Never say never

Unlike many of my posts, this week’s isn’t inspired by a garden epiphany or family events, past or present. No, this one is born of a desire to share some long-held reflections on the lives of two prominent men in Scripture. One’s actions remind me that no matter how long we’ve walked with the Lord, we’re still capable of committing unthinkable sins. The reclamation of the other affirms that God’s elect, even those who appear to be hopelessly lost, are never beyond His reach. The former shout a warning; the latter shines a beacon of hope.

King David
The shepherd-boy who slayed Goliath grew up to become God’s chosen king. Yet, after years of experiencing God’s favor and protection and blessing, he sinned by blatantly breaking several of the Ten Commandments. David didn’t begin by devising a murderous scheme. As is often the case when we go astray, his downfall resulted from a series of bad choices and poor decisions. Each one escalated the situation and led him further and further down the path of disobedience. (James 1:13-15)

IMG_64112 Samuel 11 recounts the whole sordid scenario. David’s first mistake? He didn’t lead his troops into battle against the Ammonites. (v. 1) He chose to stay home instead, which meant he was available to take an afternoon stroll on his rooftop. As he gazed about, he spied a beautiful woman, mid-bath. Instead of respectfully averting his eyes, he inquired as to who she was. Even when informed that she was a married woman, he had her brought to the palace so he could lay with her. (vs. 2-4) When this dalliance led to Bathsheba becoming pregnant, King David concocted a scheme to bring her husband back from the front lines so he could spend time with his wife. But Uriah was an honorable man and refused the conjugal visit while his fellow soldiers and the ark remained camped in an open field. Instead, he slept at the door of the king’s house. The next day, David encouraged him to go to Bathsheba, even making him drunk. Still Uriah refused. (vs. 5-13)

With his plan to avert suspicion about Bathsheba’s pregnancy thwarted, King David became more desperate and his devices more diabolical. He instructed his commander, Joab, to abandon Uriah on the battlefield so that the enemy forces could easily take his life. His wretched orders were carried out and Uriah perished. (vs. 14-25) David took the widowed Bathsheba to be his wife and she bore him a son. (vs. 26) But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD. (v. 27, emphasis mine)

God doesn’t let his children’s wanderings go on forever. Like a loving Father, He disciplines those who belong to Him. (Hebrews 12:5-11) And so He sent Nathan the prophet to confront David with a story that at first incensed him and then brought him to his knees in repentance. (2 Samuel 12:1-9)[1] God is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from our sins. (1 John 1:9) Nonetheless, we must often deal with the consequences of our behavior and for David, the consequences were dire indeed. (2 Samuel 12:10-14)

Saul
Saul’s transformation is every bit as astounding as David’s disgrace. Before meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, Saul was one of the most zealous pursuers and persecutors of the early believers. He was there, giving assent, when Stephen was stoned. (Acts 7:58) And when the great persecution of the church took place, he entered house after house, dragging off men and women and committing them to prison. (Acts 8:3) Still breathing out murderous threats, he obtained letters from the high priest empowering him to search the synagogues of Damascus for others belonging to the Way that he might bring them, bound, to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1-2)

But on the way, Saul encountered the living Christ. He was blinded by His radiant presence and convicted by His question, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

And he said, “Who are you, Lord?”

And He said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” (Acts 9:3-6)

Saul’s reputation for harassing believers was widely known so it’s understandable why Ananias was reluctant to follow God’s instructions to go to Saul that he might lay hands on him and restore his sight. (Acts 9:10-14) Nevertheless, God assured Ananias he had nothing to fear from the man He’d chosen to carry His name to the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. (Acts 9:15) His sight restored, and filled with the Holy Spirit, Saul began boldly proclaiming Jesus to be the Son of God, confounding his listeners who knew him before his conversion. (Acts 9:17-22)

The man with a stellar Hebrew pedigree, (Philippians 3:4-6) who hated those of the Way and the Savior they worshiped became Paul, the apostle. He counted his upbringing and all he’d previously depended on to gain favor with God as loss in light of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ as Savior. (Philippians 3:4-11) And, just as Jesus told Ananias he would, Paul suffered much for his Lord. (2 Corinthians 11:24-29)

Two men. Two lives touched by God and empowered by the Spirit. Two stories recorded for our edification. (1 Corinthians 10:11; 2 Timothy 3:16) Ultimately, both are about God’s amazing grace. None of us is saved or lost based on our deeds. Our salvation is a gift from our loving Father, leaving no room for boasting. (Ephesians 2:8)

Let us never become complacent or proud, thinking we’re beyond the reach of temptation, but avail ourselves of the means of escape God provides. (1 Corinthians 10:12-13) Neither let us grow weary in praying for our unbelieving friends or family members, remembering that none of the Good Shepherd’s sheep will be lost. (John 10:27-30)

[1] See also Psalm 51, David’s powerful prayer of repentance.

The impostor

I’ve killed my share of plants over the years . . . and I’ve cared for a few longer than I should have.

