The Battered Pepper Plant

Written a few years ago:

Weeks ago, we had a strong storm during the night.  It was a Kansas storm, full of bright lightning, loud thunder, and very strong winds.  When I was able to get out in the garden several days later, I was disappointed to find that my only pepper plant that had done any decent growing was now toppled over.  I stood there staring down at it as it lay on the nearby zucchini, whose leaves had also been tossed around during the same storm.  I stood there, tempted to just uproot the battered pepper plant and be done with it.

 

 

I bent over and gently lifted it, realizing then that the main stem of the pepper plant was unbroken and was still safely in the soil.  “Why not just leave it and see what it does?” I thought.  And that’s what I did.  I left it to grow if it would, knowing that if I messed with it and tried to bend it back up, I would just break it and kill it for sure.  So I let it remain where it was, bent over and not looking too promising at that point.

 

 

This past Saturday, I went out to the garden to harvest the last of the zucchini and squash.  They have now fallen prey to heat, lack of rain, and bugs.  Their brown vegetation only served to accentuate what I now found as I stared down at my pepper plant, still bowed down in the dirt.  Though my pepper plant was stooped low to the ground, its leaves were bright and green.  They were quite a contrast to the brown ugliness around them.  And there, under the leaves, were peppers……peppers that hadn’t been there when it first fell to the ground in the storm.  They had grown since the plant was blown over in the storm.  Firm, pretty green peppers that were the fruit of this plant that had been pummeled in the storm, yet still survived.  And not only survived, but was producing fruit there on the ground.

 

 

I don’t remember a time when I’ve seen so many people suffering in one form or another as I have in recent months.  I routinely communicate with or receive prayer requests from those dealing with serious health issues themselves or with someone they dearly love; others are going through divorce and single parenting; parents are struggling with children who are living apart from the Lord and how they were raised; others are very lonely and are feeling set apart; some are grieving the death of someone they love; and of course, I know many families who are weighted down by the particular challenges of raising a child with special needs.  So many heartaches from so much suffering!  What’s a person to do?  And primarily, what’s a follower of Christ to do?

 

James opened his book of the Bible with this very issue.  He didn’t waste time in laying the subject of suffering out on the table.  “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.”  James said what?  Consider it joy when we suffer?  I love that the word “various” here means “multi-colored.”  Doesn’t that describe our life’s struggles so well?  We all encounter many different forms of suffering in our lives on earth…..many multi-colored afflictions.  Sometimes I wish my life was a bland, constant egg shell color myself.  Yet we all know that bland isn’t how our walk on this earth turns out.

 

James goes on to tell his readers why we should consider our trials with joy.  He explains, “Knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

 

When James talks about testing producing endurance, he uses a Greek word that means to bear up as we abide under difficulties.  Notice the word “under.”  Not to bear up as the trials are removed, or the suffering is lessened, or the answers are made clear.  No, we are to endure UNDER the suffering…..while the suffering is going on in our lives.  Then James says that this endurance will produce maturity and full development…..its perfect and complete result in our lives.

 

Considering suffering to be joyful is not a trait that comes naturally.  How do we do that, anyway?  Like my pepper plant, down in the dirt and buffeted by the storm, we sometimes find ourselves bent over with the storms of life.  Tired, defeated, scared, and just lying in the dirt.  But our roots are in Christ, and it’s from Him that we draw the strength to “consider it all joy.”  We may not feel joyful on many days, but we can in obedience thank God for our trials and for what they are teaching us.  We can say the words even if we don’t feel it in our hearts.  That’s called faith.  Faith that God is indeed working all things out for our good.

 

I saw those green peppers growing on that pepper plant, despite its pitiful condition.  And despite my pain and my doubt, when I trust God with my situation and I praise Him in the storm, it won’t be long before I’ll also see fruit growing.  James talks about some of that fruit as he mentions maturity and development.  He also says that I will lack nothing.  My faith will grow, my thankfulness attitude will mature, my patience will increase, and peace will rule my heart.  Maybe not every second of every day, but for most of the time I’ll see the fruits of being joyful in the bent days of my life…..the hard times…..the days that seem unending.

 

Like the hymn writer said:

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

 

When darkness seems to hide His face, I rest on His unchanging grace.

 

 In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.

