The Gardens of God

July 21

“He restores my soul…” (Psalm 23:3a)

Yesterday, we talked about seeds – how they are like thoughts sown into our minds and hearts – and how the “plants” from those seeds affect our lives.

weeds (1)But what if an honest look at our lives causes us to realize that our lives have more closely resembled an overrun mess, than a glorious garden? What hope remains for us who have seen our gardens laid to waste with weeds and blight? And who still struggle, at times, with a “garden out-of-control?”

Our hope is Jesus! He came to restore what has been devastated. He came to renew that which is overrun. He came to overturn all of the enemy’s intentions – and grant us all a new beginning. Only Jesus is able to do that…

He is the only one who can take hopelessness and bring back hope.

So, if we have allowed seeds of falsehood to take root in our “garden” – we need to remember that our God is a Master Gardener. He is able to plow up our unseemly garden and renew it. He is able to remove all of our overgrown weeds and rejuvenate our soil. He is eager to give us a fresh start. IF we will but allow Him…

master-gardener

The whole point of Christianity is that God has come to redeem all the lost causes out there. He has come to put the imprint of His handiwork upon our lives.

And in so many ways, all the mess that we have made can become His glorious story – the testimony of His ability to turn defeat into victory, sorrow into joy, emptiness into fullness, and messes into miracles.

The story of our lives does not have to end up as a sad and weedy tale.

God is in the business or renewal and restoration (see Jeremiah 30:17; Psalm 23:3). It is His particular specialty.

The hard part is on our end.

seed-heart1The first seed that we will have to allow to take root in our new garden is the seed of God’s eminent love. We ARE now His beloved children. He deliberately chooses not to call to Mind the mistakes of our past. Whatever we were… we are no more! Once He receives us as His Own children there is only the now. There is today. This moment. And our part is to live each moment tending our particular garden (we were actually made to tend gardens; Gen. 2:15).

We do this by saturating our minds with God’s Word – because, in it, we find the very Mind of God. We meditate upon God’s ways. We set our minds upon His truths.

bible-alive-625x300

And when some detrimental seed “happens by” to seek a home in our soil – we meet it with the treatment it deserves… “This is God’s Garden, now. The only things allowed to grow here are the plants of grace and truth.”

Whatever the condition of our souls, God seeks to reveal Himself through us. Whether that revelation is… how His grace takes the unseemly and makes it glorious. Or it is how He nourishes and edifies others through the beautiful garden His grace has created in our lives.

Either way, those who have trusted in Jesus are the gardens of God – to honor and glorify His Name.

beautiful garden

Prayer focus: God, I entrust my life to You… May Your grace make me a thing of grace, peace, and beauty.

God is the gardener

Posted in Belonging to God, Daily devotional, God's Heart, Grace and Truth, our identity in Christ, Pleasing God, Renewal, Transformation, True Christianity, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Seeds

July 20

“A man sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was asleep, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and slipped away.” (from Matthew 13:24-25)

While on this “gardening” theme, I wanted to follow-up on this idea of seeds. The concept of seeds, and what comes from them, is a significant theme in the Bible.

seeds

For good reason. We have much to learn by looking at seeds and their purpose. Both from a positive side, and a negative.

In our Scripture above, Jesus is telling a parable to illustrate the Kingdom of God. I will tell you right up front that we will not be discussing the main purpose behind Jesus’ words (at least, in this post). But, for our purposes today, we will look at different kinds of seeds and how they affect our lives.

Close up of ripe wheat earsTwo types of seeds are sown. Good seed (by the owner of the field) and bad seed (weed seeds sown by the owner’s enemy). There are also two intentions at work. The owner sows good seed, intending to grow and produce a harvest (some for eating; some for re-sowing as the next crop). wheattares11The enemy sows bad seed, intending to ruin the owner’s harvest (and ruin him financially!) – by trying to cause him to act rashly and destroy his own crop (when he recognizes that there are weeds among his wheat). As we read the parable, Jesus tells us that the trick of the enemy doesn’t work – the owner acts wisely, and leaves us with an important picture of the end times (which is actually Jesus’ main focus).

