Oct 1, 2013

The Other Brother

I am not sure that I have ever written about the story Jesus tells in Luke chapter 15. I know that I have thought about it often, and probably journaled about it. We were at a mountain wide missionary prayer gathering yesterday (I know that sounds uber spiritual, but it's really not), and friend of mine mentioned that she had been reading the story of the lost son, and that it seemed every where she turned she was being reminded of it, and more of its meaning was being revealed to her. You know when God is really trying to get his message across it seems like there are big red arrows and flashing neon signs everywhere you turn. Well, the fact that she even mentioned that story was one of those signs for me.

I really love the parables...they are like story time with Jesus. I always loved story time as a child, we would all gather around whichever adult was willing to read to us...the older ones eager to get it over with (too cool for school), the younger ones asleep before the end (who can blame them), but I was somewhere in the middle - enthralled, captured, living the moment in my mind...maybe even in my dreams.

The parables are like the perfect cartoon movie experience. They are so simple to understand that a child can grasp the message...but they are layered with a rich literary goodness to keep the older audience engaged. Everyone leaves with something, everyone gets fed, and if you choose to look deeper you won't be disappointed. The story of the lost son, is no exception.

There are there main characters in the story: The Father, the brother that leaves, and the brother that stays. Now the usual re-telling of the story focuses on the son that basically tells his dad that he wishes he was dead (sounds like a teenager to me) and takes his inheritance and hits the road. He goes out into the world and does anything he wants to...mostly things he knows he shouldn't. He runs out of cash, ends up in the worst spot imaginable. Then he remembers what a good guy his dad is, and returns home hoping beyond all hope that his father will have mercy on him and let him be a servant in his house. As he gets closer to home, the bible even says that he was still a long way off, his father sees him in the distance and runs to meet him. He is gracious and throws his arms around the lost son, gives him some new clothes, a ring and then throws him a big party.

Enter the other brother...the one who stayed behind. He comes back from a long day in the fields caring for his father's flock...no doubt sweaty, dirty, smelly, and exhausted...and walks right into a celebration for his lost brother. But there is no happiness in his heart, no excitement...only resentment, contempt and judgment for this man who disgraced his father, ran off and left him to bear the burden and responsibility of the household that should have been shared by them both.

Pause for the music that conveys the tension between these brothers, and cut to the brokenhearted father in the corner wondering where he went wrong in raising sons that can't get along.

Drama in it's finest folks. Just add in a woman and you have an episode of Jerry Springer.

So the surface message here is that The Father has grace for his sons, and forgives them each in the way they needed it most. The lost son needed redemption...he was already convicted to come home and confess to his father. The other brother needed correction...he was doing all the "right things" with the wrong heart.

The deeper message here, I believe, is that we are both brothers rolled up into one exceedingly complex mess of sin, regret, denial, self-righteous judgement of others, rebellion, resentment, unforgiveness, disrespect, poor stewardship, contempt, and fear. We have let the world use and destroy the inheritance of skills, talents, fortune, and gifts that God has given us...then we turn right around and blame others for our condition. We shower others with judgment when they need the very same grace that we so desperately long for. We resent the work we have been given to do because of something someone else did to us, that they are probably not even aware hurt us like it did. And all of this blinds us to the fact that we already had full access to the Father...Luke 15:31, "Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours."

We have access. The door is open. His grace is sufficient. His love is bigger. There is nothing to fear.
Yesterday my friend said, our goal should be to look to the Father, to be more like Him, and she is right. Thank God that he sees what a mess we are, but extends grace to us anyway - that he sees our need for grace and conviction, for forgiveness and correction. He loves us so much that he will accept us no matter what dumpster we have been diving in AND so much that he will show us the areas that we need to clean up - for our sakes!

I could keep going with this, but this blog is already like a million words long and I have a lot of work to do today. But, I couldn't do anything else until I got this out. Thanks for listening to my ramblings, my thoughts and my confessions...and as always I would love to hear yours.

Jun 29, 2013

The Parable of the Sower

I have always loved the Parable of the Sower (click on the link if you haven't ready the parable in a while). I'm not exactly sure why I like it so much, maybe it's all of the analogies or maybe it's because Jesus says so much in such a few words.  Since I have had such a hard time getting my seeds to sprout and keeping the plants alive in the drought, my mind continually wanders back to this passage. 
 This is my thought pattern while tending my own garden:

"What an irresponsible farmer, just throwing seed around like that! Doesn't he know what a precious thing he has?!?" Then I hear Him say...he is scattering it because it is precious. BURN! The farmer wants everyone he comes in contact with to hear of God's great love, so he scatters it everywhere he goes. Then I have to ask myself, am I keeping my seed under lock and key? Or am I sharing it with all who will listen - "Who ever has ears to hear, let them hear."

