Weird Tree Moss



I keep forgetting to ask my son what this stuff is called. At first glance, it’s actually kind of pretty. I used to enjoy looking at it as it spread across the oaks near my house. Its proliferation astonished me. Then Tony explained that it’s actually killing the trees–and not just in Austin. As I strolled gorgeous Lithia Park in Ashland Oregon, I snapped the photo above, sad to think the tree will probably be gone before long.

What used to look beautiful to me makes me sad, even angry, now. That spindly, mossy stuff blocks the sun. It kills the leaves, then the branches and finally the trees. The analogy it brings to mind makes me sad and angry as well.

What do we allow, unaware (or ignoring the fact) that it’s slowly killing us?

Have we taken enough time for introspection, checking all areas of our lives?

  • The spiritual side: Sin and distraction creep in covertly, often looking beautiful at first. I’ve covered that plenty of times, as has your pastor, I hope.
  • The physical side: We Christians sometimes sidestep those issues, both with our loved ones and within ourselves. But it’s time once again to ask: How is your self-care? If you’ve given your life to the Lord, you’ve given up the right to abuse your body in any way.
  • Then there’s the mental/emotional side: Petty grievances and pet worries can look justified, even righteous. But, like all the other sap-suckers and joy-diminishers I’ve mentioned, they must be pruned.

Ugh! Pruning. I’ve seen it done to trees, and it looks painful. I’ve seen the Lord do it in my life, and it was painful. And I see it coming again: less looking at my phone, more fasting and less TV. Our Divine Gardner prunes each of us in a different way, according to what’s hurting us and separating us from him.

So, today, I’m asking you to set aside a few minutes to be silent (right now, if at all possible). Ask yourself and your Lord what needs to go. No matter what he shows you, I hope you’ll hand it over and ask him to help you leave it in his hands!



Just Pray

Given the date, a regular posting seems, well, just wrong. Instead, please take the next few minutes, the time you would have spent reading this blog, to pray for all those still hurting from the losses suffered 18 years ago today.

American Idols by Beth Smith

idols Photo by Denny Ryanto on UnsplashI’m sharing one of my mom’s devotionals today. Get ready! It’s a challenging one.

Today I want each of us to figure out whether we are molding idols, or being molded by our Lord. It’s a tough question to ponder.

God commanded us to put him first in our lives when he said, “Have no other gods before or besides me” (Exodus 20:3).

Most of us would probably say, “There’s nothing more important than God.” But do we live out that truth? Or are we molding idols on the side?

In Matthew 6, Jesus reminded his followers that we can’t serve two masters. We can serve God or we can serve mammon (which means riches, money, and possessions.) In the same chapter, he told us to stop worrying about our lives so much that we ignore God. Even what we eat, drink or wear can become idols if those things are more important to us than God. Sure, we need those things, but God knows that, so there’s no need for us to worry. Jesus promises that if seek him and his way of living first, he’ll take care of all those other needs that often preoccupy our thoughts.

Jonah 2:8 is a verse that continually pricks at my heart. It’s part of Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the fish. As he prays, he comes to this revelation and conclusion, “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.” Ouch! I wonder how much we miss when we fail to make God first in our lives.

If we stop molding false gods, then God can mold us. Isaiah 64:8 gives us this prayer, “We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Even though God’s process of shaping us into what he wants us to be is painful at times, it’s a good thing. Jeremiah 29:11 assures us that the Artist who molds us has a perfect plan. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ Declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

God continually molds us so that his perfect plan, his will, can be fulfilled. Some of us take more work than others.  All too often, we resist his shaping. Hard clay has to be kneaded—pushed and pressed to soften it and make it useable. ‘Sounds uncomfortable, doesn’t it? The faster we recognize the Potter’s authority and his loving hand, the sooner he can mold us into what we are designed to be.

We can love a lot of people. We can enjoy many things. But no person and no thing can become our God! What’s keeping us from letting God be God, giving him the rightful place in our hearts? “Little children, keep yourselves from false gods—from anything and everything that would occupy the place in your heart due to God, from any sort of substitute for Him that would take first place in your life” (1 John 5:21 AMP).

How about it? Are we molding idols or letting God mold us? Frankly, I’ve got lots of little gods to get rid of. Do you? I think we’d better get busy.

Photo by Denny Ryanto via

Contentment (and Ashland Page Two)

conductor GDJ via PixabayMy pastor asked an interesting question last week:

“When was the last time you were just content?”

Previous verses on contentment are recopied at the bottom of this post, but I’ve added one more here:

Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6b).

We know God wants us to be godly. I think he’s made it pretty clear that he wants us to be content as well. So here’s yet another thought from my time at the American Band College concert in Ashland:

Those very accomplished instrumentalists took their cues from the conductor, no matter how well they thought they knew the music. They knew who was in charge and followed his lead without reserve—no pause, no questions asked. And you can bet the same was true not only for the performance, but for all the rehearsals as well.

