Sunday, May 22, 2011

Unsung heroes.

Here's some photos that didn't make the original cut.

(note: these were all taken with my camera phone, so apologies for the poor quality of some of them)

(and, finally, the bag of trash I collected from the area the last day)

Cover your bases: on the end of the world and the present Kingdom of God.

A life lesson from a maple tree.

"Teach us to make the most of our time, so that we may grow in wisdom." (Psalm 90:12 NLT)

Today was my last observational trip to the spot, and I was considering a few things: our responsibility to Creation...and the end of the world. As many of you probably know, a well-meaning group of Christians predicted that Christ would return yesterday, May 21, 2011 (apparently at 6:00PM EST). As I was driving through Marion at 6:01, I was relatively certain that God decided to wait on the rapture. But yesterday morning, as I was doing devotions, I honestly thought about what would happen if He did return that evening. Should I say some confessions? Donate my bank account? Simply worship? End of the world talk does bring with it a reminder of urgency, even if our faith states that no one will know when Christ will return.

In Sunday school, my friend Gretchen shared some words of wisdom that had been passed along to her: "God has a plan for your life, and so does the enemy." If we aren't spending our time and energy living for God, our time is directed elsewhere, and Satan does an excellent job of distracting us. Thus, often when trial, famine, or frustration comes, we are unprepared and the flesh gives in. We complain, cover up the problem, and fail to worship. We forget that our days are numbered, and we live as if our treasures are of this world. Although none of us knows when Jesus will return, we must always be prepared because none of us know when Jesus will return.

I was reminded of the strategy of preparedness today, as I walked among thousands of fallen maple tree "propellers"--the seedlings of a few maple trees out at the spot. As a child, I would throw them into the air then pick them up and dissect them. Years later, I now know that the great number of seeds are dropped to ensure that, despite falling on bad soil or into the hands of curious children, a few will survive and new maple trees will sprout up next year. The maple trees have a God-given life-insurance policy. 

Not knowing when Christ will return often gives ground to fear, and--in the grand scheme of things--it should. But because we have blessed assurance that the Kingdom of God is now, we should live with joy as if eternity is before us, confessing and repenting, joining alongside the Body, and worshipping in every action, word, and thought. We should, like the maple tree, sink our roots deep and spread seeds far and wide, ensuring that every person who encounters us walks away having seen the face of God. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Stop to listen.

A life lesson from an Eastern Cottontail rabbit.

"Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches." (Revelation 3:22)

Today I was blessed by an uncommon sighting in my nature walks; an Eastern Cottontail was venturing out from some trees and stopped when I was about fifty yards away. They are generally solitary animals that wander out at night, so I was surprised to see large ears and a fluffy white tail nestled in the grass. My time with the rabbit was very short, since I eventually had to keep walking, but I was struck by its attentiveness to my movement. Despite this herbivore's small size, it has been equipped with a pair of ears large enough to discern the arrival of predators. The rabbit made me consider: am I listening for the right voice?

Our brains are often over-saturated with noise--verbal and visual. I am reminded of this every time I return home from college and go to the mall with my mother. Companies market to our senses, not just our minds, and we buy into the noise. In fact, we buy in to drown out the noise through self-help books and products. It's no small wonder that discerning God's voice is difficult, when a thousand other cries are demanding our attention.

Sometimes we attempt to listen, but it seems as if the Lord is silent. We call out like the Psalmist, asking that He give ear to our pleas and intervene on our behalf. In this case, Oswald Chambers says that "God will give you the very blessings you ask if you refuse to go any further without them, but His silence is the sign that He is bringing you into an even more wonderful understanding of Himself...He has trusted you in the most intimate way possible--with absolute silence." The Lord will strip away our demands that He provide words and we will be met with all we need: His presence.

Regardless whether God is providing a torrent of words or complete silence, He has provided us ears to listen with for a purpose. Many times Scripture records Jesus saying, "He who has ears, let him hear." Why? In John 10:27, He says, "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me." We don't listen for God as if He is a fortune teller, waiting to give us answers. We remain attentive because we have no other option. As His sheep, we truly are lost without Him. Because of this, we must continually be listening--regardless of whether we think we need to hear from Him or not. Don't just give  Him one hour a week or 15 minutes during the day, always be ready for Him to share part of Himself with you.

Let's take Eli's advice, and remember to continually say, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening" (1 Samuel 3:9).

Friday, May 20, 2011

Get moving!

A life lesson from a centipede. 

