Blueberry Musings

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
(1 Corinthians 3:6-7)

In the not-quite-cool of a July morning in Tennessee, I picked blueberries as I talked with my Father. One thing at the forefront of my mind was my teenage son’s seeming indifference to all things having to do with God and His church. As I spoke to my Lord about my concerns, the old, familiar mom-guilt rose to the surface

The thing is, I homeschooled my kids for years. My son, the oldest and now a rising senior, was taught at home from Kindergarten through his freshman year of high school. Currently, he attends a private Christian school, but outside of school he does not seem (to me) to have interest in the things of God.

Oh, he aces his Bible class. They grew up in the Word at least. However, this last year or two have made me question how well I modeled a life of faith.

In my fervency to lead my kids to God, did I actually push them away? Was I too stringent? Too critical? Too lenient? Too lax? Did my walk not match my talk? Or was it a walk that my son found uninteresting because I shared too little of my joy or my delight in God? Was I too stern-faced and solemn? Have I given writing too much emphasis? Too little?

The mom-guilt train chugs on and on. Its refrain is unchanging: I have failed. My efforts are not good enough.

And it was into these failures the Spirit of my God spoke in wordless truth. If I could put words to the experience, it would go something like this: Whether you failed or not is irrelevant. How does it change the present? You cannot change the past and bemoaning it is not the same thing as learning from it. However, one thing is true: your efforts aren’t good enough. But I AM. Do you trust Me?

There in the blueberry bushes with one elbow covered in spider webs and a few purple stains on my hand, my King reminded me of something. He alone has the power and ability to draw my son – or anyone else – to Himself.

This doesn’t free me from obedience or due diligence, but it is nonetheless freeing. Even if I were to perform flawlessly, my efforts would be inadequate. I cannot save a single soul.

But my God can.

He is both the Author of faith and its Perfecter. The question is not whether I was successful in leading my kids to Christ. The question is: Am I successful in trusting God to bring His own work to completion. In short, do I trust Him – even if it means one or more of my kids has to walk through the dark valley for a time? Does my love for Him compel me to trust in His love for my children?

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
(Romans 8:28)

On my way back to the house with a container full of blueberries, I repented of my unbelief and chose trust. Specifically, I vocalized my trust to my Lord that His Spirit will work and produce fruit in my son and all my kids.

I may have planted a few seeds of devotion, I may have watered them, but it will be God who makes the fruit of His Spirit grow.  Until then, I will remain faithful in prayer, eagerly anticipating the work God will do in and through my family.  I will trust God to work out even our errors for our eternal good.

Whatever happens in these next weeks, months, years, or even decades, I know my God will bring about His purposes.

And He will do it in His time, not mine.

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
(James 5:7-8)

 

 

Daddy Can

I just got back from an eventful few days in New Orleans, LA working with a mission group on a seminary campus. My church family and I packed in a lot to our little trip and it may take me a day or so to regain my bearings. On the trip, I was able to spend some time with the same little cuties from this post 2 years ago, it felt appropriate to reblog. Some of my questions from 2016 have been answered and others have not. But what I have gained since then is a certainty that God is good no matter what…

Running the Race

Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Matthew 14:31

Yesterday, I had the privilege of spending a few hours with two sweet young ladies, ages one and three. It has been a while since my kids were that age, and I found it delightful to go through the nap time, the fascination with all the big, wide world, and even the inevitable but short-lived teary sessions when big sister got a little too intense for little sister.

During our time together, the oldest one frequently told me such things as, “My daddy can build anything!

When the littlest was carrying around a piece broken off from a yard toy, big sister had no doubts. “My daddy will fix it.”

When we found two sky-blue bird eggs in the grass, she said, “My daddy…

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Baby Steps

I have completed the first draft of my book. Hurrah! Now maybe I can keep up with the blogopshere a little better. Still, some time needs to go to my teens – one of whom may very well leave the nest next year.

And speaking of nests…

I love watching birds at the feeders. I’ve seen quite a few species visit over the years and caught some of the “regulars” with my camera. Often, I’ve seen  a pair of birds flying to and fro from feeder to bush or tree as they work tirelessly to keep up with the demands of their now-hatched young.

I am always entertained when the fledglings begin to visit the feeders themselves, mainly because it actually takes some time for the parents to convince the young that they can get food on their own.

I’ve watched both a male house finch and a male cardinal go through this with their fledgling. The young bird, usually drab, will stand on the rail of my porch and flutter his wings while Dad hops back and forth between railing and feeder. Occasionally, Dad will succumb to the youngster’s begging and feed him a morsel before beginning the whole routine again.