Then I think about the seeds that fall on the rocky soil and into the weeds - both of which are problems in my gardening world. I think, "Man, that farmer has some good seed if it is going to sprout up everywhere it falls!" (we all know the problems I have had with seeds!) and then, "What kind of gardener would just let those seedlings die?" Since I had to coax my little seeds into life, those little plants are precious to me - they represent lots of invested time and work, so I am not about to let them die just because they are planted in the wrong place!

I had this tiny cayenne pepper plant that was the only survivor out of his batch. I planted him in a shady spot in the garden to protect him from the harsh tropical sun. As he started to grow, I realized that there were only leaves on the sunny side of the plant - his backside, if you will, was completely bare! I was afraid that the peppers would start growing on one side and the plant would break because of the one sided weight. What to do? Transplant! I moved the little guy to a sunny spot and now he has leaves all around and is blooming like there's no tomorrow. That has been a theme with a few of my struggling plants, I have had to transplant a few times to find the best spot for them.

This thought brought me to the passage in 1st Corinthians, where Paul is addressing the church and says that (paraphrasing) some people get to plant the seed, and some get to water it, but only God makes it grow - and that each person plays their part in the process, each person has their own purpose.

You see we all have jobs in this garden of a world, and it is very important that we find out what those jobs are - what our purpose is in the Kingdom. I personally think that there are many more jobs in the garden other than planting and watering - you have to pull the weeds, and treat the soil, you have to pick off the bugs, and make sure the plants are growing well. I guess the important part is finding out what your purpose in the garden happens to be - and maybe the more challenging aspect is that you could have different roles in different people's lives at different times in their life.

Sometimes, people need help being transplanted from their old life of sin into a healthy christian environment. That job has to be done at the perfect time, and with gentle loving-kindness not to damage their growing leaves and roots. They have to be watered immediately and tended closely so that they can survive the move. But once they set in, they will have what they need to grow deep roots and produce fruit of their own.

I think all too many times the seed sprouts and there is no one around to care for the tender little plant. It may start to grow up in the rocky soil or get choked out by the weeds of life, but it doesn't mean that the plant is any less precious to the Gardener!

I, for one, will start paying more attention to the which role I have in the lives of the people God has put in my garden. Should I water them? Should I feed them? Should I pull weeds (ouch!)? Should I transplant them? Always remembering that it is God that makes them grow, and that the actions I take should be guided by the Holy Spirit - not my own desire to rush their growth. It seems like such a difficult task, but so was starting a garden in my grass covered, rocky soiled, ant infested backyard! I am so glad we have the Holy Spirit to guide us through all of the challenges we face in life, let's just take them one day at a time! 

Jun 15, 2013

Prepare for the Rain

It has been very dry here lately. So dry, in fact, that any rain we do get is sucked up by the ground in a matter of minutes, and gives us no relief from the billowing dust clouds produced by the traffic on our dirt road. On a side note, we don't just have dirt on our dirt road - much of the traffic is actually cattle, horses, pigs, dogs and chickens - so when it's dusty, it's also a little more than dusty, if you get my drift.

Dry. Hot. Dusty.
Hot. Dusty. Dry.
Dusty. Dry. Hot.

Any way you slice it, we need some rain! Not only to keep the, ahem, dust down, but also to water my shriveling little garden. I have a feeling that when the seed packet said to plant my vegetables in full sun, they weren't talking about 12 degrees from the equator full sun.

You say..."Heather, just water them yourself, silly girl." And to that I say, "This month alone the water has been out of service for at least 10 days." I have resorted to using old rain water we caught in a bucket to keep things alive, but it's just not the same as fresh water; I think the plants can tell the difference.

I was outside trying to water everything with a bucket and a repurposed yogurt container, and I thought, "I should prepare for rain," Then somewhere deep in the cobwebs of my mind I remembered a story in the Old Testament about a drought, 2 Kings chapter 3. The prophet Elisha was told to go out and dig ditches, and that they would be filled with water. So in the blazing hot sun, covered in dust from the road, I dug some ditches. I carved out little channels for the water to flow throughout my garden, taking care not to disturb the shriveling plants. They needed water, but too much and they could drown or get washed away.

