It turns out, nearly every year we plan, work, plant, tend, and harvest a garden of edible treasures, there is inevitably some deeper truth mined from the soil and its produce.
We’ve just begun this summer’s work, and already our strawberries have reminded me of a truth I often forget.
See, we didn’t actually do anything for these strawberries this year. Last year, because we all love eating strawberries, we decided to buy several plants (maybe twelve) to “try it out” in our garden. The plants seemed to thrive, producing many of the small, white flowers. Anticipation grew as we expected the sweet, juicy strawberries to begin appearing in the dozens!
But they didn’t. They really didn’t. By the end of the summer, the flowers that did appear and disappear only managed to produce less than half of a dozen berries. And really, we didn’t get to eat any of them, because the bugs got to them before we did.
Disheartened by the obvious failure—but only slightly so—we thought we’d give it one more try next year, and so, we left the strawberry plants in the ground, over winter. (Though I can not recall exactly why we did this, since we removed all the other used-up plants.)
After the long, hard, very cold winter, spring once again sprung. As everything came to life again, the strawberry plants followed the same pattern of rejuvenation. The leaves broadened, the plants stood taller on their thin stems, and after a very short time, the white flowers appeared again!
This time, there were more. Many more. And we saw bees buzzing, doing their handiwork.
And then we saw berries. LOTS of berries! Some of them already much larger than anything we saw last year.
What has occurred to me several times as we watch this bountiful future harvest take shape before our eyes is this: We did not do this.
Last year we bought the plants and brought them home. We carefully planted, tended, weeded, watered, and watched. And we reaped next to nothing. (You could accurately just call it “nothing”.)
But this season, we didn’t do any of that. We did weed out a bit of the unwanted extra plants around the strawberries, but we also left quite a few in amongst them. We did not till the soil. We didn’t really take any care whatsoever of these plants in this process.
And yet they bloom, and bring forth fruit. In abundance!
Perhaps things go better when we leave them alone?
I have clearly applied this thought to parenting our children. As our oldest quickly approaches adulthood, I am constantly finding myself questioning how much (if any) I should involve myself in his decision-making. I’ve tended toward less or no involvement (though my own self struggles against that, too) and I think he is and will be the better for that.
It’s hard to not do anything.
But the strawberries from our untended plants will exceed last year’s tended produce times relative infinity.
It’s hard to not interfere. But it would appear that some things in life are better when we just let them happen.
Today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day. June 6th, 1944. The Allied invasion at Normandy, France, was a key point in World War II, and certainly worth commemorating.
Below is an article I wrote a couple years ago, following our family’s own commemorating of the events of that day. It seemed a good way to honor the day this year, too.
Even if you read it when it originally posted, I do think it’s worth re-reading, and re-considering.
D-Day: When Things Mattered
June 7th, 2012
Last night we honored D-Day (June 6th) by watching an episode of Ken Burns’: The War (on Netflix). It follows the lives of four guys who lived through WWII, and specifically that day in Normandy.
It invoked so many thoughts and emotions… I certainly can not describe and share them all here.
The one prevailing thought I had, however, was that there is right and wrong.
These guys—just kids—were willing to give up their lives (literally!) in order to go over and make right what someone (or a large group of someones) made wrong… for somebody else!
That can not be emphasized enough.
The aggressors (Nazi Germany) were bent on eradicating the Jews (and just non-Aryans, right?) and were expanding their territory across sovereign nation after sovereign nation until the brave, heroic, persons of principle among the nations stood up and said, “You shall not pass!”
And they truly were brave. Heroes. Righteous. Courageous.
Not that they were flawless human beings. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Some of them were maybe even “bad” guys… but they stood up for what was right. That made them heroes.
They literally gave up their lives (I contend even the guys who didn’t die on D-Day were never the same again)… and it was for other people. Not the US. Not Americans (directly). It was not to expand our territory or influence or whatever… it was just taking a stand against evil.
Some today think that war is always wrong. They think that generations are not different. In a way that is correct: people are people. But there was something in my grandparents’ generation that was different. I’m not sure if it was a product of the circumstances of their day, or if it was that they had not yet removed God and respect and decency and morality from the general fabric of society. Maybe it was both. But whatever it was, we still owe to them (the world, not just America) an incomprehensible, inestimable debt of gratitude.
We mostly argue about ridiculous things today, things that really don’t matter. (We are free to do so in part because of the courageous choices and actions of these men.) Sometimes I think we argue for the sake of arguing. Political gaming. Blagh.
