The Good Gardener

Last Friday and Saturday were beautiful days; the weather jumped from winter to summer! Mark and I took the opportunity to do some work in our garden. We raked out the leaves, pulled the remaining weeds and thorns from last fall, and smoothed out the soil in many of the raised beds in preparation of planting seeds. Mark planted several of the cooler weather crops; snap peas, kale, and arugula, and today I’m thankful for the rain that is watering the seeds, hopefully not washing them away!

Neglect of our garden through the fall and winter months allowed for many unwanted leaves, weeds, and thorns to take over.

I suppose I could just dig holes amidst these leaves and weeds and hope that the seeds would grow and produce a crop.

But, somehow I just know that won’t work.

Gardens aren’t the only things that get messy when neglected.

When “winters” come into our lives they cause neglect and our hearts become messy!

“Winters” of the heart come in many different forms, with many different intensities, and can last different lengths of time.

But the affects of “winters” can leave the heart filled with leaves, weeds, and thorns. 

Here in New Jersey the neglect of gardens during the winter months is typical…

But when it comes to matters of the heart, seasons of neglect should not be typical…

Thankfully we have a Good Gardener who’s unconditional love for us will carefully tend and restore our hearts.

There are many different “winters” of the heart, but here are a few…

A “winter” of the heart can be busyness.

One morning we find we are too busy to read our Bible, pray, and, worship. One day becomes one week, one week becomes one month, and eventually the weeds of busyness have taken over and we can’t remember the last time we spent time alone with God.

“The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced.” Matthew 13:22

A “winter” of the heart can be disappointment.

Disappointment from an unanswered prayer or from an unfulfilled promise from God can bring “winter” to the heart. Disappointment can plant a weed, a lie, that God doesn’t care, that He can’t be trusted. The weed of disappointment will send out roots of doubt and unbelief.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” Proverbs 13:12

A “winter” of the heart can be unforgiveness.

A wounded heart brings “winter” by building walls of protection from further hurt. While they may protect from hurt, they isolate from love. Walls around the unforgiving heart are as thorns that keep others away from us, including God.

“If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear.” Psalm 66:18

A “winter” of the heart can be self-sufficiency.

“Winters” of the heart can happen even when everything is going well. It can be during those times we begin to rely on ourselves, believing  we can handle things on our own, and taking credit for our accomplishments; we become proud. Pride is as the fall leaves that cover the heart to hide the weeds and thorns of neglect so that we appear good to others.

“When you have eaten your fill in this land, be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 6:11-12

So what is it that motivates me to roll up my sleeves and tackle the mess of my neglected garden?

It’s the potential a cleaned out garden bed represents; free from all the mess that collected during the season of neglect.

The hope of new life held within seeds as they pop through the soil.

And the anticipation of the growing plants developing a delicious harvest!

I can’t help but think; because we are created in God’s image, He feels the same way.

He knows our potential!

He has a hope and a future for us!

And He is filled with great anticipation to see the fruit we will bear!

As the Gardener of our hearts I’m sure God never looks at our hearts and says, “Wow, that is too full of leaves, weeds, and thorns. It isn’t worth tackling that mess!”

“Winters” are the harm the enemy meant, that can be turned to the good God intended!

So, if the Gardener is God, and the leaves, weeds, and thorns are the sins and bad habits that grow in our hearts, our hearts would be the soil.

And so, as the soil didn’t do anything to keep me from tending it, so our hearts need to be yielded and open to the presence of God as He takes His strong hand and lovingly rakes, digs, and smoothes our hearts.

When we invite the Good Gardener to tend our neglected hearts the Holy Spirit will begin to rake away our pride so we can better see the weeds and thorns that are making our hearts so messy.

When we humble ourselves and acknowledge that we can’t tend our own hearts and allow God to come into the mess, He will rake away our pride. Pride always needs to be removed so the weeds and thorns will be visible. Once pride is removed, the weeds of busyness can be pulled and replaced with seeds of desire to spend time with God. The weeds of disappointment that spread doubts and unbelief can be taken away and replaced with seeds of faith and trust. Those thorns of unforgiveness that have kept us isolated will be striped away as we have the courage to choose to forgive.

“Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” Romans 2:4

A heart that is tended by the Good Gardener will remain surrendered to the raking, digging, and smoothing that is required to produce much fruit!

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.” John 15:1-2

 

 

 

Planting Seeds!

