poison-ivy

“Leave It Be”

You know how sometimes there is something so irritating that you simply can’t focus past it? Well, my personal universe definitely has a center this week. I have a bad case of poison ivy all over my face.  (I’ll spare you the pictures!)

Unfortunately, when I was a little kid, I got an extremely high concentration exposure to it late one fall when my cousin and I decided to make ‘natural’ bracelets and headbands from dormant vines we found growing on trees in the woods. I was sick, sick, sick! Ever since then, my reaction to the cursed stuff has been what you might classify as just this side of extreme.

Karen and Mom 21
Mom & Me ~ c. 1970

Knowing my vulnerability, my mom made it a priority to teach me to identify and avoid the those clusters of shiny leaves that continue to thrive all around our old house in North Carolina. I can still hear her say, “Leaves of three; Leave it be!” as I raced out the door on some grand adventure.

Most of the time I would remember, but occasionally the elaborate games I’d play with my friends would distract me and in a few hours the tell-tale redness would reveal my inattentiveness. But as a result of the many cases of swollen and itchy rashes of my youth, I’ve discovered that I can avoid a great deal of pain and suffering by just paying closer attention the plants in my vicinity … or at least, that’s all I thought there was to it until this weekend.

My oldest son Ryan likes to do all kinds of woodworking projects and is always on the lookout for interesting types of wood to use (especially when they are FREE!). So when my uncle cut down a large pecan tree, Ryan jumped at the offer to stock up on some really nice looking pieces to turn into bowls on the lathe.

While he was loading up the logs, I casually chatted with my uncle while relaxing on the now horizontal trunk of the huge felled tree. There were no ‘leaflets 3′ anywhere around, so my ‘ivy’ alert didn’t kick in.

But in hindsight, I’ve been by that tree many times and remembered too late that every summer the trunk was always covered in ivy vines. Even though they’d been stripped away and were no where to be seen, apparently, there was enough ivy oil residue still coating the bark of the trunk to travel from my hands, to my face, resulting in my swollen eyes and blotchy, blistered skin.

As I sat I the waiting room of the doctor’s office, it occurred to me that sin is a lot like this most recent experience with poison ivy. With just a little vigilance, it’s pretty easy to see the obvious dangers all around us. Lies, anger, coarse speech, drunkenness, and gross immorality flourish easily in the soil of our increasingly rebellious society, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, you can learn to spot, step over these situations, and hopefully avoid the marks they leave on your life.

But there are other… sometimes invisible hazards… lying all around too. Subtle attitudes like pride, self-sufficiency, envy and materialism are not always easy to identify, but can blister you without warning just as easily.

So how do you keep away from something you can’t see? Maybe the answer is found in Romans 13:14 where the Apostle Paul warns us to “make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” In simple terms, that means… don’t make it easy for your sinful desires to win. Ask yourself a few key questions like: WHEN am I most easily tempted? With WHOM do I make poor decisions? And WHERE do I stray into questionable territory? Even if some activities don’t seem suspect at the time, learn to spot the trace evidence of potential dangers and avoid them!

Of course for me, the best cure for my poison ivy would have been to stay away from that tree all together and wait in the car. Simple preventative measures can often help you sidestep a whole lot of suffering. So before you do something you may regret for a lot longer than it will take to recover from a bad rash, remember what my mom would say to me and just learn to “Leave it be.”

Do not enter the path of the wicked
And do not proceed in the way of evil men.
 Avoid it, do not pass by it…
Watch the path of your feet
And all your ways will be established.
Proverbs 4:14-15, 26

ImgRecipe-OilSpicesMarinade

Marinated

I tried out something new on the family for dinner this week, and the recipe that I picked called for the meat to marinate for several hours before cooking. As with all marinades, the point is for the meat to soak for a long time to allow the flavors in the bowl to penetrate completely through it.

You know, in some ways, our thoughts and attitudes are a lot like my marinade. The ‘spices’ we blend into our thinking and the ‘oils’ of our attitudes, if given enough time, will eventually affect the flavor of our lives. The longer we allow our heart and mind to ‘soak in’ any thought, the more deeply it penetrates. So when life turns up the heat on us, stirring up a bitter brew of stress-producing ‘what if’ scenarios gives off the unpleasant flavors of anxiety. If you stew in that fearful mindset long enough, you shouldn’t be surprised when you find that your reactions reek with the smell of fear, which is the polar opposite of faith!

But on the other hand, marinating your mind in a fragrant blend that is seasoned with the Word of God and with His promises will alter the flavor of your life too! As you rest in and absorb His truth, the sweetness of faith and hope will eventually infuse your attitudes and flow out to the world through your actions.

That’s why Paul exhorts believers to be conscious of what we allow to our minds to rest on. Dwelling too long on scenarios that are in direct violation to scripture is not OK and certainly isn’t harmless. This is why he exhorts us to“take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 2:15). And, also reminds us that choosing true, noble and excellent thoughts that are accented with purity and praise should be our habit as well. (Phil. 4:8) Believers would do well to follow the Apostle’s recipe and actively take notice of what our minds tend to rest upon and to consciously strain out the negativity.  And in its place, we need to diligently to fold into our lives a steady diet of right thinking, letting Scripture tenderize our hearts and “manifest through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him” (2 Cor. 2:14) inviting others to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Ps 34:8)

Famous Last Words: Relationship

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

You’re probably familiar with this well-known children’s bedtime prayer. But did you know that it’s not all that different from an evening prayer of first century Jewish families? Traditionally, the father of the household would pray verse 5 from Psalm 31 with his family as the curtain of night closed over the household. “Into Your hands, I commit my spirit,” he would recite.

