Did God Say?

No matter the kind or the size of your garden……vegetable, flower, small, large, shady, sunny…..there is one thing that your garden will always have. 

Weeds. 

Pesky, fast growing, determined weeds.

It’s amazing how quickly they grow, even during times of drought.  We used to laugh when living in Arizona, telling each other not to pull the weeds in our yard because they were the only vegetation that was green!

Weeds themselves come in all kinds and sizes, shapes and colors. Some weeds are very obviously weeds.  One doesn’t even have to look or think twice before pulling them up, hopefully by their roots, like these weeds that were blatantly growing in our vegetable garden recently.  Lots of these weeds were either pulled or tilled over the past two days. 

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If you could take a look in our Rose of Sharon bushes, however, you would find another sort of weed.  You might have to look hard, though, to find the intruder.  Can you see it?

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The first time I noticed this plant was when I was pruning our Rose of Sharon bushes two years ago.  The Rose of Sharon bushes were growing well and blooming beautifully as I began to prune some of the dead branches away, as well as some of the growth that was in the way of the lawn mower. 

I saw the rich green and the pretty shape of these leaves.

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At first I was deceived by their beauty, thinking that they were a part of the Rose of Sharon.  But then it hit me.  Wait.  These leaves, pretty as they were, were NOT Rose of Sharon leaves. 

I investigated further, tracing the growth of this new plant, and soon discovered that this pretty plant with the lush leaves was actually a vine.  It was a vine that was curling itself around my Rose of Sharon branches.

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Two years later, I’m still fighting this same vine.  It wraps and wraps itself around each Rose of Sharon branch, insidious in it’s desire to choke out my bushes…….my flowering bushes with their pretty blooms of white, purple, and pink. 

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If I left this vine to do its crafty work, it would soon overtake my entire Rose of Sharon garden.  Every branch would eventually be choked and would die, leaving only the vine to prosper there. 

It’s my choice.  I can have Rose of Sharon bushes there, or I can have an area full of this vine. 

But this vine is a weed…..an intruder, as I said, that wants to destroy my bushes.  As pretty as the vine may be, it will only bring death to the bushes that I really want to grow.

So I continue to fight this stubborn vine.  I cut……I unwrap its tentacles from around each Rose of Sharon branch……I yank and I pull and I toss it in the trash. 

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Yet the only way to permanently do away with each new vine growth that I find is to pull it up from its roots.  I must locate the source of the growth and deal with it on that level……the roots.

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Weeds remind me a lot of sin.  Some sins are very obvious to us.  We may see certain sins in our life and have no doubt about the fact that they are wrong.  Just like the weeds among my vegetables, those sins we know need to be yanked up and thrown out of our lives. 

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But then there’s that other form of sin……the vine. 

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I think it’s interesting that the very beginning story of mankind occurred in a garden.  God designed this gorgeous place for His creation, Adam and Eve, as well as all the animals and plants that He so carefully created.  God gave Adam and Eve great freedom, along with a free will. 

We all know the tragic story, how one day Satan slithered into the picture.  He was captivating and wily, changing God’s words around ever so slightly to Eve in a way that made her doubt God. 

Satan was beautiful, and he showed Eve how beautiful the forbidden tree could be to her.  He would never have convinced her to sin if he had shown her the truth of his lies…..if he had shown her that pain and sorrow and death would follow her sin. 

We all know the tragic result, too, of this tragic story.  Look around today and we see it still, more and more as our culture continues to decline. 

Satan hasn’t changed one bit.  His method is still to deceive us by masking sin in beauty, much as my ugly weed was masked as a lush, lovely vine. 

Sin today is presented by the slick Hollywood version, all painted and desirable to those who can’t…..or won’t…..see beneath the surface, where broken lives and death prevail. 

The arguments are as old as Satan in the garden himself. 

“Did God say?” he whispers in our ear.  “God didn’t really mean it that way.  Those words may have been for a time long ago…..a culture far removed from our own…..but not for our progressive world today.”

“Did God say?” he softly hisses again.  “How hateful that sounds.  You don’t want to be known as a hater, do you?”

“Did God say?” he continues as we are lulled to sleep.  “God just doesn’t want you to be free to be you.  You should follow your heart, not those old words in that old book.”

“Did God say?” he again suggests.  “But you must find your own truth.  Your truth may not be what the Bible says.  Be who you are, without any regret.”

It’s so easy to listen to such charming words, especially when those words embody the popular ideas that are absolutely everywhere around us.  Our movies, our music, our classrooms, our books, our advertisements, are all jammed full of these world views. 