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by  such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run the race marked out for us." (Hebrews 12:1)

I’ve tried for years to understand why the Home Shopping Network is so popular. My mother enjoys having it on at home, since she doesn’t have time or energy outside of work to go out and shop all the time. But, when I’ve watched it, I’m always amazed at how many products are sold. As the tan, polished, and rehearsed salesperson explains why you can’t live without a specific baking dish or hair cream, the sales count skyrockets at lightning speed before the bell chimes and “Sold Out” flash on the screen, disappointing thousands of comparison shoppers. 

It’s not just the materialism that gets me, but the number of people who are likely sitting at home staring at their screen, perhaps contemplating calling in for a testimonial. The issue of stagnation and idleness is nothing new in our culture, and yet it’s coupled with the busyness. We're a culture that sets our treadmill on high during the day and pulls out the red emergency plug to stop at night. In the midst of the chaos we often encounter struggles of injustice and sin only to be too exhausted or too hurt or too afraid to confront the issue. And so darkness wins again. 

When I found this centipede today, I thought for a long time about a life lesson to gain from it. Personally, I think centipedes are really disgusting, and I almost ignored it when I did find it. But, when I lifted up a board and saw them scatter everywhere, I was amazed at how quickly they move. (Granted, having multiple legs probably helps.) What they have to share with us is not, I think, incentive to join a recreational center (though that's always good advice); they should remind us to get up and get moving. Period. Don't just let life happen to you.

It's easy, in the midst of everything, to allow life to negatively affect us. And it's more than bad moods or difficult circumstances: We are in battle. Instead of drowning in the pain of a headache, sitting in anger at unjust treatment, or silently giving in to temptation, we must stand up and demand another Way. Opposition is inevitable, but we do have a choice to use the resources the Lord has given us. Remember the power of the name of Jesus Christ and say it out loud. Remind the authority in which you live your life. And refuse to settle for anything less than wholeness and joy. If you face a challenge today, don't let it rule over you. Use the legs God has given you. Go find the Word, go into your closet to pray, go on a walk, or go meet with the Body. Don't just stand there. Get moving!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Speak boldly.

A life lesson from a Red-winged Blackbird.

"Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness." (Acts 4:29)

One of my professors said a few months ago,"The opposite of faith is not doubt; it's fear." Fear keeps us in bondage, preventing us from trusting, believing, and moving forward. And fear paralyzes our lips. Why don't we share the Gospel? Perhaps its because Rome has told us that whatever religion we accept is permissible--as long as we're silent. 

In patches of Indiana countryside, as in the picture above, Creation refuses to be silent. Regardless if the wind is completely still or rain threatens to drive all humans indoors, the melodies of birds persist as they mate, defend, and forage. The Red-winged Blackbird, a native North American species, is commonly found in wet, marshy areas and countryside. They are aggressive and territorial, the males' brightly colored wings offering a showy display of their personality. And if their dive-bombing and rapid flight doesn't distinguish them, their voices ensure that all approaching animals are aware of their presence.

The mouthy Red-winged Blackbird may use its calls for notification of predators (like me) or mating, but its continual noise is a good reminder that followers of Christ should refuse to be quiet. And yet so often we are. Have you ever compared the conclusion of Mark's Gospel to the rest? Matthew ends with the Great Commission, Luke finishes with Jesus's ascension into Heaven and the disciples' worship, and John writes about Jesus's command to Peter to follow Him. But if you turn to Mark 16, some variation of the following words are likely printed in your Bible before verse 9: "The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20." Mark originally concluded with Mary Magdalene and Mary (James's mother) fleeing from Christ's tomb and "saying nothing to anyone, because they were afraid."

Pastor Steve DeNeff notes that Mark likely ended his Gospel in silence because the emperor Nero was in power and persecuting Christians during the time it was written. Christians in Nero's time, like the women in Mark 16:8, would have also been afraid. Today we live in a free nation yet our culture has taught us to stay in our place. Have you ever though about how much is at stake in the name of Christ? Because we fear that we can't believe something that we can't rationally prove, "One nation under God" is removed from the Pledge of Allegiance, the Ten Commandments can't be posted in a government building, "Happy Holidays" has replaced "Merry Christmas," and we're now "Christ followers" instead of "Christians," which brings with it centuries of negative connotations. 

Regardless of how we are perceived, the world must "know we are Christians by our love," but it must also hear the name of Jesus Christ. If we really walk by faith and believe in the work at Calvary, we must be bold to proclaim the Man who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Accept the pruning.

A life lesson from a Crabapple tree.

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful" (John 15:1-2).

