The Aroma of Christ

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:1-2

A Familiar Fragrance

I’ve begun the difficult task of going through my parents’ things in preparation to sell their house, the site of countless dinners, family gatherings, and celebrations over the past 25 years. Myriad emotions accompany my almost-daily visits, which I continued after Dad moved into assisted living so I could keep an eye on things. Some days I can complete my rounds and remain detached, while others find me in tears before I even exit my car.

I walked the property several days ago to ensure nothing was amiss outside. As I rounded the back corner of the house, a familiar fragrance wafted toward me. I stopped and turned toward the gardenia bush, so full of flowers that its branches bent beneath the load.

Memories of Mom and past summer evenings came flooding back. Many nights during gardenia season, I would arrive for dinner and be greeted with Mom’s cheerful, “Look what I got for us, Babe!”[1]

She would point toward a glass or vase holding multiple stems of the sweet-smelling flowers – some for her to keep and some for me to take home.

The Perfume of Selflessness

As the season waned and the blossoms became less plentiful, Mom always wanted to make sure I had some for my house, even if it meant only a sprig or two for her. Humble and with a servant’s heart, Mom exemplified Philippians 2 as she considered others’ needs before her own, even in things as small as sharing flowers.

Mom’s generosity included food of all kinds. She not only made dinner for me most nights, but she also encouraged me to take leftovers home or pick something from the fruits and vegetables she purchased in the summertime. She always wanted me to have the juiciest peach or the ripest tomato. I can hear her saying, “Not that one! It’s got a bad spot.” Or, “That’s not enough! Here, take another one.”

It became a joke between us, and I finally stopped trying to choose for myself. I’d laugh, hand Mom the bag, and say, “Why don’t you go ahead and pick for me?”

Remembering those exchanges, representative of Mom’s sweet spirit, makes me smile.

A Pleasing Aroma

One of our former pastors used to tell us, “When you see ‘therefore,’ you need to ask ‘What’s the therefore there for?”

In the case of the introductory verses above, “therefore” links the directive that follows to Paul’s description in the previous chapter regarding our status as new creatures in Christ (Ephesians 4:21-24). Paul gets specific with the requisite put-offs and put-ons associated with our old and new natures, respectively (Ephesians 4:25-32). He then delivers summary instructions: because of our new life in Christ, we’re to be imitators of God, to walk in love, and to live so our lives will be an aroma pleasing to Him, just as Jesus’ sacrificial life was.

As our pastor has taught through this portion of Ephesians, he’s repeatedly encouraged us to be conduits of God’s love and grace. Sadly, as we live between the now and not yet (eternally saved, yet still in the flesh), we sometimes slip into the extremes of self-righteousness or self-condemnation instead.

I know there are times when my scent is more off-putting than welcoming, more sweaty than sweet. But, praise God for the power of His Spirit at work in His children, transforming us more and more into the image of Christ and enabling us to spread His pleasing aroma.

A Lingering Fragrance

I cut a dozen stems off the gardenia and brought them home. I placed some in a vase upstairs and the rest in a container on my kitchen counter. Soon the lovely fragrance was drifting through my house, reminding me of Mom. The essence of her beautiful life lived for Christ remains in the lives and memories of those she touched with His love, just as the fragrance of the gardenia blossoms lingers in my home.  

May it be the same with ours.

Dear Lord, thank You for the sacrificial love of Jesus and the power of Your Spirit at work within us. Please help us embrace, embody, and express the love and grace You’ve shown us so that we might spread a fragrant aroma that is pleasing to You and attractive to others.


[1] Babe was my grandfather’s pet name for Mom, the youngest of his eight children. She frequently used it with me and my daughters.

Choosing Sides

“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua 24:14-15

Co-conspirators

Several years ago, I was seated at my daughter’s kitchen table. 5-year-old Lyla had barely finished saying the blessing over our PBJs and Goldfish when 8-year-old Joshua started whispering to 3-year-old Emma. I caught enough of his words to figure out the gist of what he was saying.

“Are you plotting against Lyla?” I asked.

“Hey! You’re not supposed to be listening!”

“It’s kind of hard not to overhear. I know I’m getting old, but my ears still work!”

Joshua scowled while Emma flashed an innocent “who me?” expression my way.

Usually, my grandchildren play well together. Everyone has a role in their imaginative scenarios, from setting up a petting zoo to running a bakery to fighting pretend foes. But sometimes, two will team up against the third, with Emma often being the one left out. No wonder she reveled at the turn of events.

Their behavior reminds me of my own childhood. I had several playmates on the street where I grew up. We’d go through cycles of acceptance and shunning, declaring life-long allegiance one day and then descending into angry silence over some perceived slight the next.

And don’t get me started on the agonies of middle school. Long before online bullying reared its ugly head, slam books were the epitome of teen-girl meanness.

Only Two Sides

Sometimes when two grandchildren are excluding the third, I ask them if they think their unkind behavior is pleasing God. One or both will cast their eyes downward and reply, “No, Grammie.”

“And if you’re not pleasing Him, who are you pleasing?”

I usually provide the answer, though they’ve become more astute regarding sin and evil and loving God (and parents) by being obedient (John 14:15).