Satan has taken such a hold on our culture now that he is entwined in every area.  He has curled himself around our thought processes and our lives in such an invasive way that we hardly recognize him anymore.  It’s all so loving and so warm and so free to think this way…..to live this way…..until it’s too late. 

Satan would never want you to see the end result.  Paul told the Corinthians that Satan was an angel of light.  He comes at us with bright promises of a life lived the way we want, full of self-satisfaction and fun and acceptance.

But Jesus also said that Satan is the father of lies.  His lies sound so pleasant, so current, so loving and right.  But what he doesn’t show us is the death that always comes from sin.  Death of dreams, death of a relationship with God, death of living in God’s plan, and eternal death in hell. 

Satan and his lies must be dealt with at the root.  Go back to the source of his lies, the evil that he represents, and know that Satan hates God.  Satan hates me.  Satan hates all of us, and he wants us to die eternally.  He is a murderer.  And you and I are the ones he wants to murder.

Sin brings death, but Jesus came to bring life.  He took our sin on Himself on the cross, suffering for sins that He never committed.  Suffering so that you and I could be free….free to live in His grace and His forgiveness.

We don’t have to sin.  We don’t have to have Satan’s lies choke out the life God wants us to have.  Repent…..turn around from your sin and turn to the God Who truly loves you…..and accept His grace and salvation.  Follow Him.

And be wise to the ways of our enemy.  Lush green leaves among my Rose of Sharon were really there to kill.  So is Satan, with all his clever words and his compelling beauty. 

You might need to do some serious pruning in your life, but never will you regret the decision to let the right plant grow in your life’s garden.   

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Lessons From the Garden Shoes

We had finally received some much needed rain here in this very dry and hot Kansas summer.  It was more than just a few disappointing drops, too.  We actually had enough rain to drip off the leaves on the trees and in our flower and vegetable gardens.  Enough rain that I had a reprieve from my watering duties and could let nature do her work for a few days.  Enough to more than just settle the dust – we actually had some mud amongst the vegetables.  The cooler temperature, the damp smell of the earth, and the grass greening up a little were all very welcome to every two and four legged creature around as well as to every struggling plant. 

I allowed a couple days to go by after the rains before I walked out to the vegetable garden to check on things there.  Sure enough, the rain had done her good work.  I stood there looking at the cucumbers, squash, and okra that needed to be picked.  Then I looked at the soil, still dark and wet from the recent moisture.  I slipped on my garden shoes and decided to give it a try.  Stepping over the wire fence, I gingerly put my weight down on the soil as I stood inside the garden.  Not too bad, I thought, and so I walked carefully over to the cucumbers to pick the ones that were plump and ripe.  Next, the squash – not many there but a few.  Time for the okra, in the very back of the garden.  As I walked I noticed that the garden was muddier than I thought.  “Well, I’m already in here,” I reasoned, and so I continued on.  It can’t be that bad.  But with each step I noticed that my shoes were feeling heavier and heavier with the buildup of mud, and I could see my footprints that I was leaving behind in the soft soil.  I told myself that I would get out soon, after I picked the okra, and so I trudged on through the mud.  When I finally stepped back out onto the grass, the bottoms of my shoes were covered in mud that needed to be cleaned off.  There was no mistaking where I had been, and the mark that my decision left on my shoes was messy and ugly indeed. 

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Our lives are full of decisions in so many areas.  Many times the way that we should go is very clear and other times we’re just not sure.  Whether it’s an actual place or event, or if it’s an attitude of the heart, our prayer should be as David’s was in Psalm 143:8 when he said, “……teach me the way in which I should walk.” 

Before we realize the danger, we can easily step over that fence and venture out into the messy areas of life or thoughts that will only mire us down.  What may have even appeared to be right or to be justified soon turns into a trap that weighs us down.  Wrong friendships or relationships; ungodly entertainments and activities; carnal or impure thoughts – all will leave a residue in our lives that builds up until finally we are having to bear the consequences of our decisions. Our friends and family can without doubt be able to tell where we have been because the effects are so evident in our lives and in our attitudes.

Thankfully, God will clean us up as we ask for His forgiveness but often we will still bear the messy marks of our decisions.  So the next time we stand at that fence in our lives and have some decisions to make, may we say with the prophet in Hosea 14:9:  “…….for the ways of the Lord are right and the righteous will walk in them.”  Show us Your ways as we seek Your face, Lord, and keep us from venturing out into the muddy messes that are all around us.

