When we bought the farmhouse we planted a tree at the end of the yard. It was a small
thing. I towered over it. The wind would push it around like it was nothing. We actually
had to put a little fence around it so the dog wouldn’t trample it. Yet this tree, started as
a stick in the ground, took root and began to grow. Each year the growth was
As it reached for the sky and its branches spread out it soon towered over
me. The stick had become a shade tree. Now our dog enjoyed lounging in the grass at
it's base. It became a shelter and a home for the birds. In the Fall the winds would come
and its helicopter like seeds would catch the wind. Where they landed new sticks, soon
to be trees, would sprout.
What is the kingdom of God like?” What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed,
which a man took and planted in the garden. It became a tree, and the birds of the air
perched in its branches” (Luke 13:18-19).
A babe was born in a manger and the world took notice. The babe grew to be a man.
He gathered men around him and began to speak into their lives. People were drawn to
Him. He seemed to impact everyone who came in contact with Him. The deaf could
hear, The lame could walk, The possessed were set free. And the number of His
The disciples, like those helicopter seeds, were dispersed by the winds of tribulation.
Disciples were planted where they land, the gospel took root, and the kingdom grew.
Today when we walk into a church building we see the effects of that spread. That
single seed, the babe in a manger, continues to produce.
A tree God planted birthed a movement that continues to grow today. We are called to
partake in its growth.
Grace and Truth
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the
glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John
One of the hardest things to do is show grace and truth in equal measure. Too often we
live on one side or the other. We are quick to show grace to someone who stumbles, or,
hammer them with truth when they fail. Somehow Jesus knew how to bring each in
equal measure to the forefront in any given situation. He know how to administer grace
to the fallen yet do so without ignoring the truth that needed to be spoken. A woman at a
well just there to draw water. Jesus confronts her with the truth of her lifestyle, yet does
so with so much grace the woman is convicted yet seems somehow relieved to be
called out for it. A guy climbs a tree to gain a glimpse of this Jesus guy. Jesus, catching
a glimpse of him, invites himself to the man’s house for dinner. Zacchaeus, a known
cheat of a tax collector, welcomes him gladly and with joy then repays what he had
How does this happen!?!?! How do we live in the tension between grace and
truth to speak into people’s lives on both levels? As I pondered this the only way I see
the possibility is if grace and truth are centered by love. It was the love of Christ for the
well women and tree men He encountered that made Him capable of gracefully
speaking truth into their lives. And made them willing to receive it.
We must operate in the same place. Grace and truth bracketed by love is the only way
life change is facilitated by the Holy Spirit through us to others. To lean one way or the
other is to fall short of being the complete image and presence of Christ to the person in
front of us who needs that complete image to deal with what they are going through.
Too much grace will leave them comfortable with where they’re at and no desire for
change. Too much truth we come across as the condemning sin police looking at them
through plank filled eyes.
A friend of mine sat in the hospital waiting room while someone close to him was having
surgery. He noted among the pile of magazines that litter the waiting room was a
monthly magazine dedicated to cats. He loves cats! I commented something to the
effect he would read it if there was nothing else to read. Yet in today’s technology driven
age that was never a problem. He had his Kindle and a pastoral related book to read.
He learned early on from John Maxwell that the time we have must be redeemed and
that ideal has stuck with him.
Let me be clear, being a former cat owner, I have nothing against cats. But, that
magazine is a good reminder for me, for us. The world is full of cat magazines that
intend to rob us of our time and time is short. The stark reality of this truth confronts me
whenever I sit down at my computer to bang away at the keyboard for Sunday.
There are many things to distract us today. As I sit at my laptop it is enticing to make a
few clicks and soon I am catching up on what a friend had for breakfast, on another’s
desire to have a pet otter, or read the latest news on the Steelers. There is nothing
wrong in and of themselves (well maybe with the pet otter thing) but we must not let the
things of the world steal the time we have been given.