But here is the point for today… Life begins with seeds. Some seeds will be for our benefit and blessing. But, some seeds will be to our detriment and destruction.

If we really look at it, our very lives are like a field in which many types of seeds are sown. Some by God. Some by His enemy. Some by other people. Some by ourselves. The apple-treesummary of our lives is a matter of realizing what types of seed have taken root in our “fields” and how the “plants” from those seeds have affected us.

Seeds represent thoughts – a seed-thought that will grow into whatever that thought will produce. These seed-thoughts can be either beneficial or detrimental depending on what we allow to take root within our “field.”

If we allow thoughts of truth… of being treasured, beloved, cherished, useful – and a blessing to others – our “field” will give life and nourishment to ourselves and others. But if we allow thoughts of deceit… of being worthless, unloved or unlovable, useless, or rejected – our “field” will be a mess, and we will be virtually unable to nourish anyone.

plantingThis is why the enemy of God (and of our souls) works so hard to plant his seeds of deceit and destruction into our minds and hearts. He knows if we will but receive those bad seeds, and allow those seeds to grow to maturity, we will render our own “fields” unfruitful and unuseful to our Owner.

But if we will “take every thought captive” and set our resolve to only allow good seed into our minds and hearts – we will cultivate a “field” that makes our Owner proud… and provides us a means of constant blessing to others around us.

Thoughts are the seeds of our lives. How we focus our thinking (either upon the good or bad) and what we allow to take root within us, leads to a harvest that brings life… or devastation.

Prayer focus: God, I seek to take every thought captive  — allowing only the good seeds to dwell in my mind and heart.

seeds thoughts

Posted in Daily devotional, Growth, Life-lessons, The God-Life, the new you, True Christianity, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The New You, Nurtured

July 19

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” (Prov. 4:23)

backyard-vegetable-gardenI enjoy gardening. There is something satisfying in bringing living things from the earth (and enjoying the fruits of those labors). I think that enjoyment and satisfaction come from the fact that we were made to be gardeners. That was the original man’s original task. God said, “ Here’s the garden… take care of it.” (Gen. 2:15) Not a bad gig at all. Especially, when everything grew perfectly, and nothing was ever “fighting against you.”

My, how that has changed.

There is a lot to be learned about life by working in the garden.

One of those things is this… Weeds require no care to thrive. But the plants we desire to grow, require constant nurture. Weeds will survive the toughest drought. The plants we desire, seem to shrivel daily in the heat of summer. Various pests have zero interest in eating our weeds. The pests spend all their time munching happily away at the plants we weedsdesire to grow.

If we desire to plant a garden, we had better be ready to battle with nature – because nature will kick our proverbial backsides (botanically speaking) if we are not prepared. If we do not stay diligent, we will quickly lose the battle.

Gardening is a commitment to patience and preservation. Nurture and knowledge – knowing how to keep plants healthy and thriving. The plants we desire to grow, depend upon us to be healthy and productive. But if we make that commitment, the plants will do what they were designed to do – produce mounds of delicious fruits and vegetables for our dining pleasure. (That may be why harvest time is always celebrated in the Bible! It is the celebration of our victory…)clebration emoji

Here’s the parallel (and the point for today)… The “old you” is very much like weeds in the garden. We don’t have to do a single thing for the “old you” to thrive. What is more, the “old you” will take no time at all to overrun our soul’s “garden.” If not checked, it will overwhelm our lives. The only thing that anyone will see in us, is the “mess” of our unintended “growth.” Weeds are never celebrated.

Neither is the old you.

If we desire to be more than a “garden mess…” we must take care of the “new you.” We must guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23!). We must pay attention to what we give our attention to – and what we “allow” into our garden. We must feed and nurture our thoughts on healthy things – Godly things. As the Apostle told us: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8) Why?? Because this is the way we nurture what we really desire to have in our soul’s garden.