Things matter. People matter. Someday I think we (our nation, and as individuals) will be faced with a similar crisis. At that point, I wonder what that generation will do? Will their descendants someday label them the “greatest generation”? Or will that moniker forever be inexorably bound to the generation whose men bravely stormed the beaches at Normandy… until they had either given up their life, or succeeded in preserving freedom for the world?
I think we will someday find out, one way or another. Somehow we always get to decide if we’re going to stand, or stand by.
On D-Day… (and in many other battles) they chose to stand.
This morning, as I passed a line of cars heading the other direction, waiting for their light to turn green, I began to notice the faces of their drivers. Most were nearly expressionless. Some seemed to have more than driving on their minds, faces betraying the distraction. Other faces were relaxed, even smiling.
As the faces I passed numbered into the dozens, I began to think about how each of the people I saw were special. No, not the platitudinal “God Loves You” kind of special. (Though that doesn’t need to be completely discounted, it’s not what struck me.)
They are special to someone, or someones else.
Each of those people are a daughter or a son; maybe a husband or a wife; related by blood or shared life-times to people who value them, perhaps even more than they value themselves?
Their faces may or may not reveal the hurt they felt when they pushed themselves out of bed this morning; the happy tiredness of a sleepless night with the new baby; the joy of the new job, or relationship, or realization of some wonder of God’s creation redeemed.
Everyone is special to someone. You are. You know people who are special to you. And every person—even the ones who are “just faces” to us—is beyond-words special to someone. Usually several someones.
I’ve had this experience (and chronicled it) before. Perhaps that means it’s really true.
You are valued.
I hope you know it. I hope you hear it. Often.
It is true.
What you can do, is make sure that you remind the people that are Special to you, that you esteem them, you love them. That’s important. And easy, all at the same time.
Recently a podcast I regularly enjoy reminded me that the Special is all that matters. “The trajectory of the world is changed one life at a time. It’s you loving the people God’s put around you today.”
The world is changed by how we love even just one person.
The people you see every day around you… the “extras”… are actually someone incredibly Special.
And so are you.
Words that have impact, weight, gravitas. Vivid pictures of great force and ability prominently display on the screen of our minds. Big, overwhelming, unstoppable, unbreakable.
We love strength. We need it. The events of our lives remind us so often that we lack control, ability… power and strength.
And so we create heros who are strong. We even create villains in our various narratives who are equally strong—or stronger—and the irresistible draw of the story is that the hero, through whatever strength, power, ability he or she might muster, is able to overcome the impossible odds and defeat… overpower the enemy.
Because that is strength.
This week, my thoughts have remained on the idea of weakness versus strength. How can it be that our weakness, our brokenness, can be our strength? Inevitably I am drawn back to the foundational Truth that God himself is our only source of strength. The only source of Strength.
The trick is, he doesn’t always display his strength in the way we first think of strength.
I wrote about Strength In Weakness earlier this week. I shared recent reminders of how our weaknesses are not our downfall, but with God, they are a greater strength. We need him, and our weaknesses focus us—again, and again—on that essential reality.
And again my thoughts betray my true, fundamentally flawed thinking. Weakness is my inability, and strength is my ability. Strength to change things. Power to move, alter, overcome.
Perhaps this is not true strength at all?
Jesus told his friends that, “in this world, kings and great men ‘lord it over’ their people… But… you… will be different… the leader should be like the servant.”
And in the previous post, we remembered how Jesus even restrained his power all the way to an unjust execution. Arguably demonstrating more strength than an overpowering, awe-inspiring display of “power”.
I once heard the term “meekness” defined as strength under control. Is this evidence of greater power; greater strength? Yielding of available power. Sheathing the sword.
Too often we want Power to overcome, destroy the Foe. But more often, Power is demonstrated by restraint. By submission. By being the Servant.
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
God speaks in a whisper. He was born a baby, in a barn, in a tiny Nowhere Town. He died the death of a criminal, without resistance.
His Power and Strength are far beyond what we can fathom, far different than we can comprehend.
Holding back your tongue is power. Holding your temper. Pulling punches. Turning the other cheek. Laying down your own rights, willingly, for another’s benefit. Without being asked to. These are some examples Jesus modeled; he who has true power.
When you next ask for a demonstration of his Power… it might turn out differently than you expect.
