Where the Weeds Grow

Although I love my next-door neighbor, I needed more than a wimpy strip of grass between her driveway and mine.  So last Fall I hired a landscaper to replace the swath of grass with trees and shrubs.  The first step was to kill the grass, then the guys went to work digging, planting and mulching.  I carefully watered my new landscaping, worried over it when we had a late freeze, and these days enjoy watching the plants grow.  What else is growing?  Crabgrass.  All throughout the area, I have been battling crabgrass.

Search Me O God

Have you ever tried to dig up crabgrass?  There’s a reason why it’s so difficult.  The green, leafy part we see is just the beginning.  Crabgrass grows from a network of strong, deep roots that spread laterally through the ground a couple inches below the surface.  It’s tough to pull out completely, and when you do you see why: it’s all connected.

As I dug and pulled and sweated over the weekend, on my knees doing battle with crabgrass, I couldn’t help but think about sin.  Sin.  The word used to make me cringe, especially as a new believer.  It is a tough concept for people steeped in an “anything goes” culture and who believe that we are all fundamentally good.

As a new Christian, I had to learn what sin is (falling short of perfection) and accept that I am a sinner (because I’m not God, I’m not perfect).

That was sixteen years ago, and how delightful it has been to discover that one of the most beautiful aspects of walking with God is how He continually, gently, and mercifully shows me where I’m sinning and helps to root it out.  What I know now about sin is that admitting it and allowing the Lord to heal it is one of the most amazing ways to directly experience His glory, His mercy, and His blessings.

For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

Romans 6:13

God forgave our sins through the justification and salvation of Jesus, but He didn’t then just walk away.  No, God also cares deeply about conforming us to the likeness of Jesus by coming alongside us and transforming us.  As we desire to be more like Jesus, He guides us and helps us.  He pulls sin out by the roots and changes us, if we allow it.  Confronting sin isn’t an exercise in humiliation and judgment, as I probably once thought.  Rather, it is one of the amazing blessings of walking with God.

I’m speaking from experience here, friends.  I struggle with my share of anxiety, resentment and wrong thinking.  As I’ve battled these sins, God has gently lead me back to Him time and again.  Shown me that He is all I need.  That my trust falters when I don’t seek Him first.  That His plan is so much better than mine.  As I have prayed and He has provided, I find myself walking in freedom.  Far from perfect–far from sinless–but ever closer to the One who is.

Unlike me, God doesn’t sweat and swear with the difficulty of getting all the roots out.  He isn’t surprised when we fall short of perfection.  He expects it.  After all, Jesus died so that we could be forgiven of sin and walk with a perfect, sinless God.  Yes, your sin is already forgiven by the power of the cross; now comes the invitation to walk confidently in that forgiveness.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

   test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,

   and lead me in the way everlasting.  Psalm 139:23-24

Today, take your sin before Jesus, even that problem that has been especially difficult.  Ask God to not only dig up the obvious, outward evidence of sin, but to reveal and heal the wrong thinking that might have taken hold deep inside you.  Believe me, He is able.

Signature

Advertisements

The True Meaning of Emmanuel

It’s hard to believe it, but the aisles are stocked with Christmas, holiday concerts are already being advertised and “Black Friday” seemingly has become “Black November.” It puts me in the mood for hot chocolate and snow days!  Especially around the Christmas season you will hear Jesus referred to by the name Emmanuel, but have you ever wondered why?  Emmanuel means “God with Us.”  Since coming to Jesus fifteen years ago, I have loved that name and its meaning. I love to think of Jesus by my side in all things, “takin’ the wheel,” so to speak.  But a while back God showed me more about this name Emmanuel.  It’s not just a nice name with a cool meaning, but a glimpse of God’s love for you and me, as well as His plan to pursue our hearts.

img_1588

At the time, I’d been reading the stories from the Old Testament with my children, and in the evenings my older son and I were also reading much of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers.  At the same time, I was studying the book of Revelation through Bible Study Fellowship.  This is where being in the Word gets so cool.  Reading history and prophecy at the same time will blow your mind!  By having one foot in the history of our faith and the other in our certain future, I was able to catch a tiny glimpse of God’s awesome love story.

Here’s the headline: Since the beginning and until the end, God’s desire is to be with us.  His word reveals time and again that he longs to dwell among us.  In the very beginning he walked with us, and we with him, enjoying an unashamed intimacy and personal relationship.  When we (making poor use of our God-gifted free will) decided to reject God and usurp His role, we introduced all kinds of barriers into this relationship.  It has suffered ever since.