Early on in His life Jesus told His parents, “I must be about my Father’s business” (Luke
2:49). Peter quoting the prophet Joel to the crowd in Acts 2:17 reminds us, “We are in
the last days.” James reminds us in his letter, “Yet you do not know what your life will be
like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes
away” (James 4:14).
We must redeem the time we have for the glory of the One who sacrificed himself for us
and those around us.
I challenge you to invest your time in fellowship with our Lord and in those He brings
into your life.
My wife and I caught a break in the weather. So we took advantage of it to go for a walk to a beautiful waterfall not far from our house. I enjoy walks in the woods. It doesn’t matter if there is an end goal to the walk such as a waterfall, overlook, or any other spectacular feature. I simply enjoy the peace and beauty of nature. I can find a place to sit and soak in the surroundings. I know others who do not understand this. They enjoy the walk in the woods if there is something waiting on the other end like the aforementioned waterfall. There is nothing wrong with that, we just see things differently. We both enjoy nature but for different reasons.
Unfortunately some have this view of God. They enjoy His presence only if they have something waiting on the other end. There has to be something in it for them beyond the simple presence of Jesus. In the gospel of John we meet such a group. In John 6 the apostle records Jesus feeding the 5,000. The next day He was in Capernaum and the crowd who had been fed tracked Him down. Jesus says to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled” (John 6:26). They did not come for Jesus to be in His presence but for what could satisfy themselves.
We must not seek Jesus for the waterfall but for His presence. “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst.” Jesus is the end game to our searching, everything else is a bonus. Today take time this week to sit in His presence with no other goal in mind.
Over the past couple of years I have watched from afar a friend from college transform himself. Through a radical change of lifestyle he has gone from obese to in shape. When I see the before and after pictures the transformation is amazing.
Recently he noticed something at the gym. Through his hard work and dedication people at the gym began to notice as well. He starting getting nods from the other gym rats in the free weight area.
When I go to the gym I get nods as well. Only not from the gym rats. My nods come from the old guys on the stationary bikes and coffee drinkers sitting in the hallway. But hey, I’m getting nods right?! On some level it is a sign of acceptance and approval.
It’s interesting where our nods come from. It speaks a lot to who accepts us and who doesn’t. I think that is a large problem in society today. We pick and choose who we will nod to. It also got me thinking who I nod to. Who do I deem worthy of a nod? James says “If you really keep the royal law found in scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. Bu if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” (2:8-9). In other words. Everyone gets a nod.
I think if we were a little more freer with our nod this place just might be better off. I think if our churches and followers of Christ were freer with their nod people would come to see the Christ we know a little easier. They would experience the love of Jesus as we have received it. Let me be clear. This is not a nod to accept behavior contrary to who God is. This is a nod to say you are valued. A nod to say I see you. A nod Jesus gave to a Samaritan woman and a tax collector.
Be freer with your nod today.
The word ‘tarry’ has crossed my path on more than one occasion. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines tarry as, “to linger in expectation: wait; to abide or stay in or at a place.” I fear this word or mindset is something we have lost over the years. While going through boxes of old pictures I found a shoebox full of pictures from my backpacking trips. One particular picture is taken of a place called MacAfee’s Knob on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. It is arguably the most breathtaking vista I have had the privilege of experiencing.
While I was there soaking in the view and enjoying my lunch a guy came bursting out of the trees, whipped out his disposable camera, snapped a quick picture, then raced down the trail. I later found out from other thru hikers he was putting 30-35 mile days in an effort to hike the trail as fast as he could. Tragic. He may complete the trail, I don’t know if he did or not, in a blazing time but he is missing the opportunity to soak in the beauty of where he is hiking. He is not taking the time to tarry.
This is an unfortunate habit that has pervaded all of life. I think particularly of our Christian life. Too often we are too busy or have too much on our plate to take time to tarry, to abide in one place and sit at the feet of our Lord. I think more specifically reading His word. We open up our bible, power through a chapter or two maybe even three, then get on with our day. Or perhaps we have determined to read the bible in a year. There is nothing wrong with that but if we do not take the time to tarry, to stay in one place and allow the Spirit to speak to us through a particular passage, then we miss an opportunity to enjoy the beauty of what the Lord wants to say to us through His word.
