Writer’s Desk

Transplanted by the Master Gardener

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I love hibiscus flowers. They are huge, vibrant, and beautiful! This particular one, however, is not your average hibiscus. What you can’t tell from this picture is that this plant stands over 6 feet tall!
 
This plant has a unique story. It shouldn’t be here. It was destined for destruction.
 
I bought it 2 years ago from a non-profit organization. This non-profit goes to properties that are about to be converted for commercial purposes and rescues native plants growing there, then resells them – giving them a 2nd chance at life.
 
When I bought this plant, it was only a few inches tall. I brought it inside during the winter and put it outside when the weather heated back up. It took this plant over a year to produce a single bloom, two years to really thrive. Now? It’s a massive, healthy plant that stretches above the roofline!
 
The Lord showed me that this plant’s life mirrors our own. We were all destined for destruction. We were planted in condemned ground, thinking we were fine… even as the bulldozer loomed behind us. Until Jesus, the master gardener, uprooted us from our dangerous position and placed us in His garden.
 
Sometimes, it feels unpleasant. Sometimes we’re stuck in a pot that feels too small, in soil that feels too dry or too moist, in wind that feels too strong. Yet the gardener knows what we need and His care is perfect.
 
Like the hibiscus, it can take time for us to begin to grow and more time for us to thrive. So if you feel like a weak little sprout, be encouraged by my hibiscus. If you let Jesus work, He will grow you into a beautiful, productive plant.

Expecting a Response

Do you ever feel like God doesn’t hear your prayers? If we’re honest, I think most of us have at some time in our lives.
 
My head knows He hears, because He promises that He does (Psalm 34:17, 116:1, Proverbs 15:29). But there are days when my heart struggles to believe.
 
That’s why I found the book of Habakkuk so encouraging! It’s a short book, only 3 chapters, but it’s all about a conversation between Habakkuk and God.
 
Verse 2:1 really stood out – and convicted – me. “I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guard post. There I will wait to see what the Lord says and how He will answer my complaint.”
 
Habakkuk had poured his heart out to God, complaining about injustice and concerned about the threats his nation was facing. Then, after his prayer, we see his actions. He doesn’t shrug his shoulders and hope that something will happen. He doesn’t go off and try to fix the problems himself. He doesn’t throw his hands in the air and grumble about time wasted in prayer.
 
Not even close. He confidently waited for God to respond.
 
See, Habakkuk knew God would reply. It wasn’t a question in his mind. He climbed up on a watchtower – a place where lookouts were stationed to watch for incoming messengers or invading armies – and watched for God’s response.
 
In addition, he stood guard at his post. He didn’t abandon the previous instructions the Lord had given him, nor did he ignore the calling placed upon his life. Yet he went about his activities with an awareness and expectation that God would respond.
 
I don’t know about you, but too often I pray for something, then quickly move on with little expectation that God’s going to reply. Do I believe He hears my prayer? Absolutely. But do I live with the expectation that a response will come in His perfect timing? Not often.
 
God’s answer may not always be what we want to hear, which may make us miss His response. What if we, like Habakkuk, lived our lives expecting God to show up? What if we lived with the knowledge that He hears us, that He cares, and that He will respond when we pray?

Equipped and Armed

Conflict. Most of us avoid it when we can.

There are times when it is unavoidable, when you are attacked, seemingly without provocation. There are other times when you might have to do the attacking, perhaps to right a wrong.

How do you deal with the people with whom you have conflict? How do you deal with people who treat you unfairly, who are mean for no reason, who take away your rights or force you to do what you don’t want to do?

If we’re honest, most of us would consider those people our enemies. We might think of ways to get even, or try to figure out how we can “hit them where it hurts.”

Yet Ephesians 6:12 proposes a different outlook: “For we are not fighting against flesh and blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”

If we are to take God’s word as completely true – and I sincerely hope that you do – then this verse makes it clear that people are not our enemies! Our real enemies are unseen, spiritual forces at work in the world around us. Those people, whom we are viewing as our enemies, are really just being influenced and used by the spiritual forces that seek our destruction.

So when you’re attacked by someone, when someone hurts you, just remember that he or she is not the real enemy. We’re not called to hate them, but to love and pray for them (Luke 6:27.)

That is so hard to do! Ephesians 6:10b-11 gives some help with this: “Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all the strategies of the devil.” The verses that follow give us an idea of what that armor looks like: truth, righteousness, peace, faith, the Bible, and prayer.

A SWAT team would never think of going into action without fully arming themselves with weapons, body armor, and shields, yet as believers, we so often go through life unequipped and unarmed. We’re fighting supernatural forces, something much stronger than the flesh and blood criminals that a SWAT team faces, and we show up to battle armed with sticks and wearing shorts and flip-flops.

