The Farmer’s Impatient Daughter

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photo credit: yaxchibonam Dark orchard / Huerta oscura via photopin (license)

Once a little girl lived with a cult that kept her locked inside, chained to her computer all day, hungry and naked. She couldn’t do any serious study. In fact, she couldn’t do anything but play games online. In her favorite game, she got to be a farmer and grow beautiful fruit trees. She figured out how to work the game so at least some trees were in bloom or ready to harvest at all times.

Finally, the police came and freed her from the cult’s hands. After many scary, confusing days, one morning, her greatest dream came true. A farmer took her home to live with him forever. On a real farm! The girl was so excited when she spotted the apple trees. She looked forward to the leaves growing back, the flowers blooming, and the apples appearing. Should only take a couple hours.

So, after lunch, she asked her new dad if they could go pick the apples.

Her new dad sent her a curious look. “Beloved, it’s winter.”

So? The girl wondered. In her game, she’d harvested her apples at least six times a day in winter, too.

Her dad let her go outside and explore the farm, and the girl ran straight to the apple orchard. To her dismay, they still looked as sad and barren as they had this morning.

The girl screamed and ran crying to her new dad. “They’re dead! The apple trees didn’t bloom and bear fruit. They’re dead We need to cut them down and plant new ones!”

“Beloved, our fruit trees aren’t evergreens. They sleep through our cold, dark winters.”

“Well, they need to wake their lazy butts up, blossom, and make the apples appear already.”

“It doesn’t work like that, beloved.”

“Of course it does! I’m an expert farmer in my favorite game. I know all about farming!”

Her dad restrained his amused grin and hugged her. “Come with me.” Her dad led her out to the apple orchard and lifted the child up so a branch was at her eye-level. “See here? See these tiny little buds?”

The girl scrutinized the seemingly lifeless apple tree branch. It did have tiny little brown buds.

“Those, beloved, are our asleep apple trees, growing our apples. It’ll look like no apples are growing if you check them every few hours or even every few days, but they are growing.”

“Why so slow? What’s wrong with them? What can I do to make them grow faster?”

“Nothing, beloved. This is life, not a game. Real growth is not instantaneous. Nor does it only take mere hours for the fruit they’re growing to appear and mature. There is no hack that will give you real apples ripe for harvest year-round, not as cold as our winters get. I know it’s hard to be patient, it’s hard to see real growth happening,  but slowly, day by day, the season will change, the days will get longer and warmer. In spring, the apple trees will blossom. Their fruit will mature by harvest time, this fall. Then we’ll pick our apples and wait on the Lord through the next cold, dark winter.”

~~

We may laugh at this poor child’s absurd expectations for real trees growing real fruit. But many of us react similarly when God leads us or a loved one into a spiritual “harsh winter.” We don’t understand what God is doing, especially when the season lasts far longer than we think it should.

It can be hard to tell on a daily basis if a soul enduring a harsh winter is in fact still alive and growing. Let’s be slower to condemn and cut down. Instead, let’s be more loving and encouraging like the farmer in our story. Stay with the Lord through the harsh winter of the soul. I don’t know why you’re going through this. But I know he is with you and still at work in you, even when you can’t see it. And all you have to do is let him. Faith itself is a gift. Just cry out to the Lord and ask. It likely won’t be instantaneous, but spring will come.

[tweetthis]The Farmer’s Impatient Daughter #spiritualgrowth #shortstory #parable [/tweetthis]

[tweetthis]An expert #farmgame player learns real fruit takes longer than two hours to grow. #modernfable[/tweetthis]

Christmas Adoption Update

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The season upon us is a good time to reflect on the journey of this last year. For my husband and I, it’s been one mostly of seeking to adopt our first child. One thing we have learned over this last year is how much the enemy truly hates and despises adoption. The enemy has gone after every vulnerability he can trying to stop us. None have prevailed because God has our back along with praying friends and family, like many of you are. The biggest hindrance has been a failed home inspection that almost cost us our child.

I take full responsibility for that. I have inattentive type ADD and am a bit of a perfectionist. When I couldn’t live up to my own ideals and standards in some aspect of homemaking, I often would give up on that task. Unless I had someone nagging me about it. So, for years, if I couldn’t do it perfectly, and my husband didn’t show any sign of caring if it got done, it didn’t get done. Since I had been too proud and too ashamed to admit I needed help and ask for it. When the adoption agency put my future child’s life on the line over my deficiency, though, I did step up. And God has provided in amazing ways.