 

On Christ the solid rock I stand.  All other ground is sinking sand.  All other ground is sinking sand.

 

So when we are tossed around by all that we meet in this life…..when we see for real that the ground around us is just sinking sand and that nothing in life is constant…..when the winds of deep trials come our way…..let’s consider it joy.  Let’s lean into Jesus even as we lean down with the weight of our circumstances.

 

And just like my bent pepper plant, we can still see that we are alive in Christ and that He has not left us alone.  He is still using us and still producing His fruit in our lives……..fruit which will benefit others, and give us joy and maturity.

 

It’s so good to know that God is in control.  He both sends the wind that sometimes bends me down, and the strength to be joyful as I stay rooted in Him.  May all of us grow fruit for Him and for others to see as we live in the struggles and storms of life.

 

 

 

 

What Am I Cultivating?

I sat on our patio one recent morning, enjoying coffee while watching birds and dragonflies flitting all around.  The mowed yard, the green trees, the blue sky…it was all so pretty and pleasant.  But then my eyes wandered over to our garden plot.  UGH!!  So much for looking at beauty!

Why?  Because for the second year in a row, Gary and I did not plant a vegetable garden.  Rain…two out-of-town trips…schedules – it all added up to once again, no garden.

Now our  small garden area is a huge mess, full of overgrown weeds and sad neglected old tomato cages.  What a difference to have gone from this:

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To this:

 

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Same ground, but different cultivating.

I read this verse around the time I was thinking about the comparison in our little piece of land from one year to the next.

 

“Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.”  (Psalm 37:3)

 

God’s desire for Israel was for them to dwell in the land He had promised to them.  He told them over and over that dwelling in the land successfully and fully would require their total obedience to Him.  In Deuteronomy 30:15-20, God told Israel very clearly what their choice was:

 

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it.”  (v. 15-16)

 

God told them that disobedience would bring death and a curse.  He urged them to choose life by loving the Lord, obeying His voice, and holding fast to Him.  And not just life but life AND prosperity.

In other words, to cultivate faithfulness.

This same principle is very true for me today.  I have a choice to make.  God won’t force me to make the right one, but He has told me what the right choice is and how to make that choice.

It’s simple, really.  Choose to love God, choose to obey Him, and hold fast to Him.  Hold fast by hanging onto Him when life is crazy and tiring and disappointing.

I get really tired sometimes.  I know we all do.  Just as I began this blog, Aaron called me from his day group.  I knew he had been having a hard day, and his voice and manner on the phone confirmed it.  I ended up just picking him up early today to avoid any further meltdowns at his day group.  This change in my day was not in my plan.  His attitude today makes me angry and tired.

And guess what I saw before all this happened?  Beautiful beach vacation pictures.  When I hung up from talking to Aaron, I was wanting to just hang up this life with him too, quite honestly.  For a fleeting minute, I wanted to give in to my beach thoughts…have a pity party…and allow myself the “luxury” of wallowing in the wishes for a life I don’t have.

I just HAD to be writing a blog today on faithfulness, right?!

You see, God has put me right here where I am.  This life with Aaron is not what I had planned, but I must see and trust that this life with Aaron is what God planned…for me.

And in this life that He planned for me, I really do want to live it in victory and joy. I want to cultivate this:

 

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And not this:

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It truly is up to me which picture will be the picture of my life.  I choose what to cultivate by choosing whether to love God…obey Him…and hold fast to Him.

I love Him by praising Him even when I don’t like what’s going on around me.

I obey Him by reading His word and finding out what exactly it is He wants me to do each day…and then DO it!

And I hold fast to Him by not allowing my thoughts to digress into selfish wishful thinking and all those “what if’s?” and asking Him to give me grace to love and handle Aaron correctly.

I should know that when God burdens me with a blog, then He’s going to hammer it home to me in a very personal way!  😊

So, wherever you are today…on a public stage or stuck at home…reeling from an unexpected diagnosis…planning a funeral…facing life alone as a single…hurting from unfaithfulness…starting all over in a new life or new church or new friends…losing your job or needing a new one…raising your grandchildren…raising special needs children…

Whatever is your situation, just remember:

CULTIVATE FAITHFULNESS!

And just watch what God will grow in your life!