Php4

Gardening teaches us that nurturing the “new you” is a vital part of HOW we grow in the Lord…

Prayer focus: God, fix my thoughts on You… and on nurturing the seed of Life You have planted within me — so that I may grow to maturity and honor You with much fruit.

Posted in Daily devotional, Growth, New creation, New Nature, Pleasing God, renewing our minds, the new you, Transformation, True Christianity | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Seed of Life

July 18

“…Our inner self is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

Before we move on from this topic of our personal renewal – I wanted to give you one more picture that could be helpful in understanding the nature of God’s cure, placed within us, through the completed work of Jesus.

As a gardener, I am always amazed at the “natural magic” of how plants grow.

7 18 tomato seedsTake a tomato seed, for example. Contained within that tiny seed is the ability to grow a plant that reaches a height of eight feet, and is capable of producing hundreds of fruits (yes… tomatoes are fruits!). Everything is contained within the DNA of that tiny seed. All it needs, to release its potential, is some soil, some water, and some sunlight.

This is key… tomato seeds will not become tomato plants until the gardener takes them out of their seed packet and places them into some soil. Tomato seeds that remain in 7 18 tomato planttheir packets never become tomato plants – but those placed in the soil emerge, and begin to grow as tomato plants, capable of giving us (lots of) tomatoes.

Think about it… The full-grown tomato is IN the seed. Once it emerges, it just needs to grow to maturity. BUT it is a tomato plant from the moment it emerges from its seed casing! A tomato’s life is in the seed. That life begins. That life grows. That life produces fruit. That is the very nature of a tomato seed.

It is no mistake that the Bible also talks about this new life in Christ as a seed. Once it is planted, within the soil of a human heart, it cannot help but grow. The Word of God is a seed that springs forth as new life – and a new kind of life.

7 18 Sprouting SeedIn this case, as is the case of all seed-bearing plants, the seed is of the same “stuff” as the parent plant. In the case of God’s seed, placed within us as the “living and abiding word of God,” (1 Peter 1:23) it will emerge bearing the characteristics of Our Parent (Our Father). The “imperishable” seed of God emerges as the Life of God – naturally enabled to grow to maturity… and produce divine fruit.

This is the picture we need when it comes to thinking about our relationship with God. He has planted the seed of His divine nature and character within the soil of our hearts, and it will grow and produce fruit – unless… something happens to prevent it from doing so.

7 18 The SowerIn the parable of the seed and the Sower (Matthew 13:18-23), Jesus informs us of the things that prevent the seed from doing what the seed is designed to do. Lack of understanding; a lack of personal depth of character; trials or persecution; the anxieties, cares, and concerns of this world; and the deceitfulness of riches – all things which prevent the seed from fulfilling its natural inner potential.

4 soils

The whole point of all this is… God is not making something of divine character out of us (changing us gradually) – He has planted the seed of His divine character within us… now it just needs to be nourished and nurtured to grow.

The moment we turn our hearts to receive Jesus, the seed of His life is within us. We ARE new creations because the seed of His Life is in the soil of our hearts.

Prayer focus: God, center my heart on You… and on fulfilling Your purposes in my life — that the seed of Your Life within me may fully mature and bear fruit for You.

The Seed & The Sower

Posted in Born again, Commitment to Jesus, Daily devotional, Growth, Life-lessons, New creation, Renewal, renewing our minds, The God-Life, Transformation, True Christianity | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Renewal…

July 17

I really need to clarify an obvious objection to what we have been discussing…

God’s work in us can certainly seem like a gradual work – so when we hear someone completed-stampdeclaring God’s immediate work in us… it is possible to become a little confused.

Christ’s work in us IS a completed work. The work is already done.

But just because God’s work in us is not a gradual process (fixing us, incrementally, through time), does not mean there is not a process involved.

The work is finished. But the work must take it’s course in our lives.