Again, remember, in the midst of all God did, the enemy was hitting hard, and one of the enemy’s targets was my very faith. When my own faith gave out, God gave me a new faith only from him. And God brought me to that dark valley and lead me through it on purpose. What the enemy wanted to utterly destroy, God wanted to rebuild from the ground up. My faith had been tainted with works-righteous; it was something I did to be saved. God stripped it from me so I would learn true faith is a gift from God we must humbly receive.

During this year of great struggle, God has continually spoken over me, through many sources, Isaiah 41:10 ESV, “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

[tweetthis]“I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”[/tweetthis]

While comforting me with this assurance, God also arranged a divine appointment for me with a Titus 2:5 mentor, Kathi Johnson. The older widow taught me how to keep up my home while she helped me get caught up. In the process, I made a good friend. (Kathi of course!) And overcame many of the challenges holding me back from keeping my home nice.

One challenge was the flat paint a previous homeowner had used on the walls. Washing the walls ruined the paint job. So now we have repainted with the good stuff that I can wash.

This month, I found out God had been strengthening and upholding me far more literally than I ever imagined or dreamed of in this life. Since middle school, I’ve had scoliosis and have lived with a curvature of the spine that exceeds 45 degrees. Household chores that involve bending or lifting heavy weights put great stress on a spine with scoliosis. The daily stresses of life had begun manifesting in pain soon after I turned thirty. Then, a one-inch shoe lift and physical therapy relieved the pain but not the scoliosis. Straightening out an adult’s crooked spine requires surgery.

Or a miracle.

A miracle I didn’t ask for until my back started complaining again this December. This time, I did my physical therapy hesitantly. I’d learned some PT exercises for scoliosis originate from yoga, which I personally can’t do with a clear conscience. I made a hard decision to not ask their origins, but to skip specific exercises that I do become aware have their origins in the worship of idols. I prayed it out with God, pleading with the Lord that I desired for him to get all the glory.

Soon after that, lead by God, I took off my shoes with the lift and stretched out the left side of my body. I had been so crooked from the severity of my spine’s curvature, my left side of my body had measured one inch shorter than my right, with my shoulders and hips uneven. Not anymore. My muscles ached from habitually still holding my body in the old, bent-up position, hiding what I suspect God had already done. He’s literally had my back during all my hard work.

Mind you, my right ribs still stick out from the scoliosis. We won’t know for certain how much straighter my spine actually is until we can get x-rays. But it feels better. And God is teaching me so much through this and all he’s brought us through this year.

To conclude, our floors and counters are so old, I’ve mistaken wear and tear for dirt many times. Still, Adam and I hope the agency will see past those flaws, realize our home is clean, and pass us on our three makeup home inspections. The first one is coming up on January 9, 2018.

With continued prayer support and our Lord giving us unmerited favor with the adoption agency, we will complete our home study this year and continue on to paying the next big fee ($4000) and create the scrapbooks they’ll show to birth families in the actual process of matching us with a birth family. We don’t ask you for more money, you have all given plenty, and our God will provide what we need. What we do ask you is for your prayers and for you to share our story on social media. Thank you so much for all you have already done in that regards, too. It means a lot to us. May you have a blessed Christmas season and God be with you in the New Year.

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
Isaiah 43:1[tweetthis]Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. Isaiah 43:1[/tweetthis]

 

Thanking God For Difficult Circumstances, Part One

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By Adam Graham

Thankfulness is important.  We recently celebrated Thanksgiving in the United States. We have much to be thankful for, particularly those of us living in the United States. We are clothed, housed, and well-fed, with luxuries that many kings would not dream of.

Yet, there’s a trendy teaching that we need to be thankful for all things, including bad things. Yes, if we accept this, if our mothers have passed away, we must thank God that our mothers have died.

One source of this teaching is Sarah Young’s popular devotional Jesus Calling. She writes her devotional as if Jesus himself is talking to you.  She makes it sound like thanking God for our losses is a command from God. She writes for Jesus, “…I have instructed you to give thanks for everything….To people who don’t know me intimately, it can seem irrational and even impossible to thank me for heartrending hardships. Nonetheless, those who obey me in this way are invariably blessed, even though difficulties may remain.” She hangs the commandment she put in Christ’s mouth on Ephesians 5:20, “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This advice is well-intended. Christ can bring us to a place of thanksgiving for many difficult life circumstances. We see in the rearview mirror how God was there. How, if we hadn’t gone through that difficulty, we never would have found God, we never would have grown as a person.

