“Before you know it, …”

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“Before you know it, that kudzu will creep right on in your bed!”

One of the pleasures of walking for exercise is the encounters you have with people who are also walking.

Now some of you are thinking…”I like to exercise alone.” Good for you.  But I know that once I moved away from my walking buddy – Alice Marie – my exercise level went way down. I do better when I talk and walk.

So – on Monday as I was walking by myself,  I saw another frequent walker. We greeted one another and then started talking about all the rain we have had recently. Weather is a frequent topic because it affects all of us and our walking. Then we talked about our gardens, what was doing well – cucumbers, which like the rain, and what was not doing so well – tomatoes – which prefer hot, dry weather.

Then our conversation moved on to kudzu. Kudzu must REALLY like the rain because it is growing up a storm! My friend mentioned that she and her husband used to own some land where they had cows and never had any trouble with kudzu. When they sold the land, the new owners didn’t want cows and before long called and asked what they could do about all the kudzu. It was taking over their land.

“Before you know it, it will creep right on in your bed!” my fellow walker said.

We laughed together, knowing just how close to the truth that statement is.

A little Kudzu history – it originally came from Japan –

“In the decades that followed kudzu’s formal introduction at the 1876 World’s Fair Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, farmers found little use for a vine that could take years to establish, was nearly impossible to harvest and couldn’t tolerate sustained grazing by horses or cattle. But in 1935, as dust storms damaged the prairies, Congress declared war on soil erosion and enlisted kudzu as a primary weapon. More than 70 million kudzu seedlings were grown in nurseries by the newly created Soil Conservation Service.”  Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/true-story-kudzu-vine-ate-south-180956325/#tvkuq1M1sB0CAeTS.99

So – kudzu found a home in the United States to combat soil erosion.

A good motivation – an unexpected result.

I thought about this and a parallel principle to Spiritual growth.

As Christians we are often looking for “quick fixes” to our problems. Some of the these ideas are good. They even work for a time. But there are unexpected results that we didn’t anticipate.

A few examples:

  • marriages in the church are struggling – have a marriage conference
  • children don’t want to sit quietly in church services –  offer children’s church

The marriage conference may offer great information, but what about a month later when the old conflicts rear their ugly heads (and they will) what does that couple do?Having a mature, Godly couple mentor those struggling in their marriages provides ongoing support and PRAYER which is powerful in effecting real, sustained change.

Children’s Church can be a blessing for parents who want to focus on worship. Yet these children specific offerings often become entertainment, not real worship. They do not prepare children to block out distractions so they learn to focus on worshiping the King of Kings, Creator of the Universe, their Lord and Savior. Toddlers do need separate space. But once children begin school, they are able to learn to participate in the most important activity of human experience – Worship of God. By participating in worship, children will learn to worship.

Psalm 100

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

We must make sure that we are not practicing “quick fixes” in our spiritual lives that cause us and our children to experience unexpected consequences.

Before you know it….!

 

In My Garden with God – #12

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“They Need to See Each Other”

When my father passed away several dear friends gave me gift cards to purchase a plant in his honor. This was especially fitting since my father was a botanist and naturalist, as well as a biology teacher.

I knew immediately what I wanted to plant in his honor… an American chestnut tree, blight resistant.

When my father became a seasonal ranger in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1959, one still saw many towering gray tree trunks of dead American chestnuts, the last vestiges of a once mighty species of tree in our mountain forests.

Years later when my parents were living with us, Dad told me that he had read about a blight resistant American chestnut that had been developed and was showing promise of thriving in our mountain habitat. He mentioned that we should get one. I called around to a few local nurseries and no one had any of this variety yet.

So, after my father passed away at 91 years old, I again called the nursery and sure enough, they had American chestnut trees. Phil and I went to pick one up and the man helping us said,

“Now you need two so they can cross pollinate and you then you will get chestnuts.”

Of course – Biology 101.

Thinking about the many trees on our property already,  I asked, “How close do I need to plant them?”

“They need to see each other.” he said.

I smile every time I remember this conversation. As I was weeding around those two trees recently, which by the way are growing very well, I was reminded of a spiritual principle that those trees illustrate perfectly.

Trees will only bear fruit, (or nuts) if they are close enough to each other to cross pollinate. As Christians, we will only bear fruit if we are in close relationship to other Christians. We need the cross pollination of our brothers and sisters in faith to keep us growing spiritually in healthy ways.