This time of year finds me eagerly looking for any sign of new life. The drab, gray, barrenness of winter has me hoping for the bright, fresh colors of spring. And whether it feels like spring or not, it is time to consider the planting of seeds…

Today I received an invitation to a Dinner and Worship evening held in a big, beautiful barn. As I read the invitation my mind went back to the ministry we did in our little, humble barn with the Living Nativity. The young woman who sent the invite was one of the girls who played the role of Mary. She often sang the song, “Breath of Heaven.” The song is somewhat of a prayer that Mary may have sung; recognizing she was chosen by God to carry a load that seemed too heavy, and lonely, in a world as cold as stone. A prayer that asked God for His very breath, the “Breath of Heaven” that would lighten her darkness, would be with her, would make her strong, and would hold her together.

I wondered if perhaps a seed was planted in her heart those cold winter nights as she so beautifully sang that song.

Because as years went by this young woman did find that she was chosen to bear a heavy load; that she too would pray a prayer for the “Breath of Heaven” to lighten her darkness, to be with her, to make her strong, and to hold her together.

Isn’t it interesting that seeds need to die and be buried?

The heavy load she and her husband experienced and the dark time they went through provided an environment the seed needed in order to grow. Those sleepless nights of despair watered the seed, and the Breath of Heaven breathed new life into their hearts and the seed began to grow.

The Glimmer of New Life brings Hope.

And hope is what they needed to build their big, beautiful barn. Her husband’s handiwork became a barn built for fellowship and worship and it stands as an illustration of the truth found in the creation of a seed…

 “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” John 12:24

I don’t take any credit in the accomplishment of their barn or the ministry that God will use it for, but I am reminded that…

whether we realize it or not we are always planting seeds.

Our words and actions are as seeds.

They are heard and seen by those around us. They fall upon the hearts of those we spend time with. And as time goes by they will begin to grow.

Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth”; and it was so.” Genesis 1:11

As God created trees to produce seed of their own kind, we too will produce seeds after our own kind.

 

We have the choice of what type of tree we will be, of what type of fruit we will bear, and of what type of seed we will plant…

“A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad. You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say.  A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart.” Matthew 12:33-35

And I believe the seeds we plant in our children, our grandchildren, and in others around us will grow bigger, stronger, and bear a greater harvest than we have; either for the good, or for the bad.

The fact that I am a grandma means that I have lived a lot of life, and in those many years I have seen the affects of seed planting. But what I have learned is that whether we have received good seed or bad seed, or whether we have spread good seed or bad seed, every seed needs to die before new life appears. And that is what God’s unconditional love and amazing grace is all about!

God’s resurrection power takes the dead things of life and breathes His “Breath of Heaven” into them, so that what grows from the deadness will be an illustration of how Great God is!

Never under estimate the power of planting seeds!

Wow, that makes me a “Grandma”!

This past Friday, Good Friday, the day we remember all the pain, suffering, and death Jesus willingly endured so that our sins were forgiven, we were healed, and we were made whole. That day we remember when the veil between God and man was torn so that we can talk to God wherever and whenever we want. That day we remember Jesus’ body was placed in the tomb as He died the death for our sin so we too are dead to sin.

Good Friday is the ultimate example of what the enemy  meant for harm, God intended for good!

From the time I was little my memory of Easter Sunday was the greeting Grandma would say when we arrived at her house for Easter dinner; “He is risen!” And my mother would respond with, “He is risen, indeed!”

From death, God brought life!

This is God’s Story!

This is what God has been doing since the beginning of time when He first spoke life into the vast expanse of darkness at creation.

This is the theme throughout the entire Bible!

This past Good Friday brought something else that I will always remember!

At 10:54 am God blessed Cliff and Whitney with a beautifully, perfect little boy! I rejoiced in God’s love, I praised Him for His goodness, and marveled in His perfect timing!

We celebrated the joy of Cliff and Whitney’s little boy!

 

Wow, that makes me a “Grandma”!

I have to admit, that new name causes me to ponder…

What is the role of a “Grandma”?

I find my definition comes from my experiences…

There are so many memories wrapped up in the name, “Grandma.”

Grandma…wasn’t she the woman that lived on the dairy farm where I loved to watch my Grandpa milk the cows and feed the calves? Wasn’t it her house that I spent a week each summer in, when she fed me eggs and bacon, braided my hair, and sent me out to discover all the joys of her farm?Wasn’t it at her house that my aunts, uncles, and cousins gathered together at the long table for Christmas and Easter dinners? Wasn’t her house the one that had great hiding places for hide-and-seek? Wasn’t she the woman I saw every Sunday sitting in the front row of church?

Wasn’t Grandma the one who prayed for every member of her family every day? Wasn’t it her prayers that I knew helped me through some very tough times in my life? Wasn’t it Grandma, who several days before she passed away recognized it was me by her side when I thanked her for her prayers?

Yes, that was my Grandma,

but there is another Grandma…

Isn’t Grandma the woman who came to help me when I had my babies? The woman who bounced my children on her lap? Isn’t she the one I trusted to care for my children when Mark and I went away? Wasn’t it in her yard that my boys climbed the cherry tree and picked cherries? Wasn’t it at her house where my sister, my brother’s families, and my family gathered together at her long table for birthdays and holiday dinners?

