Soybeans, sunflowers and salvation: from dirt we came

I had breakfast in a soybean field this week.  I was in Milan, Tennessee to attend the celebrated Milan “No Till” agricultural festival.  Milan, by the way, is the hometown of two notable past Presidents of the University of Tennessee- Dr. Andy Holt and Eli Fly.  Not too shabby for a town with a population of 7,800 folks.

No Till is an farming method that doesn’t disturb the soil as much as traditional methods- among other things it allows great moisture retention. The event draws hundreds of people from across the state and region to witness advancements in agricultural technology and demonstrate the latest improvements in farming methods.

I attend many events like this each year- but this one is special.  It’s a celebration of an agricultural culture.  A celebration of the soil and the fruit, vegetables and crops that come forth from it.  It’s also a celebration of people- farmers and their families.  Good, hard-working, intelligent and honest folks.

Cycles are inevitable in agriculture.  There is a time, a season and a reason for everything.  Planning, planting, feeding and harvesting are all vitally important to the farming process.

And to me- this trip back home to West Tennessee was a reminder of the temporary nature of our own lives.  Our earthly bodies, like the plants of the field, aren’t built for immortality.  We know that God formed us from the dust of the ground.

…the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.  Genesis 2:7

We are also reminded that our bodies will eventually return to the earth.

By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.  Genesis 3:19

Our earthly life is a cycle.  We are born, grow, and work.  We age and eventually pass away.  But just as our friends lay great plans for their crops of the fields, our Heavenly Father has a plan for us.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.  When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.  Psalm 139:13-16

Our time on earth is limited, but we have a purpose.  We need to be fruitful and work to realize God’s will for the cycle of our temporary, earthly life.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.  Colossians 3:23

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.  I Corinthians 10:31

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.  Proverbs 16:3

Let’s make our limited days on earth productive and eventually experience the full blessing of the harvest.  God needs workers.

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”  Matthew 9:37-38

While crops take time to grow and harvest- our work with our neighbors (near and far) does not have a time table.  It is immediate.

It’s time for all of us to get our hands dirty.  We need to encourage one another to do good in order to glorify God’s most Holy name while on earth.

But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it.  He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.  Matthew 13:21

Let’s hit the fields together.

God bless.

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Gators, darkness and the ultimate flashlight

I believe that heat and humidity come to die in South Carolina each July. I have been working in the Palmetto State for the past two days. It’s a beautiful place, especially the coast. But the air is so thick you could cut it with a knife.

I had to be at a breakfast meeting today at 6:45 am. I had decided to get in a quick run around the hotel before breakfast, so I headed out of my room around 5:00 am. I was taken aback at the humidity even at this early hour, but I was even more surprised by the darkness. Pitch black. There wasn’t a hint of sunrise as I started my run, but I eventually found the pathway that circled the hotel complex and began to plod down the trail.

It was dark. There were very few lights along the trail, so each step was taken with caution and a bit of trepidation. The hotel had placed small guide lights along the trail about every 1/8 of a mile, so my strategy was to simply run- carefully- from light to light.

About a ½ mile into my run I spotted a sign that warned visitors to watch for alligators crossing the path. This was a bit unnerving- as I was now painfully aware of the opportunity to run upon a reptile in the darkness.

It was a dark world this morning. There were numerous obstacles along the pathway…fallen limbs from yesterday’s winds, large pools of water from an overnight downpour, and the threat of angry, hungry reptiles. It probably wasn’t smart for me to venture out into the darkness, but I went anyway.

I was reminded about the larger, greater darkness we encounter in this world each day. Stress, strife and sin can cloud our judgment and keep us from seeing (and thinking) clearly about our purpose and our daily walk with Christ.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. Psalm 119:105

The Bible. God’s own word. We’ve been given this ultimate guidebook to navigating our way through life. We have the ultimate light to help us focus on how to live our lives, how to treat people and how to persevere through tough times. It’s up to us to seek this wisdom. The more we read and study- the more clear our path will be.

Let’s encourage one another to read and reflect on the wisdom of the Bible. It’s the ultimate illumination device.

God bless.

