A Grace You Can “Grow Into”


“…But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.”  Romans 5:20b


               There are some phrases that are less appreciated with age; “you’ll grow into it” is one of them.  When I was young, it wasn’t a bad thing to receive something that, though not a perfect fit at the time, would eventually become something that I would grow into.  From bicycles whose pedals were a stretch to reach, to outfits whose sleeves and legs would require a stretch to fill, growing into something simply meant I had something to look forward to.  But, as an adult, I can’t say that I embrace the concept of growing into something the way I did as a child.  Receiving items I can’t use now…but will have to grow into…is not only unappealing, it’s downright unflattering.  Think about it.  What is there, for a person who’s on the far side of middle-age, that would be exciting to wait for…to grow into?  Cookware?  Well, that would just mean I don’t yet have the culinary skills required to use what I’ve just received.  Books?   Again, if I have to grow into them, I must not have the aptitude to understand them as yet.  And, while this is truly the case with many a text, telling me so will not bring accolades of delight from my lips!  There’s furniture, that can be a nice gift, but the only furniture one grows into at my age is the lift chair and the Hover-round.  And, what about clothing?  While I used to like the idea of growing into an outfit, now…um…need I even answer this?  Nope, there’s not one gift I can think of that I’d like to receive if it meant I’d have to grow into it.

Continue reading “A Grace You Can “Grow Into””

God’s Cross-Bow

As we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, it’s impossible to do so without first going to the cross.  I find the cross is an anomaly which epitomizes the “Law of Opposites” and, as such, will have a chapter unto itself.  But, until then, perhaps this poem will give you a little insight about the opposing nature of our Savior’s cross.

God’s Cross-Bow

If God were a Hunter, 

And His cross the bow, 

How far would He pull back,

Sin’s arrow to throw? 


Would He pull just slightly, 

 It’s flight to make short; 

Would His aim be careless, 

No effort exhort? 


Perhaps, would God launch it,

To clear half a mile? 

Would His arm pull further, 

Sin lost…for a while? 


Or would He pull way back, 

 Using all His strength ,

Send sin’s arrow soaring,

 Spanning a great length? 


With what would He guide it, 

To take such a flight? 

Would mercy lean far left, 

Would grace adjust right? 


And once He had launched sin, 

No more to be found, 

Would love’s arrow now fly, 

From Calvary’s mound? 


If the cross were a bow, 

And it’s arrow love, 

How far would God’s hand pull, 

From His throne above? 


Would He pull just slightly, 

So pain would be less? 

Avoiding the heartache, 

Eluding the mess? 


Or would He pull harder, 

Sin’s span to decrease, 

Aware that such stretching, 

Meant pain would increase? 


To scale the highest, 

Of heights with our Lord, 

God had to pull back to, 

Where misery’s stored. 


The further He pulls back,

The farther love goes;

For our sakes Christ suffered,

The lowest of lows.


If God were a Hunter,

And His cross the bow,

Would His arrows pierce me,

That my faith would grow?


Would I be a target,

His arrow to find;

Would love hit the bull’s eye,

Sin launched, never find?


If the Cross were a bow,

And I an arrow,

How hard would God pull to,

Hit the gate Narrow?


Oh, may God launch me,

And land me with care,

In salvation’s target,

For love shot me there.

Rhyme AND Reason

  As we move through the month of March, I thought it might be good to pay homage to Dr. Seuss.  After all, where would we be without Hop on Pop and Green Eggs and Ham?  A phonetically challenged society, to say the least.  So, to the one who gave us One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish…I add to that One Sin, Two Sins, Red Cross, White Robes.  Granted, it doesn’t rhyme, but it overflows with reason!  And speaking of crosses…here is a resurrected writing from two years ago.

Rhyme AND Reason

“And of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.”  John 1:16

             I don’t know that I’d call myself an avid reader, but I am an all-the-time reader.  It’s not that I devour everything I read but I like to have an edible pile of books in my literary pantry at all times.  As a result, I have feasted upon quite a few books over the years and have developed a particular taste for some authors.  My all-time favorite is C.S. Lewis, but Max Lucado, Mark Batterson, and John Maxwell make my mouth water, too.  And then there is my other favorite, the one who is as essential to a literary pantry as Little Debbie Nutty Bars are to a kitchen pantry:  Dr. Seuss.  Yes, Theodore Geisel holds a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf.  What lessons there are to retrieve from such classics as The Butter Battle Book, Sneetches, Yertle the Turtle, and The Lorax!  If you don’t believe me, then we need to converse…over a glass of milk and a Nutty Bar.

