Tending the Garden: a Parable

There once was a woman who married, had children, worked hard to provide a pleasant home for her family and raise her children in a loving manner.  She worked in her church and did her best to serve her God in the ways she could.  After her children matured, this woman went to work and enjoyed meaningful labor.  In short, she was very typical:  She worked hard, enjoyed leisure time, and honored God.

But deep down inside her was a secret: nestled within the folds of her soul resided two tiny seeds:  seeds of doubt and faith.  Even she didn’t know those two seeds hid in her soul. 

She went to church every Sunday, and she said her prayers.  Her tiny seed of faith opened and grew miniscule hair-like roots.  She joined a bible study, and a small shoot emerged, opening tiny, green leaves.  Her faith grew.  But before long her life became so hectic she was unable to attend bible study, and she fell asleep before saying her prayers.  Life didn’t seem to be the way it should, for a normal woman.

Soon the little seedling of faith withered and drooped.  The seed of doubt opened and sent out strong roots.  The plant grew tall and sprouted many green leaves.  The woman grew restless and discontented.  Praying became difficult.  Doubt grew strong and vigorous, a flourishing weed.

A few weeks later, she tried to pray to God.  “God, where are you?  Why can’t I pray to you?”  Then God allowed her to see the weed of doubt and the tiny seedling of faith struggling in its shadow.

“Oh God!”  She cried out.  “Show me how to eradicate the weed of doubt!  How can I get rid of it?”

“Keep praying and spending time with Me,” a still, small voice seemed to say.  But the weed of doubt flourished and the tiny seedling of faith struggled to stay alive.

The next day she cried out to her God.  “Father, make that weed wither up and die!  Cause the seedling to grow and flourish.”

“Be patient, my child,” came the answer.  “Even though you do not feel my presence, I am here, and I love you.”  The tiny seedling of faith raised its leaves heavenward.

Father God, show me ways to nourish the seed of faith.

Proverbs 22:5 “In the paths of the wicked lie thorns and snares, but he who guards his soul stays far from them.”

What are you currently doing to nourish the seeds of faith?

Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning. It’s a time to sort through the clutter in my house, designating some items to give away and others to trash. It’s a time to scrub all the surfaces and wipe down the dusty corners. Sometimes I avoid the tasks at hand, wishing instead to relax and enjoy myself. But I know it must be done. So I check my attitude, gather my supplies, and roll up my sleeves, ready to get the job done. With thoughtful preparation and lots of hard work, my house becomes sparkling clean.

Even though I need to spring clean every year, the clutter in my mind needs even more attention. Some activities and habits need cultivating, others need to be thrown in the trash, eliminated from my life. It’s time to examine my words and deeds, to allow His grace to clean my thinking and wipe away the negative thoughts and attitudes lurking in the corners of my mind. Sometimes, I procrastinate, not willing to approach His throne, not willing to admit my internal messes or to clean them up. Eventually, I become more willing. With time spent in the word and in prayer, I prepare my mind to receive my savior and allow Him to make my soul sparkling clean.

What about you? Are you content to let your soul live without a good spring cleaning? Or, are you battling spiritual laziness? Are you willing to let your soul stagnate and let the clutter of sin pile up? What do you need to do to motivate yourself to go to your maker and allow Him to assist you in your soul cleaning? How will you make way for the Savior to cleanse you and abide in you?

A Child’s Walk

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“Let’s go,” the father called to his four-year-old son.

Jimmy scampered over and reached his small hand up for his dad’s firm grasp.  Eagerly he tugged on the strong arm, “Let’s go, let’s go,” he sang.

Small hand wrapped firmly in the larger hand, out the door they walked, down the sidewalk.  Jimmy hopped and skipped and gleefully noticed everything.  “Wow!  Look at that bird.  Look, look, an airplane.”  He paused momentarily to point and stare skyward.

Soon a large German shepherd barked noisily at them.  Jimmy jumped, edging closer to his dad.  “Daddy, I’m scared, carry me,” he pleaded.

“Don’t worry; I won’t let that dog hurt you.” Dad scooped Jimmy up and swung him onto his broad shoulders.