Just like being a life-giver or life-taker are opposite sides of the same coin, pleasing God or pleasing Satan is like a spiritual toggle switch.[1] Satan is the father of lies, who came to steal, kill, and destroy (John 8:44). Masquerading as an angel of light, he is the purveyor of darkness and deceit. God is Light. In Him, there is no darkness (1 John 1:5). He only speaks the truth, and He is abounding in steadfast love.

God told Joshua the people would have to choose who they’d follow and whether or not they’d obey. Joshua boldly stated, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” The people immediately pledged the same, but they couldn’t keep their vow, and neither can we.

Foreign Gods

You may read the introductory passage above and think, “I don’t worship idols.” I agree that it would be unlikely to find an altar with little carved images in the home of a professing Christian. However, when we consider an idol as anything that takes God’s rightful place in our hearts, we must admit our hearts are fickle, constantly putting other things above Him in our affections.

Even good things, like family and friends, can usurp God’s place. Sadly, I find Self and my desires and preferences seated on the throne of my heart far more frequently than I like to admit.

Unity in Christ

I wish I could say we outgrow our tendency to elevate ourselves by diminishing others by the time we reach adulthood. Instead, we often revert to an us-vs-them mentality when disagreements arise, forming coalitions and choosing sides. We seek the approval of men, longing to be included and accepted. In our striving to be right, we can become self-righteous, forgetting that we would stand condemned apart from God’s saving grace.

But this type of behavior among God’s children doesn’t bring Him glory.

On the night Judas betrayed Him, Jesus prayed for all His disciples, those with Him then and those who would believe based on their words. That includes us! And what did He pray? That we would know the love and unity enjoyed by the Trinity (John 17:20-26).

Even now, Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, interceding for us (Romans 8:34)!

Choosing Wisely

Praise God that not only does Jesus pray for us but also that the Holy Spirit indwells us with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, giving us a new will to obey and enabling us to do so (Ephesians 1:19-20; Philippians 2:13).

Thus, when we’re tempted to take sides or give in to our own desires or think, “Surely this small trespass won’t count,” we need to remember there are only two sides – darkness and Light. As children of God, Scripture calls us to walk in the light as He is in the light (Ephesians 5:8-9). We’re to let our light so shine before a watching world that they, too, will want to join us in the Light of His love.

Dear Lord, how blessed we are to be called Your children. Thank You for bringing us out of darkness into Your marvelous light. Please help us to remember there are only two sides in the spiritual battle. May we choose to walk in the light, enabled by the Spirit, out of love and gratitude for all You’ve done for us.


[1] Please see the tab, “Give Life,” for more on life-giving and life-taking behaviors.

Benevolent Dominion

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
Genesis 2:15

Tree Hugger

Several years ago, then-seven-year-old grandson Joshua made a derogatory comment about tree huggers. Guessing he was mimicking something he’d heard, I smiled and replied, “Careful there, Joshua! One of your favorite people might be a tree hugger.”

He looked at me sheepishly as he realized I was referring to myself, his plant-loving Grammie.

Since that light-hearted exchange, we’ve had many conversations regarding invasive species of plants and insects, the effects of pesticides on pollinators, and our part in caring for God’s beautiful creation. Though neither of us is likely to chain ourselves to a tree in an attempt to save it, we both prefer protecting rather than pillaging our earthly home.

Rebellious Co-Regents

In the beginning, God created man in His image, male and female He created them. God blessed Adam and Eve, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)

How amazing that Almighty God, Creator and Ruler of everything, would allow His creatures to participate in ruling over all He had created. As His representatives, they were to extend the beauty and peace that existed in Eden to the whole earth.

Alas, they weren’t content with their position. When Satan tempted Eve, she exchanged the desire to glorify God for self-exaltation. Her eyes were opened, just as Satan promised, but her disobedience brought death and dismay, not equality with God.

The keeping of the garden that was to be pleasant work in the presence of God became onerous as God cursed the ground, and thistles and thorns sprang up to impede man’s attempt to cultivate crops. I often think of the curse when I struggle to free my azaleas and hydrangeas from the prickly vines that ensnare them or labor to rid my woods of poison ivy.

Relationships also suffered. No longer was there peace between God and man or between husband and wife. It wasn’t long before brother turned on brother. Strife became the norm, as God’s rebellious image-bearers were led astray by their deceitful hearts, each doing what was right in their own eyes. Even the creation groaned under the burden of sin (Romans 8:19-23).

Be Fruitful

Another, more recent, lunchtime conversation with my grandkids found us discussing pets. Since my 19-year-old cat, Willie, died several years ago, I haven’t had a pet, so I offered up, “The birds are my outdoor pets.”

Emma replied, “Those aren’t your birds, Grammie! Those are the world’s birds.”

“You’re right, Emma. They’re God’s birds, but He lets me feed them.”

And so He does.

Despite Adam and Eve’s rebellion, God didn’t give up on His original design or consign His wayward children to eternal exile. Before He banished them from the garden, God promised there would be a way back, a perfect plan developed before the foundation of the world (Genesis 3:15; Ephesians 1:4).

