Don’t Hide Behind “The Gospel”


I fear that many white Christians are hiding behind “the gospel” instead of figuring out how it actually applies to the racial conflicts all around us. Over and over I have heard or read that the racial tensions are a “gospel issue” or a “sin issue.” And that is true because, at one level, all sin and problems and pain are gospel issues because they all stem from the fall and it’s permeating, devastating effects on our world and our hearts. Thusly, all these issues need to be replaced, repaired, redeemed, or renewed by Jesus. And the gospel is the message of Jesus doing just that.

So yes, the gospel does solve the problems of racial conflict in America. But not like most of us want to think. It is not a sermonic salve. It is not a matter of “sharing the gospel” with those one both sides. (Neither is it less than that.) To talk about how “the gospel” is the solution to these issues is a nearly useless statement when left by itself.

The gospel is only a solution when it drives us to do, only when what we believe about the free grace of God in Jesus makes us move. Only when we can make the connection between the gospel and the centuries of racial inequality in the United States, the lasting impact on our government and social structures, and the insidious and subtle effects on our own minds and hearts is it a solution. (If you do not acknowledge racial inequality historically, societally, and governmentally please keep reading. The gospel applies to my view and yours; we both need it.)

I fear, though, that instead of the gospel, with all its deep grace for all mankind, being the spur in our mulish hearts it — that is the word “gospel” itself — is a veil we throw over the ugliness of racial conflicts and call it a solution. Or maybe it is a curtain we draw tight to cozy-up our prayer closets and insulate us from the roiling, swirling hurt of 44 million black images of God in the U.S. Either way we hide behind it. When we do, our own private prejudices go unconfronted and our fear and ignorance live on in comfortable ease.

Enough of that. If we believe the gospel, really believe it, we will be moved by it. We will be moved in all the ways the bible says we ought – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are the fruit that the Holy Spirit brings about in the lives of those who believe, really believe, the gospel. And where are those in our cross-racial and cross-cultural interactions?

If we will call racial conflicts a “gospel issue” then truly let that gospel bear fruit, for “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it his not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” What is more, “perfect love casts out fear.”

Any gospel that we apply to the painful conflicts in our nation that does not drive us this way is not actually the gospel. It is merely a theological paper bag conveniently placed over our heads to block out what we choose not to see. It is a lie that co-opts the name “good news” and morphs into bad.

Can we rightly say we are patient and kind? Can we examine our lives and see where we have insisted on our own way or passively allowed the insistence of our ancestors to continue wreaking racial havoc? Can we recognize and loathe the wrongdoing in our own lives and in our collective response (or lack thereof) to the tragic deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner as much as we point it out in the riots of Ferguson or the shoplifting of Brown? Can we search for truth to rejoice in with our black neighbors instead of facts we claim as truth to hold over their heads and win arguments? Are we bearing with our hurting brothers and sisters? To bear you must acknowledge that a burden exists to be borne. Will we hope and endure with them by sticking it out, to not letting this go, refusing to be swept away by the next phenomenon in our 24-hour news cycle?

What we cannot do is use the gospel as an excuse to be distant, a reason to dismiss minorities, a conceptual think piece to be discussed and pontificated upon, or a high-level idea that is so big as to be inapplicable. Rather we must break it down to its components, its implications, and its applications and begin taking steps. Begin doing. Like all our efforts to reflect Jesus and follow Jesus it will be slow going and here will be missteps. But godly progress with missteps is infinitely better than sitting tight and hiding behind “the gospel.”

photo credit: Bronte Lockwood via photopin cc

5 Benefits Of Having A Challenging Teen


What? ?Are you serious? ?What?good can it possibly be to have?a difficult child? ?Or a teen?who struggles with sin? ?Or a child who rebels against you?

God causes all things – even a teenager?s sin – to work together for our good. Here are 5 ways:

Having a challenging?teen causes us to grow in dependence on God

Challenges with our children are?as much (or more) about us than about them. Sometimes we discover that we are?depending more upon ourselves than the Lord. So often we think that if we just do all the right things?- have family devotions, discipline our children, love them, keep them from bad influences, educate them in a certain way – then they will automatically be?saved and follow the Lord.