I often wondered if that hiker remembers anything from his trip. In your day to day living stop and see the Lord in it. Do not be in such a rush you fail to miss His presence. In your reading did you hear God speak? Did you give Him opportunity? While I do not discourage reading through the bible in a year I want to encourage you to take time to tarry. I want you to read a particular chapter or passage for a few days, a week, or whatever you feel prompted, and allow the Spirit to reveal to you the beauty of what that passage is saying. Today, take time to tarry.
Be Blessed and Be a Blessing
During my aircraft maintenance days we were required to fill out these yellow time cards that not only tracked our clock in and out time it also tracked what we were working on. At some point we converted to electronic tracking. Yet for some reason we still had to fill out those yellow cards. Didn’t make sense to me. I wasn’t convinced they even looked at them. Considering several hundred mechanics just at our location filling them out three times a day that added up to a lot of cards. So, in an act of defiance, curiosity, rather than putting my work orders I the appropriate blocks I would write “I Love Seth.”
Now at the time Seth was the CEO of the company. Months went by. Countless “I love Seths” were written. Nothing! This was proving me right. Until one day I was paged to the manager’s office. When I walked in my union rep was in there with him. On his desk was a stack of yellow time cards. I was informed in rather blunt form that there would be no more affections for our CEO shared on company documents. He made it clear I was fortunate I expressed my love for him and nothing derogatory. Otherwise I would have left that office with far more than the warning I was given. Turns out they do in fact pay attention to those things.
Sometimes our prayer life seems much like those yellow time cards. Day after day we pray to God. Day after day it seems like they drift off without ever being acknowledged. In Acts 10 we’re introduced to a man named Cornelius. We are told he is a God-fearing man who helped the poor and prayed regularly. I wonder if he thought he was being heard. One afternoon he gets word from an angel. “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God” (Acts 10:4).
Yes He does hear!
Sometimes it seems like the Lord doesn’t hear our cries. May I encourage you that He does. Keep persisting in prayer. Keep looking up.
Each year we get together some friends for a Christmas party. Amongst the frivolity of the evening is a gift exchange. Everyone is tasked to bring a gift and put it under the tree. Then we all draw a number and proceed based on the number drawn to pick out a gift. Two things about the process. After the first person opens a gift the next person up has the opportunity to pick out a gift or steal a gift that has already been opened by someone. The second is this is a white elephant gift exchange. If you don’t know what that means it means that the gifts, shall we say, may not always be a gift anyone would want. It may be something you find laying around the house.
For example, for as many years as we’ve been attending a back massager that resembles cow udders has been making the rounds. One thing I have noticed. Of all the gifts that have been stolen over the years no one has ever stolen the cow udder massager. If that was the package you unknowingly picked, it was going home with you. Even if someone else got a crummy gift they weren’t stealing it. So for the next year you were tasked to keep it safe and sound until the next party, at which time you could unload it on some poor fool. On the bright side you don’t have to worry about what you are going to bring the next year.
Christmas, is about giving and it is about the Gift. If you think about, it is a gift exchange. It is about a beautiful Savior leaving the perfection of heaven on His way to swap Himself for the cow udder massager that is our sin. He exchanges our sin for His righteousness. In 2 Corinthians 5:21. Paul writes, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” He gives us all of himself; eternal life, a new heart, peace with God, the Holy Spirit, unconditional love, joy beyond all comprehension, and adoption in the family among a long list of other things. In return we give Him our guilt, our past sins, our fears, our pain, our bitterness, our addictions, and a myriad of other things.
Who does that! Who willingly and knowingly takes the cow udder massager that is our sin and gives us the best gift under the tree? “For God so loved the world He sent His Son . . .”
Among all the gifts given, received, and exchanged cherish the one who exchanged the worst of us for the best of Him.