There is no doubt that all Power and Strength and Glory and Honor belong to him, and him alone. What that looks like, he continues to slowly reveal to me. You may have a clearer picture of it than I do, and I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below, or contact me directly.
But I know this—he is Power, and Strength. And my greatest ideas of Power pale in comparison to all that He is.
And the best part is, one of my favorite sections of scripture—a prayer for power and strength—talks about God’s immense power… to change me from the inside! How much more subtle can you get, but Paul says it’s beyond our imagination!
I leave you with Paul’s words. Be encouraged, in His Power.
When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.
If you’ve spent any time around Jesus, you’ve probably noticed that he sees things backwards; upside-down. His vision of how the world operates is counter-intuitive, counter-culture, and counter- most all of our own natural bents.
Jesus took his backward thinking all the way to his own, un-protested execution.
He was silent before his accusers.1
Jesus knew that there is greater strength in restraint—even in weakness.
How can weakness be strength? Again, that’s more than paradox, that’s just… incorrect. At least, it is so according to conventional thinking. (Which we’ve already said is not Jesus’ basis for “the way things work”.)
“My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness.”2
Power… is made perfect… in weakness. Words of the Father to Paul, who was begging him to remove something that “tormented” him.
But God said, No… trust me. Weakness is better.
Power is made perfect in weakness. A small flame can light a dark room. Things that we perceive as weak can be strong. But I don’t think that is the point.
In a strange sense, it does actually work. Think about it. If you’re giving everything you’ve got, all your strength and ability, that’s great—but it has its limits. Your limits. When you acquiesce to a power outside of yourself—greater than yourself—and relinquish any control you have (or think you have) … there is a strange, greater strength in that act alone.
We’re giving up control. We are allaying all fear of what might come—which we can’t control anyway—by steadfastly trusting in the goodness, strength, and deep, deep love of the Father… towards me. The strength is not my own; it’s His.
Jesus lived this. And he wants us to trust him, and his Father, and do the same.
These thoughts have been bubbling under the surface of many conversations and in things read and heard in the recent past. I think God is reminding me where Life and Strength are. And now, perhaps he’s reminding you, too.
Be strong… in your weakness.
I’m really good at a lot of things. I think I always have been. My sister-in-law once called me “golden boy”, or something like that (even before I was her sister-in-law), because everything I touched “turned to gold”.
And yet, I’m really not awesome.
I wish I was. I would have lots of uses for supreme awesomeness. I think of what a fantastic Dad I could be; always there for each of my kids with complete understanding, compassion, enthusiasm—whatever they need, exactly when they need it. I know I could be the perfect husband to my wife; empathetic, again understanding and compassionate, kind, gentle, humble, gracious, and always considering each moment from her perspective, and for her good.
If I was really awesome, I’d treat every person I spent time with each day as though they were indeed the Son or Daughter of the King—which they are. It wouldn’t matter what they looked like on the outside, or whether I was in a good mood at the moment, or even if I had time in my day to give to them. I would see them, and know them, and listen to them, and give them the honor they are due as another of His Masterpieces.
I’d also probably do some pretty amazing things along the way; whether through my music, or writing, or even through some tasty culinary creations. If I was the awesomest person ever, the world would be full of my most amazing works.
But I am definitely NOT the Most Awesome Person Ever.
(Just ask any of those people listed above.)
And I’m glad I’m not. I’m glad for the reminders that my life is only full, complete, real, meaningful… LIFE… with, and in, and through Jesus, who IS the Awesomest Person Ever. (See Colossians, Hebrews, and several other sections of the New Testament for more on that.)
I fail my wife all the time. When she needs me to show her grace, I’m often at (or past) the end of my own reserves, and instead I offer her insecurity; words and actions originating in my own lacking. I fail my kids even more (if only because there are more of them to fail) with busyness, tiredness, selfishness, all taking me from them more than I care to admit.
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” (Matt 5:3)
Jesus said that.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
As I was reminded by the book I recently recommended here, Jesus is clearly, far-and-away, without-rival, The Most Awesomest Person Ever.
Remember what Paul said, when he wrestled with wanting to be better (more awesome)?
That experience is worth boasting about, but I’m not going to do it. I will boast only about my weaknesses. If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.
Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:5-10)
No. I am not awesome. Neither was Paul (who was likely more awesome than me… even if he might not admit to it), and neither are any of us who are not Jesus, the full embodiment of God the Father.
His grace is all I need. All we need.
We may not be awesome, but he is. And that IS awesome!