But doing all the right things doesn?t change the heart. The?Lord is the only one who saves and changes people, not all our practices and effort, as good as they may be. Having a difficult teen causes us to grow in dependence on God – to cry out to the Lord in prayer, to seek him for mercy and grace and wisdom. It drives us to his Word, to seek out his promises. It causes us to grow in faith and trust in the Lord to work in our child.

Having a challenging?teen causes us to grow in humility

When we have a child or two who do well, we can start to think that we?are responsible for how well they are doing. Yes, we think, it is my parenting that did this. My hard work paid off. A difficult teen ends all that. We become aware of doing many things that failed. We become aware of making many mistakes and that the reason any of our?other children are doing well is God?s grace. A difficult child makes us feel weak. It?s humbling to ask others for prayer and counsel. It?s humbling for others to find out we don?t have the ideal Leave It To Beaver Family.

Having a challenging?teen causes us to grow in mercy and sympathy toward others

Years ago in my arrogance, when others had challenges with their children, I would think they must be doing something wrong. It was somehow their fault. In my arrogance I had little mercy or compassion for others. ?Having a difficult teen changes all that. When you have been through challenges, struggles and disappointments with one or more of your children, you become very merciful and sympathetic to others in their struggles. You know how much you appreciate the sympathy of others, so you extend it to others. You know how much you need mercy so you become merciful to others.

Having a challenging?teen causes us to grow in patience and perseverance

Unfortunately, the only way to gain patience is to be put into a situation that requires it. Jesus usually works in our children little by little, often imperceptibly, over years, as he does in us. Sometimes we must keep praying for our children for years and years – even as they are adults. All we can do is plant the seed of the gospel, then we must water it with our prayers and trust God to cause the seed to grow in his own timing. This takes patience.

Think of how patient?and long suffering God has been with you. You aren?t always quick to change are you?

Having a challenging?teen helps us to grow in love

Jesus told us to love our enemies expecting nothing in return. Of course our kids aren?t our enemies. But we must love them, bless them, speak kindly to them, bear with them and do good to them, even when they don?t respond. God loved us before we loved him, and he calls us to do the same. We rejected Jesus again and again, yet he loved us and came for us and died on the cross for us. Even now, millions and millions reject Jesus every moment of every day, yet he continues to love them. Whatever disrespect we receive from our children in return for our love is but an infinitesimal taste of what Jesus experiences every day from mankind.

So we must grow in love. We must seek the grace of Jesus to love as he loved, unselfishly, expecting nothing in return.

Our children’s struggles are as much about us as they are about them. So praise God and thank him, that as difficult as things are, he is at work both in you and your teen. Don?t give up, even if you see little change or fruit. God isn?t done working yet. The story isn?t over yet. God is not only working in your child, he?s working in you.

Scripture Teaches Us How To Speak


At ten months old, my son Elliot has a small vocabulary. His contribution to the household conversation is limited to a couple of consonants and one vowel, combined, recombined, and repeated. His most advanced word to date is ?Gack,? which may mean, ?duck,? ?Uncle Joe,? or ?Help me, I have pureed green beans up my nose.?

Lord willing, Elliot will eventually learn to distinguish his Uncle Joe from a duck. But right now his perception of the world is limited by his lack of words. He cannot describe his world or his experience. He cannot enter into conversation with us. Learning to speak will give him categories of thought and perception that make all of life fit together and make sense. Words ? true, accurate words ? define reality.

Do you realize that Scripture is teaching you to speak? I?m not making a comment on the size of your vocabulary. I?m talking about words as a measure of our ability to understand and describe ultimate reality, and enter into conversation with the Author of reality. Though we are capable of speaking thousands of words a day, if our words are not shaped by the words of the God who speaks, molded by the story of the Word who became flesh, then they are empty words. But God, through Scripture, is teaching us to talk.