The full council of scripture does teach us to be thankful in every circumstance. The difference between that hard truth the trendy error is one word. Replacing “in” with  “for.” This one small change can have a huge impact on God’s people. The Biblical truth lovingly calls us to keep pressing on towards a sincere gratitude that rises above circumstances.  In contrast, the trendy error is a law that requires instant, rote obedience from hurting souls and promotes a life of plastic phoniness that kills true faith.

Let’s look at the scripture itself, in context.  Ephesians 5 is not addressing the challenging and hard things of life. It is part of a general series of commands for living the life of faith:

 

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

It is problematic to hang a doctrine of thanking God for bad things on a verse from a passage not written to address this. We need to examine the full council of scripture and that gives us a different picture.  Scripture teaches us to be thankful in all circumstances, not for them. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Consider the book of James 1:2,3, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” When going through trials, we can have joy and therefore give thanks because we know God will use it for our spiritual development. We can be thankful for how God is at work. , “In difficult times, we can even say “thank you for everything” to God the way we’d say it to a human who patiently had our back

We also have to look at the evidence of how Christ, the apostles, and Old Testament saints responded to difficult circumstances. I checked my concordance and found no examples of Biblical hero engaging in this super-spiritual practice of giving thanks for the bad in life. Especially not while it was going on. In Paul the Apostle’s prison letters, I never found the line, “I thank my God that I am chained to two guards and under house arrest in Rome.”  Second Timothy doesn’t begin, “I thank God for the rats in this cell.”

Paul didn’t wake up and give thanks for his imprisonment, but he gave thanks nonetheless. Paul’s typical thanksgiving from his days in prison might be paraphrased, “I thank you, Lord, for those faithful people in Ephesus. They have such love for all the saints, it fills my heart with joy. And thank you for the Church at Philippi, they have been partnering with me from the beginning, and they are still there for me even while I’m in prison. I can hardly wait to get out of prison and go see them. And I’ve heard great things about what you’re doing in  Colossae. Thank you for Epaphras, who faithfully taught them the Gospel. Oh and thank you for Philemon! I can really see how much he loves You and Your church.”

Paul waxes thankful in the midst of imprisonment, but not for being imprisoned. Rather he focuses on the majesty of God, the people who stood beside him during his imprisonment,  and on God’s work in the World. These are all principles we can apply to our life in how we can give thanks.

What about Jesus? While we may sing a chorus, “Thank you for the cross,” Jesus wasn’t singing it on the day of his crucifixion. If it is a sin not to give thanks for all things while you are going through them, then Christ sinned. He didn’t give thanks while he was being crucified. What he did cry out to God from the cross wasn’t a song of thanksgiving. It was a lament. “My God, my god, why have you forsaken me?”

Christ did express thanks on the road to his crucifixion. In John 11: 42, he thanked God for hearing him when he prayed before Lazarus was raised. Each of the three gospels that record the last Supper mention that Christ gave thanks before the meal, knowing that it would be his last meal before he was executed. In difficult times, it can be hard enough to simply be grateful for the blessings we do have, but God calls us to do so.

Finally, let us look at Job. He learned his wealth was gone and all his children died. Only to perform one of the most profound acts of faith ever recorded:

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job didn’t praise God for the death of his children or loss of his property. It recognized God’s sovereignty and praised him because he was God and worthy to be praised. Singer/Songwriter Michael Card calls this “worthship.”  He’s worshiping and praising God because God is worthy of it because of Who God is.

Looking at the full council of scripture, it’s clear there are two types of thanksgiving that are practiced. The first is thanksgiving for the clear blessings of our lives. If we would make a habit of looking at our lives and merely thanking God for the good he brings to it, then most of us would be far ahead spiritually.

There is a second type of thanksgiving that comes in times of trouble. Rather than thanking God for the trouble, it focuses on gratitude for what God is doing. The relief God is providing. The Lord’s redemptive work. How God uses trials to make us more loving, kind, patient, and Christlike people. Or it thanks God for the work God is doing in the world or even just to thank Him for being Him, for his very nature. In the Psalms, this type of thanksgiving typically follows an honest expression to God of the Psalmist’s grief. I’ll discuss this more in the next article.

I remember when my mother-in-law died in 2014. I didn’t thank God that she died.  I wasn’t thankful for the sorrow my wife’s family began enduring. Yet, I was thankful for her life and the positive things she contributed to my life and that of my wife.