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Hey doc, I’ve got this plank in my eye…

Have you ever been tempted to make a quick, unchecked judgement on someone?  I’m guilty.  Maybe it’s their speech, appearance or even a bias about them “not being from around here.”

The Bible gives us great instruction about passing judgment on others…that is, how we look at other’s actions as unfavorable or wrong.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Matthew 7: 1-2

We are asked to not be hypocritical or self-righteous when dealing with others.  Instead of making snap judgements- let’s choose in engage in another way.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.   Matthew 7: 3-5

We are all sinners.  Broken.  As Christians we should desire to edify one another.  Support one another.  In order to best help someone else, we need to take an honest assessment of our own lives.  Where do we need help?  Where are the “planks” in our lives?  I can think of several areas in my own life…and I’m certain that you could tell me of others!

And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”  John 8: 7

There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy.  But who are you to judge your neighbor?  James 4:12

It’s easy to make a snap judgment on someone without knowing their complete story. Their background. Beliefs. Work ethic. Heart.  We serve a God of justice, but also a God of love. We need to reflect that spirit of love first when interacting and approaching others in need.

Let us lift one another up.

God bless you.

 

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Prodigal Son? Not LeBron…

IMG_2680My boys have been fascinated with the LeBron James saga this week.  We’ve been on vacation- but at every opportunity they tuned in to ESPN to get the latest.  It was an interesting story…as four years ago LeBron spurned his home state of Ohio to go to “greener pastures” (and more talent) in Miami.  You remember what happened next.  LeBron jerseys were burned all over Cleveland and northeast Ohio.  People called him traitor.  His image was removed from buildings and local endorsement deals.  Even his family was not immune- as his mother had to endure all sorts of hostility and threats.

Four Finals appearances and two NBA championship rings later- he decides he’s ready to return home.  The 2010 decision was a thing of the past.  All is forgiven in an instant.  An internet article described it as the “Prodigal Son Returns.”

This is a reach.  I don’t think that LeBron’s situation can be described a prodigal.  You all remember the story from the book of Luke, which truly describes the story of the prodigal son.

Luke 15:11-32 (ESV) And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.

We know what happens next.  The son returns home and is forgiven by his father.  Riches, followed by unrighteous living, a downfall, and then a return to the comfort of his family.

While LeBron’s decision can’t truly be compared to the account in Luke, I can certainly relate from my own life.  There have been times when I have behaved, acted or just thought in ways that provided a departure- or at least a temporary distraction- from the way that God wants me to live.  Career, self-interest and pride have often blinded me from God’s will for my life.

1 John 2:1-29 (ESV) My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him:

Thank the Lord that we have an advocate for us when we go astray. Our heavenly Father provides us with unconditional love, and through the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross we have grace and forgiveness from our actions.  We just need to repent and change course- not an easy thing to do for prideful people, like myself.

Philippians 2:12-16 (ESV)  Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

I am thankful for the forgiveness that is offered when I wander astray as the prodigal son.

God bless.

 

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Who’s in charge here?

IMG_2665We’ve been at the beach this week. It’s been great to have all five of us together with some interrupted family time. No meetings, schoolwork, teleconferences, trips, scrimmages or practices. I have had a wonderful opportunity to recharge with the family.

Today there was a young couple sitting near us on the beach. They had a little girl that must have been about three years old. Seeing her enjoy the beach and the ocean brought back great memories of our daughter’s first trips to the beach years ago. It’s hard to believe that Carson will be a sophomore in high school this fall. It only seems like yesterday that we were carrying her into the water in our arms, helping her build sandcastles and applying sunscreen in generous amounts to her small arms and legs.

It hit me. According to my calendar, that means that she’ll be with us 148 more weeks before heading off to college. 1,038 days. That’s going to pass by quickly. Where has the time gone? I’ll admit it. I’m worried about it.

Where will she go to school? What career path will she choose? Who will she choose as friends? Where will she settle down? Yeah. I worry about all of that. I guess that in my eyes- Carson is still that three year old on the beach.

I have to remind myself that while Hollianne and I have great responsibilities placed on us as parents, there is someone else- much more powerful than us- concerned with our children.