 

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Rising to the Occasion

Written three years ago, but not blogged…until today.  🙂

 

I had thumb surgery last week. It’s certainly not major surgery and I’m getting along very well. However, I’m wearing a bulky splint and I’m under strict instructions from the doctor about what I can and cannot do. I’m realizing how much I use my thumb in ways that I never even thought about. I can’t pick up small items very well with that hand; I can’t shuffle our Skip-Bo cards; can’t easily hold a Ziploc bag in order to open it with my good hand; can’t tie shoes; can’t keep from hitting the spacebar with that bulky thumb all wrapped up 🙂 – just to name a few.

 

Gary, as he has been so often in the past, is a wonderful help to me. For instance, just this morning he made sure to get ready for work a little early so that he had time to tape a plastic bag to my arm so that I could shower and still keep the splint dry. Gary rose to the occasion, as he always does for me.

 

Today I picked up some dog food for our big Jackson. The bag of food weighs over 27 pounds, far over the coffee cup weight limit I’m allowed to carry with that hand. Stacey, our vet’s wife and a dear friend, carried the bag of dog food to my van. Stacey rose to the occasion for me.

 

This morning I was reading Exodus 15, the deliverance song the Israelites sang after crossing the Red Sea on dry ground. The song begins with these words:

 

“I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted. The horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea.”

 

The words “highly exalted” carry this meaning – that God rose to the occasion. I love that!!

 

I can point to so many times that God has risen to the occasion for me as I’ve faced some hard times, frustrating times (even today!), fearful times, and uncertain times. I know that many of you, my family and friends, are right now staring at very difficult and sometimes seemingly impossible situations. I’m praying for many of you!

 

So, I just wanted to share this little nugget of blessing with you today. God really will rise to the occasions in your life. He parted the sea for Israel. That mighty God of Israel is the same God we know today. His power hasn’t changed a bit. His desire for us is that we trust His timing to know just how to rise to the occasions that we face. Whether He dramatically hurls our problems into the sea, makes a way through them, or allows us to endure them as He gives us His peace and grace – we don’t know.

 

But we can know that He will rise to the occasion in the way that’s best for each of us. Then we can also sing with Israel: “This is my God, and I will praise Him!”

 

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Sidelined

Our daughter, Andrea, is a molecular biologist specializing in genetics.  A few years ago, she was hired by a health systems company to get their genetics lab started.  In addition to their pharmacogenetics testing, they have added a new venture called My Fit Key.  Andrea developed the testing for this program.  My Fit Key tests anyone, from couch potatoes to professional athletes, in order to determine what their DNA says about their bodies…heart, muscles, etc.  It’s very fascinating!

Recently, a well-known NFL quarterback decided to send his sample in to be tested.  One of the health system’s executives was very happy about this development.  He came into Andrea’s office one day, full of excitement.

“So, Andrea,” he asked, “do you know a little someone named ______?”

Andrea looked at him.  “Hmmmm,” she replied.  “I don’t believe I do.  Should I?”

Poor Mr. Executive wilted in disappointment.

“There are just TOO many scientists in this building!!” he exclaimed.

HaHaHa!!!  Oh, the frustration of all those non-sports enthusiast scientists!!

I think each of us has a tendency to be drawn to the big names, whether it’s in sports or movies or any other endeavor.  It’s just human nature.  I know when a certain movie star is here in Wichita, whole newspaper columns are written about people’s encounters with him.  I rode in the elevator with him!  I saw him at Best Buy, where I watched him buy a phone charger!  He came in the restaurant where I was eating!  And on and on it goes.  Folks have their pictures made with him, but his assistant is rarely seen in any of those pictures that are in the paper.  Only the famous seem to matter.

We all know the star players, but no one knows the name of the water boy.  We’re awestruck with the celebrity, but we ignore the person who cleans the bathrooms.  We’re wowed by the singer, but basically ignore the ones manning the concession stand.  We want to chair the committee, but not be the cook in the kitchen.

I have seen this attitude permeating Christ followers as well, unfortunately.  It’s an attitude that seeps in to our thinking and then our conversations all too easily.  We usually don’t even mean to do it, but how often have you heard someone say,  “Well, all I can do is pray.”

As if prayer, and praying, isn’t that much but at least it’s a little something that I can do.  A minor little insignificant thing, unlike the big things like preaching and teaching and singing.