But God’s story didn’t end there.  He still relentlessly pursued us.  God appeared as a pillar of cloud and fire which lead the Israelites through the desert.  He later dwelt among them via the physical temple, but unlike in Eden, His physical presence among the Israelites was limited.  The temple was built in such a way as to ensure God’s innermost chamber (the Holy of Holies) would be inaccessible to all people except to the High Priest (and even then only once a year).  This movable temple traveled with the Israelites everywhere they went, ultimately being replaced by the permanent temple at Jerusalem, built by Kings David and Solomon.  There, again, a curtain blocked God’s holy dwelling-place from public view.

But God’s story didn’t end there, either.  At the right moment in human history Jesus–Emmanuel–was born, fulfilling countless Old Testament prophecies as well as God’s divine plan. God again physically walked among us, no longer restricted to that innermost chamber behind the curtain.  Emmanuel–God with us–had come to once again dwell with His people.  Many people in those times recognized Jesus for who he was, and followed him—can you imagine what that was like?  And since His death, Jesus offers all people everywhere the blessing of God’s Holy Spirit, which is God dwelling in us.  Have you heard that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit?  This means it is the physical dwelling-place of God’s spirit the same way that Moses’s temple was a physical dwelling-place for God.

And lest we forget, at Jesus’s death the curtain (or veil, as you may have heard it called) in the temple was torn.  The physical symbol for separation from God was supernaturally destroyed at the moment when God-with-Us fulfilled his purpose of removing all those barriers to relationship with Him.  This is the meat of why Jesus died.  It was to overcome our rejection of God, cleanse us of all those barriers we put up between Him and us, and again dwell with us.  Through Jesus’s sacrifice and this gift of the Holy Spirit, we have the opportunity to walk with God in this life.

Unbelievably, that’s still not even the end of the story.  If you respond to God’s pursuit by turning toward Him, if you believe that Jesus’s death does in fact reconcile you to God and allow Him to dwell with you, there is even more.  God’s response to your commitment of faith is to honor it: to dwell with you in eternity.  This is what we call Heaven.  Revelation teaches us that the final chapter in this love story is a beautiful afterlife characterized by togetherness with our Maker.  Our intimacy with Him will be restored and the beauty of Eden far surpassed.

God’s story, from beginning to end, is the story of His desire to be with us.

When you see the fullness of His pursuit for intimacy with you, across thousands of years and in the face of repeated rejection, does it change the way you respond to Him?  It fills me with overwhelming gratitude. The God of the Universe didn’t just give up on me.  He hasn’t given up on any of us.  From creation…Old Testament History…Jesus’s life and death…to prophecies yet to be fulfilled…they all speak to this singular truth: God’s deepest longing is for relationship with you, me and all of us. The name Emmanuel, God with Us, it means something.  I pray that today you will allow it mean something for you.

Signature

Seeking Beauty in All the Small Things

This article originally appeared on That Mommy Blog on November 19, 2015.

Recently I was here talking about the way God has been calling me to seek beauty in the everyday. You might be wondering what exactly that means, beyond noticing actual beautiful objects in the world around us.  Yes, I am into beauty for its aesthetic value, or else I wouldn’t get all foolish over Target’s Christmas section.  Gorgeous.

But what I really mean when I talk about seeking beauty in the everyday is this: catching a glimpse of the holy.  Catching a glimpse of God’s face here on earth, experiencing his peace in the midst of turmoil, turning my ear toward his voice.

How?  Well I have quite a few thoughts about that, too many for one blog post.  But for now I just want to talk about seeking beauty in the small things.  Most of our lives are spent in small moments. Preparing meals, caring for babies, cleaning house, working at jobs we may or may not love.  What I want to say is that these moments, be they boring or irritating or simply required, are the gist of our lives.  I’m one to fall into the trap of waiting on that next big vacation, promotion, or celebration…looking so much forward to it that I discount what’s right in front of me.  But God didn’t place me in one long vacation of a life.  He placed me in a life of small moments, and every single one is brimming with potential.

So I’m trying: when I fold the laundry, to enjoy the smell of it.  The accomplishment of another load washed and folded.  The feel of the fabric in my hands.

I’m trying: when the kids are a wall of noise, to revel in their giggles instead of focusing on their volume.

I’m trying: when the dog is bonkers and needs a walk, to notice what’s beautiful about that walk. Appreciate the exercise.  Enjoy the repetition of the same old route.

I’m trying: when everyone wants to eat yet again and usually just when I cleaned up the kitchen, to at least give a brief “thank you” that we have plentiful food and multiple ways to prepare it.

I suppose this has something to do with mindfulness.  Lots of people have written about that practice. My specific inspiration is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, which says “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  Always means always.  Every moment, big or small.  Every moment, happy or sad.  Every moment, pained or healthy.  (That last one is a real thorn in my side.  Also cleaning toilets.  I hate cleaning toilets.)

So if you give this a try today please let me know your thoughts about it.  And if you figure out how to rejoice in cleaning toilets, you must let me know!

Signature