Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Two Patches of Earth

I have these two lovely hydrangeas with beautiful puffs of lilac blue blossoms on which the butterflies dance and I have a pot of lily of the valley all of which are awaiting a garden patch shaded from the burning rays of the Georgia sun. My problem is I don't have a shade garden prepared for them. The sunny patches have been prepared--their soil turned, the weeds removed. But the shaded areas are so overgrown with wild plants, saw briers, and rocks that I can't even turn the soil let alone place a plant and watch it grow. Two gardens, one prepared and the other not ready. The book of Titus offers a great deal of comparisons between the healthy soul and the unhealthy--the spirit who has heeded healthy, sound teaching and the one who has not yet absorbed truth into their inner being. Here are two lists--as you read, will you as I am, ask God to reveal which of these things may be growing in the garden of your soul. Just take a moment before you read these to genuinely invite the Holy Spirit to show you how these words of truth might relate to your own life. He is faithful to honor those kinds of requests. First List Slave of God Apostle of Jesus Christ chosen ones sons in the common faith blameless faithful children not arrogant not prone to anger not a drunkard not violent not greedy for gain hospitable devoted to what is good sensible upright devout self-controlled hold firmly to the faithful message of truth give exhortation in healthy teaching correct those who speak against truth healthy in the faith not pay attention to myths or people who reject the truth communicating behavior that goes with sound teaching temperate dignified self-controlled sound in faith in love in endurance behavior that is holy not slandering not slaves to excessive drinking teaching what is good love husbands love children self-controlled pure fulfilling duties at home kind being subject to husbands self-controlled examples of good works in every way in teaching shows integrity dignity sound message subject to masters not talking back not pilfering showing all good faith bring credit to teaching of God in everything rejecting godless ways and worldly desires live self-controlled upright godly subject to rulers and authorities obedient ready for every good work not slander anyone peaceable gentle showing courtesy to all people heirs with expectation of eternal life insist on truth intent on engaging in good works engage in good works meet pressing needs Second List chargeable with dissipation chargeable with rebellion arrogant prone to anger drunkard violent greedy for gain rebellious idle talker deceiver misleading people teach for dishonest gain reject the truth listen to myths minds and consciences are corrupted profess to know God, but deeds deny him detestable disobedient unfit for any good deed godless ways worldly desires lawless slander foolish disobedient misled enslaved to various passions enslaved to various desires spending life on evil and envy hateful hating one another involved in foolish controversies quarrels fights about the law divisive twisted by sin conscious of their twisted nature unfruitful The things on these lists are not necessarily going to describe all of us. In fact most of us will probably discover there are some things from both lists in our lives--we're works in progress--straining toward what is ahead. But so often we accept status quo. We assume that if there is some good fruit, it's good enough. If we are relatively moral and decent than we are miles ahead of the other people in the world. And the thing is--that's not why Jesus died. "He gave himself for us to set us free from every kind of lawlessness and to purify for himself a people who are truly his, who are eager to do good." (Titus 2:14) Truly His. Are you? Am I? Am I identifiable as a daughter of Jesus Christ? Or do I "profess to know God but with my deeds, I deny him..." (Titus 1:16) No matter where we find ourselves today I want to end reminding us all that "It is God who works in your both to will and to do His good pleasure." (Phillipians 2:13) It's so tempting to think we need to get out to our gardens and start pulling weeds and tossing rocks. But my squash plants have not once used their tendrils to pull the crab grass that insists on sprouting beside them. They've patiently waited for me to pull them. Likewise my friends if you are reading this post, God is already at work in the garden of you spirit--all you need to do is allow Him to work and respond in agreement. We are the branches, not the gardeners. Pray with me: Father help us to yield to your revealing truth. Help us to see who we are and agree with you. Help us not to strive but to surrender to Your hand at work in our lives. May we be truly yours. Amen.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Every Garden Communicates