Now in the 2 Kings, there was no rain. God filled the ditches without using natural means. Everyone woke up the next day and the ditches were filled with water. That's not exactly how it went for me. About 2am we woke up to thunder and lightening and ... RAIN! Lots and lots of rain...the thunder was so loud and the lightening was so bright that it scared me at times. The rain was so heavy that I had to go check on the baby because I wouldn't have been able to hear him crying over the deluge.

Then I heard Mark say, "Why did you have to dig those ditches?!" And my reply was, "He told me to."

I am not exactly sure how to process all of that. I know that God is faithful to his word. I know that we should be obedient to him even when he asks us to do something that takes a lot of work and may seem a little silly at the time. I know that although his presence is refreshing it can be a little scary too - He is the Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth, and deserves the reverence that comes with that.

Are there areas in your life where you need to dig some ditches? Do you need to be obedient even though what he asks of you requires you to get personally invested? Are you too worried about what other people will think of you? We should be challenged by Elisha's story, but also encouraged by God's faithfulness.

May 20, 2013

Boundaries Abounding

I have been trying to spend an hour in the garden on most days; with a 6 month old and a job, this may or may not happen as planned. But I look forward to putting Will down for his first nap of the day and heading out to the garden while it is still "cool" outside.

I have been trying to turn the patch of grass behind the house into dirt where I can plant my little seedlings. And let me just tell you how hard that is! I can see why we use grass as a ground cover - it's roots are thick and it will grow and grow and grow...and, well, grow!

At the rate I am moving I will have the plot ready to plant in November, but I will have some great looking biceps! Fighting the grass has turned me onto a little something important for all of our lives...boundaries.

3 Reasons I need boundaries in my garden:

1: If the grass is too close to where I am going to plant, I won't be able to rip it out without hurting the tender little roots of my seedlings.
2: Because grass is so good at covering ground, it won't be long before it creeps back into the areas from which I have already removed it.
3: The grass could suck all the nutrients out of the ground and keep my veggies from ever producing.

Without clearly defined boundaries in the garden, I can't see when the grass is coming back into areas I have already worked into dirt. I need a buffer zone of dirt between the grass and my plants, so I can see the grass in time to cut it back.

It is the same with sin in our lives. Say for example we are not committing a particular sin anymore, but we are still wound up in the lifestyle that promotes its growth, we will never be able to grow into the new things God has for us. Without clear boundaries we won't be able to see when that sin starts creeping back into our lives.

Separating ourselves from sin is a very important part of our Christian walk...and honestly this can be the most difficult part because it requires us to make sacrifices. We will have to stop hanging out with certain people that continue to practice the sin we are trying to be free from, stop eating at certain restaurants that tempt us to overindulge, maybe even stop watching a particular type of movie that has bad language or is full of violence, this principle applies to so many things.

But what are those sacrifices when compared to the fact that Jesus gave his life for us? He already paid the price of death for those sins, even the ones we still commit, and the only thing he is asking us to do is clean house. We need to create a set of boundaries so that we can identify sin as it starts to slither back into our lives. Without boundaries it is hard to see right from wrong, and it is hard not to hurt the good things when you have to rip out the bad.

Another difficult thing is that grass isn't always bad. I like it in the yard. It keeps the yard from getting muddy when it rains, it hides all the rocks, and is pretty when it is trimmed up. But, I can't have it in my garden because it will kill the plants. So some things fall into a gray area, they aren't inherently bad when they are in the right place, but if they start creeping into every area of our lives they can choke the life out of the good things.

Let's take a look at our lives this week and see if we need to establish a set of boundaries, or if we need to do some weeding in areas we have stopped tending. God will show us what we need to do.He is faithful and true. I love you guys!

May 6, 2013

When the Garden Attacks

Last time we were together I mentioned the word ants and the fact that I was wearing gloves to protect me from their fiery stings. Apparently I have been trying to make a garden in the world's largest ant-bed. These little critters are EVERYWHERE! I can't work in the same patch of grass for more than a few minutes at a time because they invade my shoes and sting my toes.

Did I mention that these were FIRE ants? Take the good ole Louisiana fire ant bite and then rub some Tabasco sauce in it and you will get close to what these feel like when they strike. If I showed you a picture of my legs right now you would see that they are peppered with red bite marks from these evil critters.

I tried poison.

I tried digging into the ant pile to kill the queen ant.

I tried different poison.

I almost tried diesel...I am a desperate woman.

Finally I have decided that I will have to share the ground with them....for now. I will keep killing them, one by one, if I have to, but for now the only thing I can do is protect myself. My armor: gloves, socks, pants, shoes, and long sleeves. I'll never get a tan at this rate, but at least I won't become one big, red, itchy bug bite.