 

Lessons From the Fire Ants


We just returned from a trip to Houston to see our daughter, Andrea, with a side trip to Dallas to see our son, Andrew, in an NHRA race there.   Oh, and I mustn’t forget to mention that we also enjoyed seeing our Granddogs, Darcy and Oakley.  Hey, it’s the closest I have to grandkids right now, so humor me.  In fact, the story I’m about to share involves these cute little doggies, in a way.

 
On our first evening there we headed right away to the dog park with Andrea so that Darcy and Oakley could have some outdoor play time before the park closed for the night.  Darcy and Oakley ran and jumped and rolled, and spent lots of time romping and splashing in the water.  They were so much fun to watch.  Soon we meandered off the gravel path and stood in the cool thick grass, talking to another dog owner and enjoying the happy dogs.  I had worn sandals instead of tennis shoes, and the grass felt damp and pleasant on my feet in the humid air. 

As we stood there talking, I noticed a faint stinging on my feet……especially my left foot.  I moved my foot a little, but the stinging persisted.  I thought that this grass must be pricklier than it seemed at first.  Before long, the stinging was increasing.  I again wondered why, but couldn’t see a reason as I looked down at my foot buried in the thick grass.  Finally, I was uncomfortable enough to raise my left foot up out of the grass……..and to my surprise, I saw tiny little ants crawling all over my foot.  The same was true of my right foot, though not as many ants had found their way to that side.  
Fire ants!  The stinging wasn’t coming from irritating grass, but from tiny fire ants.  I shook as many off as I could, and then went to the path, where I took my sandals off and continued to brush little ants off as quickly as I could.  They were between my toes, going up my legs, and caught in the folds and crevices of my sandals, as well.  Yuck!!!  When I was convinced that I had rid my feet and sandals of these attackers, I put my sandals back on and we continued to walk around the park.  Yet every now and then I would feel another sting, and would look down to find one miniature ant still on my foot.  
It was hard to believe that those sharp stings could come from such little creatures, but those tiny guys can pack a wallop.  I hadn’t been stung by fire ants since we lived in southern Alabama, when Gary was in flight school at Fort Rucker, over 30 years ago.   It was a memory I was wishing not to re-live.  However, soon the stinging sensation was gone, and other than a very few little dots on my feet, I was none the worse for the experience.
Or so I thought……and hoped.  Over the next few days, my foot has increasingly shown the effects of those small prickly bites.  The little dots on my feet have turned into larger and larger bumps.  They sometimes itch.  They sometimes sting.  And they look very large and ugly today…….like pimples on my feet and even between my toes.  I just thought I was escaping that experience largely unscathed, but not so.  I am reminded of those fire ants and their damage, both in the discomfort I feel and the unpleasant sight I see every time I look down at my feet.
Isn’t this just how sin is in our lives?  We set out on a path that is safe and protected as we follow God and obey His commands.  Soon, though, it’s so easy to veer off that path into a life that isn’t what He desires.  It feels good, though, just like that cool grass felt good to my feet.  What could be so wrong about this little diversion?  Isn’t everyone else doing this?  Come on!  Lighten up!  Don’t be so serious and intolerant.
Then we feel the first little sting, but we ignore it.  A few more stings…..and maybe we look around a little to see what’s causing that feeling, but we choose to disregard it.  Nothing appears very alarming, anyway.  Over time, though, the little stings become increasingly painful and more of our life is affected by the discomfort caused by our decisions.  And hopefully, we run……we run away as fast as we can from our sin.  We change our direction, we confess to the Lord our wrong, and we set out on the right path once more.
Yet sadly, even though we are forgiven, we often will bear the consequences of our sin……sometimes for the rest of our lives.  At first it may not seem like our sin is any big deal, but it is.  Like Moses told the people of Israel in Numbers 32:23, “Be sure your sin will find you out.”  In other words, you will suffer for your sin.  Sorry.  I didn’t say that.  God did.  The longer we stand in that grass and let the ants crawl on us, the more we will bear the results of our choices.  Days, months, even years later, the choices we made yesterday can……and often does……greatly affect us and those we love.  
Thank God for His grace, and His redemption, and His forgiveness.  Thank God that He doesn’t hold our sin over our heads and beat us up with it every day.  Thank God for His love, and for His patience in directing us back to the right path.
Yet what if I hadn’t gone off into the grass in the beginning?  What if I had worn the right shoes?  What if I had run away quickly when I felt the first sting?  Then today I wouldn’t be looking down at these painful, ugly bumps on my feet.  My story today would have been very different……much less harmful to me, for sure.
Don’t veer off God’s path for your life by walking into what feels good and looks great.  Don’t be wearing the wrong shoes.  Flee temptation, as Paul said to do.  Put on your running shoes!  Don’t linger in sin, enjoying the moment until they become many moments.  Don’t ignore God’s conviction in your heart.  Don’t let the stings of long-term sin leave you with irreparable damage.  God will forgive, but He won’t necessarily take away the natural consequences of our willful actions.  
Painful lessons.  May we all use wisdom in where we walk. 