In the fullness of time, Jesus, the only begotten Son, was born, lived a sinless life, and died a brutal death, exchanging His spotless garments of perfect righteousness for our filthy rags of wretched sinfulness.

When it came time for Him to return to His Father, Jesus gave His disciples instructions that hearkened back to those God gave Adam and Eve, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Righteous Rule

Too often, when we hear words like authority, dominion, and subdue, we think of harsh force, one side crushing the other and subjecting them to cruel treatment. But that’s not the way God deals with His creatures. He provides and cares for them so they might flourish under His watchful eye (Psalm 145:15-16). As His children who’ve been given authority to rule in His stead, we’re to do the same.

The Apostle Paul tells us we’ve been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. Jesus’ followers are to be fruitful and multiply spiritually. We’re to be peacemakers, sharing the Gospel message of how to be reconciled to God and each other (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).

Thus, God still calls us to extend the peace and beauty of Eden to the world in our homes, gardens, communities, and relationships – a foretaste of heaven. Though we won’t be able to do it perfectly until Jesus returns, we are empowered by the Spirit, enabled to bring the sweet aroma of Christ and the light of His love to a world in desperate need of both.

Enemies Vanquished

There will come a time when God displays the force we typically associate with dominion. When Jesus returns, it will be as the conquering King, the One Who will abolish all remaining enemies, including death (Revelation 19:11-16). Everything will be redeemed and made new, yet better than Eden because there will be no place for sin or evil in the new Jerusalem (Revelation 22:3-4).

Christ is currently seated at the Father’s right hand, possessing all authority in heaven and on earth (Luke 22:69). However, at the consummation of all things, He will assume His visible, eternal rule when every knee will bow and every tongue confesses His Lordship (Isaiah 45:22-24).

And we will rule with Him forever (Revelation 3:21)! How amazing!

Dear Lord, what a privilege it is to be allowed to rule with You even now though sin continues to influence our thoughts and behavior. Whether we’re caring for birds and plants or each other, please help us extend Your grace to all You place in our sphere of influence as we endeavor to be fruitful and multiply, all for Your glory.

Finding Rest, Part 1

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30

Wired to Work

I’ve often said over the years, “I’m wired to work,” followed quickly by, “I come by it honestly.” Mom and Dad were both hard-working people, as were their parents. I’m not good at resting, at least not if there’s something that needs to be done – and there’s always something that needs doing.

There are times when I’m more accepting of my limitations, times when I can focus on the things I accomplished in a given day, instead of the ones still looming on my never-ending list. Then again, there are periods when the tasks at hand consume both waking hours and those when I should be sleeping. I toss and turn instead, plagued by a sense of inadequacy.

The past year has provided ample opportunities for such middle-of-the-night ruminations. Mom’s decline and passing, helping Dad navigate life without her while dealing with my own grief, the after-effects of Dad’s stroke, taking on more responsibility for the details of his life, running two households. Bind it all together with uncertainty regarding what will happen on a given day, and you’ve got anything but a formula for rest.

At least from a finite human perspective.

Invitation to Rest

The introductory passage from Matthew is one of my favorites. Our gentle, compassionate Savior bids us come to Him for rest, rest for our souls. Though physical rest is essential, rest for our souls is the kind we need most when we get bogged down with worries and cares, waking up in the middle of the night wondering if things will work out or how we’ll ever get it all done.

News flash: we won’t get it all done – even Jesus didn’t do everything – but it will all work out for good (Romans 8:28).

The Apostle Peter extends an invitation similar to that of Jesus: “Cast all your anxieties on him.” Why? “Because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) When I’m awake in the wee hours, I’ll often begin my prayers with, “Lord, I need to cast my cares on You,” and then I proceed to convey all the things that are weighing heavily on my mind. I imagine Him tenderly collecting them. As the burden lifts, I eventually drift back to sleep.

In yet another passage, the Apostle Paul speaks of our need to bring our troubles to God: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Pockets of Refreshment

I’m blessed to have friends who faithfully pray for me. One such prayer warrior recently texted me:  “You are used to an ordered life, and right now things are coming at you so frequently your life feels uncontrolled, and I know that is upsetting. I’m praying that God gives you the strength, the grace, and the wisdom to discern the things that must be done each day. I pray that He gives you pockets of time to regroup and have quiet times.”

Her words were like a soothing balm. Not only did she acknowledge how challenging things have become, but she also assured me she was interceding for me. And she gave me a different perspective, a new concept to ponder, “pockets of time.”

A whole day at home is splendid; a week at the beach would be even better, but I’m finding shorter periods can be restorative, especially if I steward them well. Quiet times to write, work in my garden, or go for a walk allow me to be still in the Lord’s presence, to listen for the Spirit’s comforting reminders of His promises.

I’ve come to think of these times as “pockets of refreshment.”

I don’t know what refreshment looks like for you, dear reader. Maybe you like to curl up with a good book or have lunch with a friend or work in your garden, like me. Regardless, as children of the King, we know true refreshment comes from spending time with Him.

How blessed we are that He invites us to do so!