Some of the effects of cross pollination are:

  • recognizing Truth vs. deception
  • being held accountable to Godly behavior
  • growing the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, self control, etc.
  • learning from what the Lord is impressing on fellow believers
  • being challenged to love and good works
  • reproducing more Christians

It is hard to demonstrate REAL love, patience, or self control if we are all alone. Expressing real love requires an object of that love. My patience is most often challenged by others and I learn to be patient by practicing it on others. It is hardest to demonstrate self control over my tongue when there is actually someone around to hear me. It is through close contact with others that I cultivate the fruit of the Spirit.

I Corinthians 12:12-13, 18-21 says the following –

12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. 13 Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.

18 But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. 19 How strange a body would be if it had only one part! 20 Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. 21 The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”

We need each other – to grow, to be healthy, to reproduce.

We must remain close to others Christians, close enough to see each other.

 

In My Garden with God #10

 

 

 

Heaven Is Rejoicing!

 

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photo –  wfmynews2.com

Billy Graham passed on to his eternal reward yesterday. Heaven is rejoicing!

I was 11 years old in 1962 when I had the privilege of hearing Rev. Graham preach. (along with the 50,000 or so other people who were there at McCormick Place in Chicago) I will always remember the power of his message. “For God so loved the world…”

In thinking about the legacy that Billy Graham has left, I have two personal memories that stand out.

The first memory surrounds the crusade mentioned above.

My parents had attended the training to counsel individuals who responded to the invitation at the end of the crusade to accept Jesus as Lord and savior. This training included people from all over Chicago and the suburbs representing various denominations and churches. Billy Graham required pastors and church leaders, Catholics and Protestant to come together and commit to cooperation and participation in planning, volunteering, and participating in all aspects of the crusade. If the local churches couldn’t commit to working together, Billy Graham would not hold a crusade in that city.

This required religious leaders to put aside sectarian differences for the importance of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. Literally hundreds of churches joined together involving thousands of Christians. What an example for being one Body!

My family attended College Church in Wheaton, just west of Chicago. My father was a very loyal person and this extended to our family’s involvement in church. We did not attend other churches, even for special events. If the doors to College Church were open – we were there. Yet my parents felt this crusade merited our family’s involvement.

Attending the Billy Graham Crusade was an eye-opening experience for me. Seeing thousands of people singing and praising was awe-inspiring. All these people were worshiping together! The choir was made up of several hundred people led by Cliff Barrows. Seeing individuals of every race and ethnicity gathered in one place to worship offered me my first glimpse of the enormity and diversity of the Body of Christ.

The second memory is from my teen years, during the racial turmoil of the late 1960’s.

Billy Graham made it a priority to include black Christians front and center on the platform at his crusades. These spiritual brothers and sisters were embraced by Billy Graham and Graham’s actions set an example for all Christians – “we are one in Christ”.

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photo – billygraham.org

 

I remember being so pleased by the fact that Billy Graham had Andre Crouch and the Disciples sing for one of the crusades. They were my favorite singing group! Their pride in their race, and more importantly their savior, Jesus Christ was evident. Rev. Graham practiced what he preached when it came to demonstrating the fact that …  God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Billy Graham was not perfect – he boldly acknowledged,including himself “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23  He then shared the truth that we become new creations when we accept Jesus’ sacrifice for us.

He left a legacy of life long (99 years long) commitment to serving the God he loved.

Heaven is rejoicing!

Overcoming Evil

It has happened again.

A senseless killing of innocent people. In a church while worshiping, no less.

Where is the God who these folks were praying to?

Does He hear?

Does He care?

These questions flooded my mind yesterday as I heard the news of the tragic shooting in the little town in Texas. A small, unincorporated community where everyone knows each other. The LAST place one would expect such a tragic occurrence.

Just like the place I live.

We know most all our neighbors and wave when they drive by.

I sat in a place of worship yesterday morning, just as those people in Texas did. So did our children and grandchildren in their various locations, surrounded by friends and family.

Christians gather regularly around the world to worship, pray, and learn from Biblical teaching and fellowship.

So did those people in Texas.

I can’t help but think “Why?”

God tells us in Jeremiah 17: 9-10

“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
    and desperately wicked.
    Who really knows how bad it is?
10 But I, the Lord, search all hearts
    and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
    according to what their actions deserve.”