I just got back from a weekend trip to Maine where I walked the misty gardens of the Mount Battie Inn. http://www.mountbattie.com/ In a place where the sea's haze is too lazy to leave early and so social it lingers long past the morning's dew, the gardens are lush and green. The plants tell their story--they're the variety that know how to thrive when the sun is overpowered by fog and moisture and still offer blossoms plump and delicate. The gardens there spoke clearly of their purpose--to offer pleasure and peace to the Inn's guests and to stretch across the hill like a Sunday napper on an ample hammock. They communicated well. Titus 2:1 says, "But as for you, communicate the behavior that goes with sound teaching." This passage is largely pointing to our words--the things that come from our mouths should reflect sound teaching. Too though, the NET translation of the Bible takes the Greek phrasing a step farther and uses the word behavior here indicating that our actions are part of our communication. So our word and deed will either speak soundly or they will not, but they will speak. If the gardens at the Mount Battie had been overrun in weeds they would not have spoken peace and respit to the travelers whose feet padded their pathways. They would not have said someone has taken care to tend to us and we are here to display beauty in a world overrun with chaos. Had their stems and stalks been strangled by unpulled weeds left to grow and spread at will I would not have even desired to walk through them. But they were not. They were healthy and their blossoms were free to flourish despite a rainy spring and wet summer. It's the same with our lives--if we don't pull the weeds by the root our lives will not communicate the behavior that goes with sound teaching. What then is the measure of a weed? First and foremost, it is anything that does not line up with sound teaching. Anything. I'm tempted then to offer you a list of things that would be classified as weeds. I'm even more tempted to share with you the weeds God showed me in my own life this weekend--some of which I had grown very fond. But since we're all blessed with the presence of the Holy Spirit and He has the power to speak truth into our hearts, for today let's just ask Him to cause His light to shine on the weeds that are perhaps sprouting next to true plants in our lives. Will you pause with me to ask Him to reveal those things before we dig further? Pray with me: Spirit of truth would you shine on the weeds in my life--make them evident to me that I would allow you to remove them. I desire to be a garden that communicates sound teaching--Help me to yield to your gentle hand. Amen.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pulling Weeds--Fleshing it out over the Summer

II Timothy 1:7 "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power of love and of sound mind." Nineteen relatively short and simple words and I suspect that if I eat them, they will change my life. Today I began to slice the two words which in Greek are actually one--sound mind. Some translations say self-discipline and others self-control. Actually, this exact Greek word is only used this one time in the entire Bible. Once. So this spirit which God has given us is apparently somewhat unique in that no other time is the same word used for any other purpose. Here's what I really like about this word. If you are into believing that God doesn't make mistakes and that every phrase of the Bible in it's original languages is specifically chosen and inspired by God, which I am in the habit of believing, then you'll like this too. The Greek word here is a noun. It's not a verb, adjective or adverb. It's a noun. Okay, grammar review--nouns are persons, places or things. Verbs denote action. Adjectives describe. Nouns can be acted upon, but they do not act themselves. Simply put, a noun just is. If a dog is a dog, then a dog is a dog. The dog cannot make itself a cat. If a car is a car, then a car is a car and it cannot make itself a boat. So, while there are other instances in the New Testament where variations of this same Greek word are used as verbs, adverbs and adjectives, this is the only time where it is used as a noun. What's the big deal? God has given us a spirit of sound mind. Period. He didn't give us a "sound mind spirit" which would be using an adjective to describe our spirit...like a red spirit or a green spirit. The author could have said, God has given us a sober spirit using the adjective variation of the same greek word. But he did not. And he did not use an adverb saying that the spirit can behave soundly or soberly. He also did not say that the spirit is the verb. Dogs can sit, they can run, they can play, they can sleep--all actions. But the fact that they are a dog does not change. That's the thing about our spirit given to us by God at salvation--it is SOUND. That does not change. It's a noun. It's a thing. It's a fact--we have a sound mind. We have a sober mind. We have a self-disciplined mind. That fact is not in question according to God's Word. And man oh man, do I need to KNOW that. What we believe about ourselves, our minds, our spirits, our entire inner being will directly affect every single facet of our lives. I'm afraid some of us don't believe we have a sound mind. I'm afraid some of us have bought into the mentality that our foundations are poor and therefore we need to fix them when in fact, if we are in Christ, we are a new creation and our foundation is built on the rock of ages. If there are problems in our lives they are not foundational. According to God's word--the foundation is SOUND. So I'm getting into the garden of my soul this summer and I'm pulling some weeds. God started me here because for a moment or two I've begun to question whether the garden was any good at all. When you start to get overtaken by weeds you feel pretty quickly that you are the weed when in fact that is not true at all--we are fearfully and wonderfully made and at the moment we chose to become a follower of Christ we were also given a spirit of soundness. My stalks and leaves and even fruit may be choked out by any manner of weed, but I am still a creation of God chosen before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. And so are you, my friends. So are you. So don't pull yourself from the garden. Identify who you are and then let's get to the weeds. There's more here--but for today, let's look at the garden of our soul with the peace that comes from knowing that the soundness, the saneness, the quality of our spirit is not in question according to the Words of our great God. Amen.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pulling Weeds