So, do we really believe God has a perfect plan? Do we really believe he is all-knowing and all-powerful and all loving? Then why do we ever question, disobey or talk ourselves into going with our own desires instead of following his instructions and commands?

I can almost hear you saying, “But how do I know what he wants me to do?” Fair question, some of the time, and essays on discernment are for another day. But let’s be honest here. There’s a lot we do know about what he wants us to do—and not do. We act like two-year-olds sometimes, insisting on our own way from either from lack of trust, selfishness or pure ignorance.

And I wonder, can there be true contentment without godliness? Maybe not.

So, when was the last time you were just content? If it was a long time ago, what are you doing about that?

Bible Recap:

But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content” (Psalm 131:2).

The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble” (Proverbs 19:23).

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12).

Be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5b-6).

Photo by GDJ via Pixabay



ashland creek Suttonlee pixabayLithia Park is one of my favorite places in the whole world. It’s lush, tranquil and inviting. Deer run through now and then. Mothers spread blankets on the lawn for their napping babies. Couples walk hand-in-hand down shady paths. In the summer, a circle of small children sit on upturned Home Depot buckets, honing their skills on tiny violins to the delight of those fortunate enough to pass by. Perhaps best of all, Lithia Park is punctuated by Ashland Creek, which runs down the center of that 93 acre garden.

Ashland Creek is my favorite part of the park. It’s full of fallen trees and giant rocks, making the liquid landscape even more beautiful than it would be on its own. Those rocks disrupt the water’s surface and create little cascades, providing a natural music that calls out, “Relax! Enjoy!”

I wonder, though, did anyone ever decry those rocks for slowing the flow of the creek? Or perhaps, did someone point out the hazard those rocks can create as they become moss-covered and slippery?

We have rocks in our lives. We tend to call them stumbling blocks or obstacles. But, I wonder, do we always have to see those rocks as something negative? Maybe we weren’t meant to move so fast. Maybe a path that isn’t quite so smooth is more interesting, more beautiful by the end, and even more glorifying to our Lord. Maybe if we’d only relax a bit, we’d hear the music of trust created by our troubles.

Are you frustrated by the rocks in your life today? We’re called to be content. (Short Bible study included below.) So, I hope you’ll step back for a moment and slow down enough to see that the One allowing our rocks can use the slower pace, the disrupted path, to make something beautiful. Your money belongs to him. Your time and energy belong to him. Let him spend them in the way he sees fit. Relax a bit, and let the rocks make music!

Verses on Contentment

But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content” (Psalm 131:2).

The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble” (Proverbs 19:23).

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12).

Be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5b-6).

Photo by  Suttonlee on pixabay


Last month, I enjoyed the band concert of a lifetime. Steve and I were in Ashland, Oregon. On the third night of our stay, we went to a concert performed by students of the American Band College of Central Washington University. Imagine a stage filled with band directors who’d come from all over the country to earn a Master of Music. We’re talking about a lot of talent! The music was beautiful and powerful, but here’s what struck me—the applause.

We, the audience, applauded after each piece, of course. But those accomplished musicians did a wonderful job of applauding one another as well. In most cases, they had to use their feet. Their hands were full of trumpets and violins, flutes and cymbals. Their feet, tapping back and forth on the stage floor, stood in for the hand clapping they couldn’t quite manage as their fellow band members completed solos.

  • They appreciated one another’s efforts in spite of their own expertise.
  • When inconvenience stood in their way, they just found another way to applaud.

The recipients of such odd, foot-tapping encouragement seemed truly touched, reminding me of the documentary I’d watched in a vintage Ashland theater just one night earlier. It was Pavarotti, a documentary about one of the most famous tenors ever to have graced our planet. Scene after scene showed him ending a performance to ear-splitting applause. Yet every time, he looked relieved and delighted, surprised and almost tearful.

Despite riches and fame, Pavarotti never lost the need for appreciation and encouragement.

A few days later, I hopped in an Uber to the airport. The driver and I chatted a bit. My nearly-last words were, “This was a five star ride. Thank you.” I was a little surprised by how much that comment mattered to him. (And it wasn’t just about earning a tip.) I’m ashamed to say that I usually just say, “Thanks,” as I’m handed my bag and head into the airport terminal. What does it really cost me to add a few words of commendation?

Appreciation matters, even in the small things.

Yes, we serve a loving Lord, and his approval is all we really need. Yet band leaders, famous tenors, Uber drivers and the rest of us find our spirits lifted when we’re appreciated by another human being. Thus it falls on us to look for ways to dole out applause wherever we can, in whatever form is available to us at the moment.

Not long ago, I challenged you to add enthusiastic greetings to your daily habits. Today, I’m asking you to add applause!

And just for good measure, here’s an interesting quote from Jan Karon’s lovely book, “A New Song,” page 29. “The old man [who had just told a joke] heard the sound of applause overtaking the laughter and leaned forward slightly, cupping his hands to his left ear to better take it in. The applause was giving him courage, somehow, to keep on in life, to get out of bed in the mornings and see what was what.”