Friday, May 30, 2014

It's Gardening Time

PRINCIPLE: “Before the wind blows, remember the roots.”

It's that time of year again. The snow is gone and nature is springing back to life. It's a beautiful time of the year. It's also the gardening time of the year. Every year it's “Let's buy more perennials so there's less work to do next year.” (Why is it that we say it every year, do it every year, and it still seems like we do the same amount of work each year?)

That, of course, means getting rid of or transplanting some of the old – it's time to dig up plants, shrubs, and even trees. In some instances, that's no problem. Plants, for example, pull right up. Hostas, Lilies, and Irises are easily dug up and split. Shrubs and trees, however, are a different story. You just don't pull or dig them up! Sometimes it takes a shovel or a spade. Other times it takes a saw. Sometimes it takes a hatchet or ax. Oftentimes it takes some back breaking work. And once in a while, such as with trees, it takes a professional with special equipment. It all depends on the roots – on their depth, breadth, thickness, and strength.

It sets me to wondering – how strong is my root system? What is the depth, breadth, thickness, and strength of my roots? What would it take to cut or knock me down, to transplant me? A mere shovel – a saw – an ax – or some special equipment? What happened the last time the storm hit your life? Were you blown away or did you grow? The winds will blow again. Life will attack with shovels, saws, axes, and all sorts of special equipment. Will you be blown away? Cut or knocked down? Transplanted? Or will you prosper in the wind, and be transformed through the attacks?

Psalm 1 comes to mind. The blessed one like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers...Not so the wicked. They are like chaff that the wind blows away.” What's the difference? One has a root system and one does not. And once the wind blows, it's too late to worry about roots. So “Before the wind blows, remember the roots.” Before the shovels, saws, axes, and special equipment attack, put down roots. In other words, put them down now.

The Psalmist pinpoints how to develop roots with great depth, breadth, thickness, and strength. The blessed one “delights in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.” You've been planted in the soil of God's grace, fertilized by the richness of Christ's blood. So tend to your growth. Whether you are chaff or a tree depends on your roots. “Before the wind blows, remember the roots.” Develop a discipline now of reading and studying God's Word, praying, worshiping, being still – of going apart and resting a while. It is, after all, how Jesus developed His roots.

Begin, or renew, a life of root development today. Prepare for the winds, storms and attacks. “Before the wind blows, remember the roots.” Tend to your roots – and be assured that the Lord will watch over your way.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Remembering the March

PRINCIPLE: “When you're lost, He is found.”

On this Memorial Weekend I have memories of one particular Memorial Day. I played the Bass Drum in our Junior High School band. The highlight of the year was marching in Kalamazoo's Memorial Day parade. On this particular Memorial Day I had a problem. While marching, the strap that held the drum on my shoulders was slowly slipping loose; if not corrected, the drum would fall. Complicating the problem was that, unlike all the other instruments, the percussion section never stops playing; it has to provide the cadence to keep everyone in step. So I had no opportunity to stop and try to fix the strap. And since I was standing on the edge of the row I had no one on my right side and a snare drummer on my left. So there was no help beside me.

At first I chuckled thinking, “You've got to be kidding me!” But the humor didn't last long. I kept drumming but also kept trying to adjust the strap in between beats, which was no small task. It was proving to be a losing battle. I began to have visions of the drum falling, with me tripping over it as it fell, and the whole band falling apart because the cadence stopped and everyone lost the beat and thus their synchronized steps. I had to struggle to maintain the beat while becoming lost in my thoughts. I had no idea what to do. I was close to panic.

But there was one glimmer of hope. Our director always marched with the band, and would do so from various positions – sometimes moving to the edge of each row so he could check up on everyone.; but I had no way of getting his attention. Then, after what seemed like an eternity, he came to the edge of my row, on my side of the row! There he was – right next to me! He was able to fix the strap without me missing a beat. I was so glad he let himself be found!

As I now fondly recall that day, my mind goes to Psalm 46:1 - “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” I once read that “ ever-present help in trouble” could be translated “God lets himself be found in trouble.” I like that thought. “When you're lost, He is found.” I think of when I play 'Hide and Seek ' with my grandchildren – I often hide only partially so I can be found. Or I'll be fully hidden for a short time until I sense they're getting frustrated, and then come partially out of hiding. I'll let myself be found.

That's so much like God. When we're lost, when we're about to lose our step, when the drumbeat of our life is about to get out of sync, when the straps that hold the source of our life in place are about to come undone – God lets Himself be found. “When you're lost, He is found.” When tragedy strikes, when life becomes overwhelmingly challenging, and we wonder where God is – when we wonder where He's hiding, God lets Himself be found. “When you're lost, He is found.” When we've totally lost our way, or suddenly realize we've wandered off to other pastures and wonder how we'll ever find our way back, then it is we need to remember “When you're lost, He is found.” God lets Himself be found.