Therefore I tell you, be not anxious about your life, what you will eat, or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? Matthew 6: 25-27

Our Lord is already there. He knows our future- and the futures of those we love. We can’t worry about it. While we need to do our jobs as parents, we also need to trust and know that He is there and will provide for us.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

I need to remember that I’m not in control.  While I need to be concerned, I do not have to worry.

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:18

God bless you.

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Lost sheep

peachtree

It’s been a wonderful July 4th holiday, as all of Hollianne’s family gathered in Atlanta for our annual family reunion.  Four siblings, their spouses, 10 nieces and nephews and Hollianne’s mother were in attendance for the celebration.  We always gather in Atlanta so we can run the annual Peachtree 10k (with 60,000 of our closest friends).  The run is a wonderful activity for Hollianne’s family.  All the siblings, their spouses and seven of the kids were scheduled to participate in the race this year.  The house is always filled with great stories about races from previous years and estimates on who will win the family “trophy” each year (it’s normally no surprise…as my sister-in-law, Susan, crushed us with her stamina, endurance and deft feet!).

While the race is the culminating event, the weekend truly focuses on family.  We cook, eat, laugh and hug all weekend. I’m so grateful to be a part of this loving family.

This year’s event was a little different- and stressful. Our daughter, Carson, had been away on a mission trip to inner-city New York and was set to fly in and join us late Thursday night.  Hurricane Arthur changed that plan- as it cancelled her flight and postponed her travel by 48 hours.  We couldn’t get her out of New York City for two whole days because of cancelled flights and booked planes.  While we were able to make adjustments for her and knew she would be safe, it was unsettling to Hollianne and me to have her so far away in a strange city.  What a beautiful reunion it was yesterday to finally get her in the same city.  We just felt better being able to have her in our presence….to be able to hug and talk to her in person.  We had a great reunion weekend, but there was an underlying uneasiness for us until we could get our child home.

Last night I reflected on the experience surrounding our daughter’s delayed plans.  While we were worried and anxious until Carson could join us, I just cannot fathom the depth and breadth of how much our heavenly Father is concerned for us.  He loves us beyond our own comprehension- and wants all of us to be with Him eternally.  Our earthly families are important, but as Christians we should realize that our broader, eternal family is the focus of our loving God- even with our flaws and imperfections.

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders  and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.  Luke 15: 3-7

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?  Matthew 18:12

We are loved, thank God.  Even with a world population of over 7 billion people, our Father cares for us INDIVIDUALLY…and loves us despite our actions and behaviors.  How comforting is it that God is concerned for us in a way that is unparalleled by any earthly relationship.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16

While Hollianne and I could not rest and relax until Carson returned to us, the Lord is infinitely more concerned with our souls and our eternal destination.  God is a loving God, even giving up His son to bear the pain of our sin so that we can live with Him forever.

Thank. God.

I hope that your July 4th holiday was filled with family, fun, food and laughter.  I also hope that you were able to reflect on the love that our heavenly Father has for us.

God bless you.

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Independence Day

America’s birthday! It’s a glorious celebration of our nation’s independence.

On July 4, 1776 our great nation officially separated from Great Britain to form a new republic. What a sense of pride and thanksgiving must have been felt by our nation’s people who had witnessed the oppression and bloodshed necessary for freedom. Freedom comes with a price and responsibility. I enjoy the 4th of July holiday the same way each year. We gather with Hollianne’s family in Atlanta to participate in the Peachtree Road Race 10k. It’s a great tradition, as Hollianne’s three brothers, their spouses and a host of nieces and nephews run this race together. It’s an incredible experience, as we run with 60,000 of our closest friends. Red, White and Blue is seen everywhere along the route. It’s a steady stream of visual reminders of what makes our country great- and what it means to be free. What a great honor it is as God’s people to experience the freedom of Christ. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Corinthians 3:17 The death of Jesus on the cross has enabled us to live in freedom. We are free from the burden of sin because of His death, burial and resurrection. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. 1 Peter 2:16 We have a responsibility, however. We are urged to be an example for Christ while living on this imperfect earth. We need to share the good news of Jesus and of His love for us. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.Romans 6:22 Because of Jesus Christ, every day is Independence Day. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4 May you enjoy this great celebration of independence, both of our country…and of your own freedom from sin and death. He lives- and because of that we are free. IMG_2466God bless.

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