Soon they came to an intersection.  “Stop!” called Jimmy.  “Look left.  Look right.  Any cars?  No?  Okay, go,” just as his father had taught him.  Together they safely crossed the street.

 “Daddy, I want down.”  Once again, strong arms lifted Jimmy off his dad’s shoulders and set him safely on the sidewalk.

Jimmy, like most young children, loves to spend time with his dad.  With childlike faith, he puts his hand in the strong hand of his father, trusting him completely.  Together, they walk wherever the father chooses, knowing their time together is more important than the path they choose.  Even though they utter few words, they communicate.  In times of difficulties or danger, the son instinctively draws closer to his father, who carries him.

In the same way the small child trusts his father on his walk, so we trust our heavenly Father on our life’s walk.  Trustingly, we place our hand in His.  We talk to Him, expressing our delight in what we encounter, and our fears of what lies ahead. No matter what, we confidently walk with Him on whatever path He chooses.  If we listen to His words and follow His advice, we know we will avoid danger, just like the child who learned to look both ways before crossing the street.  Will our walk always be pleasant?  No.  Will we ever become fatigued or frightened?  Yes.  Will there be times of great difficulties?  Of course.  But like a small child, we confidently look up and say, “Daddy, I need help, carry me.”  Whatever difficulties we face, our Father, who listens to our pleas, picks us up with his strong hands, swings us up on His broad shoulders, and carries us safely though life’s journey.

Father God, teach me to have child-like trust in You, even in the most difficult times.

Psalm 16:11 (NIV) “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

In what areas of life are you learning to place your hand in the Father’s and trust completely in Him?

Unexpected Blessings

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Unexpected Blessings

Walking along the trail, I looked to my left.  What I saw stopped me in my tracks.  There, only ten to twelve feet away, stood four white-tailed deer, staring at me.  I stopped, breathless, and stared back at them.  They stood so close I could see the black markings on their faces.  Behind them, on the other side of the creek, stood another deer.  Five pairs of liquid brown eyes never wavered from my face.  I could see the question in their eyes:  should we run or stay?  I whispered to them, “You are so beautiful.”  Enjoying their exquisiteness for as long as I dared, I lingered for a few more seconds, then continued walking.  What a stunning, unexpected blessing this was.

God provides many unexpected blessings on our life’s walk, if only we have eyes to see.  How often do we pray to God and then fail to notice how He answers our prayers?  How often do we fail to appreciate the ordinary, beautiful things that are all around us?  The innocence of children, the fragrance of a flower, the beauty of a bright blue sky, the majesty of a thunderstorm:  all of these are gifts from God. The blessings are there all along; we just fail to observe them.  The deer were in the forest all along; I just happened to look over at the last minute to see them.  Perhaps we would “see” more blessings if we opened our eyes to all that is around us.

Are you keeping your eyes open for those unexpected blessings?

What unexpected blessings have you experienced recently?

A Box of Chocolates

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Imagine that someone has given you a big box of chocolates!  What is the first thing you do?  Most would probably say Thank you, open the box, and graciously offer the first piece to the giver of this scrumptious gift.  Would you begrudge giving that first piece of chocolate to the person who gave you the whole box?  No, of course not, for the rest of the candy would be yours to enjoy—to eat, to save for another day, or to share with others.  I think this is the attitude God had in mind when he commanded us to tithe.  He has created the world and all that is in it; everything is a gift from Him.  He loves us that much. He has given us a gigantic box of chocolates.  He would be pleased if we would, with cheerful hearts, say Thank you, and offer Him the first piece.

Shouldn’t this also be the attitude we exhibit when we serve God and others?  All our gifts are God-given:  intelligence, work, compassion.   Our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual box is filled with delicious chocolates. Shouldn’t we show our love by graciously and humbly thanking God for our gift and offering Him the first piece?

“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (II Cor. 9:7 NIV)

PRAYER:  Oh God, we thank you for giving us many good gifts.  May we cheerfully offer a portion back to you and share our sweet gifts with others.

