Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Cheat Grass of the Heart

Last summer, we had a terrible fire.  It wasn't huge, but any time you watch a fire burn out of control, it feels epic.  The ground has been scorched black since last summer and all the surrounding trees are still black sticks.  With the snow covering the ground, it was a bit easier to forget the damage, but now that the snow is all but gone, the black ground reappears in all its ugliness.

But, something new is covering the ground...Look:
Yup, it's cheat grass.  Here's what the Internet has to say about it: "Cheat grass is notorious for its ability to thrive in disturbed areas—common disturbances include construction, fire, floods, poor grazing activities, and intense recreation."  So true!  It is covering, slowly but surely, the whole area that was burned.  The secret to its success?  A wide spreading root system!  Its invasionary tactics will lead to further fires as it covers more and more, because it's a highly inflammable grass.

Makes me stop and wonder:  I love the new green carpet that is being laid down over the scorched earth, but now that I know what it is and what it will bring, I am less excited and a bit more reserved in my praise of this new life.  

This is Easter Week and it commenced with Jesus riding humbly on a donkey into the city of Jerusalem, to the people's cries of acclamation and praise.  In less than a week, many people would be shouting to Pilate for His death.  The people thought that the kind of life Jesus was bringing was going to be Roman-free.  He would use His mighty power (having been demonstrated with miraculous healings and even bringing the dead to life) to remove the ugly Roman presence from the promised land of God's chosen.  The scars of Roman oppression were everywhere, and Jesus seemed to be bringing a new kind of kingdom to cover the ugliness and bring new life to the people.

But Jesus' kingdom was not "cheat grass."  He didn't come to merely cover over the Romans with a new kind of rule by the Jews.  His kingdom was not going to be on the outside, visible to all and springing up quickly wherever He walked.  He knew the hearts of men:  merely overturning the social order would only lead to new oppression--sadly, those who are victimized often, when given power, will turn just as vicious as those they replaced. 

Jesus came to set up a kingdom in a renewed heart.  As Jesus observed: "For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:21-3).  So, we can change the system and overturn the existing order, but without a changed heart, all the same sins come roaring in again, and make even the best efforts fail.

The people turned on Jesus when they realized His kingdom would not meet their demands.  Their hearts were angry and then turned wrathful.  How quickly they wanted the "cheat grass" of overturning the existing order to come and yet Jesus has a much more long-term solution in mind:  the real inward growth in each person's heart.  In other words, Jesus wanted spring in our hearts:  slow, germinating seeds of change, nurtured by the warmth of the Son and watered by the rains of His presence.  A heart so grown would produce a bounty of beauty:  "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." (Gal. 5:22-4).  

That's why He died:  so that such fruit could be brought forth from a scorched heart from sin, and that spring would arrive in the ones who love Him.  No cheat grass--just a heart made new.  May spring and Easter be in your heart as you seek the risen Savior.  Just go to the tomb and look inside:  He is not there.  Ask Him into your heart, and that is where He will be.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Wages of Sin Are: Empty Feeders

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the deer who came and raided my feeders.  I have not refilled them, for I was angry at the deer and didn't want to encourage them to forage at my feeders.  I didn't want the mama deer to teach their young ones bad habits.  The feeders are easy to get to and are probably far more temptingly tasty than that nasty late-winter grass. 

I have not refilled the feeders now for at least two weeks.  No more deer...'tis true.  But my daily round of bird visitors has ceased as well.  No more sparrows, finches and now only an occasional mourning dove shows up and takes shelter under the Russian olive tree. 

Usually, the smaller birds, as they are eating out of the feeders, spill quite a bit of seed on the ground and rocks beneath.  The smaller birds eat in the morning, and by the time the sun rises higher in the sky, the little birds depart.  I suspect that in the shadows, the wee birds feel safe; as soon as the sunlight illuminates the area, they are so much more vulnerable to the hawks who fly overhead, ready to swoop down.  The doves wait patiently, and in the afternoons, they nibble at all of the fallen seed and then roost quietly under the Russian olive tree.

It's a nice community:  a ready "table" spread before the birds and all benefit...except when the deer intrude.  Then, because it's detrimental to feed the deer, I haven't refilled the feeders and my community has ceased to be.  I miss my morning visitors and my late afternoon guests...all activity has stopped and now the feeders sway in the wind with an occasional visit from a miffed magpie, who is wondering where all the bounty went.

This wee drama has provided me a kind of meditation on sin.   I openly and freely fill up my feeders...I do not charge for a "lunch" and so my gift is truly free.  I actively and consistently fill them up and feel badly when they are empty and a little bird perches on the feeder to no avail.  I was angry at the deer, but now the emptiness around the feeders makes me long for all of that frantic activity with goldfinches, sparrows, juncos, finches and doves all enjoying the bounty.  Yes, the occasional hawk shows up, but the little birds seem to take a predator's presence all in stride.  It's just part of the scene.

