In the Weeds

Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud; 
be gracious to me and answer me! 
You have said, “Seek my face.” 
My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.”
(Psalm 27:7-8)

I’ve become obsessed with weeds.

Well, technically, it’s the flowers I’m obsessed with, not the weeds themselves. I’m very blessed to live in an area where social distancing and shelter in place orders are balanced by large yards and plenty of growing things.

Not all of my pals in the blogosphere are so fortunate.

So I thought I’d take a break from my typical Scripture meditations and share some of my favorite bits of Psalms and photos of my recent neighborhood wanderings to brighten things up.

I know a lot of us could use some color in our days. My God must be a fan of color, too. He’s decorated the entire natural world with it. And if He lavishes such detail on the weeds of the field, He will certainly have attention for you.

Seek His face; it is more beautiful even than these…

Closeup of purple dead nettle in flower

Purple Deadnettle is a common front yard weed in my region. It typically blooms in late winter or early spring, often gracing our Middle Tennessee yards in March.

My front yard in mid-March
Field of purple dead nettle near the pond

I’ve seen this weed bloom every spring for the last four decades, but this year I decided to find out more. Besides learning the name, I also learned it is edible! Do a Google search and you’ll find tons of recipes with purple dead nettle as an ingredient.

Apparently it even has nutritional and medicinal properties. I failed to try it out this year, but you can bet I’ll be tossing some in a smoothie or salad next spring. I’m curious about the taste, but alas, my husband mowed before I’d done my research.

The bees seemed to enjoy it, though.

I’ll feature just one more, very similar, early spring weed today. To be honest, before this year, I never noticed there were two lookalikes vying for space. The flowers of henbit are remarkably similar to the dead nettle, but the shape of the plant is very different.

You can see the difference in the leaf structure, though the flowers are remarkably similar. But never fear! Both henbit and dead nettle are edible plants, so just be careful they haven’t been sprayed with herbicide.

I’ll be back soon with another favorite Scripture nugget and some more photos from my suburban adventures. Until then, stay safe and stay sane in the middle of COVID madness!

Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. 
Give me not up to the will of my adversaries; 
for false witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out violence.
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! 
Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!
(Psaalm 27:11-14)

Rest

And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:27-28

Did you know the Sabbath is mentioned in 36 different verses in the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch) alone?

Besides those, 20 additional verses do not expressly use the term Sabbath but speak of a seventh day of rest, making an average of 11 mentions per book. In a written tradition using repetition for emphasis, this commandment is underscored with greater intensity than the one prohibiting murder.

Let that sink in a moment.

On this year’s trip through the Bible, I’ve been drawn to the numerable mentions of Sabbath and have been prayerfully meditating on why. By God’s grace, I think I’m beginning to see glimpses of a few reasons.

There’s too much for a blog post, really, but I wanted to look at one facet: Have you ever wondered why God would command us to rest when rest is not only something we all need, but also a wonderful gift?

I think in part, this is so we would see the rebelliousness of our own stubborn hearts.

Sabbath – one day in every 7 to rest – is really an enormous benefit to our mental, physical, and spiritual health. But of course, we humans have an incorrigible contrariness about us when it comes to God and His commands. We tend to want to do things our way, decide we know what’s best – even decide for ourselves what is right and wrong.

And we’ve decided Sabbath isn’t all that important. Especially today in our 24/7, fast-paced world, rest is something we would much rather complain we can’t find. A glance at the mental health statistics in my country suggests how well this is working for us.

Maybe that’s what is going on now with COVID-19. Maybe, just maybe, this is a kind of Sabbath thrust upon a people who refused it otherwise.

In America, we often talk about how busy we are, how we never have time to stop. Some of us even claim we find it a struggle to read our Bibles every day.

Well now we have time. What are we going to do with it?

Isaiah advises:

“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Isaiah 58:13-14

What if we rested? Physically, yes, but also embracing the full idea of Sabbath as God meant it to be. Keeping it holy. Dedicating it to Him. Taking delight in Him, in His Word, in worship of Him.

What if we took this time – these next few days or weeks or whatever it turns out to be – and really dove in deep to Bible study, to prayer, to searching our hearts, and repenting of sin?