There’s nothing wrong with being the quarterback, the main actor, the beautiful singer, the preacher or the teacher.  I’m certainly thankful for some of these individuals in many ways.

But there’s also nothing wrong with being the person who does the “only’s” in life.  We’ve all felt this way at one time or another.  We’ve all heard it said – or said it ourselves.

 

“I’m only a mom.”

“I’m only the cook.”

“I’m only sitting in the pew.”

“I’m only cleaning the building.”

“I’m only sending some cards in the mail.”

“I’m only one person.”

“I’m only praying.”

 

I am especially thinking of persons who get sidelined in life.  Being sidelined is not fun.  We all know that the quarterback is devastated when he’s sidelined with an injury.  He’s forced to watch the game go on without him while others take his place.  Sitting the game out is NOT what he signed up for!

Sometimes we’re sidelined in our lives…sidelined due to illness, moving, stress, age, being replaced, or any number of other reasons.  It’s such a difficult place to be, especially when you’ve grown to love being active in the mainstream.

I was recently talking to my sister, Kathryn.  What a turn her life took years ago due to numerous and debilitating health issues!  She went from working full time and being a very supportive and active pastor’s wife to being basically homebound, unable to even go to church.  As we talked, she casually mentioned to me that she prays.  The one thing that she can do all during her days, even if she’s lying in bed, is to pray.

But that ONE thing is a HUGE thing!!!

And I told her that!

How busy my days sometimes are…too busy to always pray like I should and like I want to.  My mind gets crowded with too many other issues and my calendar is full, and if I’m not careful, my busyness and my tiredness affect my prayer life.

But Kathryn prays, all through her day at home…she prays by individual name for family and friends and church and our nation and so much more, I’m sure.

I wasn’t just trying to make Kathryn feel good about her situation when I told her what a huge thing her prayer life is.  James said the same thing!

“The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16, ESV)

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Our power doesn’t come from our position.  Our power comes through our prayers.  It’s God Who hears us, answers us, and is delighted when we pray.

So, if today you’re sidelined, don’t see yourself as being “less than” or useless.  Grab your situation with joy and see it as a treasured time to pray.

Only in eternity will we know fully what God accomplished because of our secluded times of prayer!

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One Thing

I’m sitting here looking at my blank computer screen, wondering how on earth to write this post.  I write better when I can be totally up-front and honest about life.  But sometimes I can’t be that way because some matters are private, involving issues and people that prevent open sharing.

Was that catchy enough?  Do I have your attention now?  HaHa!

I really wasn’t trying to reel you in with my first few sentences.  I am, like I said, just being honest.

Recently, Gary and I had a “thing” happen.  It’s easy to say the typical phrases that we often here, such as what I just said.  “Things happen.”  Or here’s another one – “Life happens.”

Yet as a follower of Christ, I know better.  I don’t get upset when others, or when I, make those statements.

“You know, things just happen,” I have often said.

But again, I know better.  I know that God is the One Who is in charge of my life and who allows every single “thing” in my life to happen.  In reality, my “things” don’t just happen…they are permitted or ordained by God.  I am His child and He is in charge of all aspects of my life.

Most often, when we say that “things” happen, we’re not referring to happy “things.”  Usually, we are talking about stressful “things.”

Gary and I have had some recent stress.  Don’t we all?  We had to make the difficult decision to put our sweet Great Dane, Jackson, to sleep.  Not long after that, Aaron had a drop seizure on our stairs and ended up with eight staples in his head.  And then this “thing” intruded into our lives.  It’s not a happening that occurred, and then is over and done.  It’s more like a dark cloud of long-term wrong that will hover over us…well, forever, really.

All these “things”…all this stuff, plus many more daily stresses…can just be overwhelming and exhausting.  But two other “things” have taken place as well…in my heart, which is the best place for God to work HIS things.

One “thing” is that my mother’s favorite verse has been rolling around in my head for days now.  It’s Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

I love, though, the meaning of “be still.”  This is how I have been saying this verse recently: “Quit striving, and know that I am God.”

I can’t make “things” not happen.  I can’t always change situations.  And even if I try, the doors often remain closed.  The damage is done.