I’ve lost count of how many home improvements show are on television. Every time you turn around another has been added. The premise is they work with a couple to find a new home. Draw up plans to remodel it. Then transform this once ugly property into something amazing. One my wife and I used to watch coined the term ‘demo day.’ It was the first day of the project and entirely devoted to destruction and removal of anything that was being replaced, removed, or repaired. Sledgehammer, jack hammer, and bulldozer are among some of the implements of destruction brought in to accomplish the task. Looks like fun.
Honestly it is fun. Having done, and in the process of doing, remodeling projects on the homes I’ve owned there is something satisfying about taking a hammer and Sawzall to something in your house. To obliterate a wall and leave in a heap on the floor relieves quite a bit of frustration and pent up anger. That’s why people will pay good money to take a sledgehammer to a car.
However, I’ve also learned demo day is generally the easiest day of a project. After that begins the process of putting it back together the way you envision it in your mind. That’s where the work comes in. Quite frankly it can take too much work. The exuberance that was there in the demolition process isn’t there.
Tragically we can apply the same principal to people. If someone has a failing, fault, or sin we are quick to apply the sledgehammer of judgement and Sawzall of character assassination. We hungrily step in and join the crowd shouting crucifying him. A group of men find a woman caught adultery. Get the stones! With the advent of social media we see this increasing at an alarming rate. Someone who righted themselves and advances great causes in the community has a misstep. It’s demo day!
No one wants to do the hard work of restoration. Perhaps it’s because demo day makes us feel better about ourselves. If we can tear them down it masks our own shortcomings. Yet this should never be. Our aim should always be to participate in the hard work of the remodel. Jesus sat in the dirt with the adulterous woman. Met her where she was at and brought restoration. (John 7:53-8:11). At Peter’s worst Jesus sought him out and brought him back to the fold. Imagine where we’d be, where the early church would have been if Jesus never sought out Peter for the tough work of restoration? Just read the opening chapters of Acts and blot out wherever you see his name. You’ll find a huge void in the history of the early church.
We would do well to be less anxious to demo some in need of restoration. We would be modeling Jesus in the way he showed himself to us. Next to him he had every right to leave us in the dust heap. Yet he reached down to us and restored us brand new.
Unplug the Sawzall of character assassination in favor of the grace we’ve all been given.
I sauntered out the doors of St. Thomas More School and headed across the street to the mall with a friend of mine. We headed to the arcade to play a few games or pinball then bummed around the mall for a bit. Cruising through Sears our eyes got a glimpse of these cool little pinball machines. That would be cool to have. No one was looking and the door was near. The game was snatched. Once on the outside we realized we had a dilemma. There was one game and two of us. The solution was simple. Snatch another one. Back in the store, game procured, we made our way to the exit not noticing the guy standing next to the door.
Before we knew it we he had us by the arm and was leading us to the security office. He took our names and phone numbers, banned us from Sears forever, and warned us if we didn’t tell out parents he would file shoplifting charges on us. My mother worked at the school at the time so I headed back there to tell her the good news. This time there was no saunter in my step. I found her and broke the news to her what I had done. Having to look my mother in the eye and tell her was one of the most difficult moments of my life. I had let down the woman who worked her tail off to provide for me and had a love for me that knew no limit. That’s what hurt the must. I wronged the one who had never wronged me. Yet, although there was a glint of disappointment in her eye, the overriding atmosphere of the moment was the love she still had for me.
I ponder that las night of Jesus when He stood in the courtyard. Peter was there. He had just spent the day failing Jesus left and right. It reached rock bottom when that rooster crowed the third time. Luke tells us in that moment, “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter” (22:61). Peter was crushed and ran from the place bitterly weeping. In that moment I see the same gaze I saw from my mother that day in the school. Disappointment? Absolutely! Yet also a gaze that expressed a love for this man He had poured His life into.
I am thankful for that shared moment I have with Peter. Not that either one of us deserved it, but that we learned to understand the depth of love for someone who, at that moment should have been undeserving of love. Unconditional love is an expression of love that is tough to fully comprehend. But I am thankful for it.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).