Dear Lord, thank you for welcoming us into Your presence where we can find rest for our weary souls. Please help us not to be anxious, but to turn to You for peace that passes understanding, peace that can’t be found in the world or ourselves or another person.

Hide and Seek, Reprise

 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
1 John 4:18-20

Let’s Hide!

One of the earliest and most endearing games we play with babies involves disappearing behind our hands only to reappear moments later, smiling and exclaiming, “peek-a-boo!” We repeat the sequence of movements multiple times, rewarded by baby’s surprised chuckles.

Before long, infants turn into mobile toddlers, able to participate in the hiding aspect of the game. Hide-and-seek became my grandchildren’s oft-requested favorite, complete with random-number counting and much laughter while scurrying to find the perfect hiding spot. Shrieks were just as likely to accompany finding as being found.

Sometimes the hiding wasn’t all that effective. For instance, even though a blanket would cover most of a tiny body, a foot might remain visible. Or, try as I might, I couldn’t fully wedge myself between the wall and the recliner when the little people were hunting me.

And then there were times when I wandered around, pretend-seeking the hidden one, musing, “Hmm, I wonder where (insert grandchild’s name) is?” The confident, she-can’t-find-me laughter that followed allowed me to zero in like a honey bee to its hive. More laughter, then, “Let’s hide again, Grammie!”

Child’s Play?

The first recorded episode of hide-and-seek was no child’s game. It was unplanned, and it certainly wasn’t accompanied by laughter unless it was the nervous kind borne of embarrassment. Genesis 3 recounts the story of the Fall. Satan, disguised as a serpent, engaged Eve in a doubt-God’s-goodness conversation – surely it wasn’t proper for God to withhold something as delightful as the forbidden fruit? Sadly, it didn’t take much to convince Eve of her right to partake. She ate and then shared the bounty with Adam (verses 1-6).

Oh, their eyes were opened, just like Satan promised. But instead of reveling in their newfound enlightenment, they were overcome with shame as they realized they were naked (verse 7a). Knowing God would soon arrive for His daily garden stroll, they hastily covered themselves with leafy loincloths and hid (verses 7b-8).

Guilt or Shame?

We’ve been hiding from God and each other ever since, haven’t we? Afraid if people knew our shortcomings and the secret sins that plague us, they’d turn away.

Guilt is a helpful, God-given poke to our conscience, convicting us of specific wrongdoing, leading us to confess, repent, seek forgiveness, and be restored to fellowship with God and others. By contrast, shame condemns, whispering some variation of, “You’re bad, and you always will be,” to our weary souls. Despite our best efforts, we just can’t rid ourselves of that sense of not measuring up, the vague feeling of not fitting in or meeting expectations.

So we cover up and keep our distance, as we strive to maintain an acceptable facade at all times, even, or maybe especially, at church where it seems like everyone else has it all together. We hide in our respective caves, safe but so alone.

Come out, come out, wherever you are!

Even though we usually don’t want to be found out, we do want to be found.

Praise God for coming to the garden in the cool of that fateful day, like He always had before. He sought His wayward children, even though He already knew of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, the extreme pain it would cause their offspring, and the price He Himself would pay to redeem them (John 3:16). He came bearing a perfect plan and the promise of better garments. The seed of the woman would one day crush the head of the serpent so all of God’s children could be robed in the righteousness of His beloved Son (Genesis 3:15).

Jesus, the Good Shepherd who came to seek the lost (Luke 19:10). The unblemished Lamb, slain for us (John 1:29). The Risen Savior who bids us come that we might find rest for our souls (Matthew 11:29). He knows the very worst about us, but calls us from darkness into light (Isaiah 9:2, John 1:5), to be cleansed by His precious blood that He might present us spotless before God (Ephesians 5:25-27).

Jesus is the safest of safe places for the children of God (John 3:17; Romans 8:1).

Becoming a Safe Place

Scripture is clear that we are to be conformed to the likeness of our elder brother (Romans 8:29), transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). So how can we become safe places for fellow, flawed sojourners, afraid to come out of their caves? Scripture instructs us to:

  • Practice humility, considering others’ needs, hurts, and heartaches before our own (Philippians 2:3-4). Each one of us is dealing with things known only to God (Psalm 139:1-3, 23-24).
  • Judge not, remembering all we’ve been forgiven (Matthew 7:1-5; Luke 6:37-38). Though our sins may differ from those of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we’re all sinners saved by grace (Isaiah 53:6; Romans 3:23).
  • Be willing to become vulnerable, stewarding our own stories well as we share examples of God’s goodness, faithfulness, even discipline, across the years we’ve walked with Him (Psalm 78).

May we live in such a way that it’s safer, indeed more desirable, for those tempted to hide to come out of their caves, into the light of the One who will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick (Isaiah 42:3).

Dear Lord, as Your chosen people, holy and dearly loved, please help us clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with and forgiving each other as You’ve forgiven us. And, by the power of Your Spirit, help us put on love, which binds all these virtues together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12-14)

Snow Day

Be still and know that I am God.
Psalm 46:10

Soul-soothing Scene

It’s a rare snow day here in metro-Atlanta. I’ve spent the past several hours at my kitchen table, where I have a front-row seat to the view unfolding in my woods. The forecasted wintry mix greeted me when I came downstairs this morning, but the temperature has dropped since, and the precipitation has gradually changed to snow.