I planted a garden this spring--48 small square feet of carefully planned and arranged seeds in a pattern fashioned for pest deterring and optimal growth. We've been enjoying spinach and baby lettuce salads with scallions and radish in fresh basil vinaigrette--I'm salivating at the thought of the goose neck squash, zucchini and cucumbers who will span the surface of my plate by week's end. Worth every ounce of effort I am reaping the rewards of some genuine work and planning earlier in the spring. We were afraid we'd never get the garden in this year--it was the worst possible time. In the middle of finishing building our house, moving in, moving out, winding down our school year, testing and, well, you get the picture. But I knew if I didn't do it then, we wouldn't yield fruit later. (It's never a good time to do spiritual gardening--always other things will scream out for us to take care of them first) Then there were the weeds--no surprise in a standard row garden, but since we had brought in all the soil and created raised beds, I hadn't anticipated the level of weeds that popped through the soil before our precious seeds had a chance to grow. The problem with the weeds was that with each tiny green leaf that seemed to be in the very spot I planted a seed there came confusion--was it oregano or some other horrible impersonator? Was that a carrot leaf popping up or had they all washed away in the heavy rains? I didn't know how to verify the identity of many of my veggies in their infant stages. I ended up tasting almost every single green item that began to grow in an attempt to see if it was good. (Reminds me of the passage, "Taste and see that the Lord is good..." A good rule of thumb--if it isn't good in your life, it probably isn't from God.) Finally there were the failed seeds--the ones that seemed so promising and looked so lovely on the package--and then failed to produce. Their squares of soil remained empty for several weeks before I knew for certain they were duds and I should replant. (If we leave empty patches in our spirit and fail to replant healthy things from the word of God, I can promise you weeds will happily plant themselves in those spots. There is no portion of our soul in which the Word of God doesn't need to be planted.) Everybody does garden analogies, and I don't want to bore you. What I do want to say is simply this. As I've been doing some gardening outside, I can't help but see the same pictures others have seen and written about so beautifully. Spiritually speaking, right now, I'm pulling some weeds. They're larger than I'd like and unfortunately, their root systems have spread into many portions of my life. Where there are the roots of weeds the fruit of the Spirit are limited. Joy and peace are stunted where strife and criticism have taken root. Gentleness is stifled where anger has been given full vent to grow. I don't want to give you a misleading picture--I'm not headed for the loony bin...yet :-) The other day I drove up to my mom's house and she's got this large bank where we ripped out all manner of weed and wild plants a couple years back. Since then she'd done a great job of keeping it cleaned up, covered in wood chips and planted in annuals. There's no place for a weed on that picturesque bank and yet when I pulled into her laneway there stood a four foot tall wild flower...aka, weed. How in the world had that weed taken root on her bank? How had it gotten so big? Well, that's probably a more accurate picture in my life. A few rather large weeds seem to be flourishing and God knows I don't want them to flower and go to seed. Have you ever seen a plant that flowers and goes to seed? Think dandelion! Those seeds flitter and float and flank themselves about every possible area of domesticated beauty and choke out what is supposed to flourish leaving spotty yards and blossomless flowers. So, this summer I'm going to do some weed pulling. I've never been one to put on a perfect face and act as though I have it all together so, I'll bare my soul through the journey as I get time to share. For now, let me offer this passage: "For God has not given us a Spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control (sound mind, self discipline)." II Tim. 1:7 God gave us a Spirit of self control and sound mind--we do not have to live in a garden of the enemies' weeds. We can claim power, we can claim love and we can claim self-control. Today, I claim self-control and ask you to join me in my gardening venture. Perhaps you can identify a few weeds now that they've gotten large enough to differentiate. Is that righteous anger or is that rage that has erupted in your spirit? Is that constructive advice or a spirit of criticism flourishing over there in that relationship? Is that freedom in Christ or gluttony? Is that gossip or truth sharing? Is that materialism or simply enjoying the blessings God has given? Is that complete and utter selfishness or is that just 'me time'? Only you can answer these kind of questions for yourselves, but as for me, I'm going to start naming weeds in my life and I invite you to join me as I watch the weeds wilt. Here's to reclaiming the gardens of our souls.