My garden is home to a beautiful stand of native columbines, offspring of plants my late husband started over 20 years ago. Like a number of other gardening tasks, ensuring the survival of the columbines was something I had to learn-by-doing after Ray passed away suddenly one warm April evening. As I cut back the spent flowers later that spring, I realized they were laden with seeds. Many spurted out when I cut the dried stems, dotting the ground and decorating my shirt. I decided to sprinkle more around for good measure. And sprinkle I did, shaking pod after pod of dried columbines.

Months passed. Raising two young daughters alone and trying to find my footing in a world turned upside down consumed much of my time and energy. But winter waned, warmer days returned and the garden beckoned me. A reconnaissance stroll yielded a number of finds – tiny plants emerging from their winter slumber. “Hmm”, I wondered. “What could all those leaves springing up in the front bed be?” Then I remembered scattering columbine seeds everywhere. It worked! I’ve continued the sprinkling tradition ever since and each year I’ve been blessed with a bumper crop.

IMG_2890

A young columbine on the left with a weedy wannabe on the right.

When I was first taking stock of the returning plants, I noticed some leaves that looked almost like columbine foliage with a similar growth habit. Not wanting to pull up desirable plants, I decided to let them develop until I was sure. Big mistake! By the time I realized they were weeds, they’d put down roots, matured and reproduced. The imposters return each spring alongside the columbines, hiding out, hoping I won’t spot them. But after almost two decades of observation and careful scrutiny, I’m able to readily detect the difference, even when the plants are still very small. I pluck them out before they have a chance to get established and take over valuable garden real estate.

 

Just like my early dealings with the weeds, it’s easy to let questionable behavior or dubious conduct gain a foothold. We rationalize, “Looks like a good thing. I’m not sure, but it won’t hurt to try it out, at least until I’m certain. I can redirect later if need be.” By the time we recognize the situation for what it is, it’s much more difficult to handle than if we’d been more spiritually discerning from the start. Unlike the weeds which really aren’t out to get me, we have an adversary bent on our destruction. Though he knows his ultimate defeat is certain[1], he prowls about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may destroy.[2] He masquerades as an angel of light[3], tempting with promises that seem oh-so-reasonable, all while minimizing potential consequences.[4]

Fortunately, there is a way to resist him. We must draw near to God[5], making use of the mighty armor He provides for us.[6] As we think on his powerful word, described in Ephesians 6 as the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, our minds are transformed and we are enabled more and more to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.[7]

4-5-2015, Columbine 1As the colony of columbines has become more dominant over the years, there’s less room for the pesky intruders. Those that do appear don’t get to stay around very long since I can now easily identify them. Just as I’ve consistently sprinkled columbine seeds and studied the resulting plants’ appearance, let us liberally sow God’s truth in our lives and meditate on its teachings. In so doing, may we weed out temptations and lies before they have a chance to entice and entangle us.

 

[1] 1 Corinthians 15

[2] 1 Peter 5:8

[3] 2 Corinthians 11:14

[4] Genesis 3:1-5

[5] James 4:7-8

[6] Ephesians 6:10-17

[7] Romans 12:2

Father knows best, take 2

First-time obedience – it’s something we strive for and long for in our children, be they toddlers or teenagers. As we try to shape them into responsible, caring human beings we establish rules and enforce boundaries, preferably in a consistent and loving way. But oh do they ever push the limits. There are times when we even wonder if our children may be suffering from temporary hearing loss. We repeat our instructions over and over, frequently increasing our volume with each repetition.

Often our rules are meant to keep our children safe. For instance, we know the dangers of running in front of a car, playing with knives and sticking keys in electrical outlets, thus we warn them. At other times we try to help them learn how to play well with others. Hitting someone because you’re angry they took your “favorite” toy (which you may or may not have looked at for days) is not advisable, at least if you want the person to be favorably disposed to your presence. Likewise, cutting your sister’s hair, “so she can see better”, without asking Mommy first will more than likely result in your scissors being kept out of your reach.

Parenting is not for the faint of heart for MANY reasons, guiding and disciplining day in and day out being near the top of the list. After raising my daughters, I now have the opportunity to come alongside Mary and Justin to help them bring up their three little ones. img_1950Though it’s tempting to take the easy route and fall into the role of indulgent grandmother, I know it wouldn’t do any of us any favors, least of all the children. Hence I adhere to the house rules, sometimes stating, “Mommy (or Daddy) says . . . ”, to reinforce the idea of obedience even when they’re not present.

Several months ago, after I’d repeatedly asked Joshua to stop engaging in some now-forgotten misbehavior, I thought, “I just wish he’d obey the first time!” Almost immediately, a still, small Voice spoke to my heart: “What about you? Do you always obey the first time?” The question pierced me to the core because the honest answer was, “No, Lord. I don’t.”

