God’s Crop by Beth Smith *

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When I was teaching high school, I had a poster in my classrooms. It was a picture of a flower growing out of a tiny crack in a mass of rocks.  The caption read, “Bloom where you are planted.” Good idea—maybe even a little inspirational—but how typical of a teacher to tell you to do something without giving so much as a clue as to how to do it!

How do we bloom in God’s garden? God has created us to bring him glory. As the Master Gardener, he puts us in the best soil, setting our roots in his love. And oh what love! In Ephesians 3:17-19 (NIV), Paul writes: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.”

Once we’re planted, God takes care of us so that we can grow. He waters us. You’ve seen grass, plants, and flowers all curled up and about to die because of drought conditions. After a good rain they’re all plumped up and beautiful again.  We get droopy and dried up if we don’t read God’s Word. If you feel as if you’re going through a dry period, Isaiah 58:11 (NLT) provides this encouragement, “The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.” Get in there. Read his Word. Get watered.

God also feeds his garden. We’re fed by his Word. “Trust (lean on, rely on, and be confident) in the Lord and do good; so shall you dwell in the land and feed surely on his faithfulness, and truly you shall be fed” (Psalm 37:3 AMP). Maybe faithfulness is God’s weed and feed product. As we feed on his faithfulness, we begin to see that we can trust him more and more. That trust begins to kill the weeds of fear and doubt and worry.

Plants must also be pruned to keep them healthy. (We don’t like to talk about that very much.) Jesus said that God cuts off branches which bear no fruit, trimming and cleaning the ones that do bear fruit so that they will be even more fruitful. Pruning makes us more productive in his kingdom. It’s painful to us when we don’t agree with God about what needs to go. Of course, we know in our spirits that God knows best. Hard as it is, we need to say, “Cut away, Lord.”

In winter weather, we often see tarps, old sheets, and old table cloths thrown over plants to protect them. God protects us in cold, hard, and difficult times. Read Psalm 121 sometime soon. It will confirm God’s care and protection of you.

In the hands of the Master Gardener we can be sure we’ll flower. We’ll be fruitful. We’ll fulfill our purpose – to glorify Him. That’s the way we’ll show God’s love and goodness to the world around us.

*In case you’re new to this blog, Beth Smith is my mom. You can read more of her work in Every Wednesday Morning, available at etsy.com.

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Powerful Poetry [1]

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Many of Thomas Chisolm’s 1200 plus poems were set to music. One became the beloved hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” So many times this year, in both joy and pain, I have sung these words within my soul: All I have needed Thy hand hath provided. Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!”

The power of hymns! Charlotte Elliott wrote “Just As I Am.” Her brother, after many years of his own ministry, wondered if the fruit of his labors equaled the impact of the single hymn that included these words: “Yea, all I need in Thee to find.”

“’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus,” written by Louisa Stead after great personal tragedy, leads me back to a place of peace every time I sing it. “Yes, ‘tis sweet to trust in Jesus, just from sin and self to cease; just from Jesus simply taking life and rest and joy and peace.” 

Eric Liddell of Chariots of Fire fame was much more than a runner. He was also a missionary and a martyr. His favorite hymn was reportedly “Be Still My Soul.” I can imagine these words comforting him as he sat imprisoned in China: “Be still my soul: the Lord is on thy side.”  I wonder, did he also fortify himself while praising the Lord with some of these lines?

  • “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty! All thy works shall praise thy name in earth and sky and sea.”
  • “Lord of all, to Thee we raise, this our hymn of grateful praise.”
  • “And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am his own.”
  • Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, still be my Vision, o Ruler of all.

Perhaps he drew strength from Martin Luther’s words: “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,” also translated to read “With might of ours naught can be done.” How very true! We do indeed need him every hour. He meets our needs. He gives us peace. He delights in our praise.

[1] Many thanks to cyberhymnal.org, my chief resource in this blog series.

Hakuna Matata

hakuna pixabayYesterday I saw a bumper sticker that said “Hakuna matata.” That’s it. No warthogs, no lions, just the phrase. (But, Iris, if you’re reading this, I can hear your voice singing in my head!) Perhaps that Swahili phrase, roughly translated “no worries,” should be singing in my head all the time.

“Hakuna” means “there is not here,” and “matata” is Swahili for “problems.” I don’t think we live lives free of problems. Worry, though, is another matter—the matter of what we do in our minds with our problems. I love this quote from The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren (Zondervan 2002).