Isn’t Grandma the one who prays for me and for my family everyday?

So many memories of my Grandma, and of my children’s Grandma…

Now, I too have that name.

And as I ponder what that means I realize the importance of God’s Story in the legacy of my family.

My Grandma raised her children to know and love God. She taught them the truth of Good Friday and celebrated the joy of Easter Sunday. Grandma prayed for every member of her family; from the beginning till the end.

My children’s Grandma raised her children to know and love God. She taught them the truth of Good Friday and celebrated the joy of Easter Sunday. Grandma prays for her family; from the beginning and will till the end.

These have been my examples…

I know they haven’t been perfect. I know they made mistakes along the way, who hasn’t? But, that is why a Godly legacy is so important and one I am so thankful for.

Grandmas aren’t perfect, but if they point their grandchildren to the One who is perfect that is what really matters!

So, with the arrival of Elliot Martin on Good Friday I will always remember my role as Grandma.

To tell my grandchildren God’s Story.

And to pray for them, every day!

Lessons From A Tree

A neighbor and I would start our days with an early morning walk around the streets of our neighborhood. Along our way there was a tree that I enjoyed walking past especially in the spring because of its sweet fragrance.

One winter morning following an ice storm we found the tree completely bent over. I was sure the tree would no longer live to send forth its sweet fragrance. The coming spring brought no sign of life. The tree remained bent, broken, and brown for the entire year. Walking past this tree I wondered why the owner didn’t cut it down. But there was more to the tree than what could be seen on the surface. The roots of the tree weren’t damaged. Those roots continued to draw up water and nutrients into the bent and broken trunk and branches.

The following spring new growth appeared. There were so many branches coming from that bent and broken trunk. What seemed dead and hopeless sprang to new life, healthier and fuller than the original tree. Once more it sent forth its sweet fragrance.

 

The story of this tree reminds me of the Redeeming Love of God.

Ice storms come into our lives in a variety of circumstances. They cause damage, damage that looks as though the situation is dead and hopeless. It’s during that time we can respond in different ways. We can look at the dead and hopeless situation and give up on it, we can cut it down and remove it from our life, or we can wait on God to bring redemption and new life into it. I’m so glad the owner didn’t give up on the tree. It grew to be a beautiful, sweet smelling tree that is a constant reminder that…

what the enemy meant for harm, God intended for the good!

“May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous Love;” Ephesians 3:17

 

There was another tree long ago that held a lesson…

The Greatest Story ever told!

There was a tree upon which the beaten and broken body of Jesus was crucified.

“But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.” Isaiah 53:5

It was upon that tree the Perfect Lamb of God shed His blood for the forgiveness of the sin of all mankind.

“We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood.” Romans 3:22-25

It was upon that tree where Jesus cried out, “It is finished!”

“You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.” Colossians 2:13-14

That tree of long ago, known today as the Cross, is a constant reminder the no matter what “ice storm” has bent, broken, or left you hopeless, there is no damage that cannot be restored by the Redeeming Love of God.

And as the tree in my neighborhood, God intends for your life to be rooted in Him so that no matter what “ice storm” comes into your life God will work all things together for good…

so that your life will be fuller,

your faith will be made stronger,

and you will give off have the sweet fragrance of Jesus to those around you!

May you remember the Tree this Good Friday and embrace the Redeeming Love of God that He demonstrated towards you… 

“When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.” Romans 5:6-11

Picture: Jamie Gillem, Passion Play 2012

“I Can Only Imagine”

Mark, Kayla, and I just went to see an incredible movie,

“I Can Only Imagine.”

I highly recommend it!!!

You must go see it!!!!

It is the story behind the song, “I Can Only Imagine,” written by Bart Millard, of Mercy Me.

Bart’s story is filled with much emotion as he faced many “problems.” I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t seen the movie, but his story is evidence of how the “problems” Bart faced were meant to  bring him harm and to keep him from knowing who he was created to be, and from the destiny God intended for him.

It wasn’t until a huge “problem” brought him to the end of himself that he did the impossible.

And in doing the impossible he found redemption and success.

He found grace to step out of his “problem,” he found faith to believe for a “possibility,” and experienced a “reality” that only God could orchestrate! 

Bart’s story isn’t unique to him. His story is so powerful and so emotional because everyone who watches it can relate in some ways.

Bart’s story brings hope that no matter what “problem” the enemy brings to harm you, God is a good, good Father who intends a good “possibility” for you and is able to do above and beyond all you could think or imagine!

Bart’s story is one that proves that…

The bigger the problem the greater the possibility!!!

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,” Ephesians 3:20