Think of it like this. As a small child, you had no idea of the connection between the word ?hot? and the experience of fingers seared by a stove burner. Slowly, through repeated parental warnings ??No touch! Hot! Hot!? ? and the painful lessons of experience, you came to understand reality. Likewise we all, without God?s instruction, have no conception of the reality behind words like ?sin? or ?rebellion.? We see no connection between the four-letter word that escapes during the traffic jam, and the dissatisfaction and distress that festers in our soul while we wait. But slowly, patiently, God teaches us to refrain from anger (Psa. 37:8), and to wait on the Lord, committing our way to him (Psa. 37:5, 7). We learn true words that accurately define our inner world and our outer world, and we learn to enter into dialogue about both with the God who speaks. In short, we learn to talk.

Until God speaks, we have only vague notions of his existence ? and even these we twist and pervert to suit our own fancies. We don?t know who we are until God tells us. We don?t know what health or what depravity look like until God defines them for us. And, like infants, we are slow and hesitant to learn to speak accurately. But Scripture teaches us to speak. It gives us names ? true names, accurate names, names not of our own invention but of God?s revelation ? by which we can call upon God: Creator, Lord, Almighty, Father. It teaches us to see ourselves accurately: simultaneously sinner, sufferer, and (in Christ) saint. And it teaches us to respond rightly to our circumstances: not with religious ideas or human-centered moral exhortations, but by relating to the God who speaks, through Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh and crucified so we can call upon God as Father.

This is what sanity looks like, what maturity sounds like: a conversation between a redeemed soul and God himself. Christ, have mercy. Father, deliver me. To you, O Lord, I give thanks with my whole heart. So open the God?s word, and call upon Jesus, the living Word. Listen to the One who speaks. And join the conversation.

Photo by Ashton

The Hard Part About Actually Changing


photo credit: Amy McTigue via photopin cc

At least once per day, I find myself thinking, I’m pretty sure my kids are insane.

My daughter, Charis, is flipping out because she can’t wear the skirt she wants to wear. “You NEVER let me wear ANYTHING!” she tells Jen. I don’t usually point out that, technically speaking, we do let her wear clothes. My daughter Gwendolyn is screaming because I won’t let her eat the dishwasher detergent pouches that looks suspiciously like candy. My daughter Ella has just thrown a roundhouse punch at Charis, because Charis won’t let her pretend to be Elsa, from?Frozen.?You get the point.

What I’m learning is that if I’m going to grow in patience, God has to put me in situations which actually require patience. Thus, God gives me children who are insane, in order that I might grow in love and patience.

For some reason, I tend to think that change happens in a vacuum. It’s like I think of sanctification as being some kind of divine magic trick. I pray that I would grow in mercy, and God magically makes me more merciful. I pray that I would trust God more, and God magically infuses me with more trust. I pray that God would help me be more loving, and, presto chango, I’m suddenly more loving.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Sanctification happens through circumstances.

In James 1:2-3, it says:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

God brings various trials into our lives in order that we might grow in steadfastness. We can’t grow in steadfastness unless God takes us through trials.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

When we experience affliction, we also experience God’s comfort. We, in turn, are then able to comfort others with the same comfort we received. Being afflicted causes us to be more compassionate and merciful toward others, and prepares us to offer divine comfort to others. We could not offer this comfort unless we are first afflicted ourselves.

Jesus commands us to love our enemies. We won’t grow in loving our enemies until we have a tangible opportunity to do so. We won’t grow in trusting God until our budget becomes uncomfortably tight. We won’t grow in being merciful until we are let down by our close friends. We won’t grow in peace until our future becomes uncertain.

Don’t despise the circumstances in which God has placed you. He is using your crazy kids to teach you patience. He is using your singleness to teach you trust. He is using your extended illness to teach you rejoicing. He is using your tight budget to teach you dependence.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I hear someone screaming.

Sanctification and the Seinfeld Effect


For just a moment, join me in remembering some of television’s best comedic duos (trust me, there is a point to this).

  • Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza.
  • Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.
  • Andy Griffith and Barney Fife.
  • Jim Halpert and Dwight Shrute.
  • Leo Marvin and Bob Wiley.
  • Bert and Ernie.

Each of these brilliant duos has one thing in common: The combination of a normal, straight-laced guy, with a total nut job. In almost every situation, each guy drives the other one crazy. Dwight insists on sitting on an exercise ball instead of a normal office chair. Jim pops the exercise ball with a pair of scissors. Bert tries to keep their apartment neat and organized. Ernie is constantly bringing chaos into the apartment. Jerry wants to join together with George, Kramer, and Elaine, to buy a television for their engaged friend. George, who is a perpetual cheapskate, can’t believe they are spending so much money on one person.

By themselves, the characters wouldn’t be nearly as funny. I suspect this is why the solo projects by these guys haven’t been nearly as successful (what has Jason Alexander done in the last twenty years other than “Dunston Checks In”?).

God also seems to have a particular affection for odd couples. In fact, one of the primary ways he sanctifies us is through the quirks and quaintness of other people.

For example, I’ve never been a particularly sympathetic, compassionate person. When I was younger, I didn’t have much patience for what I considered to be the weaknesses of other people (despite the fact that I am rife with weaknesses). Then God gave me three daughters. Three daughters means a lot of drama, a lot of crying, and a lot of princess talk. Having three daughters has forced me to grow in compassion and mercy and sympathy. It simply doesn’t work for me to tell my daughters to suck it up when they get hurt or when they are sad. I need to comfort them and be compassionate toward them. In his infinite wisdom, God gave me daughters who are verty different from me in order that I might grow in holiness. God joined me with three little girls who are wonderfully different from me.

God has also paired you up with people who are very different from you. You are creative and artsy and spontaneous. Your husband is ordered and regimented and inflexible. God has put you together in order to sanctify you both. You are neat and clean and hygenic. Your son could wear the same pair of jeans for a month straight. God has intentionally brought you together! You are passionate about the outdoors. Your daughter is more interested in writing and performing music. God has paired you together in order that you might serve each other.

Don’t despise the stark differences in your spouse, children, or friends. Don’t view those differences as obstacles. Instead, see them as divine opportunities. God has joined you to those people in order that both of you might grow in holiness. God brings odd couples together to help the odd couples grow in godliness.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a Seinfeld marathon to watch.

Don’t Be An Internet Arsonist


It’s so easy to hit “send” or “post” or “tweet” or “publish”. One click. One tap of the screen. One “yes” to Siri. I don’t even have to think about it. I bang out my message and fire it off, like a cowboy shooting from the hip. Maybe I post something funny. Maybe I post something critical of someone else. Maybe I post a link to a scathing article written about a prominent pastor. Maybe I make fun of the President.

The Internet makes it so easy to be an arsonist. To set the world on fire. To be a walking napalm. To go through the day spraying virtual gasoline on everything and everyone.

In James 3:5-6 it says:

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.

James’ point is that our words, which are seemingly small and unimportant, and which flow out of our mouths in a torrent, can be incredibly destructive. Our words are the equivalent of fire, which can level an entire forest, ruin massive buildings, and cause untold amounts of misery. Words are no small thing.

This passage in James applies just as much to the words we say digitally. Every Facebook post has the potential to set someone on fire. Every Tweet has the potential to ignite a blaze. Every Instagram and text message and Pin and Snapchat has the potential to set your entire life on fire. God takes our digital words just as seriously as our vocalized words. Do we take our digital words seriously?

It’s so easy to be an Internet arsonist. The Internet makes it so easy to say things we would never say directly to a person. Our glowing screens offer a false sense of security and protection. We can say something about a person without seeing the effect it has on that person. We can criticize a person without seeing the devastating, harmful effects of our criticism. We can post a picture without seeing how that picture tempts other people. The Internet allows us to say whatever we want without any of the normal consequences of speech.?