Watching the gently falling flakes soothes my soul. Somehow it always seems quieter, more peaceful when it’s snowing. And oh, how I need some soul-soothing peace and quiet after the past week.

A Monumental Move

In my last post, I alluded to upcoming changes.[1] We were fortunate to find a compassionate, experienced live-in caregiver to stay with my 90-year-old father after his stroke last fall. However, it became evident over the ensuing weeks that staying in the big house he and Mom shared for the past 24 years wasn’t the preferred long-term solution.[2]

Thankfully, the stroke did minimal lasting harm, but lingering cognitive issues and potent blood thinners make it inadvisable for Dad to live by himself. Thus, at his suggestion, we found an assisted living facility with a cozy one-bedroom apartment and set about planning for his move.

Details, Details

In reality, after we signed the contract, arranging all the details associated with the move became my responsibility since Dad is now easily confused by such minutiae. Informing his caregiver, hiring movers, filling out all sorts of paperwork, obtaining medical records and health screenings – the list was long. And, once we agreed on the move date, there was little room for error.

One week out, I began to wake up at night, mentally reviewing the requirements and deadlines. Sometimes I drifted back to sleep quickly, having successfully cast my cares upon the Lord (1 Peter 5:7), while other nights, my wakefulness stretched from minutes into hours.

Nevertheless, the process was moving along in a timely manner. Then, with less than 24 hours before the movers were scheduled to arrive, it looked like everything would derail. There was confusion regarding one of Dad’s prescriptions, so his primary care physician wouldn’t sign off on the paperwork required for the assisted living staff to administer his medication. The bloodwork for his TB screening was “indeterminate,” so I had to take him for a chest x-ray. We arrived less than half an hour before the imaging facility closed. And then there was the potential stopper of all stoppers: the result of his Covid test. Would it and the chest x-ray arrive in time? Would they be negative?

Oh Me of Little Faith

My anxiety sky-rocketed. I expect my blood pressure was off the charts too. I flung multiple prayers heavenward and kept going. Thoughts such as, “What if Dad’s stuff gets moved to his new apartment and his Covid results are positive and he can’t go?” ran rampant. Though the what-ifs almost overcame me, I didn’t cancel the movers. I continued to pray and sent an SOS to several of my staunchest prayer warriors, pleading with them to join me.

Several hours later, as I was organizing piles and emptying drawers in preparation for the movers’ arrival, the peace that had eluded me earlier quieted my anxious thoughts. Although it was fine for me to outline specific details in my prayers, by rehearsing them incessantly, I was acting as if God didn’t already know each one, as well as their ramifications, even better than I did. That acknowledgment, coupled with prayers that His will be done, finally squelched my stress. I knew if it was His will for Dad to move the next day, nothing would prevent it, and if it wasn’t, then God had a good reason for him not to go.

I awoke early the following day and checked my email. The PCR test results were available. I prayed as I scrolled and rejoiced when I saw: NEGATIVE. Other messages conveyed more good news: the chest x-ray was clear, and Dad’s PCP had signed the requisite paperwork. Dad could make the move along with his things.

Dust Moments

As is often the case when I’ve worry-warted over a critical outcome, the tears that instantly sprang to my eyes were a combination of relief and thankfulness mixed with remorse for doubting God and not trusting Him completely with the situation.

Several days later, I realized when I become anxiously frantic, the underlying cause is usually a subconscious assumption: “It’s all up to me. If I fail, all is lost. The world, or at least my little corner of it, is depending on me to hold it together.”

After nearly 50 years of walking with the Lord, you would think I would have outgrown such unfounded, even arrogant, notions. In fact, I took an intense refresher course this time last year as Mom was living out her final weeks.[3] But, alas, it appears I  have to relearn the lesson periodically.

And so I’m thankful for my compassionate heavenly Father, Who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Exodus 34:6). He knows I’m dust and loves me anyway (Psalm 103:13-14).

His Part, My Part

From my vantage point at the table, I’ve not only been able to watch the snow, but I’ve also been able to keep an eye on the birds. They descended on the feeders as soon as I returned them to their hooks this morning, and there has been a steady stream of hungry visitors ever since.

Observing them and writing about the past week’s events reminded me of a recent conversation with my grandchildren. We were talking about pets and noted I no longer have any furry house companions.

I added, “But I have my birds! They’re my outside pets.”

Five-year-old Emma quipped, “Those aren’t your birds, Grammie. Those are the world’s birds.”

I acceded, “You’re right, Emma. They’re God’s birds, but He lets me help take care of them.”

And so it is with my loved ones. They belong to Him, and He allows me to help take care of them. He has a plan for them and me, and His purposes will prevail (Isaiah 55:8-11).

Heavenly Father, thank You for the quiet beauty of this day and the opportunity to be still in Your presence. Thank You that You are our compassionate Father, well-acquainted with the frailties of our finite flesh, yet always abounding in love for Your children.