The Ice Storm

On January 4, 2005, the worst ice storm in decades hit my town. Over three quarters of an inch of ice coated the area, downing power lines and plunging more than 60,000 homes and businesses into darkness.

The icy outdoors created a surreal fantasy world, with homes, grass, trees, streets, and mailboxes painted with a clear, icy glaze. Trees bent over, their limbs dragging the ground under their heavy loads. Many, unable to bear the load, snapped, littering roofs, yards, sidewalks, and streets with their crystal branches.

A few days later, the clouds cleared; nature’s ice castles sparkled brilliantly, their prisms of ice flinging crystal colors everywhere.

Saturday afternoon, I ventured outdoors to watch the sun glisten off the icy trees. Everything drooped under the weight of the ice—according to newscasters the ice was four times the weight of the trees it covered. The trees bent so far that the tips of their branches brushed the snow-covered ground.

I stood in the middle of the back yard and gazed at the trees surrounding me. The sun, striking the ice-covered branches, turned my back-yard world brilliant, but what really struck me were all the new sounds. As I stood there, a whole chorus sang. The main melody: the constant drip, drip, drip of water falling from thousands of icicles. All around me I heard this constant dripping as the sun melted the ice.

With the breeze, the click and clack of ice-covered branches brushing each other added to the tune. Plop!  I turned and looked at trembling tree branches, freed from their weight of ice. Every few seconds I heard another plop as chunks of ice tumbled to the ground.

Occasionally a loud crash resounded as a large ice fragment hit the branch below and tumbled from branch to branch before landing on the softer earth. Before long, I noticed the lower branches of the mulberry tree no longer touching the ground. I wondered how long it would take before all the ice melted from the trees, and the branches, freed from their burden, would once more reach heavenward.

How often do our souls become ice-coated?  We are burdened and bent over, not with the weight of ice, but with the weight of our guilt and our sins. Heavy with guilt, we labor to lift our arms heavenward. Some, unable to bear this burden, snap and break. Others merely look down, unable to praise God.

Fortunately, we can eliminate the burdens weighing us down. Like the sun shining on the ice-laden trees, God’s grace frees us from our burdens. When in repentance we sincerely beg God’s son to shine his light of forgiveness, the hard shell of guilt begins to crack. Before long, the ice coating our souls melts. Soon we can raise our arms heavenward, look up and praise our maker.

Father, thank you for melting away my heavy burden of guilt.

Returning to Joy

Walking the nature trails, I wander across a large meadow, at least ¼ mile long and just as wide. Everywhere I look across this open countryside, I see dead, dry, native grasses. Deciduous trees dot the landscape. Winter weather has shorn them of their green garments, and their barren branches stretch nakedly toward the wintry sky. A slight breeze blows, rustling the dried grasses. The scenery is dull and bare.

My soul feels as dry and barren as this meadow. The enemy has frosted the joy from my heart and I hear the rustling of negativity and loss of hope.

But then I think about the creator of the meadow, the grass, and the trees. I notice the graceful lines of the barren tree branches and the lovely contrast of those dark brown limbs against the pale blue sky. I look toward the light and watch the seed heads on the dried grasses shining in the winter’s low sun. In my heart I praise God for the stark beauty of this field. Without a whimper, the enemy slinks away. He’s no match for my creator.

Once again, joy blooms in my soul.

PRAYER: Thank you, Father, for opening my eyes to the beauty of your creation and restoring my joy in you.

Dropping the Stones

She was caught in the act of adultery and dragged into the temple courts.

Head down, hands trembling, she avoided the eyes of the angry men surrounding her.

They couldn’t wait to pass judgment on her.

Their faces turned hard as the stones they longed to throw. After all, that was God’s law.

But the man who wrote on the ground, the pure man, the innocent one, the creator, savior, shepherd of men. He spoke to the crowd.

“Let him who is without sin throw the first stone.”

Angry muttering ceased.

Hearts of stone softened.

Angry fists opened.

Stones thudded to the ground.

One by one, with empty hands, the men turned away.

No stones were thrown that day.

So why do I harden my heart?

Why do I look for stones to throw?

Why do I feel the weight of these stones in my hands and on my heart?