There is evil in the hearts of some individuals. We don’t understand it. But these verses assure me that God knows, and that He will avenge the ones responsible.

But what about the innocent victims? Those hurting family and friends of those killed and wounded? Why did God allow this?

In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis addresses this very question. In his chapter The Rival Conceptions of God Lewis writes the following –

“Of course, that raises a very big question. If a good God made the world why has it gone wrong? And for many years I simply refused to listen to the Christian answers to this question, because I kept on feeling ‘whatever you say, and however clever your arguments are, isn’t it much simpler and easier to say that the world was not made by any intelligent power? Aren’t all your arguments simply a complicated attempt to avoid the obvious?’

“My argument against God,” Lewis says, “was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust?”

This is why God became flesh – in the form of man – Jesus – to redeem this cruel, broken world. Jesus is the hope of the world.

This realization does not change the very real suffering of those people in Texas. It does not change the very real hurt and loss of individuals throughout the world suffering from human trafficking, abuse, neglect, or cruelty.

It does give hope for the future. God wants to bring each person into the Light of His love, grace and restoration.

Denying the existence of God because one sees the real and terrible suffering of this life does nothing to alleviate, diminish, or explain that suffering.

Our grandsons dress up as “super heroes” ready to vanquish the evil in their back yard. Don’t we wish it was that simple? Jesus has promised to be with us through all the battles we face.

Right before Jesus was beaten and crucified He told his disciples the following – John 16:33 –

33 I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

Jesus wants to give us hope and peace in the midst of the suffering of this world.

We must pray – and hold on to hope.

 

 

 

 

Every Tribe, Every Nation

 

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“Red, brown, yellow, black and white, we’re all precious in His sight….”

Since Phil and I returned home last Thursday, people have asked me, “What impression impacted you the most from your trip to Israel?”

I expected to see Jewish people, some from many different continents as the diaspora have returned to the nation of Israel since it’s modern establishment in 1948. I also expected to see many Arabs who have populated this region since their beginnings as children of Abraham’s son, Ishmael.

What I did not expect to see was the many hundreds of Christian pilgrims from every tribe and every nation on earth.

The second through fifth days of our trip were spent hiking the Jesus Trail. This is a well marked trail from Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, to Capernaum along the Sea of Galilee where Jesus spent most of His time in ministry. Our group of 10 people walked where Jesus walked and lived, seeing the locations of several of His miracles and the ruins of the occupying Roman government. This is not a heavily populated area and the  people we saw were mainly Jews and Arabs, living in a delicate balance of religious and political tolerance.

The next few days were spent mainly in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, visiting the many significant sights of Jesus birth, death, and resurrection. This is a modern urban area, surrounding the old cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem. There were hundreds of people arriving on large tour buses at each site we visited.

This is what surprised and blessed me.

This is what I did not expect.

The “pilgrims” like myself, were Christians from every people group I can think of.  The following nationalities represent people we either spoke to or we heard them say that they were –

  •  Africans – from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya
  •  Asians – from China, Korea, Japan, India and Taiwan
  • Hispanics – from Ecuador, Argentina. and Mexico
  • Europeans,  – from Spain, France, Great Britain, Italy
  • Eastern Europeans – from Poland, Czech Republic, Russia
  • Australians
  • New Zealanders
  • Canadians, Virgian Islands
  • US Citizens from many different states

 

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All of these people came to pay homage to Jesus and the places where Jesus lived and and carried out His ministry.

Why did this bless me so much? Why was I surprised to see people from every tribe and every nation worshipping Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?

I have to admit that my response revealed my narrow view of the Body of Christ and the Kingdom that Jesus will establish when He returns again to earth.

In Revelation John shares the following vision.

Revelation 7:9-10

9. After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10. And they cried out in a loud voice:    

“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Seeing these large groups of people from nations throughout the world should not have surprised me. We were after all near the very location where the Bible teaches God created the first people. If I believe this Biblical account, and I do, then all the various people I was seeing had ancestors who originated here as well, just like I did.

I was overcome by the blessing of seeing this very diverse representation of my brothers and sisters in Christ, the Body of Christ, the Church. Our church gatherings here in the United States are but a small representation of what God has gathered together in the Body of Christ world wide. My visit to Jerusalem gave me a glimpse into this much bigger picture.