It is a bit like this… Let’s say you have contracted a rare, fatal disease – but you find a doctor who prescribes a controversial injection of an experimental drug.

injection 2The doctor tells you: “When I give you this medicine, you will be cured… but the cure will take time. It will have to run its course. It will alleviate every symptom, and every chronic issue. But it will not happen overnight. Just trust in it – from the moment you receive this remedy, your disease is defeated.”

When it comes to God’s cure for the malignant malady of our sin (and our sin nature) it is a one-time “shot.” Jesus IS the cure! The cure is immediate, and permanent – but… we must still be renewed. There are symptoms that need arrested, brokenness that needs healed, and issues that need to be resolved. These are the things that will take time. This is the process. It is renewal… a restoration.

The proper Biblical concept is this: We are not becoming new — we are new… and being inside outrenewed. The means of our renewal is already within us. The cure has already been applied. The cure is effecting changes from within us – working its way out.

Or we could look at it this way… a work of gradual process would be God working on us. A work of the completed work of Christ is God working from within us – from the inside out. Applying His divine handiwork to every area of our lives.

Do you see the difference? We are not seeking for God to do something for us… we are applying, by faith, what He has already done for us. In every issue of our lives. 

And that is what Scripture teaches us. God gives us the cure… a new life, a new nature, a new you. This “newness” is created to BE just like God. It doesn’t come to us in giftincrements (as we earn it or deserve it) – it comes to us as the complete and total package. It is a gift from God… to dwell within the core of our beings – and to transform our lives completely. We just have to commit to allow His work, to work.

And the way we do that, is by taking off the old and putting on the new. Each day. Every day. Consciously… until we do it unconsciously.

The new you is given to transform our lives – but we must do our part. We must trust in the completed work of Jesus. We must submit to Him completely. We must surrender to His love for us. We must apply His work, by faith (Romans 1:17!) And… we must make no allowance for the “old you” to have any more say in our lives.

HSThe really good news is this… Although that trusting, submitting, surrendering, and applying may seem really difficult… we have also received a divine Helper. The Holy Spirit is also a gift from God to every believer – to aid and assist us in receiving the full effects of God’s cure. We are never alone. We are never doing this on our own. The Great Physician has made every provision for our complete cure.

Prayer focus: God, I surrender to the fullness of Your completed work in me… Holy Spirit, compel my heart to live in all that Jesus has already done for me.

gift-prayer_orig

Posted in Belonging to God, Commitment to Jesus, Daily devotional, Identity, New creation, New Nature, our identity in Christ, Renewal, surrendered to Jesus, the new you, Transformation, Trust | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Getting “in Character”

July 16

“Put on the Lord Jesus Christ…” (from Romans 13:14)

Today, I wanted to follow up on the thoughts from yesterday’s post. This is really too important an issue to treat as a passing thought.

Yesterday, we talked about the “dress-up box” – and how the things we see in children (when it comes to playing as dressed-up characters) is what we need to see in us.

I am reminded that Jesus was rather adamant about the fact that unless we “become like little children, (we) will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

imagining super heroesThis means so many things, but at it’s heart is this very thought of the ability to “make believe” that you are actually someone else. Adults don’t often dress up and play to their hearts content (unless it’s Halloween). Somewhere along the way, it seems we have forgotten the importance of imagination.

I can remember, as a child, playing as a imaginary character… and I was so “into” that character that I would spend hours delving into all the aspects of that character. My imagination was leading me to a depth of connection and understanding that could only happen because I was BEing that character. What began as “pretend” ended up being “real” (at least, in my own mind).

God has given us humans so many amazing capacities. But one we so often neglect (or push aside, so we don’t appear childish) is our imagination.

imagination 1

Do you see the heart of God in the apostle’s words… “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” It is an invitation to let your imagination go – and make believe that you are actually Jesus to your world. This would be utter nonsense except for one thing… The God of Heaven is actually asking you to do this! Why? Because it is how His children learn the depth of the character of Jesus. It is how they learn to incorporate His life into their own. It is HOW the new you is unleashed!

