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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Old Testament Surprises

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Each time I delve into the Old Testament I’m struck by its relevance, even when my reading falls within the historical accounts of kings and tribes. If we met for tea today, and you asked what I’ve been studying, I’d tell you 1 Chronicles. Would you yawn? Perhaps, but let me share what I’ve been learning.

1 Chronicles 22

In this chapter, David charges his son Solomon with the Herculean tasks of assuming kingship over Israel and building a temple for the Lord. His primary advice?

  • Be careful to observe the decrees given through Moses.
  • Be strong and courageous, unafraid and never discouraged.

And to the leaders of Israel, ordered to help Solomon, David says, “Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the Lord your God” (1 Chronicles 22:19a).

There it is, the essence of a believer’s walk once again: trust and obey!

Moving back a few chapters to 1 Chronicles 5:20-22, I find God working for his people in the heat of battle. He “delivered…all their allies into their hands, because they cried out to him during the battle. He answered their prayers, because they trusted in him…The battle was God’s.”

All our battles belong to God. We may be called to fight, but he is the one who does the winning.

While the Old Testament is chock full of encouragement, it warns us as well. Moving back just one book to 2 Kings 18, I was surprised by the passage condensed below:

“Hezekiah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)”

Wait, what? God used that bronze snake as a means of rescue for the Israelites. They turned it into an idol? Yes, they did. Anything can become an idol, even something that started out as an instrument of good. I asked myself, “Am I in danger of making something an idol?” The answer for all of us must surely be yes. 1 John 5:21 cautions, “Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.” We must always be on our guard, asking God to keep our perspective and our loyalty in line with him.

What have you been learning? Whether from the New Testament or the Old, has God used his Word to surprise you lately?

Tangled

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The cord of my kitchen blind is twisted and tangled. I used to think a family member was doing this to mess with me. Not so. It just happens, little by little. If I don’t keep up, untwisting it day by day, the tangle becomes a snarl, a complicated mess that’s hard to set straight. Sin is that way. Have you noticed?

  • How did that bad habit take hold? Little by little.
  • How did that relationship become so sour? Little by little.
  • How did that close walk with the Lord evaporate? Little by little.

Hebrews 12 has a lot to say about keeping sin from becoming a snarl in our lives. Look at verse 1, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Perseverance is the straightening process that must be done day by day before our tangles become snarls. We may not all be hindered by the same temptations, but we all have a lot of “throwing off” to do. We can do it, though, because we have the power of the Holy Spirit within us. Hebrews 12 is a rich chapter, full of pointers on how to live well. Here’s an abbreviated version of the rest of the chapter:

  • Keep looking at Jesus, in order to keep from growing weary and losing heart.
  • Endure hardship as discipline. God disciplines us for our good, so that we may share in his holiness.
  • Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy.
  • See to it that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble.
  • See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless.
  • Be thankful, and worship God with reverence and awe.

And that’s plenty to chew on for this week!

May God let his Word sink deep into your soul!

 

No More Foolishness by Beth Smith

pulpit-590750_1280-pixabayReverend Henry Ward Beecher, a clergyman in the late 1800’s, is said to have entered Plymouth Church one Sunday morning, only to find that a letter addressed to him had been left on the pulpit. He opened it and read the single word “Fool.” Quietly, and with great seriousness, he told the congregation about the letter and then said, “I have known many an instance of a man writing a letter and forgetting to sign his name, but this is the only instance I have ever known of a man signing his name but forgetting to write the letter.” I wondered if the Bible had anything to say about fools and foolishness, and was amazed to find 49 references. For example:

  • Fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7).
  • A fool’s heart blurts out folly” (Proverbs 12:23).

The greatest folly that fools blurt out is found in the first verse of Psalm 14 and again in Psalm 53, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

It seems to me that the opposite of foolishness is wisdom. Here’s just a bit of what the Bible says about wisdom.

  • Reverence for the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom. The rewards of wisdom come to all who obey him” (Psalm 111:10 NLT).
  • To acquire wisdom is to love yourself; people who cherish understanding will prosper (Proverbs 19:8 NLT).