It’s time to gear up! Arm yourself with the weapons the Lord provides, lean on His great strength, follow Him as the ultimate spiritual SWAT commander, and fight the real enemy – the spiritual forces – while revealing Him to the people around you.

 

 

 

 

 

Time In Between

This is an Easter like no other, isn’t it?

Most churches will not be holding in-person celebrations – nor should they, in my opinion. COVID-19 has changed the face of Easter this year, as we all wait for the crisis to pass.

During this time, there’s a lot of fear. A lot of hopelessness. A lot of uncertainty. People are fighting for their lives, many have lost loved ones, others are losing their jobs, and futures are not what they once appeared to be.

All this reminded me of the first “Good” Friday almost 2,000 years ago, a day that didn’t feel so good to the people who knew Jesus.

That weekend, things looked at their darkest. There was fear. Hopelessness. Uncertainty. They’d lost someone they loved. They’d lost someone who they’d hoped would set them free. The future no longer looked as they’d imagined it should.

Sound familiar?

Yet just a few days later, all of that would be turned upside down. What they had viewed as the darkest of days became a day we now call good.

You see, God had a plan. Did it look anything like the plans the disciples had? Did they see the purpose in that plan as Jesus was bleeding on the cross? As His body was placed in a tomb?

No, they couldn’t see any of that. But they would. At just the right time, God would open their eyes and show them the glory of His plan.

I feel like we’re in an extended “Saturday”, hovering between the horrible hopelessness of shattered dreams and the glorious revelation of God’s goodness. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, burdened, hopeless, and afraid – like much of the world is right now, remember that the disciples felt exactly the same on a Saturday many, many years ago.

Just as God’s good plan was revealed on Resurrection morning, we can trust that His good plan will be revealed at just the right time now. In the meantime, trust God. Press into Jesus. And let the peace of God so permeate your life that those who need hope will see the hope that only Jesus can give.

Invitation to Peace

I was listening to the news this morning and the reporter was saying something about how the COVID-19 virus has forced us all to slow down.
 
Instantly, God brought to mind Psalm 46:10-11 – “He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
 
When I read the chapter, the whole chapter spoke to me. It opens with “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 
though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”
 
Isn’t that beautiful? The chapter opens by telling us about how great God is, calling Him our refuge, strength, and the reason we don’t have to be afraid, then ends with God reasserting His mighty power and inviting us to just be still.
 
Now we think of “still” as not moving, but the meaning of the word is so much deeper than that. Webster also defines it as being quiet, calm, and settled.
 
The reason we can be still? Because God is God. It sounds so simple, but it’s reason enough. No matter the troubles, no matter the outcome for any of us personally, we can believe that He has perfect and complete control.
 
Our lives tend to be so busy that we often push the things that really matter to the side – God, family, friends – but during this time where that busy-ness has been stripped away, God gives us this invitation to refocus.
 
Where’s your focus? How will you respond to God’s invitation?

Peace Amidst The Chaos

These are scary times we live in. Uncertain times. Times of great loss on all levels.

Most people are concerned at best. Many are terrified. We see the evidence in – as silly as it sounds – the shortage of toilet paper.

But, if you’re a child of God, do you realize what one of your great blessings is? You don’t have to be afraid!

This morning I was reading in 2 Kings 6, where the king of Aram comes after Elisha. The troops surround Elisha’s city at night and when Elisha’s servant wakes up the next morning, he sees that they are completely surrounded. He goes to Elisha in a panic and Elisha’s response is very interesting. After comforting his faithful servant, Elisha prays (vs. 17) “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!”

What happened? “The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.”

The servant went from terrified to secure in the space of a moment, because he saw things from God’s perspective. Did his circumstances change? No. He was still surrounded by the enemy, horribly outnumbered by an army who had been sent after the prophet he served. Yet his eyes were opened to what God was doing in the unseen realm around him and he experienced the peace only God can give. Elisha’s next prayer was for God to act on His behalf against the enemy, but His first prayer was to see life from God’s perspective.

What if we did that? What if, instead of asking God to deliver us, we first asked Him to give us His perspective on our circumstances?

Don’t get me wrong, we’re to bring our requests to God. Praying for God to help us, to put an end to the Corona Virus, to save lives and restore stability – none of that is a bad thing! But maybe instead of making that our first request, we should first ask God to open our eyes to what He is doing. If we allow Him to show us His perspective on our circumstances, instead of just focusing on the situation around us, we just might find the peace that only He can give.

And the peace of the Lord is what we – and the rest of the world – really need.

A Calling, A Purpose

Purpose. We all look for it. A meaning for our existence.
 
Too often we look for purpose in the temporal. We look for our families, friends, career, education, or entertainment to fulfill us, but none of those things will ever give lasting purpose.
 
So where do we find it?
 
Ephesians 4:1b says “…Lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.”
 
Ephesians also says in 2:10 “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”
 
Did you know God has placed a calling on your life and planned – in advance – good things for you to do? Now, He won’t force you to do those things, but He invites you in. When you step into His calling, you find meaning, joy, and fulfillment.
 
Now I’m not saying it’s easy. In fact, you can pretty much guarantee that there will be trouble, because the enemy of our souls always launches an attack when you’re working for the Lord, but you can find joy in spite of opposition and hardship.
 
The best thing about God’s call is that it can’t be stopped.
 
Romans 11:29 “For God’s gifts and His call can never be withdrawn.”
 
So if you’re struggling to find purpose, turn to God. He’s placed a special calling on your life!

Advice Worth Following

Do you have that one person in your life who always seems to give the best advice? We all need that kind of person, don’t we?
 
I was reading about King David’s life recently and was really struck by the advice he gave Solomon around the time he was handing the kingdom over to his son.
 
1 Chronicles 28:8-10: “So now, with God as our witness, and in the sight of all Israel—the Lord’s assembly—I give you this charge. Be careful to obey all the commands of the Lord your God, so that you may continue to possess this good land and leave it to your children as a permanent inheritance. And Solomon, my son, learn to know the God of your ancestors intimately. Worship and serve him with your whole heart and a willing mind. For the Lord sees every heart and knows every plan and thought. If you seek him, you will find him. But if you forsake him, he will reject you forever. So take this seriously. The Lord has chosen you to build a Temple as his sanctuary. Be strong, and do the work.”
 
What great advice! He instructs Solomon to…
1. Be careful to obey all the commands of the Lord
2. Learn to know God intimately
3. Worship and serve God with his whole heart and a willing mind
4. Seek God
5. Do the work the Lord has given him to do
 
See, throughout his life, David had learned the value of all of these things. He knew Solomon’s success – or failure – would hinge on his relationship with the Lord.
 
Where are your priorities? If you find that you can’t say that you always follow all of David’s advice, don’t worry – you aren’t alone. I cringe just a little on the inside as I think how often I fail to do those things.
 
Yet the beauty of our Lord is that His mercies are new each day (Lamentations 3:23) and He loves us unconditionally. It doesn’t get much better than that!

The Coming King

Merry Christmas!
 
When you think of Jesus, what image comes to mind? Do you see the baby in the manger? The man on the cross? The healer and teacher?
 
I think so often, those are the images that come to mind. We see Jesus as a gentle and kind man who speaks of love and doesn’t stand up for His rights when falsely accused. We see Him as the friend of sinners, the man who stands up to the religious hypocrites.
 
While He is all of those things, I think we are prone to “keeping” Him there. We forget that He is coming again, not as a baby but as a warrior King!
 
In Revelation chapter 1, John – who was one of Jesus’ closest friends while He walked this earth – sees Jesus and is terrified!
 
Revelation 1:14-18 – “The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
 
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
 
So as you celebrate the baby in the manger, never forget that Jesus, like all of us, did not stay a baby. More than that, He is the King of kings and will one day rule in justice and peace.
 
Celebrate not only that He came once, but that He has promised He is coming again! Merry Christmas, my friends!

A Reason To Be Thankful

Thanksgiving. We are blessed to live in a country that sets a day apart to remember the goodness of the Lord!
 
We really should live with an attitude of thankfulness every day. Have you ever asked yourself why it’s sometimes so hard to be thankful?
 
There are lots of reasons, many of them legitimate. It can be hard to be thankful in the face of death, health problems, betrayal from a loved one, financial struggles, work stress, or loneliness. Yet thankfulness is so important! Thankfulness has the power to shift our focus from our circumstances to all God has given us.
 
Psalm 136 really highlights the essence of thankfulness.
 
It begins with “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His faithful love endures forever.”
 
The writer goes on to highlight many of the things for which we can praise and thank God: He alone does miracles, He made the heavens and earth, he created light and day and night, He rescues His people, He leads His people to safety, He overcomes our enemies, He remembers us in our weakness, He saves us, and He provides for us.
 
Maybe you don’t feel that some of that is true in your life right now. Maybe you feel overcome by opposition. Maybe you feel incredibly weak in some or many areas. Maybe you are in danger or hungry. Those situations are all real and are all tough, but there are still things for which you can thank God!
 
You can thank Him for the ability to read. You can thank Him for giving us His word. You can thank Him for the freedoms we have in this great land. You can thank Him for Jesus, and the salvation He so freely gives.
 
The key to thankfulness is repeated over and over in Psalm 136: “His faithful love endures forever.”
 
God’s love for us never wavers, it never changes, and it will never disappear. If that’s not something for which we can be thankful, I don’t know what is!