Weed Therapy

I usually don’t wear gloves when I weed. I prefer to get my hands dirty. I like to slip my fingers sub-terrain and work them along the highways of root systems. And those highways are complex, starting on one side of my flower bed and ending on the other. Sometimes I’m a lazy weeder and pull quickly at what I see above the dirt, that which disrupts the beauty of my flower beds. I don’t always take time to use a hand trowel, piercing down and pulling up roots.

It occurred to me the other day while bending over to pull a few early spring weeds the metaphor of life and sin that exists in the ecosystem of plants and weeds. Sin no more sits on the surface of our lives as a weed sits on the surface of the ground. It goes deeper than what we imagine. We think a few external plucks will take care of what others see, the actions the disrupt our well-portrayed life. We go right for the obvious because its easier than dealing with the hidden. Clean up the cussing, cut out the angry outbursts, pull at the impatience, perhaps spray sin-killer on the greed and the lust.

But what about the roots? The highway of sin is a fully cemented road system that penetrates the parts of us that nobody sees, and we often don’t see ourselves. Removing the obvious leaves us clean for a bit, but the sin will surely come back, perhaps even stronger than before (it’s the concept Jesus mentions in Matthew 12:44-45 concerning the unclean spirits). The source of the issue must be dealt with.

There’s only one way to get rid of sin, and it’s not through our earnest gardening. It’s His gardening. His fingers reaching into the complexities of our lives and untangling the healthy roots of His Spirit from the unhealthy roots of our sin. He gets to the bottom line. He takes care of the attitudes and motives that produce the weeds. He plants the good seed of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

We must abide with the Gardener (read John 15). We must let the heavenly trowel dig. We must keep the soil soft so as to make His pulling-up easy.

Think on these things as you garden this spring. What roots in your life are you trying to ignore? What roots is He trying to pull?

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Ashes to Ashes

“Ashes, ashes, we all fall down,” goes the final line of Ring Around the Rosy, a popular nursery rhyme. How innocently we sung that while swinging around in a circle and falling down. But what does “ashes, ashes we all fall down” really mean? It’s about the Bubonic plague. The “ring around the rosy” being the plague’s first symptom on the skin, the “pocket full of posies” the flowers and herbs carried around superstitiously by doctors, and “ashes, ashes we all fall down” the certain deadly outcome.

We are all plagued by sin, and “ashes, ashes” we will certainly all die. Lent is the season for paying attention to those ashes and recognizing our frail sinful condition. It’s a time for repentance, turning away from those plaguing, nagging habits that lead to death and destruction. It’s a time for self-control, holding ourselves back from the usual pleasures we enjoy to focus on the seriousness of the human condition.

We all must go through Lent before we celebrate Easter. The resurrection holds no meaning without the sacrifice that comes before. If we wake up April 8, dress in our fanciest clothes, saunter to church early to sing a few hymns and watch the sunrise, we’ve missed the point. And to think that some people only go to church on Christmas and Easter. How can we celebrate life without first celebrating the death of sin?

Remember when Jesus said, “He who has been forgiven little loves little”? He said this after a sinful woman interrupted a dinner party and washed his feet with her tears and anointed him with oil. She understood his forgiveness and that fueled her love. The joy of Easter morning comes after the gruesome death. Our death, by substitution. Sin cost Jesus his life. Grace is not cheap.

What will fuel your love this Easter? Hopefully a season of meditating on your ashes.

Where’s the Mercy?

“But the Israelites acted unfaithfully in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Carmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the LORD’s anger burned against Israel. ..Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the LORD turned from his fierce anger.” Joshua 7:1, 25-26

When you read Joshua 7, what’s your heart’s reaction? Are you appalled with Achan’s sin? Or are you upset with God for his apparent lack of mercy?

The problem is that sin is deceitful. It passes itself off as little. We see it as a little gnat in the soup, easily removed, when really the whole soup is poisoned. We see sin as the spot of spaghetti sauce on our white t-shirt, easily soaked with cleaner, when really, the whole white t-shirt has been dyed an irreversible tomato-orange. When consequences seem slim, what’s the matter with a little sin?

Achan saw and coveted items left behind in Jericho. But Achan didn’t steal from Jericho. He stole from the Lord Almighty who had already claimed the spoils of Jericho for Himself. Achan’s heat-of-the-battle theft blossomed into secrecy (hiding possessions under his tent), which affected his fellow Israelites who attempted to fight a battle but were defeated. And finally, Achan hardened his heart until nothing but unrepentance ruled.

Here’s the mercy: Achan had his chances to come clean. When the men from Israel went up to Ai and were routed because of his sin, Achan could have torn his robe and repented in ashes. When Joshua fell before the Lord and received the instructions to consecrate the people and bring them forward tribe by tribe, Achan could have repented. When the tribes, clans, and families started to parade in front of Joshua and the elders, Achan still could have repented. He had ample time, but he lacked conviction. His heart was hardened.

To a just God, there is no small sin. Sin is always ugly and deserving of death. And so God acted as He had to act. Achan reaped what he sowed.

Are we revolted by our sin? Do we realize the entire nature of our sinfulness? By that I mean, we not only do and think sinful things, we are inherently sinful from our minds to our hearts. And we are all one day going to be marched in front of a holy God, who by nature being holy, cannot exist with unholiness.

Here’s our mercy: The blood of Christ. His death instead of ours. But it takes repentance. He will not save those who do not recognize their sin and need. It’s not enough to confess (admit) to our sin problem. We must repent. It’s a step beyond confession. It’s a turning away from sin and to Jesus as the only solution.

Are you living in the Christ’s extended mercy? Do you hate sin? Let us learn some good lessons from Achan.

Love Bears All Things

On this day of flowers, chocolates, and pink and red cards, perhaps the best gift for your loved one can be plucked off this list:

“Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

According to Scripture, Christ’s sacrfice is the ultimate example of love, and any human love must stem from the same selfless attitude. While romantic love is wonderful and God-given (Song of Solomon celebrates this), the essence of love is sacrifice. We are to give over our preferances and rights for the sake of others.

There are two similar phrases in this list: bears all things and endures all things. The Greek verbs come from the same category in the Louw-Nida dictionary: patience, endurance, perseverance. So what are the subtle differences?

The first phrase of verse seven, bears all things implies putting up with annoyances or difficulties. This is the slurping of milk from the cereal bowl, the pile of dirty socks on the bedroom floor, or the constant list making and checking. This is the petty stuff that, if allowed to get under your skin, leads to frustration and for many in this culture, “I don’t love you anymore.”

The last phrase of verse seven, endures all things implies endurance during difficulty and suffering. This is walking through sickness, financial difficulty, or persecution with your loved one. Or, this is (dare I say?) enduring the disrespect, dishonesty, or unfaithfulness of your spouse. This is hardship where choosing commitment over emotion is not easy.

In a culture where marriages are easily dismissed for the smallest and in my opinion, stupidest, reasons, the bearing and enduring of 1 Corinthians might be our best witness. We can choose to love with a high tolerance for those little irritations and with a perseverance through the hard trials. We can make a statement that the only love worth giving is a love that is poured through us from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.