What if we really pondered the Word of God and spent time talking through it with its Author?

What if we pressed into obedience and taking every thought captive to obey Christ and honestly loving God with all our hearts and souls and minds?

What if we did this openly with our families, praying together, reading together, talking about the greatness of God together?

What kind of peace and joy might that bring?

This time of quarantine and social distancing could be lonely, frightening, and difficult. Or it could be the greatest blessing we’ve ever received.

So? What are you going to do with it?

Secretarial Duties, Leviticus, NYC, and Sabbath

You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD… Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you.
(Leviticus 19:30, 20:7-8)

Hi. It’s been a bit since I’ve written, I know. My plan was to pour all my writing effort into a book I need to finish, and so I signed off around the middle of January while in the middle of a blog writing respite.

But of course, my plans and God’s plans differ from time to time. When they do, experience has taught me it’s wiser, safer, and saner to leave my plans where they fall and follow His way.

So the last few weeks, I’ve been filling in for the lady who works the front desk at my girls’ school while she recovered from surgery. This made the first full-time job (outside the home, anyway) since the birth of our now-19-year-old son.

It was terrific fun. I love the kids at the school; loved getting to know them better, loved working with the staff, loved being there.

Still, I’ll be glad to get down to business in March and finish the book. I hope to write some short posts here, too – one a week or so. But today is just a quick check-in; a hello, still alive, before I head up to NYC with the 10th grade class.

I’d like to take this little check-in moment to fill you in on my year so far. Our church is reading through the Bible chronologically this year, and I am loving it. Many days, I’ve both read and listened to the day’s selections – an exercise which seems to press the Word into my conciousness a little more deeply.

While this is not my first time through the Word chronologically, it may as well be. That’s what I love about the Bible. I can read it over and over and over again, and there’s always some new nuance or some truth I’d previously overlooked before to greet me. It has a quality of being at once both comfortably familiar and startlingly novel that I adore.

In the last week or so, two things have been impressed on my mind.

Well, let’s be honest. There have been so many more, but to keep this brief-ish, I’m choosing to focus on two…

Foremost is Sabbath. I hope to write more about this soon, but for now let’s just say I have been astonished at how much coverage Sabbath gets in the first 3 books of the Bible.

By the time you reach the point I’m at now – Numbers 6 – you’ll have read a reference to the Sabbath or the seventh day 79 times. Sabbath is also the only one of the Ten Commandments predating the Mosaic covenant.

Hmm. Maybe it’s important.

The other is a fun fact I learned just this morning. Out of curiosity, I counted and discovered the phrase, “I am the Lord,” is repeated in Leviticus 52 times.

I firmly believe the refrain exists because we need a continual reminder that GOD is God and we are not.

What are the implications of these two small truths? Profound. Enough to prayerfully consider for the next few days.

Lord, change us and teach us that You alone are God. Show us how to live like it each and every day, amen.

Tuesday Prayer: Wisdom

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Ephesians 5:15-17

All-knowing God, You are the Source of true wisdom, for it is by Your knowledge and power that all things were created. As the Beginning and the End, You encompass the fullness of reality – in fact, reality is Yours to define.

When we begin to think of You in this way – Your eternal magnificence, Your unfathomable power, and Your absolute sovereignty – we are overcome by worship. You truly are the great and mighty God who knows all and who works all things according to Your perfect plan. May Your name be forever praised!

Teach us to look to You and You alone for the wisdom we need to navigate this world and make the best use of our time. We confess our weakness before You; our tendency to get caught up in the “wisdom” of this world which is foolishness compared to Your eternal perspective. We take our eyes off of Jesus and we forget to keep our minds fixed on the things above rather than the things on earth.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

Colossians 3:1-2

But Lord, remember that we are dust and that the events of this world seem so long and so very real to us as they happen. Have mercy and strengthen Your servants. Teach our hearts to see all of life through the lens of eternity and to redeem the time we are allotted, not using the minutes and hours for self-gratification but to bring honor and glory to You. 

You have given us the Living Word to keep our hearts in check, but again we must confess: Too often we neglect it, or we rush through it as a check-list item on our agendas rather than savoring the Word and ruminating on it throughout the day.