While I’ve often used Dr. Seuss stories to illustrate Biblical principles, I tend to stay away from his “emergent reader” books.  While Hop on Pop is a great phonetic tool, its ability to delve into Biblical truths is, well, a Flop on Top.  But, I must say that recently God has used one of Dr. Seuss’s early readers to teach me a couple of lessons.  In the book Dr. Seuss’s ABC we find this amazing alliteration…

 “Big A, little a, what begins with a?                                                                                                       Aunt Annie’s alligator, a…a…a.”

                There are two types of truths God exhumed for me in this rhyme:  one grammatical and one Biblical.  In the grammatical sense, there is the reminder that letters come in two forms; capital and lower case.  And then there is the premise that words with the same beginning letter tend to have the same beginning sound.  Before I interject the Biblical truths, let me first walk you to the bridge that will lead us there.  Recently, I was contemplating the nature, and case size, of sin.  As I was talking to God about my sinfulness, I somewhat humorously (I thought) told God that my sin wasn’t a capital letter sin…it was more of a lower case sin, to which my mind quickly recited, ”Big A, little a, what begins with a?”.  I started to list all the sins I could think of that began with an “a”.  Then, I made up my own little jingle.

  “Big A, little a, what begins with a?                                                                                                 Anxiousness and apathy; a…a…a.                                                                                                         Big A, little a, what begins with a?                                                                                                   Avarice and arrogance; a…a…a.                                                                                                             Big A, little a, what begins with a?                                                                                                       Appetites and anarchy; a…a…a.”

 That’s when I saw the bridge of truth…and I couldn’t help but step onto it.  When thinking of sins, we tend to think of them in terms of upper case and lower case; there are the big, capital letter sins and little, lower case sins.  But God looks at them all the same; a sin is a sin.  In Romans 3:23, we are reminded that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and in Isaiah 64:6, we read that “we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousness is like a filthy rag.” So, which sins does God hate the most?  All of them!  He doesn’t separate them or categorize them; they all look the same.   And then I realized there was another truth; not only do all sins look alike, but they also sound alike.  In the same way that words with the same beginning letter have the same initial sound, so too do all unrighteous acts drum out the same chords of dissonance into God’s ears.

With this new reasoning from God, along with the rhymes from Dr. Seuss, I thought a little bit further, dove a little bit deeper (or maybe just wider, this pool isn’t deep enough for diving) and landed upon this thought.  If all our sins look alike and sound alike to God, then let’s demote them all to a lower case status and reserve the capital letters for the words He’s written to cover those sins; let’s give Him the upper case and the upper hand.  Once more my mind went back to this rhyming scheme and this time it chanted,

  “Big A, big A, what begins with A?                                                                                                          Affection and Adoption; A…A…A.                                                                                                              Big A, bigger A, what begins with A?                                                                                                Approval and Assurance; A…A…A.                                                                                                          Big A, biggest A, what begins with A?                                                                                              Acceptance and Admittance; A…A…A.”

And there you have it; two truths from Dr. Seuss’s ABC, made possible of course by the Creator of Rhyme and Reason.  Sins look alike and sound alike to God; they should to us as well.  If we truly owned this truth, not only would we stop trying to minimize (or maximize) our sin, but we’d also stop inadvertently minimizing God’s grace.  Just one of our sins cost Jesus His life; the gift of grace was costly.  If we try to make light of our sin, we are also making light of this gift.  Let’s enjoy the rhythm and reason of God’s grace.

 Big A, little a, what begins with a?                                                                                                            A Savior on A Cross…grace, grace, grace!

A Walk on the Beach, or…The Sandy Psalm


A Walk on the Beach, or…The Sandy Psalm

“How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!”  Psalm 32:1

It’s summertime, which means it’s beach time.  Actually, anytime can be beach time since it’s as much a state of mind as it is a state of destination.  As is true for dehydrated foods, so it is true for dehydrated souls; if you need to be refreshed…just add water!  I love to go to the beach, but for me it is far more of a spiritual retreat than a “fun in the sun” vacation.  There’s something about the vastness of the ocean that reminds me, again, of the enormity of God.  There’s something about the depth of the waters that causes me to contemplate the unfathomable nature of God.  There’s something about the realization that many things lie under the surface of the water, things unseen but definitely present, that reminds me there are aspects of God that I accept by faith and not by sight.  And then there is the shoreline; the sand…and the waves…and their feel….and their sound.  Yes, a walk on the beach is like a walk through God’s closet; it’s personal, it’s crammed with His belongings, it contains things that reveal His personality and taste, it contains items that are custom made, and everything bears His scent.