Lessons From the Destroyed Pine

The autumn day was beautiful.  Sunshine abounded, warm temperatures cheered our spirits, birds were singing, and our home was full of activity as we prepared for Thanksgiving.  Andrew was home from college and was busy helping Gary haul off our old dining room set and then do some work on the trucks.  We were carrying in groceries that would be used in a couple days to prepare our Thanksgiving dinner, all the while dodging our big Great Dane who was happily moving from one to the other of us as he enjoyed all the excitement and bustle.  It was the kind of day I love – a day of togetherness, of accomplishing tasks, of anticipation of having the family together for Thanksgiving.

Yet in the background were other noises – sounds that we couldn’t drown out, even in the midst of our joy and activity.  There was the grinding sound of the chain saw, the shout of the tree cutter, and the unmistakable thud of a dead branch hitting the ground.  When my eyes left the scene of happiness in our front yard and wandered to our side yard, I couldn’t ignore the scene that was being played out there.  It was a scene of death; of destruction; of ending.  This was the second visit that our tree cutters had made to our home to take away not one, but now two of our beautiful pine trees that had succumbed to the deadly nematodes of Pine Wilt disease. The first dead tree further down on our property had been cut down and carted off several days earlier.   This second tree that was being cut on this gorgeous day was right outside our back door, just off the patio area.  Our large, perfectly shaped pine tree had been destroyed by the unseen, hidden little nematodes that had eaten away at the very heart and life of the tree.

 

The two young men worked diligently at their task.  Starting at the top of the tree, Jordan used his chain saw to cut each section and branch down.  His co-worker on the ground would then carefully stack these portions onto the truck to be carried away.  Then they would return to repeat the process until finally the entire tree was disposed of and hauled away.  I walked outside at one point while they were gone and just observed the sad display of this once magnificent tree.  There it was, stark against the pretty blue sky – a dark, bare, useless trunk.  What a picture of loss!  This once productive tree was now only a memory of its former glory and usefulness.  Those horrible little nematodes had, unknowingly to us, been eating away at our beautiful tree and had finally accomplished their purpose.  Our tree was fit for only one thing – to be cut down and taken away, never to be of any use again.

How interesting that this once sturdy tree had stood strong against the outward, visible attacks that had come against it during the many years of its life.  Fierce winds had whipped its branches; tornadoes had come way too close; snow had piled on its limbs; thick ice had caused some of its branches to snap; drought had tried to deplete it – yet still it stood, proud and strong.  What felled our tree was the tiny, unseen nematodes that were working inside its massive trunk and extending into its many branches.  These intruders methodically destroyed the inner life of our stately tree until finally we could see the outward evidence of inward death, and had no recourse but to demolish our tree and have it carried away.

We all face many storms in our lives that bombard us with stress and grief.  At times it’s overwhelming, but I know that for me these fierce storms have driven me to my knees and the Word for guidance and comfort.  I have grown even in the pain of these trials.  However, what causes me the most damage, it seems, are the hidden sins or hurts that lodge in my heart.  No one can even see them or be aware of the damage that they are causing in my spirit.  It’s easy for me to hide my attitudes or my pain from those around me, at least for a period of time.  Eventually, though, the destruction that my inner destoyers have caused will begin to show outwardly.  It becomes more evident, not only to me but to those around me, that I am not the person I used to be.  My effectiveness for Christ suffers as I allow my inner attitudes to take away my joy, my peace, my testimony, my service.

Perhaps you have allowed some of the sinful nematodes of life to take residence in your heart.  You have not been like the Psalmist who declared: “He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.”  (Psalm 1:3)   You have allowed inner hurts to take root and prosper instead;  or perhaps pride;  maybe bitterness over situations that you cannot control;  lost ministries that you miss;  children who embarrass or disappoint…………..the nematode possibilities are endless, but all are devastating.  They burrow inside and take away your very life until you are a former shell of what you used to be.  Oh, may we instead be like Paul, who said, “…….but one thing I do:  forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 3:13-14).   Oh God, purge our hearts from the sin that so easily takes control, and strengthen us to reach forward and press on toward the goal that You have for us!