How can we avoid being Internet arsonists? We would be wise to regularly consider the following Scriptures:

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths [or computers or smart phones or tablets!!!!], but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:29-30)

Before I hit “post” I need to ask myself: does this serve to build others up? Or are my words tearing and ripping and shredding a person? If ?I said these words directly to a person would they be built up or torn down? Would their affection for Christ be increased or decreased? God intends all of our words and posts and tweets to have a building up effect.

The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak [or comment or post or Tweet!!!], for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. ?(Matthew 12:35-37)

The things we post online are a reflection of what is already in our hearts. In other words, our speech is a reflection of who we are. When we stand before the Lord on Judgment Day we will give an account for every word we produce. Every spoken word, every text message, every Facebook update, every Tweet, every Pin, every Instagram. Before I post I need to ask myself: will I be ashamed of this post on the final day? Will I regret these words when I stand before the Judgment throne?

I don’t write this post as a guy who has it all figured out. No way. In fact, just the other day Jen graciously corrected me for something I posted on Facebook. I need that. Why? Because I don’t want to be an Internet arsonist.

Guarding Our Eyes In A Visual Culture

Our culture has become a visual culture.

When my dad was a kid, there was no TV. He?d listen to ?The Shadow? and baseball games on the radio. When I was a kid, we had a total of 13 TV stations that would go off the air at midnight. In Tulsa, after midnight the TV would broadcast only a picture of an Indian chief with beams of light radiating out from his head. Now there are 8 zillion channels that broadcast continually. There?s Netflix, Hulu and Amazon and on demand stations, not to mention YouTube and Facebook and thousands of Apps to feed our eyes.

Not only has the number of visual stimulants multiplied, but the sexual content in media has burgeoned. I sound like an old man here (but what the heck, I am), but when I was a kid, there was very little sexual content on TV. About the worst it got was an occasional episode of The Andy Griffith Show where Andy and Barney happened to meet a couple ?floozies? who wore high heels, a lot of makeup and fancy hats. Occasionally you?d know that Barney and Thelma Lou had been smooching because Barney?d have lipstick smeared on his cheeks and his hair would be a tangled mess. But TV was over all pretty wholesome, populated by The Lone Ranger, Beaver and My 3 Sons. It?s much different today.

Solomon?s warning to his son in Proverbs is worth thinking about:

Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. PR 4:25

Our eyes are the portal of our soul. Satan will tempt us from any angle he can, and our eyes are no exception.

Remember how Satan got Eve to look at the forbidden fruit.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:6)

Eve didn?t let her eyes look directly forward and her gaze be straight before her.

When David was on his rooftop and looked down and saw a woman bathing, he didn?t look away. He too failed to let his eyes look directly forward and his gaze be straight before him. In other words, he didn?t flee temptation. So when God tells us “Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you” he is telling us to guard our hearts by watching what we expose ourselves to.

Men, we must guard our eyes. Jesus said if we look on a woman lustfully, we commit adultery in our hearts. Adultery! That?s serious. It might just be a lustful glance. It might only last a few seconds, but it?s a serious sin. Are you guarding your eyes at work? When you?re driving? Do you turn away from or turn off impure commercials on TV? Maybe you?re not into pornography, but you are giving in to lust in ?lesser? ways. Don?t forget though, it?s adultery of the heart. It?s sad, but you can?t even watch a football game without a remote on hand.

My friend Bob (name changed to protect the innocent) was always vigilant to protect his children when they?d watch TV. If something impure came on and he didn?t have a remote in hand he?d lunge in front of the TV, arms outspread, yelling ?Ah-bah-bah-bah-bah!? to cover both the picture and the sound from the eyes and ears of his kids. One day a few years ago, he and a couple of his grown kids were watching a Sunday afternoon matinee in a local theater. An inappropriate scene came on in the movie. Bob automatically started yelling, ?Ah-bah-bah-bah-bah!? then caught himself. One of his kids whispered an embarrassed, ?Daaaad! I?m 22 now.? Fortunately there weren?t many people in the theater, but a number of curious heads turned to see the source of the ?bahs.? Old habits die hard. But Bob?s instinct was to protect his children and himself from temptation.