When I read Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church a few days ago, one of the grey cardinal juveniles was eating – all by himself – from the feeder just as I happened upon 1 Corinthians 3.

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 

1 Corinthians 3:1-3

I have to wonder if Paul was as exasperated and worn out with his spiritual children as these birds surely are with their needy, adult-sized young. And if the apostle was weary of the Corinthians’ worldliness, how much more so must our longsuffering Father be? It’s a good thing He is longsuffering!

Take my country. We live in an age where we who call ourselves Christians still have freedom to worship without fear of arrest, beatings, or death. We have a plethora of Bible translations available to us in print or digitally. We even have the resources available to learn the original languages the texts were written in, and yet so much more of our time is squandered on things which will not last.

In many ways, we are like those birds. We are sized like an adult, we can fly like an adult, but we are still dressed in the drab plumage of our flesh instead of the vibrant white of our Lord’s righteousness. We still want to be spoon-fed a nutritionally weak, fast-food devotional snipped rather than feasting on the rich and lasting fare provided by the Bread of Life.

Let’s take to our wings, brothers and sisters, and see how much stronger our spiritual  stamina will be when we make use of the solid food our Provider has given us! Many of us have a long race yet to run, and endurance is required if we are to finish the race.

Especially if we are to finish well.

Oh Lord forgive us. Let us grow up into Christ and move forward without fear in obedience to what You call us to do. Teach us to learn from You and to let our knowledge be reflected in all our actions and choices, amen. 

 

Legacy

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
(1 Thessalonians 4:13)

Just over a week ago, a lady I have immense admiration for passed from this world. She was an absolute beauty and the wealth she left behind is a fortune of dizzying proportions.

But neither her wealth nor her beauty were notable by the standards of this age and culture.

In fact, her body showed the wear and tear of her 96 years. Small of stature, I doubt she weighed 90 pounds fully dressed and soaking wet. The last few months saw her in much pain and often in a wheelchair, yet she was cheerful and had a smile and kind words for everyone.

Nonetheless, she was truly lovely. Hers was the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit – a beauty which has followed her and found its fulfillment in her permanent home with the Eternal God.

And her fortune… How can I describe it? It is one of the largest I have ever seen. A spiritual legacy spanning four generations. A wealth of faithful obedience to God and of love and compassion which staggers the mind. It is a fortune of far greater value and permanence than any dollar amount.

Her son and daughter-in-law, their children, and their grandchildren have all been heirs of this vast treasure. I see the same gentle and quiet spirit in them. There is joy and laughter and love all around.

Of course, there is pain and strife, too. But when error or rebellion rise up here or there in the family, mercy and grace abound. Within the family and for those who know them, there is not a soul who has reason to doubt that they are loved and important, not only by the family but also by the Lord.

But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.
Psalms 103:17-18

One of my close friends, a prayer and accountability partner, comes from this spiritual inheritance and so I, too, benefit from it. So do our daughters who are also close.

Of course there is mourning for the temporary loss of this precious woman of God. Yet I must say they grieve splendidly, for in the family’s grief, there is also a streak of joy – the joy of knowing she has arrived safely Home.

All of us, myself included, look forward to our own Homecoming. Some future day, we will see her again and once more worship the King of Glory together, but better than before. Then, we will no longer encumbered by sin, weariness, or pain.

And in the meantime, all of us have seen in her an example of eager expectation of the day the Lord calls us home and faithful, uncomplaining endurance if He leaves us here – even if leaving us here is the most difficult part.

So today, my prayers go out for these, my friends. But even more so, my prayers reach out for those friends and loved ones who do not have this hope. My prayer is for my Lord to draw all who are consumed by sorrow and despair to Himself that they may share in an inheritance beyond all imagining.

I was once one of these – hurting and hopeless – and I well know the futility of denying God and living for myself. But He called me out from this pit; called me to die to myself and live for Him.

For my recently departed friend,  for her loved ones, and for all of us who are in Christ, physical death is no longer the enemy to be avoided but the friend to be embraced. It will be the final conquering act over our flesh before our true lives begin.

My friends, my dears, if you have not found love in this dark world, know that it is there. He is there – the One who is Love. The Way, the Truth, the Life.

Find Him. Find hope.

And someday, I pray I can introduce you to Nan – one of my personal heroes.

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
1 Corinthians 15:55

A Prayer of Surrender

Our Lord, I look to You not only as my King but as the Provider for my family. I live in a nation of wealth and plenty, and often it is too easy to forget that it was You who brought me to this place and this moment in history. It is also within Your power to remove it all.