Occasionally, like Eve, I let myself be led astray by “Did God really say?” thinking.[1] Maybe I misunderstood. Maybe it would be ok to run a quick test, just to be sure. A while back, I left Joshua unsupervised for a few moments while I tended to his sister. He appeared with a sheepish look and a small cut on his finger. Even though we’d told him again and again knives are off limits because they’re sharp, he decided to check it out for himself. I can relate.

At other times my disobedience is more willful. I rationalize that given the circumstances, my behavior is ok, at least “this once”. Yet try as I might, I’ve never found a footnote anywhere in the Bible exempting me from God’s commands. Moreover, rationalization is a slippery slope which can lead us further and further away from who we want to be. King David is a prime example. It all started when he wasn’t where he was supposed to be. Yet committing murder was probably the furthest thing from his mind when he went up on the roof of the palace to get some fresh air. Nonetheless one poor decision led to another until he not only arranged to have an innocent man die, but he lied and committed adultery as well.[2] This is a sobering story indeed considering David was God’s chosen king,[3] described as a man after God’s own heart.[4]

Knowing our weaknesses, God promises to provide a way out when we’re tempted.[5] Even so, we don’t always avail ourselves of his provision. And when we don’t, when we decide to go our own way, He disciplines us. Not because He wants to squash our fun or limit our self-expression as our children sometimes accuse us of, but because He loves us.[6] We are fearfully and wonderfully made in his image[7] and He knows what’s best. His rules and boundaries are there to protect us.

Over the years, my mom has said countless times, “A self-learned lesson is the best.” As much as I’d like to shield my children and grandchildren from harm, I realize consequences are sometimes the ideal teacher, at least when we learn from our experiences. It is much the same with me and my heavenly Father. He frequently uses the pain caused by my disobedience to draw me back to himself. I have learned I cannot live a life which satisfies myself if I do not live a life which is satisfying to God.[8] To be sure, most of the pain comes from a sense of disappointing Him which in turn leads to a rueful desire to hide, like Adam and Eve.[9] I rejoice in the fact my Father never lets go or loses sight of me, even when I wander. It’s impossible to hide. Indeed He seeks me out. His discipline confirms I am his daughter[10] and his loving arms are always open to welcome me back. The peace and joy that come with restoration are priceless.[11]

Let us not lose heart as we raise the children entrusted to us. May we be wise as we set boundaries, consistent when discipline is called for, and steadfast as we assure them of our love. In so doing, we will give them a glimpse of the Father who loves them even more than we do.

[1] Genesis 3:1

[2] The full account is found in 2 Samuel 11

[3] 1 Samuel 16:1

[4] 1 Samuel 13:14

[5] 1 Corinthians 10:13

[6] Hebrews 12:6

[7] Psalm 139:14, Genesis 1:26a

[8] The Valley of Vision, Arthur Bennett, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975, p. 166

[9] Genesis 3:8

[10] Hebrews 12:7-8

[11] Hebrews 12:11

Don’t tempt me

I wrote my weekend to do list yesterday. I had a good plan, a solid plan, and was hoping to cross off a number of those indoor chores today. But when I woke up this morning I was greeted by radiant sunshine and a brilliant blue sky. IMG_0420I checked the forecast. Yes! Afternoon temps in the 60’s; one of those warm mid-winter days we can look forward to in the South. Instead of being a facilitator to help accomplish my goals for the day, my to do list suddenly became an obstacle to fulfilling my craving to spend time outside – a desire which sprang up as soon as I realized what a beautiful day it was going to be.

I had an internal debate with myself as I prepared breakfast. Should I stick with my original plan, suck it up and get my work done or permit myself to go outside and indulge in one of my favorite activities? Decisions, decisions. Knowing how much I enjoy working in my yard, a friend suggested I postpone my chores and spend at least a few moments outside. Furthermore, he pointed out the extended forecast is calling for clouds tomorrow and rain by Monday. Perfect! Just what I needed – someone to support me in going with Plan B. When I got dressed for the day, I went ahead and put on a pair of old jeans I reserve for working outside . . . just in case I decided to enjoy those few moments. Shortly after noon, I went to get the mail. That did it. Any sliver of resolve I might have been holding onto regarding sticking to my original plan for the day quickly dissolved as I felt the warmth of the sun.

I ate lunch, happily anticipating the outdoor moments I was going to allow myself. Those moments turned into over 2 ½ hours. I could make a persuasive argument that I and my garden benefitted greatly from the time I spent outside. After all, I consider gardening to be one of the best forms of therapy and cool season annual weeds had almost taken over the front bed, encouraged into proliferation by our abnormally warm pre-Christmas weather. But as I knelt pulling up handfuls of chickweed, I couldn’t help but think how easy it is to convince ourselves to give into our desires.

. . . Even when we know what’s required of us and the stakes are much higher than not getting our chores done . . . Even when we believe the One who’s established the boundaries and shown us the way only wants what’s best for us . . .

Isn’t that what happened in the first Garden? And nothing’s ever been the same.