I, too, am a sinner.

I am not the sinless man drawing on the ground.

Creator, shepherd, savior, teach me to open my heart and my hands. Teach me to drop the stones of judgment. Teach me to accept your grace and to offer it to sinners like me.

Hear the Crying

Imagine if you will, Christmas day more than 2000 yars ago in the town of Bethlehem.  Jesus is born.  Do you feel the crisp morning air?  Do you smell the animals and the hay?  Listen.  Do you hear the newborn crying?  Can you see Mary, seated on the floor of the stable, holding her tiny son?  Can you see her rock back and forth to comfort her babe?

Thirty years later, behold a dry and barren land.  The voice of John the Baptist cries out in the wilderness. “Make straight the way for the Lord,” he calls to any who will listen.  Now that the crying baby is grown, his cousin John cries for the repentance of his people.

Three years later the mother of Jesus cries.  She weeps at the foot of a rugged Roman cross.  High above is the broken body of her baby boy.  The once tiny babe is grown, and men have nailed him on a cross.  She cries for her son as he suffers and dies.

In just a few days, everything changes. Now those bitter tears, those agonizing cries have turned to miraculous cries of joy.  The son who was crucified on a cross is no longer in the tomb.  He is alive!

As you contemplate these cries, think about your preparations for Christmas.  Did you spend many exhausting hours shopping, wrapping, cooking, cleaning, and baking?  Did you cry in anger, frustration, or fatigue? 

Through your tears, remember, the babe who cried in the manger is the Lord who died on the cross.  He is the same Lord who was resurrected and is alive.  He is the same Lord who washes away our sins so that we, too, may become blameless and live forever in heaven. 

Once again, we hear crying, the crying of our hearts.  We cry, remembering our sins.  We cry in repentance, preparing our hearts for His coming in our lives.  We cry in grief, remembering His sacrifice.  We cry in joy, recognizing His resurrected life in us and anticipating eternity with Him.  We cry tears of delight, for we realize that even though all the preparations are not yet finished, we are, finally, ready for Christmas.

May we never overlook the reason for the celebration.  In all the busyness and scurrying, let us take time to reflect on the miracle of our Lord’s birth. Let us cry tears of repentance and gratefulness, remembering our greatest Christmas gift.  We have worked so hard to prepare for Christmas. May we work just as hard to prepare for His birth and life in our hearts.  May this precious life within us cry out joyfully for all to hear.           

Psalm 34:15 “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry.”

Is There Room at the Inn?

For several weeks I’ve busily prepared for the holidays. The house is decked out in Christmas finery: the tree is lit, garlands cover the stairway and windows, and angels and nativities adorn the tabletops.  Holiday meals are cooked, and the pantry is stocked. Treats wait for children and grandchildren to indulge. Gifts, wrapped in red, blue, and green, sit under the tree. After all the work, I’m finally ready for Christmas! Once my loved ones arrive the celebrating will begin!

While I’ve worked, I’ve wondered what preparations Mary made. Like all pregnant women, she must have made special plans for the birth of her little one. Since Joseph was a skilled carpenter, Mary surely asked him to make a cradle for her soon-to-be-born infant. She must have arranged for her mother and at least one other woman to assist with the birth.

I wonder how the trip to Bethlehem impacted her plans. Did it make her fret and worry? Did she cry, thinking she might have her child while on the trip? Or did she calmly prepare, packing swaddling clothes and trusting God to provide?

In spite of her preparations, Mary surely wasn’t ready when she started labor in a town far from home. Did she cry for her mother? Was she frightened when they could not find a room? In a quiet corner of a little village, in the company of stable animals, Mary gave birth. Surely this birth didn’t happen the way she had planned. But the birth of the son of the living God as a tiny, helpless infant happened precisely as God planned.

I suppose the real question isn’t how Mary prepared for the birth of her son.  The question is this: as I make my preparations to celebrate the savior’s birth, have I left room for him in the inn of my heart?  Perhaps I need a little more time to truly prepare for Christmas. What about you? Are you prepared?

Ephesians 3:16, 17a “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”