Either way, whether enjoying plenty or little, I choose to recognize that all abundance comes from Your hand. Let my family and I never forget it, Lord, nor take for granted Your gracious provision. Thank You for all we have; not only abundant food, shelter, and clothing, but the ability to meet together with other believers, to study Your word, and to worship You free from fear.

As I recognize Your provision in my life, please open my eyes to those things which You have provided but are less easily recognized as blessings. Pain, suffering, trials, hardship, loss – all of these, too, can be blessings when surrendered to You or when used to bring us closer to You. Nothing is wasted in Your plan, Lord, and I am deeply grateful for that. Thank You that even the unpleasant moments in our lives are both useful and usable in Your Kingdom purpose.

Today – each day – I surrender all to You. I choose to thank You not only for what is commonly viewed as “good” but also for those things commonly thought of as “bad.” As Paul wrote, I rejoice in my suffering because I know it will produce endurance, and endurance will produce character, and character will produce a hope which will never put me to shame.

Each new day, I choose to put my hope in You no matter what my earthly circumstances may be. Even if my whole life is marked by pain, even if you should remove prosperity and I should fall again into financial poverty, I rejoice because my ultimate hope is not in this life but in Christ and His Kingdom, amen.

Preach It, Brother!

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
(Romans 1:16-18)

There’s a concept bouncing around here and there in my nation’s church culture, and it’s one I have always found rather odd. It’s the idea of a letter, article, devotional, or what-have-you being too “preachy.”

As a semi-aspiring author I’ve also found numerous submission guidelines cautioning against preachiness. And if I may be frank, I don’t get it.

For one, “preachiness” is subjective. I wonder sometimes if we get preachiness confused with conviction? What one man finds preachy, another may find wakes him up to some truth he’d previously been deceived about. Still another may pass it over without a second thought either way.

But for the most part (and pardon me if I slip into my native East Tennessean here):

Y’all! Since when are we afraid of a little good, old-fashioned preachin’?

Now when I write of preaching, I do not mean hatefulness. There’s a vast gulf between preaching truth and spewing spite and venom.

Real preachiness is twofold, stemming first from God’s Word and secondly from a sincere desire to see other people saved from what the Lord calls “the outer darkness” (or sometimes the fiery furnace) where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (see Matthew 8:12, 13:42, 50, Luke 13:28, et al).

Or as Paul puts it:

…I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
(Romans 9:2-3)

As I’ve been reading and studying through Romans for several weeks now, it amuses me to imagine Paul, Peter, James, and some of the others looking for a market for their letters in today’s social climate. Goodness, a good percentage of the Word of God is preachy, even in-you-face confrontational.

In my own experience with the Lord, it was not positive and upbeat snippets of devotional thought which brought me to bow the knee before the King of kings. It was through the preachiness of good expository speaking and writing, verified by the words of Scripture itself, and stirred up to Godly grief which lead to repentance by the Holy Spirit.

Church, if someone’s called to preach it, let him preach it! We each have a job to do for the Kingdom, and part of that job is holding one another accountable to the Word of Truth.

So unless someone preaches a different gospel, let ’em preach on, whether you like the tone or not. Perhaps you are not the divinely intended target.

But what if you are? I’ve only walked with the Lord for around 2 decades, but in that time, He has kept me diligent in my reading and study of His Word. One thing I’ve learned when I find my feathers ruffled by a writing or teaching is to take it before Him in prayer and with my Bible open before me.

Sometimes the teaching is erroneous, and I sigh in relief since I’m not the one in need of chastisement.

But other times… Well.

My first question when I take these matters to the Lord is whether or not my reaction to preachiness is actually conviction. It is all too easy to confuse the two.

So maybe when we find ourselves chaffed by some preachy article, it’s time to do a prayerful heart check. It could be a message we need to hear, exposing something God wants us to address. Or it could be a message for someone else.

And yes, it could be a flaw in the writer. But as Romans 8 says, God really does work all things for the good of those who love Him – which includes learning from our mistakes.

After all, each of us is ultimately accountable to God. And He does discipline His children when we step out of line. Trust me on that one.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
(2 Timothy 4:1-2)

 

On Bridles and Leashes

Some old thoughts while I’m out of the “office…”

Running the Race

Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.
Psalms 32:9

I have very little experience with horses, but this verse rings true to me nonetheless. What I do have is a dog that I absolutely adore. Actually, I have two dogs but one if them is squarely my dog.

When she was a puppy,  she would only sleep in the crate if it was positioned where she could see me in the bed. If I leave through the downstairs door, she is often found waiting for me on the top stair when I return.

YumiWaiting004

Her crate days are long over, and while she has branched out a little and often ventures into rooms I am not present in, she does still, for the most part, follow me like… well, like a puppy dog.  She…

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