Proverbs 6:25 says:

?Do not desire her beauty in your heart, and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes?

Our hearts are connected to our eyes. We guard our hearts by guarding our eyes. Let?s be vigilant men. Let?s pursue purity of heart and eyes.

Pray! When you?re walking through the city or down the hall at work, say, ?Jesus, keep me clean and pure. Help me not to lust.” If you?re struggling, get a friend or two to pray for you. Remind yourself that lust is deadly to your soul. And dwell often on the beauty and majesty of Jesus. Desire his beauty. Ask Jesus to satisfy you. Lust won?t satisfy you. But Jesus will.

Be like Bob. Be vigilant. Probably don?t need to say ?Ah-bah-bah-bah-bah!? in the theater. But better to go overboard with caution than over the edge in lust.

Are You Killing People On Facebook?

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, text messaging, email, and every other form of online communication have loads of potential for good. They can be used to encourage people, make people laugh, share helpful information, feel bad about how lousy your house looks (see Pinterest), and play a game called “Candy Crush”, which I have yet to play.

Social networks can also be used to kill a person.

Proverbs 18:21 says:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue,?and those who love it will eat its fruits.

Wow. My words have the power to impart life to someone or to kill them. Death and life are in the power of the tongue and the status update and the photo and the text message. Every word I speak or type carries enormous life-giving or life-stealing potential. Words aren’t neutral. Status updates aren’t innocent. The words we speak and type and text today reverberate into eternity.

James 3:5-6 says:

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!?And?the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members,?staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life,?and set on fire by hell.

My words have the potential to create roaring, blazing, consuming fires. With my words I can set people on fire for Jesus or I can set people on fire for wickedness. Imagine how careful I would be if every time I spoke a small burst of flame came out of my mouth! I would speak ever so carefully. But often I’m not careful about the words I post. I don’t see them as explosive. Consuming. Flaming.

In his commentary on Proverbs, Ray Ortlund Jr. says:

In fact, when Proverbs 10:21 says ?the lips of the righteous feed many,? the word ?feed? means ?shepherd,? the way a shepherd tends and guides and protects and feeds his flock of sheep. It means we all take responsibility to breathe life into everyone around us by our words of encouragement.

As Christians, we have a divine responsibility to breathe life into those around us by our words of encouragement. Do our words and updates and texts and photos and emails breathe life into those around us? I want to grow in this area.

Here are some simple questions to ask before we speak or post or send:

  • Does this help others think in a godly way regarding [insert person such as the President, a pastor, a friend, a blogger, a church, etc.]?
  • Does this promote faith in God or worry?
  • Does this impart life to people by way of encouragement, laughter, faith, or biblical thinking?
  • Will what I’m saying have a damaging effect on someone else’s reputation in a way that is unfair to them and doesn’t give them the chance to represent themselves?
  • Does this promote gratefulness to God and joy in him?
  • Does this encourage others to trust God in the face of adversity?

Our words have the power to give life or death, to set aflame for good or evil. Let’s ask God to give us wisdom in all that we speak, post, and send.

How Not To Do A Garden

Ahh, Spring. That glorious?time we till the ground and plant our gardens.

When we get back to the earth and connect again with our primordial selves. When we lay aside Facebook and Twitter and grab a spade and plunge it into the rich dark loam from which we sprung. Ahh, the joyous anticipation of a glorious harvest of peppers and tomatoes and acorn squash. The very thought of puttsing in the garden, pulling weeds beneath the clear blue sky, the sun warming your back and a gentle breeze caressing your brow?fills you with wondrous joy.

Not. The thought fills me with anything but wondrous joy.

Years ago my next-door neighbor, Steve, had a wonderful garden. He loved spending time in his garden. He loved every aspect of it ? from the planting to the weeding to the watering to the plucking. I think he just liked to get out there and gaze at it. And of course he always had a bountiful harvest ? a regular cornucopia of delights.

As I observed Steve’s delight in his garden I often felt guilty. Maybe I should have a garden too, I thought. Get back to the earth. Experience the wind in my hair. Get some dirt under my fingernails. Sounded hippie-like and manly at the same time. It sounded natural. It just felt like that’s what I should do.

