Grace – the Perfect Gift

We have just finished a season of giving – and receiving. As I get older (I just celebrated my 71st birthday) my focus is less and less on “stuff” for presents and more on giving “experiences”.

This desire has backfired recently. Our daughter told me her son said “Nana always gives us a present, then we don’t get to do it”

Full disclosure – So, three years ago we scheduled NASCAR Go-Cart rides for all the grandkids but had to cancel because some family members had COVID and some couldn’t travel because of COVID. (we did get to ride go-carts together this summer – just two and one-half years later) Then last year we planned to go snow tubing – but it was raining so we all went to an indoors play center with trampolines, games, and simulated rides. This year we again planned to go snow tubing but it was 14 degrees and everyone felt that it was TOO cold. That is when our grandson made the above statement. For children a delayed experience may seem like it never happens. (we ended up giving them money – a last resort)

This got me thinking about receiving God’s grace. It is clearly a gift, scripture mentions that fact repeatedly. Grace is unmerited favor and God gives us grace – not because we have

  • earned it
  • deserved it
  • paid for it
  • said the correct words
  • worn the correct clothes
  • served the poor
  • prayed enough

You get the idea. NOTHING I do can merit God’s matchless, unconditional grace.

Ephesians 2:8-9 says –

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves,

it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.

God’s grace is a gift.

His grace keeps on giving.

Unlike Nana’s gifts that sometimes change at the last minute or are delayed because of weather, God’s gift of grace is eternal. It never expires or is canceled. It is never late or misplaced.

God’s grace is the perfect gift.

Just as God has extended His grace to us, may we extend His grace to others this year.

Blessings in the New Year – 2023!

We did get in snow tubing on December 29th. It was cold, but not 14 degrees!

Deadheading or Don’t Hold on to the Old

I have frequently had people ask me when looking at the flowers in our yard – “How do you get so many blooms?” “Do you fertilize?”

I deadhead. As soon as a bloom begins to fade, I cut it off.

To be completely transparent, I do fertilize plants in pots because if I water regularly, as I must, nutrients leach out of the soil and must be replenished. We are blessed with great soil in our yard so I do not fertilize plants in the ground.

Yet, back to deadheading. My father, former biology teacher and naturalist in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, regularly reminded me of the following –

“The job of a plant is to reproduce itself. Flowers produce seeds which then grow new plants. If you cut off the blooms the plant must make more flowers to do its job.”

Clayton Barker

So, deadheading produces more flowers. Each evening I go around our yard with scissors and cut off the spent blooms. New blooms keep growing! I also cut flowers to bring in our home or give away to friends.

HINT: Cut flowers first thing in the morning before the day heats up. Put them in cool water as soon as possible. The flowers will last longer.

While deadheading our flowers the other day I began thinking about how I hold onto things, sometimes when they are no longer useful or don’t work any longer.

  • I leave old food in the fridge – “Maybe Phil will eat this…” way longer than I should.
  • I keep old clothes that no longer fit – “Maybe someday I will wear that size again…”
  • I keep old books I have already read – “Maybe I will read this again someday…”

Do I do this in my spiritual life as well? Do I hold on to old practices just because they are familiar or comfortable? Do the old patterns prevent me from experiencing a fresh awareness of the Holy Spirit working in my life?

Jesus was sharing with his followers the importance of recognizing the new when the disciples asked him about a spiritual practice they were used to doing – fasting.

16 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. 17 Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

Matthew 9: 16-17

Jesus is encouraging his followers to see spiritually in new ways. BUT – Jesus is not throwing out the baby with the bath water. He doesn’t say “don’t mend a garment” or “don’t pour wine”. Instead Jesus wants his followers to receive the new wine – the TRUTH of his teachings – and store them in a new container that will not burst and be ruined. The truth of Jesus’s teachings could not be stored in the traditional teachings of the synagogue or through the Pharisees and Sadducees. The “new container” was the Church – the Body of Christ – you and I.

Jesus wants his followers – you and I – to be that new wine skin containing the new wine. We do this by allowing his Holy Spirit to flow through us. Jesus will reveal himself to us each day if we “deadhead” so the new can bloom.

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

LamentaTIons 3:20-23 ESV

When I deadhead I just cutoff the fading bloom. I do not cut off the whole plant. Spiritually, that means I remain in fellowship, read and study his Word, and listen to teaching from faithful followers of Jesus.

It also means I allow fresh new insights from the Holy Spirit – that are “new every morning”.

Lord Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise

I hear so much wisdom in the sayings of mountain people. “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise” expresses what we need to remember during these past 2 years of COVID, quarantine, and isolation.

I would imagine that each of us have had plans that didn’t work out the way we hoped during this time.

  • trips
  • birthday or anniversary celebrations
  • weddings
  • vacations

Our family has faced several of these situations – all the time realizing how very much we have to be thankful for. Most celebrations can be rescheduled, but those who have lost friends and loved ones face permanent loss, times that can only be redeemed in eternity.

I want to have the attitude expressed by my mountain neighbors – my plans should be based on the will of God while realizing there are circumstances beyond my control. If the road to your house crosses the creek and that creek rises, it is not safe to cross, so you stay home.

James 4:13-15 says this –

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

Sounds a lot like “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise” doesn’t it?

Blue Heron in the Tuckasegee River at the Jackson County Greenway

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