“When you think about a problem over and over in your mind, that’s called worry. When you think about God’s Word over and over in your mind, that’s meditation. If you know how to worry, you already know how to meditate! You just need to switch your attention from your problems to Bible verses. The more you meditate on God’s Word, the less you will have to worry about.”

I’d like to add that the more we think of our problems in light of God’s word, the more convinced we can become that we have no worries after all. Consider these four familiar passages:

  • “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you” (Psalm 55:22).
  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
  • What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).
  • So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:6).

While not scripture, these wise words, attributed to Corrie ten Boom, call us all to peace and trust as well:

“Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

And so, instead of losing any of your strength to worry today, I hope you will remember the awesome love and power of our God. Then you can shout within your soul, “Hakuna matata!”

 

The Fretnotters’ Club by Beth Smith*

 

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Are you a worrywart? Worrying is something most of us do even if we don’t want to do it. Barbara Johnson once wrote that, “Worry is wasting today’s time to clutter up tomorrow’s opportunities with yesterday’s troubles.”[1] We’re not meant to go through life like that. There’s a better way.

Today I’m inviting you to join my club, The Fretnotters Club. It’s based on Psalm 37:1, “Do not fret because of those who are evil.” There’s no monetary investment required, but there are a few rules. (You knew that was coming.) I’ll summarize them, but the complete list of rules and bylaws is found in Psalm 37. That chapter doesn’t just tell us to stop fretting. It also tells us how to stop that nasty habit, and what will happen when we do.

Rules for Fretnotters:

  • Rule One: “Trust in the Lord (lean on Him; rely on Him) and do good” (Psalm 37:3 AMP).
  • Rule Two:Take delight in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4).
  • Rule Three: “Commit your ways to the Lord. Roll over and rest each care of your load on Him and be confident in him” (Psalm 37:5 AMP).
  • Rule Four: “Be still and rest in the Lord; wait for Him and patiently lean yourself upon him” (Psalm 37:7 AMP).
  • Rule Five: “Refrain from anger. Turn from wrath. Don’t envy” (Psalm 37:8-9 author’s paraphrase.

Now about that last rule, sometimes we think, “Well, I’m not an angry person. There’s no wrath in me.” Ahh, but do we experience road rage? Can we read the newspaper without having our blood pressure rise? How many times do we raise our voices to loved ones or grit our teeth to keep from yelling? Maybe we all have a little more anger in us than we’d like to admit.

In verses 23-40, God lovingly the benefits he bestows on those who trust and obey him, on Fretnotters. It’s a great list. He will delight in us, make our steps firm, and direct our paths. When we stumble, we won’t fall because he’ll hold us up. (This is a very important promise, because we will stumble as we attempt to obey these club rules.) God says he won’t forsake us, and he’ll protect us. Instead of requiring a pledge from us, God makes one to us in the last two verses of Psalm 37. I’ve changed pronouns, but not the meaning. Here’s God’s pledge to Fretnotters. Imagine him saying this to you.

The salvation of the godly comes from me, your Lord. I am your stronghold in times of trouble. I help you and I deliver you and save you, because you take refuge in me.”

Because we are in his care, we need not worry or fret, ever. Go on – enjoy God. Become a full time member of the Fretnotters’ Club.

*This is an abridged excerpt from Every Wednesday Morning, written by my mom, Beth Smith. If you want to read all 64 devotional essays in their full length form, you can grab a copy of her book at Etsy.com.

 

 

 

[1] Johnson, Barbara. Splashes of Joy. New York: Thomas Nelson, 2000, p. 332.

Chain of Events

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A few months ago, Steve was stopped by a Boy Scout as we headed into Kroger. The young man politely asked if Steve would buy the $10 coupon book he was selling. After Steve agreed and shelled out the $10, we continued into the store to do our shopping. We don’t generally frequent the fast food restaurants that place coupons in those sorts of books, so I never really expected to get our $10 back.

A few days later, I thumbed through the book, expecting to toss the whole thing. One page caught my eye, though. It was two “Ten Dollar Gift Cards” for the Whole Earth Provision Company. I knew where the store was—adjacent to the Trader Joe’s on Shepherd, but had never been inside. I tucked the coupons in my purse just in case we found ourselves in that part of town (a rarity at best).

Shortly thereafter, Steve and I drove into town to look at the azaleas, in full bloom despite the calendar that said, “It’s February, get your coat on.” We planned to pick up a picnic at Trader Joe’s on Shepherd. We were dissuaded by the FORTY people in the check-out line, but did go next door to check out the Whole Earth Provision Company. It’s a delightful store, and spending $10 of free money (each!) is always fun. My fun was particularly interesting, though.