I had made a commitment to do four half marathons in five weeks as part of a fundraiser for AIDS Orphans in India. I missed the final race due to my mother-in-law’s funeral out-of-state. I could still fulfill my commitment by running a race where we were staying. After obtaining leave from my wife to do so, I registered for the race. The problem was the race on Sunday morning. We wanted to go to church, so we had to find a church that offered a Saturday night service. So we attended a local evangelical church. My mother-in-law had died shortly before All Saints Day. At the end of the service, the church honored the day and the pastor invited anyone who had lost a relative in the last year to light a candle in their honor.

It was a true moment of grace and a blessing to my wife and me in the midst of this sorrow. All Saints Day is not something most evangelical churches celebrate. Without seeking it or planning it, we found an evangelical church with a Saturday night service that ministered to us in a way Andrea needed. Probably no other church Andrea would go to would offer this service. In that, I saw God’s loving guidance, care, and provision in the midst of our sorrow and grief. For that, I give thanks.

To be concluded in part two.

[tweetthis]Thanking God For Difficult Circumstances, Part One #guestpost by @idahoguy [/tweetthis]

Peace & Planning God’s Way

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photo credit: robdonnelly Evening at Milarrochy bay via photopin (license)

Planning gets a bad wrap in some corners of Christendom, with some inferring it’s ungodly and antithetical to having the peace of God and following the Way.

This can be true, if our plans are fleshy, rigid rules. Our plans do need to be of God, faith-filled, spirit-filled, prayed-over, etc. But God is not a God of chaos but a God of order. The Bible contains many plans and scheduled events, such as the Jewish feast days that are optional for us to keep. Now, God may lead us down roads that don’t make logical sense from our vantage point, and I have NEVER known the Lord to lay out the entire plan all at once, but he totally will give us nice, orderly, planned-by-him steps to take if we commit our planning to him.

That said, plans are best made to be revised and adjusted as needed. However, Christians in my experience, are too passive, too sleepy, just sitting around waiting for God to instantly hand us what he’s promised–and I was the most guilty of all on that. God’s teaching me that we are to stand up by faith and move out by faith to claim what God has promised us by faith and with a prayed-over, spirit-led plan of action of how to carry out what God has called us to.

It’s when we make plans apart from God, in the flesh, and act in the flesh–rather than by faith, and in spirit and in truth–and when we put *fleshy* plans before God that there’s often trouble. That, plus, the fact of life is, plans change, sometimes suddenly. Learning to accept that everything is tentative with “Lord willing” attached and roll with it is as important to having peace as having a vision for moving forward through life’s storms toward obtaining what God has for us.

photo credit: God’s Motivations v17 via photopin (license)

[tweetthis]Peace & Planning God’s Way: “God is not a God of Chaos but a God of Order.”[/tweetthis]

Freedom Is Hard

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Came across this gem while editing an unpublished novel I hadn’t worked on in two years. In context, it was said by a member of an oppressed fantasy race about literal oppression by visible enemies who kept them comfortable, providing them everything but freedom and weapons to defend themselves with, and “culling” folks who made a fuss or when they became worth more dead than alive. Their people did have the ability to run outside of their enemies’ borders and settle in the wilderness, but such freedom would be hard, so they rarely did so long as they were comfortable in their oppression.

Most of us don’t have such problems, yet how often do we have areas of spiritual oppression or other problems in our lives? Freedom is often a hard battle. So long as we can avoid the issue, make ourselves comfortable in the condition, whether we embrace it as a core “normal” part of ourselves or continue to dislike it, we won’t be motivated to fight to change it. Most of us don’t repent, face our helpless condition, and cry out for freedom and become willing to work hard for it until the pain of slavery becomes intolerable.

It also struck me this character was an adult, speaking to a child, who gave her a blank stare, not understanding at all. While this may be true for children, too, they tend to be more humble, more readily admit to weakness, and more readily cry out for help.

How much pain must God allow us to go through before we come to the end of ourselves and surrender fully? We shall overcome only by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony of this truth. (Revelation 12:11) Is it time for us to stop being strong, enduring pain with our Good Christian platitudes and forced Good Christian smiles and take the posture of a weak child, honestly bring the broken pieces of our hearts to God to mend?

Let’s get uncomfortable, face the slavery in our lives, and ask God for strength to endure the hardships on the road to freedom.

[tweetthis]So long as we’re comfortable in slavery, we’re unwilling to face the hardships of freedom.[/tweetthis]