I have a mental image of being tied up with ropes.  Those ropes are the “things” that have or are happening in my life.  I twist and turn and pull and flex against those awful ropes, trying to be free.  But God wants me to stop that!  He wants me to relax and to simply trust Him…to rest, and to know that He is God.  And as God, He will handle all my “things.”

All this sounds so good, doesn’t it?  So spiritual and so right.  But how on earth…really, how on this old sinful stressful earth…do I quit striving?

God gave me a huge part of that answer over the past few days.  It’s found in the first few verses of Psalm 27.

David talks about his “things.”  He says that evildoers want to devour his flesh.  He is surrounded by enemies, adversaries, and whole armies…literally…who want to destroy him.  He was living in caves as he tried to survive.  His treatment by King Saul was totally unjust and evil.

It’s awful to be hated.  It’s awful to be the recipient of unjust treatment.  It’s awful to be on the run, either mentally or physically…running from the pain and the wrong and the hurt.

So, in verse 4, David says, “One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek…”

Let me stop to say that I can tell you what my one thing usually is when hard times come, especially injustice.  My one thing is to think that if I could only talk to this person or to these people, I’d tell them a thing or two!  Or on a nicer slant, my one thing may be to try to have a pleasant, open talk with them. Surely, they will listen!  Just give me one chance, Lord, to handle my situation…whatever it is…by doing that one thing that will make ME feel better.

But what was David’s one thing?  He asked God to let him behold His beauty in the tabernacle, to meditate and to dwell in the temple.

In other words, David’s one thing was to worship God.

And there is the answer to my question about how to quit striving against my “things.”

Worship.

David’s one thing that he asked of God when he was going through all of his awful “things” was the opportunity to once again worship God in the tabernacle.

“There is only one place where your heart can be healed, restored, satisfied, and protected.  It won’t be healed by winning human wars.  It won’t be satisfied in human acceptance.  It won’t be restored when you have meted out vengeance.  It will only be filled, satisfied, and at rest when it is filled with the beauty of the Lord.”  (Paul Tripp)

When I focus on God, I am not focusing on my “things.”  I am instead aware of God’s greatness in the middle of my “things.”  His power is what upholds me.  His plan, however vague and unknown it may be to me, is one which I can accept because in God’s beauty I see His love for me.  I experience His peace and His grace when my eyes are on Him, and not on my “things.”

We all have those hard “things.”  Some of you are enduring much more difficult “things” than mine.  May we all learn to worship God even when we are surrounded by our pain and fears and sadness.

Then to rest…quit striving…and let God be God in our lives.

“Quit striving, and KNOW that I am God!”

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Plan B

I heard Aaron’s first seizure at 4:00 a.m. night before last.  I went in to be with him until it was over, assuring that he was safe.  And always, when this happens, my fuzzy sleepy brain tries to remember what plans I had for the upcoming day, and how those plans may need to be re-arranged.  Usually one seizure means others will follow, though in recent days that hasn’t been the case.  We just never know.

Not long after Gary left for work, I heard Aaron getting out of bed.  He came downstairs, eyes very droopy and tired, with his typical post-seizure headache and stomach ache his first concern.  I told him that he should go back to bed.

“I can’t,” he replied.  “I’ve already put my time in my notebook.”

You see, Aaron keeps a log of the exact times that he goes to bed and the exact times that he gets out of bed.  Every.  Single.  Day.

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In his rigid and organized world, he needs a period of time before he will go back to bed.  I know not to fight this.

Aaron went about his morning as best he could, with me listening closely for another seizure.  His falling seizures sometimes occur after only having one seizure during the night, so I was on full alert.

I was hoping that Aaron could go to his day group.  Friday is movie day and he enjoys that.  But he didn’t feel like going anywhere, he said, and I could see that he really was struggling.  Besides, if he had a seizure while out with his group, that could be very dangerous.

I knew that my day now needed to be changed, my plans shuffled or canceled.  Nothing in my day was hard to change, but it was inconvenient…and not only for me, but for my friend whom I was going to see after dropping Aaron off at Paradigm.  My day would have been:  take Aaron to Paradigm; go to Lolly’s house for a visit; run to Aldi for some groceries before our weekend snow comes; home with groceries; pick Aaron up from the theater; take Aaron to Wal-Mart for his “end-of-week” snacks; zip into Sam’s; and home.