InHisStepsCropped11Years ago I remember being profoundly impacted by a book that was based upon a very simple premise. The story revolved around the people of a church congregation who were challenged to precede every action by first asking themselves a simple question: What would Jesus do? The book tells the story of how each life (and the surrounding community) was transformed by living life as Jesus would live life. The book is “In His Steps,” by Charles Sheldon – and has sold over 60 million copies.

Okay. I know that little question is cliché – and way overused. But it is based on a sound Biblical principle. Those who “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” begin acting like Him, talking like Him, living like Him – and changing their world… just like Him.

benedikt-in-characterThose who act in movies and plays will tell you that one of the most crucial things that an actor can do is to put him/herself “in character.” What starts out as pretending to be someone, ends up feeling like you have actually become that someone. This leads to powerful and memorable performances on stage and screen.

It is no different in the arena of real life. What this world so desperately needs is an encounter with Jesus. And God’s plan is that every one of His children would be able to give a powerful and memorable performance – as the Living Christ, in every corner of the world.

But it can only happen when we put ourselves “in Character.” When we “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” and live our lives to love, serve, and give… just as He did.

Prayer focus: God, may my heart desire to “put on the Lord Jesus” each and every day.

clothe ourselves

 

Posted in Belonging to God, Daily devotional, Identity, In Christ, our identity in Christ, surrendered to Jesus, the new you, True Christianity | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Dress-up Box

July 15

“Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision to indulge your evil desires.” (Romans 13:14)

We have a box in our basement that doesn’t get used much anymore. But many years ago, when our children were young, that box got used frequently. It was what we called our dress-up box.

 

dress up boxThe purpose of the dress-up box? You guessed it… to put yourself in an appropriate costume for some serious play time. Our children, and their friends, would come up with all kinds of things to wear – and then go out in the yard and BE that character. Whether it was pirates. Or Jedi knights. Or cowboys. Or super heroes. Or just something that looked awesome. The box was a source of hours of dress-up fun – as imaginations ran wild, and as the children became something new and exciting with each costume worn.

The spiritual parallel to the “dress-up box” is greater than we may realize. In fact, I would say that it is absolutely essential. It is at the very heart of what the apostle Paul is sharing in our verse for the day.

True Christianity begins with the understanding that we are to BE Jesus to our world. This does not happen because we gradually become so holy and perfect that we resemble Jesus. This happens because God has pointed us to the very real, divine “dress-up box” – and He has invited us to do something that only Christians can do. We are invited to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” What God is asking us to do is live our lives as if we were Jesus – do what Jesus does, say what Jesus says, act and react as Jesus did.

jesus drives out demonsThe problem is that so often, when we think about being like Jesus, we tend to look at His miraculous powers and immediately conclude that ONLY Jesus can do miracles… so let’s put Jesus back in the box. “There’s no way we can do that!”

But that is not what God is asking of us. The main thought behind being like Jesus is the thought of giving of yourself – of humbly serving… of loving like God loves.

That is why on Jesus’ last night with His disciples (before going through the ordeal of the cross) He gave them one last indelible picture of Christlikeness. It wasn’t lessons in raising the dead, or five ways to cast out demons, or how to cure leprosy… It was the Master, humbly bowing to wash each disciple’s feet. That was His point. That was what He wanted them to understand. That was the thing He told them “I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. ” (John 13:15)

Jesus washing feet

When we think about being like Jesus, we so often lose sight of what He was really all about. Servanthood. Giving. Loving.

These are the very things that anyone can be. They require no special gift or talent. And more importantly, these are the things that God has provided for us to be. This IS the new you. We ARE Servants. Givers. Those who excel at grace and love.

Just like Jesus… The One Who created us.

Prayer focus: God, grant me to understand the vital importance of “putting on the Lord Jesus” every day of my life.

rick-warren-79-85-70

Posted in Commitment to Jesus, Daily devotional, humility, Life-lessons, New Nature, our identity in Christ, seeing Jesus, the new you, True Christianity, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment