Grass

I love the greening of grass in Spring. It amazes me how our slow-growing warm season grass, dormant and hay-colored all winter, gradually transforms into a vibrant emerald with rising temperatures and frequent rains.

Our neighbor has a deep green fescue lawn that is easily knee high. As I write, I hear the hum of mowing, a signal that the hired men have arrived to bring his overgrown grass into compliance with neighborhood standards lest the Homeowners’ Association threaten a fine.

In suburbia, a lot of effort goes into grass.

My neighbor is paying people to cut the same grass that he also paid them to plant last fall in a multi-step production that involved workers scraping the yard to bare ground, adding rich new soil, puncturing the ground with a bazillion little holes, sowing seed and covering it all with straw.

In less than half an hour, the neighbor’s grass is reduced to ground level.

Our lives are a lot like that grass.

For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away (1 Peter 1:24)

Our everyday lives have the illusion of permanence, like grass that grows unhindered month after month. In a crisis like the current COVID-19 pandemic, that illusion is stripped away and we come face-to-face with our certain mortality.

Though unpredictable, death is visibly certain and indiscriminate.

At first, the spread of Coronavirus seemed an affliction of the affluent, people who traveled on planes and cruises, frequented the better restaurants. Then it began to spread across continents and every demographic. Some victims recovered while others died within days or hours.

The infected/ill and infected/asymptomatic include actors, musicians, lawyers, school teachers, nurses, bus drivers, nursing home residents, children, pregnant people, the young, the old, the middle-aged, the previously healthy and those with underlying health conditions.

They have one thing in common: they are human.

We are all human. All mortal. Like grass that is mowed, everybody dies. Yet, God has set eternity in our hearts and made provision for us mortals who reverence Him.





As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
When the wind has passed over it, it is no more,
And its place acknowledges it no longer.
But the lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him,
And His righteousness to children’s children,
To those who keep His covenant
And remember His precepts to do them ~ Psalm 103:15-18

God loves the world; do you?

john316sign (2)
It’s the familiar Bible verse visible on signs in sports stadiums all over America:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Do you love what God loves?
I’m not talking “love” in the abstract, where we claim to love some amorphous, nameless mass of humanity.
I‘m asking if we love the kinds of people Jesus loved? You know the ones I mean:
  • the quick-tempered Peters
  • the survivors of one failed relationship after another like the woman Jesus met at the well in Samaria
  • the ones who work to enrich the oppressive state like Matthew the tax collector
  • the Judas “church” people whose lives undermine and betray everything that is holy

The God who loves sent His Son to die on a torturous cross for miserable people like us.

 

Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (I Cor 6:11)

Social media in these days of Coronavirus quarantine is a close encounter with
“Christians” who claim to love a Savior who sacrificed Himself for those they seem to despise. This should not be.
“Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” (I John 4:20)

Some church people tell me they don’t want to hear anymore about all the dying from COVID-19. Dismissing the threat to public health, some go about their lives, preferring to reject reality and focus solely on their own force field in the faith. As long as no plague comes near their dwelling, per Psalm 91, some don’t seem to care what happens around them.

This, beloved, is not the spirit of the crucified Christ who gave Himself as the once-for-all sinless sacrifice for man’s depravity. He sacrificed Himself for our benefit.

 

My neighbors include vulnerable people over age 80 as well as nurses, first responders, and people who put themselves at risk so the rest of us can have take-out meals, continually stocked shelves, full gas pumps and other things we have come to expect.  Some are Christ followers; others are not.
Jesus has compassion on them all, even the dimwitted who insist the COVID-19 pandemic is an overblown hoax perpetrated by the media. Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem, the seat of religious leadership that would condemn Him to death on a cross.
How many blood-bought believers are weeping in quarantine as fellow human beings are being  brought low by a modern-day plague, so many living and dying alone, fearful, hopeless, faithless?
As Resurrection Sunday approaches let us remember that Jesus died for people, every kind of people, because He loves them. Love is the priority.

The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”  (Mark 12:29-32)

Nobody is Self-Made

My favorite YouTube channel was interrupted by an infomercial autoplay of some guy touting seminars on how to make big money flipping houses, the first step in building a successful real estate business… just like he did.

He claimed to have flipped hundreds of houses into rental property worth millions and clinched the pitch with:

“I’m a self-made businessman.”

“Self-made.” Really?

Is there anything in the universe that made itself?

Even Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species. Or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.” makes mention of “the Creator.” Darwin concedes that something as simple as mistletoe owes its existence to the assist of birds.

“As the misseltoe is disseminated by birds its existence depends on birds; and it may metaphorically be said to struggle with other fruit-bearing plants in order to tempt birds to devour and thus disseminate its seeds rather than those of other plants.” (Origin of Species. Struggle for Existence, chapter 3, p. 62, American edition 1961)

In contrast, the house flipper so easily took credit for making himself a “success.” There’s a lot of pride in that: Look what I did all by myself!

It’s tempting to declare we are “self-made” when the outcome is flattering. How eager are we to own our failures? Who admits to being a self-made liar, alcoholic, abusive spouse, neglectful parent or embezzler from their elders?

In these circumstances, we typically fall back on an “I am not responsible” excuse: blaming genetics, bad childhoods, mental illness etc.

In reality, only God is self-existent and self-sustaining. He alone needs nothing outside Himself.

You and I, on the other hand, are dependent. Apart from Him, we “can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

We human beings are not the Creator. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14, my emphasis)

Scripture teaches:

Know that the LORD, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. “(Psalm 100:3)

God takes full responsibility for what He makes, asking Moses, “Who makes a person’s mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the LORD?

Our families, our economic status, our intellect and talents, the opportunities that come our way, the people we encounter are all part of our life story. We don’t choose much of it. And can take neither credit or blame.

Ultimately, God made each of us and has done all the work necessary to save us from ourselves. We enjoy all the benefits, if we humble ourselves and repentant of self-reliance.

It’s right to take pleasure in our accomplishments as long as we have the humility to admit this: none of us has achieved anything on our own. It’s all grace.

I realize God has treated me with undeserved grace, and so I tell each of you not to think you are better than you really are. Use good sense and measure yourself by the amount of faith that God has given you. (Romans 12:3)

God is Pro-Choice

20200206_181713.jpg

Tempted to cram the Christian faith down someone’s throat for their own good, to strong-arm them into agreeing with your view of the world? Don’t. Choice is God’s idea.

When God created Adam and Eve, Genesis records that He left the door open for the serpent to enter their garden home. God even made Adam and Eve capable of choosing to do something other than His will. It’s instructive that God did not make these prototype people automatons. He gave the first homo sapiens the power of choice, of decision-making.

Think of that: God gave newly-minted, untested and vulnerable human beings the ability to make their own decisions. Knowing full well we are capable of disastrous choices, He still allowed us that privilege.

Christ followers should respect that God-given freedom of choice.

Whether we are raising children, managing a team, being a friend or mixing it up on social media platforms, it’s important to communicate our faith in a way that gives people space to disagree. 

That’s no easy thing, especially if we take seriously the biblical declaration that people are saved or lost and destined for eternity in heaven or hell based solely on whether they are in relationship with God the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Mercifully, God is our example. And He is a perfect gentleman.

• Jesus says, “I stand at the door and knock…” (Romans 3:20) We can open the door of our hearts to Him. Or not.

• The invitation of Jesus is “Come unto me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28) We can respond to that invitation or choose to ignore it.

• When Jesus opens a conversation with “Whoever wants to be my disciple,” clearly “wanting to” is on us. (Luke 9:23)

• The Lord is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) Still, some will perish. Why? Everyone won’t choose to repent.

Suppose Amazon delivers a gift to my door. It’s meant for me, but I refuse to open the door and leave the box on the porch. (Let’s assume no one can steal it!) The gift is still meant for me; but unless I open it, I won’t enjoy its benefits.

God’s offer of salvation is like that. God has given us eternal life and this life is in His son. The gift is ours if we choose to receive the Son. No one can make this choice for someone else. We can cultivate relationships. We can pray for God-given opportunities to share from a place of love.

“Sharing” the faith is not attacking people on social media,  giving unwelcome opinions at family gatherings,twisting people’s arms or otherwise guilting them into loving Jesus.

Faith cannot be forced. God never threatens. He doesn’t argue. God loves, and He waits.

God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance. 

Good news: You Have Been Given a Gift!

It’s Christmas Eve. The presents are wrapped. The tree is glittering. And I’m enjoying live Christmas music from Duke Chapel now that the breakfast prep is done.

It’s all wonderful, but Christmas is so much more than gifts that fade, glitter that tarnishes and food that becomes a memory.

Christmas is God sending Someone to save us from something. While enjoying the season let’s not miss what the angel proclaimed: Good news of great joy to all people.

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)

Jesus is a Savior. So what did He come to save us from?

“She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matt 1:21)

No matter how much we have, there are always deficiencies, insuffciencies that we cannot overcome. We, on our own, are never enough to cover every need. We don’t have the resources to save ourselves from the randomness of everyday life or the sin of our own souls.

No one living on the planet has to be told they sin and are powerless to stop sinning on their own. Life teaches that. And we intuitively understand that sin can’t simply be forgiven. It must be atoned for.

How can a mortal man atone for his own sin to the satisfaction of a holy God? The birth of Jesus Christ is God’s loving solution to that problem.

The Bethlehem manger is the starting point of Christ’s 33-year journey to die on a cross and rise from the grave having paid our sin debt in full.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” (Romans 5:8-9)

In all the Amazon deliveries, gift wrapping, social media postings and menu planning, please don”t miss the profound simplicity of Christmas.

Jesus Himself is The Gift of Christmas. In Him, God offers salvation for free to anyone who will accept it. Anyone.

“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” (1 John 5:11)

Merry Christmas!

Parking Lesson

FairParking

The annual N.C. State Fair has come and gone. But it left me with a lesson I hope will last a lifetime.

I left the fair knowing how quickly I can be tempted to do “what I can get away with” rather than what I know is right but inconvenient. After decades of walking with God it’s sobering to realize how easy it is to dishonor that relationship for a night of frivolous amusements, indulgent food and overpriced games offering dime-store prizes.

It all began with the parking ritual. Fair parking is an entrepreneurial sport for locals. For a fee, people will let you park on their front lawns, in a business parking lot, anywhere the car will fit. The closer to the entrance, the higher the price.

The first parking opportunity we were offered was priced at $20. Too much. We almost parked street side near a roped off lot before two policemen in a golf cart warned us off. “You’ll get a ticket if you park there,” they said. We moved on. Then we saw a movie theater parking lot. The sign read: “Fair Parking $10 Bottom Parking Lot Only Towing Enforced”

We chose to park in a space in front of the theater, end of a row behind a very large SUV. No parking attendant. We walked away. Free parking! You’d think we had lived long enough to know that nothing in life is free.

Had a great time at the fair, returned to the parking lot 4 hours later to find our car … gone! The parking spot was empty. No mystery. Clearly, we’d been towed!

A visit to the popcorn counter and we learned the name of the towing company. After paying $16 for a one-way Uber ride and another $250 to settle the towing bill, we headed home in silence.

Not much to say. No reason to be angry. We knew the price of parking and the unspoken consequence of failing to pay. We were not ignorant. We were disobedient. We figured we could get away with it. We did not. We paid the penalty.

Sometimes that sowing and reaping thing has a quick turnaround.

Driving home, sobered by the turn of events, my mind turned to this verse, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) After the most expensive one-day fair visit in my lifetime, I could think of only three things to be thankful for:

  1. We were able to pay the tow charge
  2. The car had no new, post-tow dents
  3. The tow lot was on our side of town and still open when we arrived.

Lest my readers dismiss our little parking drama as the sad tale of two miserable sinners and/or complete idiots, I should tell you that this is the story of life.

Seemingly innocuous choices can have far-reaching consequences. Not everything in life “just happens.” Sometimes we create our own reality.

More often than I’d like to admit, God’s will is neither hidden or ambiguous. It is as clear as the movie theater parking sign. God’s sheep know His voice. (John 10:27) We don’t always listen.

Instead, we sometimes deliberately choose to do our own thing, following our natural inclinations instead of allowing ourselves to be guided by the Good Shepherd (Psalm 23:3)

“Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.” (James 4:17)

Apart from Christ, each of us is just a sinner who will one day be judged and receive our just and eternal penalty. Sin has built-in judgment. It’s like mac and cheese. Package deal.

While waiting for Uber, my husband and I told God we were sorry for having willfully sinned when we knew better. We were still out nearly $300, the price of doing it our way, but our fellowship with God was restored.

Next time we’re tempted, I want to remember the lesson: Sin is never a shortcut. It’s a complicated detour that always costs more than expected. Knowing the price Christ paid for me to be forgiven and called a child of God, honoring Him with my choices seems like a small way to show my gratitude.

Beauty for Ashes

Back in May, I posted a view of the charred woods along my favorite run route after a controlled burn. It wasn’t very pretty then. Take a look at it now.

Now…

Then…

If your life resembles scorched earth, keep the faith. In time, God can cause something new and beautiful to grow from the ashes.

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” ~ Revelation 21:5