So I tilled the earth and planted rows of beans and peppers and tomatoes. I put down black plastic to keep the weeds out. And I even planted a pumpkin seed. What could be more satisfying than to have 20 or 30 pumpkins at the end of the summer to decorate my porch and dining room table? ?Country Living Magazine would probably want to do a photo shoot of my pumpkin decor.

Only problem was I never did anything after the initial planting, except an occasional watering. I didn’t do any weeding (somehow weeds found a way into my garden despite my black plastic). ?Neither did I do any pruning. ?I guess wise master gardeners break off the “suckers” or branches that don’t bear fruit. This concentrates all the energy of the plant into the fruit-bearing branches. ?

The result of my diligence was a pathetic harvest. ?Steve’s garden looked like a beautiful metropolis and my garden looked like a ghetto. Particularly interesting was my pumpkin. ?By September I had an approximately 200 foot vine that?took up about half my backyard, at the end of which was a solitary softball-sized pumpkin. ?Not exactly the bulbous blue ribbon winner I’d imagined I would take to the county fair in a U-Haul.

What is the lesson you ask? If you want to finish the summer with more than a softball-sized pumpkin and a 200-foot vine, you need to prune your plants. But wait, there’s actually a spiritual truth here. ?In John 15:1-2, Jesus said,

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. ?Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

In other words, God prunes his children so they produce maximum fruit.

He cuts off the “suckers” ? those things that drain away our spiritual life. ?Sometimes he prunes us through afflictions. Sickness may prevent us from getting involved with ungodly friends or activities that would harm our souls. ?He may limit our finances so we can’t have as much of the world as we like. ?He may humble us to prune the pride from our lives. When we feel stuck or can’t have something, God may be sparing us from temptation.

Pruning hurts. Pruning isn’t fun. ?I wouldn’t naturally choose for God to prune me. I don’t love being hemmed in, limited or afflicted. But it’s good that God prunes me. It’s evidence he has given me new life and loves me.

God isn’t like I was with my garden. He doesn’t plant the seed then forget about it. God is diligent like Steve was with his garden. Why is God so diligent to prune us? He wants us to bear much fruit. He doesn’t want us to end our lives with nothing but a softball-sized pumpkin.

So if you’re suffering, first know that the Lord is full of compassion and sympathy for you. ?But it may also be that in some way he is pruning you for your greater fruitfulness and a bountiful heavenly harvest.

Five Lies Sin Tells Me

LIE:?This is such a minor, insignificant sin! It’s not really a big deal in God’s eyes.

TRUTH:?Every sin is a horribly offensive to God. Sin is the sum of all evils, the opposite of all that is good, holy, and beautiful. Even the smallest of my sins required the death of the Son of God. There is no such thing as a minor sin. Every sin is cosmic treason.

LIE:?I’ll give into sin this one time, then I’ll be done with it. I just need to get it out of my system.

TRUTH:?Every time I give into a sin it becomes more difficult to break the power of that sin. Sin has a way of sinking it’s barbed hooks deep into my heart. I can’t simply sin and then walk away from it unscathed. The more I give in to sin, the more entangled I become. Sin always leaves scars.

LIE:?This sin is part of who I am. I’ve always struggled this way and I always will sin this way.

TRUTH:?Sin does not define my identity! I am a new creation in Christ. Christ has set me free from the enslaving power of sin. I absolutely do not have to obey the sinful passions that surge through me. I may have always struggled this way, but my past does not define my future.

LIE:?I need to give in to this sin in order to be happy.

TRUTH:?Sin never provides true happiness. It promises sweetness, yet ultimately delivers a payload of destruction, dissastisfaction, ruined relationships, and hardness of heart.

LIE:?God wants me to be happy, therefore it’s okay for me to give in to sin.

TRUTH:?God does want me to be happy. However, my happiness will only rise as high as my holiness. Sin ultimately erodes and destroys true holiness and true happiness.