[1] Please see “Age-old Assurances for a New Year.”

[2] Mom passed away last April.

[3] Please see “Who’s in Control?” in Archives, September 2021.

Bundled Up

It’s been an overcast day here in Georgia. A few shafts of sunlight have split the steely sky, only to be engulfed once again by clouds that looked like they might produce snow flurries at any moment. Alas, there has been no sprinkling of white to add enchantment to this mid-winter day, just increasing wind gusts and decreasing temps.

Despite the less-than-ideal conditions, I decided to bundle up and go for a walk. I was feeling out of sorts and hoped the brisk air and some time with the Lord would lift my spirits, even if it chilled my face, fingers, and toes in the process.

I retrieved my Delaware coat – the one I wore a lot in the land of longer winters but turn to only occasionally in the South – along with my mittens and earmuffs.  Given this information, some of you hardier folks, including my relatives in South Dakota, are probably thinking the temperature must have been near zero to merit such gear. At the risk of being labeled a winter-weather wimp, I’ll admit the windchill was 32 degrees when I exited the house, balmy by January Midwestern standards.

Inevitably, this level of bundling up reminds me of a Peanuts cartoon from my childhood. In the first few frames, Charlie Brown is donning his coat, scarf, hat, and boots. In the last frame, he laments, “Can someone please open the door? I can’t move!”

Fortunately, my long, puffy coat doesn’t hinder the movement of my legs, even though I look like I’m walking around in a sleeping bag. Thus prepared for the elements, I ventured out. It wasn’t long before striding through my neighborhood had the hoped-for effect. My torso was warm, and my mind, relieved of its previous concerns, turned to a Bible study lesson from earlier in the week.

Secure in the Lord

My small group has been working our way through the 25th chapter of 1 Samuel, which recounts the story of foolish Nabal, his beautiful, discerning wife, Abigail, and their encounter with anointed-but-not-yet-king, David. Though a mere 44 verses long, the chapter is packed with high drama and reminders that,  “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly” (Proverbs 15:1-2).

The whole chapter and its attendant lessons are beneficial, but the phrase I pondered as I walked along came from Abigail’s impassioned plea to David. She respectfully implored him not to behave foolishly as her husband had and repay evil with evil.  She reminded him his life was bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the Lord his God and that the Lord would take care of David’s enemies in His time (1 Samuel 25:29).

Isn’t it wonderful to know the same can be said about every one of God’s children?  Regardless of the form our enemies take, each of us is eternally bound in the bundle of the living, safe in the Lord’s care, where no one can snatch us away (John 10:28-29). We will face trials and tribulations of varying kinds, but nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).

Pressing On

Although my winter garb allows me more freedom of movement than Charlie Brown’s, once I pull my hood up and fasten the top snap of my coat, it’s difficult for me to turn my head. There too, my musings led to a spiritual parallel. Multiple references in the Old Testament document God’s warnings to His people regarding the consequences of straying from His commandments. He admonished them not to turn to the left or right but to stay on course.[1]

Likewise, in his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul described such single-minded focus as he wrote about pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-15).

And then there’s the precious promise of Isaiah 30:21: When we’re tempted to wander off, we’ll hear a word behind us, constraining us from turning to the left or right as the Spirit shows us the proper path.

Whichever climate you’re in, my friend, I pray you will feel the warmth of being securely bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the Lord our God.

Dear Lord, how I thank You for quiet moments with You this winter afternoon, full of reminders that Your children are eternally secure. Nothing can snatch us out of Your hand or separate us from Your love as Your Spirit guides us along our Homeward path.


[1] See for example Joshua 1:7, Joshua 23:6, 2 Kings 22:2, and Proverbs 4:26-27.

Bearing Fruit

For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
Luke 6:43-45

Identifying Features

Before I studied horticulture, I tried to identify trees by their leaves. Don’t get me wrong, leaves are important identifiers for many species, but they can be misleading in others. When botanists classify plants, they look instead at their reproductive structures –  flowers, fruit, and seeds.

Although oak leaves come in different shapes, all oaks sprout from acorns. Likewise, there are numerous forms of maple leaves, not just the classic silhouette that appears on the Canadian flag. But all maple seeds are borne in samaras, those little winged carriers that float to the ground like tiny helicopters.

Once I learned this, it became a fun game to see if I could spot similarities between plants at the botanical garden where I volunteered. I first noted the flowers on  Abutilon with their crepe paper-like petals resemble dwarf hibiscus blossoms. Despite the shape of its leaves, which leads to one of its common names, flowering maple, Abutilon is part of the Malvaceae family, as are hibiscus and okra.

Next, I noticed the tiny white bell-shaped flowers on  Pieris japonica look like those on a small tree, known as farkleberry, and both resemble those on blueberry bushes. Those three belong to the Ericaceae family.

The more I studied, the easier it became to see the distinguishing characteristics and successfully match plants with their relatives. I wondered why I found it to be so gratifying, musing that it must be because family, both biological and spiritual, is so important to me.