I am not very comfortable in “Christian” settings. For a long time now, I’ve said that I “don’t like Christians”, but that’s meant to be at least somewhat tongue-in-cheek. I know that Jesus is life, that there is no life outside of him; and for me, everything I do, and see, and experience runs through that filter.
I am also quite fond of others who see the world around us from that perspective: knowing the loving Creator Father who made it, and us, and Jesus whom he sent, and his Spirit in us. It’s wonderful spending time with others who share that same understanding, passion, and reality.
But I recently had a moment of clarity on this subject. It’s not Christians that make me feel uneasy, it’s being at any event or location where Christians are “being Christian”.
It’s that pretense, that front, that game playing … that is what gets me to put my own guard up, and, sadly, it’s why I usually try to avoid “Christian” events.
When the language becomes Christian, when certain behaviors are expected, beliefs—not in Jesus, but in the “traditions of man”, as Paul often labeled them—are silently presumed to be firmly held and agreed upon; this is when my stomach usually tightens into disquieted knots.
I love being with other believers, but if the reason for gathering is somehow labeled “Christian”, or all the participants know that they are there to “be Christian” … I think that’s where it starts to fall apart.
And the reason is that we are not supposed to BE CHRISTIAN.
We are supposed to love each other. Love God. Be loved. The things that we think mark us as believers are evidence of lives changed from within, by God himself. Not our own efforts at all. That’s so important.
It’s completely from, for, about, and through him.
So when we who live our lives wholly with Jesus are in a setting that is not specifically “his”, I find that those times are more relaxed. (As long as we’re not “being Christian” and condemning wrong behavior that is acceptably condemnable.)
This is part of the problem. “Being Christian” is often akin to thinking a certain way on various issues, behaviors, and doctrines. (This is why there are so many splinters of the church. Doctrinal spats create unending levels of division between believers.) Christians are against homosexuality and gay marriage; six-day creationism versus evolution (and every other theory of our origins); taking God, prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Bible out of public arenas like schools and other government buildings; and many Christians hold strong views about politics that they tie to their “Christianity”.
How do any of these things make us “Christian”? In what way do they distinguish us as followers of Jesus? How are we like him by conforming to these standards?
Jesus prayed for us. Did you know that? Right before he went to the cross, John records the words he prayed. He prayed for the people he was with, and he prayed for us. Listen:
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!
“O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”1
To Jesus, our unity was paramount. We in him, he in his Father, Father in him, he in us. That we as believers—centuries and millennia in the future—would be visibly, notably united was foremost in his heart and mind as he faced death on the cross.
Jesus’ unity was not just a doctrinal thing. He spent time with people who may have disagreed with him. He certainly spent time with some who were different from him. He was usually chastised in regards to whom he chose to spend his time with.
He was not “being Christian” at “Christian” gatherings.
Why can’t we just be together, and enjoy each other, and share the variety and diversity of our lives and selves together, with no need for judging, condemning, conforming, reforming, or any other manipulation of each other; whether directly or by inference?
I don’t know. But that’s why I don’t enjoy Christian gatherings. It’s a bunch of Christians being Christian.
We are most like Jesus when we love, accept, offer grace and truth together—which I think is much less common practice than many Christians admit—and truly love people who most need loving.
Which is all of us.
I don’t want to be a Christian. I want Jesus to live his love through me. (Just as he prayed for us above.) I want to be so close to him that people recognize his scent on me. Not through any of my own strength, or practice, or perfecting… just the work he is doing in me. It’s not at all about me. Only him. And you.
If we all live like that, being together with Christians who are truly “being Christian” would be the most amazing place on earth.
Because HE is embodied in us. (We’re not trying to be his body.)
Oh man. That would be spectacular.
We just have to stop trying, and let him change us. Stop being Christian. Be loved. And Christ will be in you.
The English language can certainly be confusing. Add grammar and punctuation to that, and there are all sorts of possible dangers ahead.
Today I’d like to specifically address the use of (or rather, the non-use of) the apostrophe when pluralizing surnames.
You see, in far too many communications from individuals and organizations, the apostrophe is used when it should not be. Far less often it is omitted when it should be employed, but generally the grammatical grievance looks something like this:
We will be joining the Smith’s for dinner tonight.
What that sentence literally means is, “We will be joining [those who belong to Smith] for dinner tonight.” Now, is that what the writer intended? Likely, no.
