Thursday, June 11, 2020

Balanced and Beautiful in Christ #3

“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” - John‬ ‭12:24-25‬ ‭NIV‬‬

I’m a fairly avid gardener. Although my parents were not really into gardening, other family members helped me gain the skills I needed to enjoy it. My mother’s mother lived with us, and although she only spoke Armenian and couldn’t teach me with words, I often spent time with her in the garden. I nurtured her much sought after flat-leaf parsley, sweet peas, prized fig tree, and beautiful Hydrangeas. My father and his sisters were raised in Holland, and one of them lived just an hour away from us in California. Her life was very different from ours. She lived inland, away from the hustle and bustle of our coastal city, where she and her family had acres of citrus trees, pomegranate trees, and a proliferous flower garden that she would walk me through when I visited. 
No matter what was growing at the time, there was value in the seeds that my Grandma and Aunt saved for their gardens the following year.

Allowing the seeds to dry on my Grandma's plants required patience. If we cut the parsley after it began to bolt and before it went to seed, then she would not have starter seeds for the following year. The parsley had to dry on the plant, or it could not regenerate the seed to produce new crops when planted. 

Today, I go through the same process with the Zinnia flowers in my own garden. The outer florets hold the seeds, and they must dry on the plant in the garden for the best Zinnia seeds next year. I leave at least half of the flowers uncut and let them stay in the garden for the birds, butterflies, and bees to enjoy. When fall arrives, the flowers are brown and seeds have developed. Then, I pull off the spent petals (the seeds are at the base of the outer florets) and place them in a bag to plant the following year.

A similar process occurs in our faith. In our day-to-day living, we must let distractions die so that we can continue to grow each new year. If I live too comfortably and do not allow certain things to die—even good things, like marriage, family, and being involved in church and parachurch ministry—I can only produce a limited amount of fruit in my life. It is the BEST crop that God is after, and the best requires death.

There have been seasons that I might have tried anything to keep my kids from growing up, my marriage from developing in new ways, and my own faith from taking deeper root. I was comfortable in my life and status-quo faith. God had to shake things up so that I might die to self and allow Him to be the most important thing in my life again.

In clinging to what was familiar, I had unknowingly pushed God aside. I made him share the throne of my heart with my adorable littles, their popularity in small-town school and sports, my booming business, my husband's successful career, and volunteering for church and mission organizations. Even good things can become seed stealing when I make them more important than God in my life.

I heard a now-retired pastor say it well several years ago, “Think of every wonderful thing that you love in your life today. Every person, activity, hobby, talent, vacation, sport, and sports team. Now think of heaven. If you found out that these things would not be in heaven, would you still want to go? Now, what about Jesus? If He is the only thing in heaven, would you be willing to leave all these other things behind to be with only Him?”

Distractions embellish our lives—even our pared-down, semi-pandemic lives—keeping us from wanting Jesus more. We want to justify picking flowers and bringing them into our comfort zone instead of allowing them to age and wither on the plant. In doing so, we rob the seeds of their natural ability to equip us to produce MORE flowers and fruit in their proper season. The waiting, the weathering, and the slow “dying to self” that must take place does not seem like much fun when displayed next to others’ Instagram-worthy lives. Yet, when we compare our deaths to self to the fullness of eternal life with God, there is really no comparison at all.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Humbled

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:7 

Nothing takes the air out of my sin wheels like humbling myself to God. If I remind myself that I want to be obedient to His Word and His way, and not pursue my own pride and selfish ambition, my idea to sin has little wind left in my sails.

I remembered a pastor say that sinful behavior is usually premeditated, and that’s true. Sin doesn’t always catch us off guard, it usually plans ahead. It doesn’t just show up unannounced, it’s got a plan, even if it’s a momentary dream in the back of our head.
Rarely does it come dressed as it really is, full of decay and destruction —no, it’s usually camouflaged as something that is exciting and beautiful. It satisfies momentary pleasure and then consumes us by destroying everything we have held dear. It takes wedding vows made to God and turns them into mere words of repetition, eliminating them to one sided excuses to commit matrimonial suicide. No longer a balanced statement of hope and teamwork, it becomes a pledge to  selfishness. We pick and choose the verbs we use to justify breaking vows and create selfish manifestos.

But sin is not limited to destroying marriages, it gives in to addictions and other gods, creates idols out of hobbies and work, reduces the names of God to cuss words, consumes our time, destroys families, takes away life, steals belongings, slanders neighbors, and puts our wants before others’ needs. Mostly, it removes the ability for us to love each other the way Jesus set the example of us to love, by serving each other. Sin exalts our own wants over other people’s (and God’s!) needs. When we ignore the effects of our sin on others, and put momentary pleasure ahead of other people’s pain, we choose selfishness over serving. To serve another is to lower ourself, to put their needs over our wants. To humble ourselves before God, resist the devil and his temptations, and make him flee is the ultimate superpower. You have this power in you! I have it in me too.

#marinaskitchentable

This post originally appeared on Marina’s Kitchen Table on May 28, 2018.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Counting 1000 Gifts 2020 Continues...(512-530)

Counting 1000 Gifts 2020: 512 I’m learning so much in this season...lessons, facts, skills, it’s all learning.
I learned today that 513 people who have a great need have to see the need met first, then you can share Jesus with them. 514 Jesus always met people’s needs first. 515 When folks are in crisis they can’t listen. They can’t get past their neediness.
I’m 516 learning the difference between different options in self-publishing an ebook. I want to do something with my 517 photography in a 518 simple devotional of encouragement and prayer, and printing it doesn’t make sense. But an ebook🤔 Hmm. Something to pray about.
519 We learned last night that if you bring jump ropes to turn 520 Double Dutch, 521 kids will learn it. 522 And parents too! I’m afraid my DD jumping days are over (I tried!) but we have ended the past 2 days on so much 523 laughter with jumping ropes and 4 kids and more parents in our neighborhood. It makes my heart full!
And the 524 hydrangeas! Last year the 525 oak leaf didn’t bloom, this year we are 526 creatively staking them up. And 3 of the 527 others that are blooming are all different colors! Pink. Purple. Orchid. I had to remove the fountain up front, and the 528 delphiniums I planted in its place are blooming. Beautiful! The 529 mums will be blooming by week’s end, and everything is so 530 green and lovely.