While that ancient Jewish custom is probably not common knowledge, even a casual student of the New Testament knows well that this was also the last statement that Jesus made before he “breathed His last.” (Luke 23:46)

Realizing that this was a actually a prayer that a Hebrew child would pray subtly, but dramatically, shapes the meaning of these words for me. That’s especially true considering the one word Christ added that shifts the statement from simply an Old Testament quote to a personal plea.

“Father!” Jesus called with a loud voice. “Into Your Hands I commit my spirit!”

Notice, too, that only moments before, Christ had expressed deep anguish as the weight of the world’s sin pressed down on Him. So great was the torment that He called out to the Father using terms that seem to betray Christ’s inability to feel the presence of the Almighty in these final agonizing moments. “My God! My God!” He exclaimed. (Matt 27:46)

Yet, even though His physical agony had surely not diminished, in those final seconds before He offered up His life as the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus called to His “Father.”

Gone is the distance. Erased is the formality. The word he utters is a tender and loving term, the same that would be used by a small child who delightfully squeals the word “Daddy!” as he is welcomed into a warm embrace.  It’s intimate. Personal. And wrapped in the security of love.

You know, Christ modeled exactly what we need to know to dispel the fear of the unknown and even push back the frightening specter of death. Though unimaginable pain racked His body, even that torment didn’t obscure His confidence.  His intimate connection with the Father was the basis of His trust.

So in the fearful situation you face, do you have confidence in your relationship with the Father?  I’m not asking if you go to church, read the Bible or take discipleship classes. I’m not even asking if you serve in some capacity. Those activities can certainly help us understand and appreciate the Lord and His work on the earth, but I want you to think about whether you really know the Father?

A relationship with Him begins with faith in Jesus, but isn’t about a list of assignments to be carried out or rules to follow. It’s about making a connection that slowly alters all you are and all you do.

Until you understand the fundamental difference between knowing the Father and simply doing what you are told, you will always struggle with fear and anxiety about the future and sense something missing in your life.  That’s because you will lack the assurance of connectedness with the Author of Life! You may know in your head that Jesus loves you and came to give you abundant life, (John 10:10) but it won’t really make much difference in the way you think and live.

So, think about your relationship with the Lord. Is it one that will sustain you through the worst that life can throw at you? If not, please know it can be. All it takes is desire, time, and a heart to seek Him.  Believe that Christ will always respond to those who genuinely draw near to Him.  (James 4:8)

Then you will call on Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.
You will seek Me and find Me when you seek me with all your heart.
– Jeremiah 29:12-13

"The Embrace" Chris Hopkins
“The Embrace”
Chris Hopkins

Famous Last Words: Complete

We always enjoy having guests over to our house. The fresh faces and conversation are a welcome change of pace, and this past weekend was no exception. So, of course, the days before their arrival were filled with preparation and much needed cleaning. In an attempt to spread out the workload, I gave each of the kids their assignments, but before they got very far, previously scheduled activities interrupted the completion of their tasks. As you might expect, their chores were eventually added to my strike-list. But while I was tidying up the last few details before our guests arrived, Ryan wandered through the now spotless kitchen and asked if I needed help with anything. I thanked my son for the offer, but told him that I was finished, and there was nothing more to be done.

As I wiped the counter for the last time, I thought about Christ’s declaration from the cross recorded John 19:30.

When he had received the drink, Jesus said,
“It is finished.” 

it-is-finishedThere are a myriad of theological and foundational implications contained in those three English words, ‘it is finished’, but it’s noteworthy to point out that in the original language, Christ’s statement was actually just the single Greek word, tetelestaiThis common accounting term is one that a merchant would have used when a debt owed to him was ‘paid in full’ by the borrower. It’s a wonderfully accurate parallel for what was taking place behind the veil of Heaven in these crucial moments. In his final breaths, Christ was declaring that the sin debt for the entire world was paid, and His work to atone for the sin of mankind was finished. 

But, don’t miss the tangential – and very simple – truth that jumped out at me in my exchange with Ryan… When something is finished, there’s nothing more to do. No help is needed, no effort has to be expended, and no assistant is required. It’s all done. Complete.

There’s definitely something inside of us that yearns to ‘help out’ when it comes to our salvation. It makes us feel better about ourselves to join in the process of attaining righteousness. We want a list to check off… our own strike-list of things to do to make us feel acceptable before the Lord.

But the good news contained in Christ’s statement is this: God doesn’t need our assistance!

His relationship with us (and ours with Him) never depends on our conduct. He declares us righteous based solely on our faith in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross… and nothing else. No amount of good behavior on our part can bring us to Him. And once we are His, no poor behavior pushes Him away. We are fully “accepted in the beloved” (Eph 1:6 KJV) and “clothed in the righteousness of Christ.” (Is 61:10) From the vantage point of Heaven’s throne, we stand in the purity of Christ, perfected by His finished work on our behalf!

So, if you are working hard to try to be good enough for God to love you, or to feel worthy of salvation, stop your striving.  Rest in this simple fact:

It is finished!  There’s nothing left for you to do!