The truth is, God is never far away. He may, at times, remain out of our sight because He wants to develop our faith and increase our trust. But before before the drum falls, before we trip and fall, before everyone and everything around us falls apart, God will come out of hiding. “When you're lost, He is found.” God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear,though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging...The Lord Almighty is with us.”

When you're lost, He is found.”

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Left Behind

PRINCIPLE: “When you’re left alone, don’t be alone.”

All three incidents happened within a short span of time – perhaps within one or two weeks of each other. I can’t recall the time gaps between them, but that’s not important; just that they happened close together.

Incident #1: My mother picked me up from a practice of our Jr. High School musical. We also took Dan, a friend of mine, home. Dan had broken his leg and was on crutches. So when we got to his house I helped him out of the car, carried his books, and helped him up the steps and into his house. I went back outside only to discover that my mother had driven off without me. Stunned, I stood there for a moment wondering how long I’d be there and what to do. Before I could answer my questions she came around the corner; I could see her smile. She had just absent mindedly taken off when she saw me disappear into the house. Fortunately, it didn’t take her long to realize her error! No harm done.

Incident #2: We often picked up my aunt Nellie for church. She was elderly (at least then I thought it was elderly!) so I would go to her door, walk her down the sidewalk, and help her in the car. On this Sunday, as always, once she was safely in I closed her door and started to re-open my door so I could get back in the car – except as I put one foot into the car my Dad started driving off. With one foot in and one foot out and the car moving, I was in a predicament! Fortunately my shouts of “Dad!” caught his attention and he stopped. No harm done.

Incident #3: My sister, just old enough to drive, picked me up from my cello lesson. I opened the back seat car door, put my cello on the seat and closed the door. As I reached for the front door, off she went! Since I was starting to get used to this, I figured she’d be back. Sure enough, with a grin wide enough to drive a truck through, she came around the block. All she could say between laughs was, “I wondered why you didn’t answer when I spoke to you! I just figured you had gotten in the back seat.” No harm done – except I did wonder briefly if my family was giving me a message!

I have often thought about this series of incidents, and realize that even though I was left behind and alone, I wasn’t alone. My family was not about to let me stay there – I was still in their minds and hearts. I knew that even then. But I’ve also come to recognize that we all experience many times in life when we feel alone, left behind, left out. That’s when Jesus’ words are so important and wonderful:  “I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back. In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive. At that moment you will know absolutely that I’m in my Father, and you’re in me, and I’m in you. (Jn. 14:18-20 MSG) No matter how alone, we are not alone. No matter how often left behind, we’re not left behind. Jesus has not left us - He lives within us; we are in Him and He is in us, no matter how often others pull away from us. All we need to do is remember it. If we fail to remember, we will feel alone, deserted, and abandoned. So “When you’re left alone, don’t be alone.” When left alone, say “Hi” to Jesus, thank Him for staying with you, and have a conversation with Him. After all, there’s no one else around to talk to! And before long you’ll be picked up again and carried off into the noise and busyness of life. So enjoy the moments with Jesus. “When you’re left alone, don’t be alone.”

Friday, May 9, 2014

A Lesson from the Dog

PRINCIPLE: “When the sweet things of life appeal, remember the surgery.”

Our “grand-dog” Moby has been living with us. He’s a cute, loving, adorable dog. He recently taught me a lesson. Early in the week my wife, while working in the kitchen, dropped some corn cob holders. They were those miniature yellow plastic corn cobs with two prongs sticking out the end that stick in the cob to help hold the cob while eating the corn. When she dropped them Moby, thinking it might be food that fell to the floor, quickly scurried over and sniffed – but smelling nothing, did nothing. Later in the week we were eating corn for supper, and one of those same holders fell to the floor. Moby, already seated under the table and ready to pounce on any scrap of food, lunged over to it and snatched it up. The reactions of the adults around the table were instantaneous, but not quick enough. Moby had swallowed the holder – and he seemed none the worse for it. But we all knew action was needed – and, long story short, it took emergency surgery to remove it. Moby paid a price for his insatiable, uncontrolled appetite (as did the humans who foot the bill!)

As we reflected on what happened, one of our conclusions was that the same corn cob holder, which earlier in the week was not appealing, had become appealing because of location and scent. Since it was under the table Moby naturally assumed whatever fell was food; and since the holder was ‘flavored’ with butter and salt, it had an appealing scent. It made me think of why Eve ate of the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:6): “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.”  The Apostle John taught the same truth (1 John 2:16):  For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.”