These verses make me want to be a wise person. The question is, how do we get wisdom instead of becoming fools? James 1:5 tells us that if we are lacking wisdom we should ask God to supply it, because he gives generously to all. He’s already given us his wisdom in his Word, the Bible. How foolish we are when we don’t read it!

How will we recognize Godly wisdom when we get it? James 3:17 (NLT) says, “But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.” Those are real goals to hold up for our lives. If we want to be wise, we must be:

  • peace loving
  • gentle
  • considerate
  • merciful
  • impartial
  • full of good deeds

Of course, we can’t be all those things on our own. We are told by 1 Corinthians 1:24 that, “to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Our only hope for Biblical wisdom lies in our relationship with God through Christ. When we’re seeking wisdom, we’re really seeking to be like Christ. To do that, we have to know him. To know him we must read his Word (his wise instructions) and do what we find there, thus living wisely.

Let’s not be foolish! Let’s get wisdom by following Christ.

Like a Good Neighbor…

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The State Farm jingle, “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there!” was written by Barry Manilow in 1971. Can you hear it? Are you humming yet? And are you a good neighbor? Hmmm. Am I?

Not long ago, I attended two different churches over two weeks, and listened to two different pastors give two different sermons on—you guessed it—being a good neighbor. They both used the story of the Good Samaritan, found in the book of Luke. (You can read it here on Bible Gateway.) Thanks to Ty VanHorn and Jason Dohring, I came away with quite the bullet list:

  • Be living proof of a loving God to a watching world.
  • Be neighborly.
  • Don’t wait for someone else to be neighborly.
  • Share a card. Or a wave. (Or a text? Or an email? Or a cup of soup?)
  • Get messy.
  • Be inconvenienced.
  • Pay the price.
  • Pay attention.
  • Get involved.

And may I add a simple one? Be nice! My sister describes my husband this way, “He’s nice, but he’s not a wimp.” Being nice doesn’t equate to being weak. In fact, sometimes being nice—and being neighborly—means standing up in the face of injustice or unkindness and loving the less lovely. Why? Because we were loved first. As one of those two wise pastors said, “Being friendly takes little effort. Being a friend takes much.”

How have you been friendly, neighborly this week? We could all use a few good suggestions, so I hope you’ll post one here!

Mind the Gap

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If you ever travel to London, you’ll need to remember two key safety rules.

  1. When crossing the street: The traffic nearest you is coming from your right.
  2. As you step out of the underground train (or The Tube): Mind the gap.

“Mind the gap” is a phrase I hope will stick in your brain over the coming weeks. Here’s why. A few blog posts back, I quoted Matthew Kelly (paraphrased as accurately as I could remember) saying, “If I just lived out one Gospel reading 100%, my life would change radically. I need to work on the gap between that life and the life I am living now.”

Ah, that gap. We all face it. This morning I received news that made me really angry. I want to lash out, to use my wicked tongue to strike at those who have hurt me by making a decision with which I do not agree. But…probably not what Jesus would do.

We need to be fully schooled in salvation by grace, but we also need to stay fully aware of the gap. Are we measuring ourselves against the characters we see on TV? The characters that live down the street? Maybe the ones in our own family? Have we found someone, somewhere, who makes us look good by comparison?  Comparison is always a losing game, except when we compare ourselves to Christ. He is our model.

Romans 8:29 tells us God’s plan is for us to be conformed to the image of his Son. We are not there yet! The gap is where we pray for our lives to be transformed, but transformation can be a painful process. Sometimes we have to give up favorite habits or adopt new ones we wouldn’t have chosen for ourselves. (Sometimes we have to keep our mouths shut and pray for those who have made us mad!) As with all things, this will only happen by the power of God, and is reason enough for us to begin each day with prayer. Sometimes I like to pray through song. I hope you’ll join me in listening to this musical prayer by Eddie Espinosa and continue to ask our Lord to help you mind the gap. Change My Heart, Oh God