So, this made me think of our heavenly Father.  He is angry at the deer of sin...they destroy His creation, and cause grief to all.  They knock His beautiful gifts about and when finished, leave without any remorse, on the hunt for new grazing.  God loves us too much to tolerate sin's presence, so He allows His heavy hand to fall on us--He sometimes leaves the feeders empty for awhile. 

But, I am sure that He misses the joyful sound that comes from when His children are laughing and enjoying the fellowship of His bounty, with Him and with each other.  So, the silence of sin leaves Him no choice:  His chastening hand is withdrawn and He refills our feeders:  "Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness" (Lam. 3:22-3).  He forgives us, for He "knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust" (Psalm 103:14).

He takes sin very seriously.  But:  "for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor"  (Isaiah 61:3).  God was comforting His people, for although they had sinned and were feeling results of His displeasure, the restoration was promised and granted.  The same holds true for us.

As Easter approaches, we can take into our hearts two great truths:  God is holy and cannot abide the presence of sin and He is also loving, and gave His own Son to pay for that sin...to restore us and to bring us back into His fellowship that sin had destroyed.  After we accept this free gift, He welcomes us back. 

Tomorrow morning:  the first thing I will do (actually the second thing, right after making a cup of tea) is to refill the feeders.  I look forward to the return of the wee birdies...Restoration is a beautiful thing.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Whose Footprints?

My bird feeders have been emptying much quicker these days--either the birds are very hungry (could be, it's still quite cold and windy in these mountains) or something else is afoot.  I have no way to tell...I fill the feeders, and a day or so later, I see a lot of seed on the ground and the feeders are near to empty.  

Then, some evidence appeared in an unlikely place...in freshly fallen snow.  Footprints.  And not wee birdie prints...but rather large, imposing prints.  Hmmm...who could be sneaking around, knocking the feeders about and emptying them all too quickly?  You guessed it.  I had no condemning evidence a while back, then ta-da!  deer footprints.  
So, what to do?  Well, in a wintry world of little forage and very cold evenings, I really can't blame the deer for wanting to muscle in on the feeders and grab some seed.  Yet, if the deer become too dependent on forage provided by us humans, they grow less inclined to forage in the wild and teach their young, thereby endangering their survival.  Do I keep refilling the feeders and thereby keep refilling the deers' stomachs?  Or do I allow the birds to pick up what is on the ground and let the feeders stay empty for awhile?

We live in a world where we see Satan at work.  We see his footprints in the snow, coming in and taking away what is not his:  our health, our loved ones, our peace of mind.  Sometimes the snow melts and although we can't see his footprints, he leaves condemning evidence of his work behind:  cold hearts made so by the deceitfulness of sin, anger and heartache, violence and loss.  We rail against his emptying of the feeders, yet sadly, because our world doesn't take Satan seriously, many people are shocked when terrible things happen.  We are saddened too, but not surprised.  Having tried to defy God, and losing his place in heaven, Satan works on His children, as a way to take revenge on God.  Most parents would rather have someone hurt them than their children, if evil people are willing to make such bargains.  If you hurt me, the pain is temporary; hurt my children and the pain will go on forever.

God chose to have His Son tortured by Satan's minions--He loves us that much.  Because Jesus is God in the flesh, God was, in effect, allowing Himself to be killed for sin rather than us.  God is the ultimate Parent, the One Who never leaves nor forsakes us, even if Satan is dishing out as much pain and suffering as he can muster.

Isn't it interesting that Jesus is the "Lion of Judah" (Revelation 5:5) and Satan is also compared to a lion: "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).  Sometimes we are so angered and devastated by Satan's work in the world, we lose sight of God's more powerful work in the world.  We see sin and destruction, but neglect to see how lovingly God is working on the hearts of people to draw them to Himself:  "But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." (John 12:32).  Notice where His love will draw us?  At His death on the cross.  That is the ultimate judgment against Satan:  death itself has been overwhelmed by the love of His Son.  So, how do we respond to what is going on in the world?  Look at this picture:

I see a lion's paw:  a powerful cloud, rolling across the mountains, with thunder, lightning and hail in its wake.  I can be afraid, and see this as evil afoot or I can see the Lion of Judah's paw, firmly over the earth, in majesty and power and still in control of His wayward planet.  Yes, evil is everywhere, and never would I ascribe the evil to God, but it's our point of view that needs adjusting every now and then.  

Remember this verse:  "You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them [those who deny Jesus and do evil], because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." (1 John 4:3).  Even if you see Satan's footprints in the snow, look a little closer:  Jesus' footprints are right behind them.

Prayer:  Dearest Father:  Sometimes I am so overwhelmed by personal sadness or by what I see going on in the world, that I forget the majesty of Who You are.  Satan would love me to shrink You down to the size of my problem.  But please remind me of the greater horizons of Your Love and how, despite the evil that stalks the land, You are still mighty and You still reign.  In the Son Who made such love possible, amen.
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