Let’s face it – it’s the sweet things of life that tempt us. We are drawn to those things that please our flesh, or are titillating and exciting to our senses, or which make us feel superior. That’s why manufacturers, producers, and sellers spend so much money designing ads that appeal to our flesh, our senses, and our egos.  It’s why games and films are designed and marketed in the same spirit. The devil knows just how to sweeten the pot with all kinds of butter and salt. He knows that all it takes is one bite. So Eve and Adam ate the fruit. And we all know what happened when eve ate the fruit! God performed some radical surgery on her and Adam’s life. “When the sweet things of life appeal, remember the surgery.” And John said what comes from the world will never last because God will excise it: The world and its desires pass away…”  “When the sweet things of life appeal, remember the surgery.”

We would love to teach Moby this principle. We wish he could make the connection between his painful surgery and the corn holders – but we’re pretty sure he’ll ever understand. So we are doing our best to remove or limit the appeal; now we eat the corn without the holders! The truth is butter and salt are tempting – but only lead to radical surgery. And we, like Moby, often fail to make the connection and go through the painful surgery. Yet knowing we can’t remove all the tempting appeals that bombard us every day, we can limit their appeal. “When the sweet things of life appeal, remember the surgery.” John, in fact, provided the preventative prescription - The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.  The next time the butter and salt look and smell so good, the next time your flesh, sense, or ego are titillated, remember - “When the sweet things of life appeal, remember the surgery.” Take a little preventative medicine – do the will of God.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

When the Bees Attack

PRINCIPLE: “When the bees come after you, make a beeline to the cross.”

I was trimming the drain ditch in front of our house – something I do once every 4 - 6 weeks. This time the grass and weeds were taller and thicker than usual so I was being more deliberate than my usual quick swipes with the trimmer. In fact I was standing in the ditch itself. I could see that I was making good progress; but what I couldn't see was the little hole in the ground, beneath the grass and weeds. It was a little hole that was the entrance to a hive of bees. I didn't know they were there. But, boy, did they know I was there! As soon as I got close to their hole they came after me – in full force. A couple of quick stings and a lot of buzzing and I suddenly knew they were there. I dropped my trimmer and made a beeline for the house, with the bees in full chase and attack mode right behind me. Thankfully, the house was my refuge. Now every time I trim the ditch, I'm ready to flee.

What I've discovered is that the bees in my ditch aren't the only bees I need to be ready to flee. There are all kinds of bees ready to sting and chase me every day. The bees disguise themselves in the form of temptation, passion, and pride. John identifies them as cravings, lust, and boasting. Everything that is in the world—the craving for whatever the body feels, the craving for whatever the eyes see and the arrogant pride in one’s possessions—is not of the Father but is of the world.” (1 Jn. 2:16 CEB). Jesus pointed to thee bees of troubles, tribulation, and persecution. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble.” (Jn. 16:33)

And Jesus' advice? But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jn. 16:33) How did Jesus overcome the world? Through the cross. “Take heart – you can come to the cross.” “When the bees come after you, make a beeline to the cross.” Jesus gave this instruction often. “When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another.” (Mt. 10:23) “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” (Mk. 13:14) “When the bees come after you, make a beeline to the cross.”The apostle Paul gave the same advice. “Flee from sexual immorality.” ( 1 Cor. 6:18) “So, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols.” (1 Cor. 10:14) “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” (1 Tim. 6:11 NLT) “Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Tim. 2:22) “When the bees come after you, make a beeline to the cross.”

However, whenever the bees that attack you, be ready to flee, to make a beeline to the cross. When the computer screen calls out for you to click on that porn site, when the television beckons with that seductive movie, when the hormones get excited wile looking at someone other than your spouse, when the little voice in your head tells you a little cheating will move you up the ladder at work, when your pride is leading you to act superior, when those anti-christian voices begins to mock and challenge you – make a beeline for the cross.

And just a word for the sake of clarity. Fleeing to the cross can mean 'Get out of there and get to Jesus.” But it can also mean to stand firm, and fight the good fight in the strength and power of the cross. As Paul advised young Timothy, there will be times when you want to give up and quit – to run away. But you must keep control of yourself in all circumstances; endure suffering, do the work of a preacher of the Good News, and perform your whole duty as a servant of God.” (2 Tim. 4:5) Depending on the circumstance, you either run or stand still – but whichever is called for, place your heart at the foot of the cross. “When the bees come after you, make a beeline to the cross.” “Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand, The shadow of a mighty Rock Within a weary land; A home within the wilderness, A rest upon the way From the burning of the noonday heat And the burden of the day.”