We looked different, dressed differently, talked and sang differently, prayed differently, even expressed our love for Jesus in different ways, but we had a common purpose.

We were there in Israel to honor Jesus, the King of Kings.

I will sing that familiar children’s song with new meaning now……

“Red, brown, yellow, black and white, we’re all precious in His sight….”

 

 

 

The One Thing

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Ever hear of the sisters, Mary and Martha?

They were friends of Jesus and also among those who followed Jesus and listened to his teaching. Biblical scholars believe that Martha was probably an affluent widow. She also practiced hospitality.

When she invited Jesus to her home – she had to be ready for a crowd – his entourage came with him.

The Bible says she was encumbered or stressed by serving.

Luke 10:38-42

38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.

So she does what most of us women do when stressed – she complains.

She goes right to Jesus!

She attempts to get Jesus to agree with her – “I’m doing all the work – shouldn’t Mary help?

God does not necessarily agree with the cause of our distress – we might think it is –

  • My mother-in-law
  • My child who refuses to potty train
  • My boss who doesn’t seem to understand that I have children
  • My adult child who doesn’t call me
  • My messy house

Jesus does care – just not about the same thing that is bothering Martha.

Mary chose the “good part” – that was The one thing worth being concerned about – which certainly meant what Mary made her choice to do—sitting at Christ’s feet, to hear his word.

So, does Jesus not want to eat, you may ask? Don’t we have to attend to the needs of our families, especially when there are little ones that depend on our care for their very survival?

Of course. The Bible is clear in teaching that we have responsibilities to fulfill and it is godly to do so.

Yet, are we so busy that we neglect the “One Thing” that feeds our souls?

“Martha’s care and work were good in their proper season and place; but now she had something else to do, which was unspeakably more needful, and therefore should be done first, and most minded.” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary)

I had the privilege of participating this weekend in a women’s retreat sponsored by a local church, yet including ladies from various congregations. It was a precious time of fellowship, worship and teaching.

It was a time to focus on the One Thing – sitting at Jesus feet.

God was faithful to meet us and His presence was evident as we shared together.

I am so thankful that I was able to be like Mary this weekend  – sitting at Jesus feet.

 

 

Lost

“Adahlyn, pray that Nana will find our way home.”

“Are you lost, Nana?”

“Yes, will you pray with me?”

As I looked in the rear view mirror at the little toddler in her car seat, I realized how having my granddaughter in the car made being lost so much more serious than if it was just me.

I prayed out loud for God to give me direction. After praying I asked Adahlyn if she was afraid.

“No, Nana. You will find the way.”

Thinking about her faith makes me smile. Oh, the bliss of ignorance! If she only knew how terrible my sense of direction is. ( read “No Sense of Direction”) Yet I am thankful she didn’t. I had taken Adahlyn to the store because her parents were in the hospital for the birth of a new little sister. I thought I would pick up a few things at the store and I didn’t want to bother my daughter and son-in-law with asking directions –  they were VERY busy.

I drove a bit further and saw on the horizon the cross on the steeple of the church our younger daughter and her family attend. Adahlyn lives just four blocks away. I could see my way to her home!

“Adahlyn, I see the cross on the steeple – I know which way to go now. God answered our prayer.”

The cross was my marker of the right direction in which to go.

One of our coaches shared with the students at FCA Friday. He talked about what to do when we feel lost. He said we should look for a way to get back on the right path. We often think, ‘Well, I’ll just go a bit further and see where this leads….’

So dangerous!

As soon as we recognize we are lost in life we need to pray and ask for direction. Those feelings of being lost in our lives come from several causes including:

  • we don’t have our destination in sight, our ultimate goal
  • we have lost our direction – gotten confused about which way to go to get to our goal
  • we have gotten on the wrong path leading the wrong way
  • a “shortcut” looks like a good alternative
  • we are distracted by what we see along the way (very scary!)

When I was lost driving my granddaughter, I felt so responsible  – she was lost, too, all because of me!

As a parent and grandparent the path I choose will take others along with me. If I am lost – they will be lost as well.

Psalm 119 says much about staying on the right path. A few of these verses are;

9 How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word.
10 I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
11 I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.

105 Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.
133 Direct my footsteps according to your word;
let no sin rule over me.

Lord, may we recognize when we are lost.

We certainly don’t want those little ones who are following us to be led down the wrong path.

Thank you, Lord, that your cross leads the way.