Sometimes my get-a-ways aren’t physically possible, but thankfully the mental train is always accessible and ready for boarding.  So today, as I read through Psalm 32, I took a walk on the beach.  The first two verses are the ones that led me to the water’s edge as I read the following:

“How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!  How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity.”

As I read these verses, I thought I’d do a quick word study on the three seemingly synonymous words of transgression, sin, and iniquity.  Then, while the shovel was out, I dug up the Hebrew meanings of forgiven, covered, and impute.  That’s when the footprints emerged and, just as quickly, were filled.  I was at the beach and the waves were washing over my feet.

In the verses written above, transgressions are forgiven, sins are covered, and iniquities are not imputed.  As I sought out the original Hebrew meaning for these words, I learned that transgressions are rebellions, sins are offenses, and iniquities are deliberate acts of evil.  With each word, the intensity of the deed increased.  Then, when looking up the “filling” for each of these wrongdoings, I discovered forgiven means to take away, covered means to fill up the hollows, and impute means to devise.  Just as footprints in the sand are quickly covered by the incoming waves, so too are each of these wrongs completely filled by the waters of God’s love.  Where the imprints of rebellion are evident, God’s mercy carries them away; where the hollows of offenses are revealed, God’s grace fills them in; and where the tracks of evil are etched, God’s redemption does not allow them to remain.

How wonderful it is to know that our lives can become as smooth as the shoreline when we allow God’s waves to wash over us.  While we can move away from the water’s edge and leave behind all kinds of evidence of our time at the beach, it is absolutely impossible to walk along the water’s edge and override the gentle push/pull power of the waves.  Even the mechanics of waves reflect their Engineer.  The crest of the wave gradually overtakes the trough of the wave and, when the bottom of the wave hits the bottom of the shore, it “crashes” upon the sand.  This process not only deposits things onto the shore (fish, shells, seaweed, boogie boards…with and without riders), but it also pulls things from the shore (crabs, sandcastles, footprints…with and without the feet that left them).  Within each wave we see a reflection of the God who designed it:  grace, like the crest, brings abundance from God’s hand and mercy, like the trough, pulls back that which needs to be submerged…perhaps even buried on the ocean’s floor…and we are left with a smooth shoreline.

The one necessary element, however, is that one must walk where the water meets the sand.  If we want to keep our sandy surface smooth but don’t want to live close to the ocean, then we’ll find that those imprints of transgression, the hollows of sin, and the tracks of iniquity are never washed away.  The individual footprints may become undetectable as more and more are placed over them, but they are never smoothed over, never washed away, never filled in.  Only one’s proximity to the ocean can bring the desired effect of a smooth shoreline.  And, when the waters have washed over the sand, not only is the surface renewed, but it also strengthened.  Dry sand is difficult to walk in; wet sand is much more traversable.  Not only do the waves fill in our gaps and carry away our clutter, but they also make our lives more navigable, and not just for us but for others as well.  With whom would you rather journey, one whose life has been washed over by the waves of mercy and grace or one whose life knows no watering except that which comes from his own hose?

Today, I went to the beach.  Today, I allowed God’s waves of grace and mercy to wash over my feet.  Today, I sank my toes in the sands of His forgiveness as I let the waters of His truth carry away my transgressions, fill up the hollows of my sins, and discard the shells of my iniquities.  The trip was not nearly as long as I would have liked, nor was there any fresh seafood, but the packing and unpacking process was easy and there isn’t a mountainous pile of laundry to do…well, at least not as the result of a lengthy vacation!  Maybe if I sprinkle sand over my pile of dirty clothes I will get the feel of having been to the beach…

flip flops

Which Came First, the Briar or the Fern?

Which Came First, the Briar or the Fern?

“For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”                                                                                  –Philippians 2:13

 Ah, yes, the age old question of sequencing.  Which came first?  We’ve long heard the arguments over the chicken and the egg, but this one…the briar or the fern…well, that requires serious contemplation.  I realize there are several approaches to answering this question.  First, there is the alphabetical approach which leaves no doubt that briar comes before fern.  Next, there’s the creationist approach which places the fern before the briar since those thorny weeds didn’t come into existence until after the fall of man.  Then, there is the spiritual approach which once again places the briar first.  But, just what is the spiritual approach and why does the briar claim first place?  Well, before answering that question, the initial one must first be addressed.