The proper way to pluralize is to simply add the letter ‘s’ to the end of the singular form of the noun. (Right? We all know that, don’t we?) For some reason, particularly when referring to a family surname, adding that apostrophe has such a strong pull on us that we must stick it in there.
What’s really odd is, even our iOS devices’ auto-correct feature adds that pesky apostrophe! Come on, Apple!
Now, you could employ the little dot with the tail if you wanted to make the plural possessive. For example:
We are going to the Smiths’ for dinner tonight.
In this case, you’d be speaking of the Smiths’ residence, while omitting the specific word used for that residence. (“House”, “Home”, “Abode”, “Domicile”, etc.) But since the Smiths possess their home, you’d add that friendly possessive punctuator to the end of their pluralized name.
Now, where this gets even tricker (I’ll admit) is when the friend’s surname ends in an ‘s’, or even something that sounds like an ‘s’. For example:
Tomorrow, we’ll be having dinner with the Joneses.
The trouble is, first, it’s sometimes harder to say. Second, sometimes it just doesn’t feel right. All those ‘s’ sounds… shouldn’t there be an apostrophe in there somewhere?!
Nope. Not unless its possessive, as above, in which case, the sentence would read:
Tomorrow, we’ll be having dinner at the Joneses’.
So much to remember!
And please, friend, practice and perfect this punctuation, and help end the Apostrophe Apostasy!
What I most enjoyed about this book was it’s emphatic emphasis (is that a thing?) on the singular fullness of Jesus. (Which, I’m sure you already gleaned from the title.)
The concept is, nothing we can add to who Jesus is, and what he has already done, will in anyway add to or enhance our lives, our existence. And, in a slight bending of the commutative property of addition, he asserts that removing Jesus from everything, leaves us with nothing. (That was for my kids, who do not hold much love for math…)
Here’s a quote from early in the book:
God seemed bigger to me than ever, when I’d never been so small.
When you actually feel like you have nothing, Jesus becomes more to you than you ever could have hoped or imagined.
Jesus plus nothing equals everything.
The gospel became for me more than a theological passion more than a cognitive catch-phrase it became my functional lifeline.
Rediscovering the gospel enabled me to see that:
Because Jesus was strong for me, I was free to be weak.
Because Jesus won for me, I was free to lose.
Because Jesus was someone, I was free to be no one.
Because Jesus was extraordinary, I was free to be ordinary.
Because Jesus succeeded for me, I was free to fail.
At a very difficult time in his life, the emphasis of the author’s real, tangible life became completely focused on who Jesus is, what Jesus does for him… and the reality of its completion and accessibility to him. And to us.
The gospel erases us, in [a] sense, which is why we avoid it. But that erasing of self is the key to our freedom.
The gospel doesn’t take you deeper into yourself; the gospel takes you away from yourself. That’s why Paul reminds the Colossians (and us), “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (3:3) The gospel frees us to realize that, while we matter, we’re not the point.“
Jesus is the point.
We who call ourselves Christians certainly already realize this. But it is not often realized in our lives. The days we live. The hopes we have, challenges we face, thoughts we think. We do not live in the fullness and reality of the gospel: that God so loved [all of us] that he took on skin and defeated sin and death, that we might know eternal life. In Him. And then the “Christian life” flows from knowing, accepting, and living that.
At one point the author proclaims a “hatred” for ‘accountability groups’ because of their incorrect focus. Christianity tends to focus on behavior, and inward attempts to change. But the change only comes from Jesus’ work in us. Once on the cross, and ongoing as we walk with him.
He says this about how we can encourage one another as we live our lives in step with the Spirit:
So, instead of trying to fix on another, why don’t we “stir one another up to love and good deeds” by daily reminding one another, in humble love, of the riches we already possess in Christ? ….
Our greatest need is to look at Christ more than we look at ourselves, because the gospel is not our work for Jesus, but Jesus’s work for us.
The truth that this book presents is that we have everything we need in Jesus. Period. The end. Nothing more is needed. Anything else just gets in the way, and takes our focus off of the Life source: Jesus. (Hebrews 12:2 comes to mind.)
Today, if you are weary, or burdened, or feel as though you are missing something… please look to Jesus. He is already there, with you, waiting for you to cease your struggle and simply follow him. Trust him.
If those are just words, please ask Him to show you how to experience them. There is no life without him. Everything minus Jesus is nothing.
But, as Tchividjian says (I just wanted to get his name in here! It’s pretty crazy!):
Jesus, plus nothing, equals everything.
And in that, we are free.