God to flow through, so that many may experience His goodness.
Many hurting people could experience the love and hope of Jesus if we would take this seriously. Many people in our churches and neighborhoods and places of work are floundering in the mud and mire, waiting for one of us to reach out a hand and help them find the firm place to stand. It took a year of Melanie's life and time to get me on the right track and solidly plugged into a Christian community where I could continue to learn and grow, and I had been raised in a loving, Christian home with much regular church and Bible influence. How much more time and effort might it take for someone who starts at a much more disadvantaged place? Just like my friends with infants and toddlers, it might take years of patience and commitment to help someone meet Jesus and learn to walk with Him.
Look around this week - who could use your help and time and care? Many people - especially young people - all around you are lacking help and direction, and plenty of people with wicked motives are likely to find them. Perhaps the Lord would lead you to be a godly and safe influence in their life instead? Opening up our hearts and homes in long-suffering hope and care for others certainly costs, but the reward of helping someone walk with Jesus far outweighs the toll. Let's choose this path so that many may see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.
Today we celebrate Valentine’s Day! Every store is filled with cards, chocolates, flowers, and stuffed animals to purchase so we can all be sure to let our loved ones know how much we care for them. We really love Love, don’t we? There is no end to the number of poems and songs that have been written and sung about love. Is is the great theme through the ages, and just about everyone recognizes our deep desire to love and be loved.
The best movies - the ones that go on to be called classics and that many will watch even tonight - involve the concept that there is something deep and profound called true love. This special kind of love is so powerful that nothing can stop it - not money or time or even death. Many enduring childhood stories reflect this search. Old fairy tales like Cinderella, or Beauty and the Beast, or Snow White all bear witness to the idea that true love is something real and transformational.
Of course, this means that there is a lesser thing, also called love, that is not as powerful at all. We could call it false love. This imposter is very often selfish and fleeting. Sadly, it is also sung about and portrayed in countless songs and movies - a “love” that only means taking and leaving. It means that someone is satisfying some kind of appetite - be it lust or power or influence or acceptance - but will only stay as long as that appetitie is being satisfied. Is is nothing less than tragic to watch the toll false love has exacted on our society. This kind of love is not love at all, and it leaves a great trail of wreckage and confusion in its wake.
Unfortunately, we are limited in the English language by the fact that we have but one word to describe such a wide range of meaning. I can say, “Oh, I love this shirt,” and mean that I really appreciate the fit and fabric and think that it looks nice. You might say, “”I really love football,” and by it mean that you enjoy watching games and keeping track of the different players and their statistics, and even that you will arrange your weekend schedule as often as possible to accomodate watching entire games. But this same word to describe how we feel about clothing or a hobby is the only word we have to describe our relationship with the people who are most important to us in life. No wonder there is such confusion about what true love actually is.
If only there was something we could look to and say, “This is love!” How wonderful it would be if we could teach our children and encourage one another with a beautiful model and picture of what true love actually is. I am sure that many well-meaning people are unclear on what love is because they are not aware that there is actually a standard - but there is...
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. -1 John 4:10
It is not just sentiment or rhetoric - it is reality. God is love, and we can see what that looks like because Jesus came down and showed us. True love is not selfish, but selfless. True love is not taking, but giving. True love is just like God, and the Apostle Paul explained this love beautifully in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” It isn't a myth or an impossible dream. True love is real through Christ.
So, what does true love look like in someone other than Jesus? Can regular people live in such a way that true love flows through their lives and impacts others?
I can think of many great examples in history, but none better (considering the day) than St. Valentine himself. Little is known about this man or his life, except that he was a Christian priest in Rome in the middle AD 200’s. Tradition says that St. Valentine stood up for biblical marriage against the vast Roman Empire, which was against marriage in fear that it made its young soldiers weaker. Valentine was put under house arrest, and during that time prayed for his judge’s daughter to be healed. Jesus opened her blind eyes, and the whole household became Christian. The day we are celebrating in his name, February 14, is the day that he was martyred by the Roman government for refusing to denounce his faith in Jesus Christ. Legend says that before his death, he sent a note of encouragement to the judge's daughter signed, "from your Valentine."
Far from being a day to celebrate cheap love that only takes from its object, this is a day to celebrate real, true love - love that would give its very life for its object. I pray that the great love of God would be renewed today in your heart and in your relationships. May your life be a light that shines brightly with the true love of Jesus to the lost and broken all around you.
Last week, we opened the conversation to address the elephant in the room of modern life - crippling anxiety. It has become impossible to ignore. Let’s continue that discussion this week...
Have you ever been the recipient of an inheritance? A treasure in our home is the desk and chair set that Eli inherited from our pastor and mentor, Rev. Joe Barnes. This man was such a tremendous influence in our lives - he taught us everything he could about ministry and loving people, and gave us so many wonderful opportunities to learn and grow as young people. The desk and chair are solid reminders of his love and care for us, and the great investment he made into our lives. Every inheritance is something special that the giver wants to leave with the recipient as a blessing and reminder of their love, care, and concern.
We all know that one of the greatest story lines is that of the hero, down on his luck, who opens the registered letter and finds that he has just inherited a vast estate from a favorite great aunt. In a moment, his life changes forever. This story is so inspiring and does something deep within each of us as we read. Why is that? Perhaps it is because this is our story, too - each of us is the person who can have their life changed by Someone who wishes the best for us. Each of us can be the recipient of a solid and real reminder of Someone who believes in us and loves us.
Read in John 14 the following words of Jesus,
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
This is what Jesus spoke to His disciples on the night He was betrayed. This is the inheritance that Jesus left for them and for all of us who believe in Him. Jesus says, “My peace I give you.” Not just any old peace - the peace of Jesus. The limitless peace that Jesus Himself has in His own heart and mind. It is difficult to imagine what that even means.
We often make the mistake of thinking that God is just a magnified version of man. Whatever I am like, or maybe whatever my father was like, is the idea that I have of God in my mind. This is not right - we are made in His image, not the other way around. There has never been a time, since forever, that God felt anxious or worried or afraid. There has never been even a moment in all of eternity when it was unclear if God was going to be able to come through. He is the maker of all things and the owner of all of the resources. Even time is not something that gets in His way, let alone anything else. It is this great peace of knowing that God is control that Jesus offers to us.
Uncertain times and being surrounded by a godless worldview fill our hearts with gripping fear, but Jesus is, "called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end." (Isaiah 9: 6-7) Scary situations and difficult seasons leave us feeling anxious and afraid. God does not feel that way - He can see the deep work He is doing in each of hearts through those tough circumstances, and "that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28) Uncertainty leaves us feeling lost and defeated, but God has never been uncertain; death terrifies us, but Jesus says, "“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it." (Matthew 16: 24-25)
Your inheritance is the limitless peace of Jesus, about whom was written, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (John 1: 1-5) Accept this great inheritance and let it change your life.
Paul, writing to the Philippian church, tells us how to put our inheritance to use in chapter 4, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
You have at your disposal the peace of Jesus!
-Know the word of God, and trust that God is never out of control
-Rejoice in the Lord
-Do not be anxious - instead, pray with thanksgiving about every situation
-Only think about what is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy (this means we must discipline ourselves to stop thinking about all of the opposites)
In all of this, the unfathomable peace of God will guard your heart and mind from all of that crippling anxiety, and your inheritance will be a magnet to those around you who are desperate for relief.
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)