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Growing Pains – How the seemingly inopportune can become the opportune

Root in hand Rev1

“And having no root in themselves they endure but for a time.  But when trouble comes they quickly fall away” Mark 4:17


Scripture reminds us repeatedly and sternly that we are not to lose heart due to the troubling events in our lives, as they are not fully what they may seem;  whether the exodus from Egypt, the wanderings in the desert, entering into the promise land, choosing a king, maintaining the stability and integrity of the nation, or the beginning and flourishing of the Church.  There is a tension that runs throughout all of scripture: that of trusting in God to guide and sustain our lives or believing that the events in our world are as they seem, and we are left to our own devices to provide, protect, and care for ourselves.

Unfortunately, believing as if we are left to our own devices often brings with it feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression.  Feeling threatened and overwhelmed, we often dig-in to protect ourselves, and this often results in sin and conflict with others – who, by the way, are also struggling with the same things we are.   These poor responses often perpetuate a bad situation or even make things worse. It is no wonder that Jesus said that those with no root do not endure when trouble comes.

What is significant about the root that is so necessary for endurance?  First, a root acts as an anchor. One of its functions is to keep the plant in the ground, so when the storms and the winds blow, the plant can remain steadfast.  But the root is not an ordinary anchor; it is a living, active anchor. It feeds and sustains the body which stands above.

From whence does the root draw its nutrients to feed and sustain the body?  Perhaps the most interesting thing about the root is the place where it resides.  The root lives in the underworld, a world of darkness and decay. It is a shadowy realm of mystery, a place of obscurity where the eyes do not penetrate.  It is the very place where Jesus says elsewhere that the seed must die prior to obtaining a new life. It is this shadowy underworld that provides the elements of life.  It is not something that the plant can see, or even that it asks for. It is just provided to the plant.

This takes us directly into the realm of Providence, as the plant is being provided and cared for.  Nowhere is perhaps Providence so conspicuously demonstrated than in that region the world has so commonly referred to as Mother Earth.  Here, however, our attention is directed to the power that transcends, utilizes, and even coordinates the activities of this lower realm.  This dark, cool, and deathly region is the material our loving Father uses to bring about new life in us. As we transverse blindly through the valley of the shadow of death and can feel the encroaching dark forces of disorder and dismay, we can always hope for new life and mended souls.

Our lives are often immersed in events or circumstances that feel like that deathly region inhabited by the root.  These moments that flood our inner worlds with fear, hopelessness, hurt, and despair effectively cover our mind in darkness and leaves us turning in on ourselves.  The light of hope grows dimmer and dimmer. As we turn inward, we realize how vanquished we really are. So the emergency sets in, and all the emotions and actions associated with our emergency become manifest.  However, our very responses often short-circuit the work or development that the situation was called to provide for. Our work, our devices, often seem to deliver more decay and destruction. We should not ignore the fact that these events are used by our loving Father to bring about new beginnings and needed change within us.  Why worry and fret? We can only judge our present conditions, and even that we can only do partially. Beyond that, each moment we are in His hands.

New life comes from God.  The things around us are more or less mute idols; they have no real power.  They are usually things we cast all our cares on, and the things we have set our ambitious sights toward.  But they can more often be instruments of death, rather than aids for life. New life comes from the Spirit that hovers over His created world as He works to refresh and revive the hopeless state of the barren and destitute.  When events seem to press in and we feel overwhelmed, we can remember that these circumstances are not permanent. Since there is a creative God that goes before us, we can stretch our mind and hearts beyond what we can see. We need not judge our present condition as an eternal state of despair but as the source of nutrients out of which new life will spring. Green pastures, an image often used to evoke a sense of calm and rest, must first emerge through that wretched underworld of darkness and decay.  

Oh Lord, please help us to not get tangled and choked up in the cares of this world, but turn our hearts toward you that we may receive your words of life.  May You nurture and feed us as a tree planted by living water




Am I my Brother’s Keeper? Making our Relationships Safe

Lion Girl Pic

Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privately – Matt. 1:19

            Perhaps the reason why God chose Joseph to be the Husband of Mary, and the father of Jesus, was because he was a just man; for “to do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice” Prov. 21:3, and “the Lord loves justice” Is 61:8.  Joseph gives us a beautiful picture of justice which allows us to see how marvelously justice reflects the goodness of God’s character.  Not only that, but we can see why God also delights when we perform acts of justice ourselves – then we become a sweet smelling aroma.

            Justice is one of those amorphous like concepts that have various shades of meaning; some which apply in a judicial context and others in a moral one.  Justice has also developed broader and more nuanced meanings which reflect how the concept was applied during various stages of historical and theological development.  But if we can reduce justice to a more basic form, we could say it simply means to give everyone what is due to them.  This definition automatically carries us further down the judicial-moral-ethical stream into the pool of duties.  To give someone what is due to them conveys a sense of duty.  Now one cannot have a duty without there being a corresponding law that dictates the obligation of that duty.  In Joseph we see here the manifestation or embodiment of the greatest of commandments in the law: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength; and to love your neighbor as yourself.  We are duty bound to love others as our self.  

             This story tells us that Joseph, being a just man, did not want to make a public example of Mary, but rather he wanted to separate from her privately.  What does this reveal about Joseph?  Joseph believed he was wronged, and therefore had the right to publicly accuse and denounce Mary.  But rather than bringing this harm on her, even though he felt wronged, he would rather protect her!  He wanted to protect her name, as “a good name is to be more desired than riches”.  What a beautiful revelation about the nature of a Godly character.  An idea that gets more developed throughout the New Testament, a Godly character strives to transcend the limits and demands imposed by self; and it seeks the good of others as much as the self – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

            No man is an island.  In other words no one can realize their own life to its fullest potential without the help of others.  Everyone must contribute to the social good, and likewise, everyone has access to the products and benefits of the social good.  Joseph realized that without a good name, Mary would be deprived from much of the social good that would otherwise be accessible to her.  Not only that, but this deprivation would also limit the opportunities that would allow her to reciprocate and bestow good on others in need.

            How many of us fail to paint others in the best possible light?  Beware, for when we do, we diminish the social credit available to them, whether this is in the form of friends, contacts, job opportunities, etc.  As sin is opposed to the law and commandments, sin in us naturally disposes us to operate against this love of justice.  We see it in young kids all the time.  If fact, it seems like my wife and I are constantly confronting our kids about the way they talk about each other; whether it be tattling, or putting each other down.  Unfortunately it does not end in childhood.  Most of us have just grown more sophisticated in the dark arts of making others look bad.  How excellent we are in bringing up the flaws and blunders of others; whether it is our friends, peers, family relatives, or co-workers.  We never seem to fail to spotlight their flaws or mistakes.  We have become proficient tradesmen in the guilds of gossip, tale-bearing, backbiting, and reviling.  Oh how different our environments would be if we, like Joseph, were diligent in protecting the reputation and character of others rather than relishing in their not so great moments.  

          Even if I was wronged, what can I do today, nay must I do, because I am duty bound to create a safe place for others around me?  What effect does being with a safe person have on me?  How can I attempt to produce the same effect in others?