Family Resemblance

Just like we can recognize plants by their fruit, Jesus taught that members of His family would bear distinguishing fruit as well, and He made it clear the only way to bear abundant spiritual fruit was to abide in Him:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5

I’m frequently reminded of His statement when I’m pruning. I sometimes leave piles of discarded branches on the ground and then go back to collect them after I finish cutting. Inevitably, the leaves on the severed limbs are already beginning to wilt. The longer the time apart from their source of nourishment and the hotter the day, the quicker their demise. They can no longer live, much less produce fruit.

When I think of abiding, I think of peace – no striving or struggling. The word appears ten times in verses 4 to 10 of John 15, emphasizing the permanence of our relationship with Christ as well as the eternal significance of the fruit we bear. Securely connected to the Giver of Life, His life flows through us to bless and benefit others, all to the praise of His glory.

Distinctive Fruit

And what kind of distinct fruit do we produce when we abide in Him? Love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). All are marks of God’s children, but one outshines them all – love. Jesus prayed that the love He and the Father shared would dwell richly in His followers (John 17:26). That singular mark of distinction would allow all people to identify them as being part of God’s family (John 13:35).

He also warned against false prophets, those seeking to deceive. Like leaves that mimic those of other plants, their outward appearance may initially camouflage their deceit. But closer inspection of the fruit borne of the evil intent in their hearts will give them away, ultimately leading to their destruction (Matthew 7:15-20).

Not so the children of God who bear fruit in keeping with repentance and shine as lights in this dark world (Ephesians 5:8-11).

O Lord, what a privilege it is to be a branch on Your family tree. We bear the imprint of the true Vine, Whose life in us allows us to bear abundant fruit of eternal value.

Prepared, Not Scared

007Last year, my daughter, Mary, helped start an American Heritage Girls troop at her church and serves as one of the leaders. Each week, Mary and my granddaughters, Lyla and Emma, look forward to meeting with their friends. They engage in a variety of activities as they work toward the organization’s goal of developing Christ-like character and leadership skills.[1]

005After a long period of separation related to coronavirus restrictions, the troop began meeting again last month. Though always vital, the skills they’re learning to earn their Emergency Preparedness badge seem especially appropriate during this time of uncertainty. They’ve talked about stranger danger, paid a virtual visit to a local fire station, and got an up-close look at an ambulance, all while discussing how to help themselves and others during emergency situations.

One comment in particular from a recent weekly recap warmed this grandmother’s heart: “First and foremost, we learned that God has told us not to fear, and is always with us. We want to be ‘Prepared Not Scared’ as we learn about different situations and how to handle them or how to help others.”

“Prepared, not scared.” That phrase resonated with me. If I had to pick one word to describe the prevailing feeling in a post-COVID world, fear would come out on top. Fear of the unknown effects of the virus. Fear of being separated from loved ones. Fear of empty shelves at the store. Fear of death itself. How about you? Have you been battling anxiety-producing fears?

Fear Not!

Though there will be times when we give way to fear because our flesh is weak, scripture provides ample assurance for those who belong to God – as children of the King, we have nothing to fear. Consider:

All of our days were written in God’s book before even one came to be (Psalm 139:16). Shortly before my husband died suddenly in April 1997, I read a quote that gave me much comfort after his passing and many times since: “Until it’s my time to go, nothing can take me. When it’s my time to go, nothing can keep me here.” God is sovereign over every breath, and we’re never out of His sight.

Does that mean we can live irresponsibly because God has foreordained our length of days? Not at all! Even Jesus wouldn’t test His Father by throwing Himself off a Temple spire when tempted by Satan (Matthew 4:5-7). Furthermore, God has given us sound minds and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7), which we’re to use to be good stewards of our bodies. Even so, we can rest knowing our days are ultimately in God’s hands.

The passage in 2 Timothy begins with the statement that God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear. A familiar passage in 1 John expresses a similar sentiment: there’s no fear in love because fear has to do with condemnation and the perfect, sacrificial, atoning love of Christ ensures there will be no condemnation for believers on the day of judgment (1 John 4:18; Romans 5:18; Romans 8:1).

Worry and anxiety are close relatives of fear. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus painted a beautiful word picture for His listeners. In reminding them of God’s care for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, He assured them God would care for them. He admonished them not to worry. Doing so wouldn’t add a single hour to their lives. Instead, it would rob them of the joys of the present (Matthew 6:25-32).

Yet, amidst the assurances, Jesus sounded a warning: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).  There is a real and eternal danger for those who don’t accept God’s gift of salvation through His Son (John 14:6; Revelation 20:15).

Be Prepared

As those who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, we do not fear God’s condemnation, but as sojourners, we know we’ll face trials in this world. How do we prepare for battle?

The Apostle Paul instructs us to put on the whole armor of God so that we can stand firm against the attacks of Satan and his comrades and their flaming darts of doubt (Ephesians 6:10-17):

  • The belt of truth protects us from Satan’s lies and accusations.
  • The breastplate of righteousness covers our hearts and defends us from guilt and self-condemnation.
  • Shoes of the gospel of peace provide an unshakable foundation.
  • The shield of faith keeps us from fear.
  • The helmet of salvation guards our minds against worldly influences.
  • The sword of the Spirit is an offensive weapon – God’s Word, living and active, fully capable of accomplishing God’s purposes (Hebrews 4:12, Isaiah 55:10-11).