Changing this day was far easier than having to reschedule a doctor appointment, for instance.  Yet having to switch from Plan A to Plan B can be irritating and at times difficult.  Poor Aaron can’t help any of this.  I’ve learned to be flexible.  And to be thankful that I don’t have to work, as having a job would be impossible.

As it turned out, Lolly came to my house.  She even brought some delicious little Brazilian cheesy bread balls that she learned to make during her years as a missionary with her husband in Brazil.  And cake!!!  She brought me…oh, and Gary 😊…some cake!!!

I was able to later run Aaron to Burger King for a take-out meal, knowing that if he had a seizure at least he was sitting down in the van.  Later, as he napped, he did have a second seizure.  I was so thankful that he was in his bed, safe from falling down!  And in the evening, we got to make our Wal-Mart trip.  Gary went with us so that we could both keep an eye on Aaron.  It was fun!  And Aaron wanted to make sure that I took a picture of him with this turkey breast that he LOVED for some funny reason!

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Not every Plan B in life is fun, though.  Many times, our switch from Plan A to Plan B is pretty devastating, and certainly not easy.  And as believers, we know that God has a plan and a purpose on this path upon which He places us.  Yet He never said that our path will be rosy.  Most often, it is not.

God told us to take up our cross and follow Him.  He did not say to take up our basket of May flowers and follow Him.

One of the most impacting books I have ever read is The Cup and the Glory, written by Greg Harris.  Harris talks about what it means to follow Christ.  Drinking the cup of suffering is what brings glory to God and great growth to us as His followers.

In Acts 16, during Paul’s second missionary journey, we see a profound example of God’s perplexing leading in Paul’s travels.  Blessings had been abundant to Paul and Timothy.  The Greek phrasing in verses 5-8 is so telling.  The words “on the one hand” are soon followed by the words “on the other hand.”

On the one hand, churches were growing and being strengthened…but on the other hand, as Paul tried to travel to Asia, he was forbidden by the Holy Spirit to go there.  Later, as Paul and Timothy tried to go to Bithynia, they were once again stopped by God.  They finally ended up in Troas, where they never intended to go.

That road to Troas led through high mountains and was very difficult.  Why did God take Paul away from his intended destination, only to place him in such a strenuous and uncertain place?  Why did Paul and Timothy have to walk so long and so wearily through barren land full of dangers, and with no ministry taking place?

But Paul walked.  He kept walking in faith and in obedience to God, not understanding the reasons but fully understanding that God knew those reasons, and that was all that mattered.

Harris says, “It’s easy to walk with God when He exhibits the visible hand of His blessing.  However, Jesus calls us actively and continually to walk with Him – even when we can sense neither His presence nor His blessing – and not merely when you see Him feed the 5,000.”

Our goal in life should be to keep our eyes on God, not on our destination.  We may head one way, a God-honoring way, only to be re-directed by God onto another path.  Keeping our eyes on God during those disappointing times is key to experiencing His peace in the middle of our puzzling questions.

Our main goal on our journey is to be God Himself.  To know Him, to honor Him, to serve Him…wherever we are…is where we need to be focused.  God alone.  Through our questions, our tears, our concerns, our anger…God knows, and He cares, and He has a purpose.  His purpose is far greater than we will likely ever know on this earth.

Plan A?  Not today.

But on the other hand, Plan B!!

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”  Prov. 3:5-6

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The Small Seeds

We have a large Golden Rain Tree in our front yard, just off our front porch and sidewalk.  We love how pretty this tree is, and we love the shade it provides.  Every spring the new growth is almost a Chartreuse Green that stands out against the dark green of the leaves on the older branches.  Then little seed pods start growing.  At first, they are a pretty mauve and soft green color, like little puffy pillows hanging all over the tree.    As autumn arrives, the seed pods turn a crunchy brown.  They fall off the tree in droves, covering our sidewalk and our flower beds, laying in the mulch under the tree, and generally becoming a nuisance.

Inside each seed pod are several little black, round seeds.  As the seed pod dries up and blows away, those small black seeds nestle down into the mulch around the tree or in the flower beds.  They fall into the cracks of our sidewalk.  They disappear under the Moneywort ground cover in one flower bed, or under the Salvia in another bed.  In other words, those pesky seeds go everywhere and there is no controlling them!