Following Jesus Christ requires simultaneously resting in wholeness and yet never remaining satisfied. Because the height, length, depth, and breadth of God is far more than we will ever comprehend during this lifetime, we must continually seek Him, trusting that each day brings with it more opportunities to glimpse His love in our lives. And because He desires us to be sanctified (see 1 Thessalonians 4:3) and returned to a state of unity with Him, He continues to cut away traces of our old selves.

When I started observing this spot ten days ago, I noticed this tree and a similar one behind it. Both trees had been split at the trunk, as if lightning had struck and forced the greater part of the foliage to the ground. Despite this great fracture, I was excited to see the tree was already at work reproducing tiny branches along the grounded trunk, pulling from its deep-set roots to reestablish a structure that will likely be flowering again by next spring. Plants like this one have remarkable resilience to natural pruning processes. If given time and a stable habitat, they not only use the pruned, decomposing material as green compost for nutrients; they start anew! 

For humans, the "pruning" process is much more difficult. But God is not satisfied with any part of us that is not bearing fruit. And so He will call attention to our weaknesses, exposing us to the elements until we are willing to admit our weakness and seek grace. The story of Solomon's birth is a good example of not only God's pruning but also His forgiveness. After David's affair with Bathsheba and his planned death of her husband Uriah, the prophet Nathan was sent to tell the King that the son that was born to him would die (2 Samuel 12:14). Despite David's pleas to God, the child died, but the man was also promised forgiveness from the Lord. Consequentially, Bathsheba and David gave birth to Solomon, whom "the LORD loved" (see v. 24). From both of these men we have prayers and exhortations, praises and self-assessments--words of encouragement and words of warning in Scripture that persist in public and private readings universally today. 

In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers writes, "Before God becomes satisfied with us, He will take everything of our so-called wealth, until we learn that He is our Source; as the psalmist says, 'All my springs are in You' (Psalm 87:7)" (May 16th devotional). We must accept that God finds it necessary to remove the parts of us that hinder fullness of love and rebirth. Trust His pain has purpose and remember His plans for you are good. For "though He slay me, yet I will trust Him" (Job 13:15).

PS: Here's a song of encouragement for a season of pruning: "Sky's Still Blue"

Monday, May 16, 2011

Embrace the hidden life.

A life lesson from a worm.

"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven" (Matthew 6:1)

Yesterday Pastor Steve DeNeff at College Wesleyan Church preached a sermon titled "An Audience of One," which challenged listeners to consider "the audience" of others (see the full sermon here: This message, and Pastor Steve's discussion on "the discipline of hiddenness," led to today's devotional.

In Matthew 6, Jesus is preaching His Sermon on the Mount. In verse 1 He instructs his listeners to consider their audience (their purpose for doing 'acts of righteousness'), and then challenges them with three Jewish traditions (part of the Law) held to a higher standard: alms giving, prayer, and fasting. All Jews would have participated in these activities, but Jesus develops a higher standard: give to the needy in private (v. 3), pray unseen (v. 6), and don't make a show of fasting (v. 17).

Jesus's directions here are radical, considering the "holy" folks of Israel were the Pharisees, who ensured the public saw their religious piety demonstrated. Unlike these religious leaders, Jesus instructs listeners to continue pursuing holiness but hide it from everyone. Don't tell anyone, pray in a closet, and smile in the midst of hunger--and take pains to make sure no one finds out what good acts you do. But why? The good deeds we do are not for ourselves and they're not for man; they're an intimate offering to God.

Today, I found a tiny example of the hidden life buried in the topsoil of the earth. Worms like the one pictured above are critical for aerating and providing water circulation through soil, since they dig tunnels through the earth. And because they decompose organic matter in the soil and produce nutrient-rich waste products, the soil is naturally fertilized. This process of "vermicompositing" is essential to the healthy development of soil and plant life, but it's all done completely unseen.

These tiny creatures reflect the actions of our Savior, who not only commanded His listeners to give in private but also retreated after performing miracles, asking those He healed to remain silent about what they experienced. For most of us, our natural inclination--after doing a good deed or receiving a compliment--is not to hide away and present ourselves back to God. We want to share the "good news," even if we justify it as "affirmation" that we need for a self-esteem boost.

But Jesus promises that if we live the hidden life, our Father in Heaven will reward us. So when we're tempted to share our holiness (when it will not be directly glorifying God's faithfulness) with others, we need to present it to Him, then kill it, burn it, walk away from it, and wait for another opportunity of faithful service. Fight for Him in private and He will fight for you in public.