I broke my little toe about ten days earlier. It still hurt a bit, and we were leaving for Washington, where we had planned miles and miles of walking, in just two more days. On the way into town I remember thinking, “What shoes am I going to wear? I don’t want to wear jeans and tennis shoes the whole time, and sometimes my tennis shoes still hurt.”

As you may have guessed by now, Whole Earth Provision Company sells everything from books and toys to socks and shoes. Clarks, a favorite brand of mine, has a new line called “Cloud Steppers.” They look like classy shoes but feel like a cross between bedroom slippers and running shoes. The “daily special” was a pair of great black ankle height CloudStepper boots, regularly $100, marked down to $40 (before my $10 off coupon.)

  • Sold.
  • Comfortable.
  • Delighted by God’s creative provision.
  • And no longer wondering what I’d be wearing around DC !

Please tell me, when has God used an unusual chain of events to bless you?

Falling in Faith

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We’ve all heard sermons about walking in faith, but what happens when we fall, when things go deeply awry as we seek to do God’s will? Let me share with you an edited email from my friend Steve Vinton and his wife Susan, founders of Village Schools International, and longtime residents of a village in Tanzania. Please look within this essay for their perspective on the troubles in life and the goodness of God.

Susan slipped in the mud, passed out, broke her arm, and dislocated her wrist. A houseful of people showed up in the early evening bringing her home. I was sick over what had happened and how much pain she was in, while at the same time I was feeling woozy myself from the pain of what I mistakenly thought were kidney stones. Our friend, Dr. Leena, told us the best thing was to make the 13 hour drive to the big hospital in Dar es Salaam. Godfrey and Emmanueli took turns driving that night, and Sarah spent the whole night massaging Susan’s fingers until we were finally all in the emergency room together.

Although Friday was a big holiday in Tanzania, the orthopedic surgeon came in that afternoon anyway and relocated Susan’s wrist. A CT scan showed that I had a blockage coming from my left kidney and putting me into three days of really terrible pain. Once we had Susan taken care of in the emergency room, Godfrey and I went to reception to get started on me. I was told that, since it was a holiday, I could see a general doctor, but then I’d need to come back next week. As he walked me toward another building, we ran into my dear wonderful friend, Dr. Jamal. He talked to the doctors in the emergency room, and the next thing I knew one of his surgeon friends was on his way to the hospital. As soon as they finished Susan’s surgery, it was my turn! (Things were a bit delayed when the electricity went off, but other than that everything was wonderful.) My body is all fixed, although I won’t be good to go home until next Friday, and Susan’s wrist is going to take months to heal.

Once again we are reminded of God’s goodness in all things!

  • A dear old grandmother carrying a huge load of firewood on her head stopped to help Susan where she had fallen.
  • Our students at the college spread messages to the four corners of the country for people to pray.
  • Dr. Jamal “just happened” to bump into me in the hallway here at the hospital.
  • Emmanueli, who never takes naps, had gone home for lunch that day and surprised his wife by saying that he was going to take a nap for “no particular reason.”  But that meant he could drive through the wee hours of the night to get us to the hospital.

Sometimes you just have to smile at ‘coincidences’ like that in order to experience the real joy there is in seeing God at work when the bad things happen.

How I wish that Susan had not fallen! But she did, and what followed was a little glimpse of God arranging really kind things for us.

  • Right now I am not only without pain, but the nurses connived to get Susan and me in a hospital room together so that we get to talk and slowly get better together.
  • When Susan was nauseated and felt she just need a sip of coke, the nurse found out we were here with no money, went out herself, and bought Susan a coke.
  • Later Susan wanted a banana, so when Godfrey & Emmanueli & Sarah came during visiting hours they went and bought us a huge big bunch of deliciously sweet bananas to share.
  • As Susan said, the way she fell she easily could have broken both wrists.
  • How easy it would have been for us to have made a poor decision to go to a closer hospital that couldn’t have helped us!
  • And what would have happened if Dr. Jamal had not been walking down that hall?

Soon we’ll be back home and back into the busy days of what we do—there are schools to visit, classes to teach, big programs to work on—but for right now we just get to be the happy couple here with nothing to do, nowhere at all to go, and we just get to smile and talk and marvel at really how blessed we are.  How nice to just enjoy a nap together—a forced vacation! Life sure is good.