Paul concludes his description of our spiritual weapons by urging us to pray at all times in the Spirit, for ourselves and for our brothers and sisters in Christ (Ephesians 6:18-19). Like good soldiers, we’re to remain alert, because our enemy prowls about like a roaring lion seeking his prey (1 Peter 5:8). In his commentary on Ephesians, John Stott proclaims, “Paul adds prayer not because he thinks of prayer as another though unnamed weapon but because it is to pervade all our spiritual warfare . . . Scripture and prayer belong together as the two chief weapons which the Spirit puts into our hand.”[2]

Take heart, dear readers. God graciously provides all we need to prevail. Clothed in Christ and His righteousness, we can be prepared, not scared, in this life, and for the life to come.

Father, thank You that Your children have nothing to fear, for our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Please help us to shine the light of Your truth into the darkness, illuminating the way for others to find hope and peace in You.

 

[1] “American Heritage Girls is a Christ-centered character and leadership development program for girls 5 to 18 years of age. AHG is dedicated to the mission of building women of integrity through service to God, family, community, and country.” Taken from the American Heritage Girls website: https://americanheritagegirls.org/

[2] J.R.W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians, God’s New Society (Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 1979), 283.

Enlightened Eyes

I’d opened my Bible study lesson but hadn’t silenced my phone yet. It dinged three times in rapid succession alerting me to incoming text messages, most likely of the group variety.

043My curiosity piqued, I had to look. After all, I hadn’t officially settled into my quiet time. The glance confirmed my hunch. Daughter Jessie sent a photo to me and her older sister, Mary, with the comment, “Fun game! Let me know when you spot it.”

Mary replied without hesitation, “Cool!!!”

I stared at the up-close photo of a tree trunk, admiring the bark, but had to enlarge the image before I found the hidden critter and exclaimed, “That guy is super camouflaged!”

Jessie conceded, “I totally wouldn’t have seen the moth except he was sitting right below a trail blaze (blue rectangles painted around the trail so you can keep track of it) and I had looked up at the blaze just by chance.”

Our pleasant text conversation came to an end and I turned my attention back to the lesson before me, astounded to read, “Unless a power beyond us opens our eyes, we will blindly walk right past the infinite magnificence of God’s treasure. We take for granted the glorious truth in Christ: we are God’s beloved children.” (1)

Talk about an immediate spiritual application of Jessie’s trail blaze experience!

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Ephesians, proclaims, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3).

Paul then goes on to recount those blessings. In Christ we are:

  • Chosen by God before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him (vs. 4).
  • Predestined for adoption to himself (vs. 5).
  • Redeemed (vs. 7)
  • Forgiven (vs. 7)
  • Made recipients of the riches of God’s grace, lavished upon us (vs. 7-8)
  • Given wisdom and insight to understand God’s plan of redemption (vs. 9-10)
  • Made heirs (vs. 11-12)
  • Sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, the guarantee of our inheritance (vs. 13-14)

Paul prays for the eyes of their hearts to be enlightened that they may know the hope to which they’ve been called, the riches of God’s glorious inheritance in the saints, and the immeasurable greatness of His power toward those who believe – precisely the same power that raised Jesus from the dead (vs. 18-19a).

Fueled by that kind of power, you’d think we’d be better at living out the reality of all the blessings heaped upon us.  But too often our spiritual sight is clouded by immediate demands, our ears filled with voices clamoring for our attention. The temporal hides the eternal as effectively as the moth’s disguise allowed it to blend into the bark.

Jesus frequently taught in parables, many of which had a connection to plants – sowing, reaping, seasons, soils. When his disciples asked why He used such stories, He replied, To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given . . .  Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.’ . . .  But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” (Matthew 13:11, 14, 16)

Blessed indeed! Jesus came not just to restore sight and hearing to those physically blind and deaf, but to open our spiritual eyes and ears to His message and the evidence of His love all around us. And, when Jesus ascended to heaven, He didn’t leave us as orphans. The Father sent the promised Helper to be our trail blaze (John 14:16-17, 26).

Even so, we must be intentional about seeing and hearing.

Interludes spent in my garden allow me to be still in God’s presence, to deliberately look and listen. Time after time, Jesus’ parables come to life as I dig and prune, weed and water. I stroll my property in search of treasures I imagine God’s tucked lovingly here and there for me to find. Years of practicing these purposeful walks have honed my sight, enabling me to recognize even barely-there plants as they emerge from the soil. How much more should I seek to know the things of God, to perceive the guidance of His Spirit, and to hear His still, quiet voice by becoming intimately acquainted with the treasures found in His Word?

O Lord, how I thank you for lavishing your spiritual blessings upon your chosen ones and for enlightening the eyes of our hearts to understand the magnitude of those blessings. Please help us to be ever-attentive to the leading of your Spirit.

 

(1) Lisa Tarplee,”Hinged, Vitally Connected to Christ and His Church, Women’s Bible Study on Ephesians”, Week 2, CDM Discipleship Ministries, 2020, p. 31.