Now, I know the ants are out there. I know what I have to do to protect myself. And yet, I still get the occasional sting...here's why:

  1. I am too prideful. Yep, prideful...I know they are there so I will just watch for them and kill them before they sting me. HA, that never works.
  2. I say, "I'll just be out there a minute, they won't have time to sting me." You know how long it takes for an ant to sting you? Me neither, but it is quick, like lightening. You can't out run them.
  3. I am too lazy to put on all of the armor. I'll just wear my gloves, and then I get stung on the toe.
  4. I stay in one spot too long. If I am there long enough, that one rogue ant will pick its way through all of my defenses and strikes. 
It is so interesting that these are the most common causes, in my life, for sin. I am being prideful, lazy, or I am around sin too long and then it just becomes natural again. But God gives me grace, and strength, and energy when I ask for it to overcome these things. His mercies are new every morning!

Apr 24, 2013

The Seed Saga

Apparently, the garden of Eden was not located on the equator, because there is a total of 27 minutes that fall into the "cool of the day" category. This morning working a section of dirt (with gloves on to shield me from ant attacks).

I wish I had taken a before picture of the garden for you, but it won't be hard to imagine. I'll describe it for you: grass. Yep, and lots of it. See, that was easy. This whole garden idea started about a year ago when I started buying vegetable seeds that I came across in the hardware store. I was like, hey, one day I should plant a garden. Little did I know that seeds have an expiration date, so when I planted them all a year later they didn't do what seeds are supposed to do...grow.

I had my little seed pods, and even special seed dirt (yep, there is such a thing) and I still got nothin'. Nada. Oh wait!!!! Three weeks after the seeds were supposed to germinate something started happening!!!! Little green things started sprouting all over the seed cups! Success!

Wait a minute...all these little green things look the same. Let them grow a little longer, and see what happens. Maybe plants look the same when they start sprouting. Fast forward a week, and they still look the same. Apparently, I was successful at growing grass. Great.

And the Lord saith to me, you can have bad seed. Really? I thought seeds were like super freeze-dried protected plants. That even after millions of years they can sprout again and make a little replica of mommy and daddy. Nope. I was wrong. You can have bad seed that makes bad fruit, or you can have just plain ole bad seed. The no grow kind, the stagnant christian life kind, the make you wait a month before you find out you have wasted your time and energy because nothing is ever going to grow kind!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

OK, venting complete.

So really folks, take a look at the seed you are planing. Are you sowing old seed and expecting it to produce?

But, great news, Mark's mom brought me a bunch of seeds from the great US of A, so I should be up and running again soon. =D

Apr 12, 2013

In the Garden

There is an old hymn that bears the name of this post, and its gentle refrain sings the words
...And He walks with me and he talks with me, And He tells me I am His own, And the joy we share as we tarry there, None other has ever known...
 I don't think it was an accident that the place God chose to put Adam and Eve was a garden. In fact, He didn't just plunk them down in the middle of some pretty flowers and call it good, nope, Genesis tells us that He prepared a place for them. He separated the water from the land, separated the day from the night, added animals and plants, and then He created man and woman and placed them into what we know as Eden. Eden...the closest place to Utopia we could ever hope to find. 

God was first. He was there before anything was, so He gets to be first at everything. Therefore, He was the first gardener. And since that is the first thing recorded in the Bible, His written communication to us, I think gardening is special to Him. Even Jesus used a lot of agricultural references in His parables and teachings.

I have started a garden. There are a lot of benefits to having a garden, but the one I hope to get is knowing God's mind a little better. So I am out there in the yard with my hands in the dirt realizing what God meant when He told Adam that, "...by the sweat of your brow you will have food to eat..." (Genesis 3).

I think to myself, He should have added, "and by the stinging of ants."

So, maybe there will be some more posts in the future about my gardening adventures and how God speaks to me there. Would y'all like that?

Feb 8, 2013

Living for Today

I would say one of the challenges a big picture/forward thinker has in daily life is seeing what IS happening versus seeing what WILL happen. This is something I struggle with regularly.

Although my body lives in the present, my mind usually lives at least a month into the future...sometimes more than that. My desire is to plan for the future, so that I will be a good steward of the future when it happens.

BUT, I am realizing (over and over again) that too much dreaming for the future can cause me to overlook the dreams of long ago that are coming true today.

If this is your story too, then this is my prayer for us:
Lord, help us to be present in the present, so that you can be rightly glorified. If our heads are too high in the clouds, we wont see that the rain we have been praying for is already making the garden grow.

God's glories are too numerous to count, but that shouldn't stop us from trying! Today, let's be grateful for today.

I love y'all!