Lord, today we humbly ask that You will firmly plant in us a strong and growing desire for Your Word. Teach us to long for it, to meditate on it, and to cherish it. May it be that our first response to crisis or a need for guidance is to open the Book and search its pages for wisdom from You. May our hearts surrender to the truth we read there, holding nothing back.

Our God, make us a people of the Word, holy and pure before You and useful to You in this world. From this day forward, may it be that never a day passes but that we seek Your face in the pages of Your Word and in prayer, humbly bowing ourselves before the Throne of Grace.

And when we receive our marching orders, make us to set out with confidence, knowing that whatever may happen to our bodies in this world, we share in the victory already won by Jesus Christ our Lord. To Him be the praise and the glory in all things, amen. 

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:56-58

No Pain, No Gain

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

(Proverbs 27:6)

As many of you know, I’m in the editing phase of a novel I hope to have published. The setting is dystopian – either our own world in the future or one enough like it to be almost familiar. It’s meant as an extended parable for sacrificial living and the potential to use or abuse our God-given gifts.

I belong to a critique group, which was a pretty brave act for me. Through them, I’ve received a lot of great feedback. But there’s this one guy…

He never hesitates to ask questions about what is confusing, to point out continuity issues or passive voice or a myriad of other mistakes. In fact, my submissions often come back from their time under his scrutiny riddled with comments and dissected sentences.

I could ignore his emails. I could collect a handful of people who love my writing as is and say very little. But in the long run, I would be the worse for my refusal to hear difficult truths.

As it is, I love the criticism. Not because it feels good to have your rough draft sliced and diced. It doesn’t. I love it because he pushes me to work harder, to tighten and refine and grow as an author.

Naturally, a part of me adores glowing feedback, but the reasonable part of me knows it’s the criticism which drives me to exert my mental abilities and strive toward a better product.

Similarly several years ago, my family took judo under the instruction of a dear friend (whom I often still refer to as Sensei though it’s been ages since I stepped foot on a mat or took a fall). Every time he would praise a technique I’d done correctly, I would blow it for the next 15 minutes. I finally told him, “I think I just work better with criticism.”

He believed me, and lo and behold, I did improve.

My point?

I have been reading the Word of the Lord daily for many years. Studying, memorizing, and reflecting on it are all parts of my average day. I also spend no small amount of time reading works by other Christians.

None of this is to my own credit, mind you. This desire for the Word is a gift from God; one I requested early in my walk with Him and one He happily granted.

Anyway, the more I become saturated with the Word, the more I realize that often it’s the things I want least to hear that I need to hear most.

In today’s American Christianity, there is an abundance of shelf space advertised as “Christian.” But mark my words: Just because a thing speaks of the Lord or quotes Scripture does not mean the teaching is based on sound doctrine.

In an act of audacious irony, our ancient enemy quoted Scripture to the Word made flesh (see Mark 4:6). And believe me, his kisses are profuse. He loves to keep us snuggled in such comfort we overlook the bars of our cozy cage. If I wanted, I could easily surround myself with nothing but heartwarming sentiment.

But then I wouldn’t grow.

I’m certainly not knocking encouragement – God knows every one of us needs it, and He offers it in due time. But we need an equal balance of rebuke and reproof. We need the sharp prick of a goad now and then to remind us to stay on the narrow path that leads to life just as we sometimes need a word to lift us out of the pit to soar on wings like eagles’.

Friends, the Christian walk is not one of self-indulgence and earthly pleasure. We are promised joy, but it is joy in the presence of the Lord. Pleasure at His right hand. This means that our joy will often come not in lieu of suffering but in spite of it.

And to achieve this state of “joy anyway,” we need a full complement of both correction and encouragement. Of discipline and strengthening. We need the wounds of a friend who has the long term as a goal. If we are to become more Christlike, we must also be willing to endure Christlike suffering.

To compete so as to win the prize, we have to put in the hard work of training if we are to run our race well. But the Prize will be well worth our effort!

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

(Philippians 3:13-14)

How about you? Do you tend to gravitate towards what I would call “easy button Christianity?” Or are you equally open to hearing hard truths which require some sacrifice or painful confession in order to grow in Christ-likeness?