It’s easy to forget all about them during the cold days of winter when nothing is growing and when little attention is being paid to my flower beds.  But as always happens, winter ends and soon the warmer days of spring are upon us.  The rain falls; the sun is higher in the sky; the days grow longer; and plants are growing and blooming and coming to life.

Something else grows, too.  In the mulch under the trees; between the cracks in our sidewalk; along the edges of the landscape bricks; mixed in amongst the Moneywort ground cover…just everywhere…grow little tiny Golden Rain Trees.

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And so begins my spring and summer job of being vigilant to look for these new little growths, and when finding them, to immediately pull them up from where they are happily growing.  I can pick dozens of these beginnings of Golden Rain Trees one day, and literally the very next day find more popping through the moist soil.  They grow quickly and they grow abundantly.

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They also hide very well in my Moneywort ground cover, being nearly the same color and having very similar leaves.  It takes time to look carefully, to find them, and then to pull them out.

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These fragile miniature trees have an amazing root system from the very start of their growth.  If caught early, they are easy to pull up.  But the longer they are left, the harder they are to fully remove…root and all.  They take hold quickly in order to grow strong and to secure solid footing.

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It would be far easier to just leave them alone…to ignore them…or to even enjoy how fresh and cute they are when they are just small, harmless plants.  They won’t hurt anything, right?  Besides, who has time for all that searching and bending over and pulling and throwing away?

In the Old Testament, God chose the nation of Israel to be His people…the nation through whom He would show His plan for redemption through the coming of Jesus, the Messiah.  As God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel was given commands from God…laws to be obeyed…wars to be won…plans to be fulfilled by God through His people.

But over and over the people of Israel tired of obeying God.  They forgot God’s abundant love and His steadfast promises…promises that hinged upon their obedience.  It didn’t seem like such a bad thing to them to intermarry among the heathen nations…to worship those nation’s false gods…to join in all sorts of pagan living and beliefs…and eventually to totally forget God.

Their sins were like our little Golden Rain seeds…small, and seemingly no big deal.  But oh, when left unchecked, how huge they became!  How far reaching their impact and destruction, both on a personal and a national level!

Listen as the Psalmist describes the result of unattended sin:

“…they mixed with the nations and learned to do as they did.  They served their idols, which became a snare to them.  They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood.”  (Psalm 106:35-39)

 

Sin and disobedience, either personal or national, that is left unchecked will grow deeply and dangerously into actions that could never have been dreamed possible.  I’m sure Israel never thought that falling in love with the heathen people and marrying them would one day result in offering their children in an idol’s fire.  But indeed it did, as what was once deemed wrong became acceptable and condoned and fully embraced.

It’s true for us today as well.  We rationalize…we explain away…we conveniently ignore…we refuse to speak truth.  We think that “small” sins are really no big deal.  God understands, right?

I mean, your truth might be different from my truth, but what does it matter?  As long as no one gets hurt, then it’s OK.   The world has changed, and we have to change with it.  We need to be tolerant.  And on and on we go, even Christians, turning a blind eye to the small dark seeds of sin that are growing unhindered in the hearts of individuals and in our nation.

Now we’re left reeling in the aftermath of sin left untended too long.  We’re left wondering what has happened to morals and decency and the fear of God.

It’s happened because of years of ignoring God.  Years of not obeying His clear commands.  Years of refusing to teach the absolute truth of God’s word and His ways.  In our own personal lives, and therefore in the life of our great nation, we are reaping the harvest of disobedience and disbelief.

Sin is relentless because Satan desires to destroy each one of us.  Sin may seem innocent enough…such a small matter here and another one there, falling into the cracks of our individual hearts.  But sins left alone to grow will do just that, becoming rooted in our lives and then in the lives of our family and finally in the life of our nation.

God is a God of mercy and forgiveness, yet He is also a God of justice and holiness.  Sin left to grow will show itself in so many ugly ways, and finally we will face its consequences…not because God is mean, but because God is just and He, as Holy God, cannot tolerate sin.

May our hearts be tender to God’s instruction.  May our eyes see with wisdom the sin that so easily besets us.  May we uproot those sins, constantly, and live in obedience to God…as individuals and as a nation.