 Which came first, the briar or the fern?  While I find it to be a perfectly logical question that bears examination, I do realize that not everyone conjures up such deeply philosophical inquiries.  (Which leads me to another question…do I have an overly high, and somewhat distorted… view of my thought process?  And, if so, how am I to know?)  The question arose while I was in the woods, surveying my vast kingdom which, through much toil and tenacity, I’d cleared last fall.  As I walked through the places that, just months ago, had been massive groves of briars, I was delighted to see beds of ferns emerging all around.  It was amazing to see the transformation and in my mind, the before and after images flashed in succession. And that’s when the question arose…which came first, the briar or the fern?  Had the ferns been there all along and I just hadn’t noticed them because they were shrouded by briars, or, having cleared away the briars, were the ferns now able to inhabit a formerly impenetrable area?  As I rolled this question over in my mind God added another thought to the mix:  Isn’t there a Biblical truth here among the ferns and the thorns?  Shouldn’t that be the answer you seek…oh deep philosophical thinker…?  (Yes, God has a sense of humor…and impeccable timing.)

And so there it was.  No longer an environmental question but now a spiritual one:  Which came first, the briar or the fern?  As I thought about this, I thought how beautiful ferns are and how readily they develop if they have the right environment.  But then I also thought how fragile and dependent they are; if they don’t have the right soil along with the right amount of light and water, they will not survive.   Briars, on the other hand, need no tender care and are anything but fragile.  They show up in all terrain and thrive even under the worst of conditions.  They choke out all that is around them and, once their thorny vines have laid hold of a neighboring plant, they actually climb upon their victim in order to reach their next prey.  They are relentless and unwilling to “go gentle into that good night”.  (Poem by Dylan Thomas.)

Having thought about the contrasts between ferns and briars, I then allowed them to represent that which grows in man’s heart.  If I view my heart as a place where both ferns and briars may grow then, just as my wooded area needed a gardener, so too does my heart.  While God is represented as a gardener in various places in Scripture, two examples are recorded in Isaiah 5:7 and John 1:1.

The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah are the vines He delighted in.”     – Isaiah 5:7a

I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener.”       -John 1:1

So, recognizing God as my Gardener, and my heart as His garden, I now had only to identify the role of the fern and the briar, and that wasn’t too difficult.  The ferns…beautiful, delicate, and dependent…were those things that God tended and nurtured.  In my heart, they may unfold as fronds of compassion, love, and forgiveness and they only propagate under the right conditions.  Much clearing away needs to be done before they will emerge and, even then, they must be handled carefully for though they may be quick to appear, they are also quick to disappear if their growing conditions change.  Then there are the briars…prickly, stickly, and ickly.  Their purpose is to live for self, at the cost of everything else around them.  These are the sinful thorns of selfishness, pridefulness, and ungratefulness.  They make the heart uninhabitable…impenetrable…desolate.  Not until they have been cleared out will the growth of compassion, love, and forgiveness emerge.  Just as in the woods, the briars had to go so that the ferns could come forth.  So which came first?  The briars.  How do I know this?  Because, as Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick,” (Jer. 17:9) and David, in agreement, made this request to the Lord, “Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.”  (Ps. 51:10)  In its natural state, the heart is prone to briars and that’s why we all need a gardener…The Gardener.

Without God, the sinful briars not only stay, they take over; without some serious under-brushing…followed by a dose or two of Round-Up…our hearts will never be prepared for the emergence of godly ferns.  And, in keeping with the laws of nature, the cleared area will have to be retreated from time to time.  Briars do not go down without a fight and they will rear their thorny heads again.  But, as is also true in nature, with each cutting and spraying, fewer and fewer briars return because the area is now tended and maintained.  Small briars are pulled up before they have the opportunity to choke or smother developing ferns.  And as the uninhibited light now shines upon this new growth, the reproduction rate is prolific.  (I really wanted to say it is spore-adic; get it?  Ferns…spores?  But the definition doesn’t work.  God’s reproduction in our hearts is anything but sporadic; specific, yes…purposeful, definitely…haphazard, never.  But, in keeping with my misdirected thought process, I felt led to share this thematically creative, though inappropriate, word.)

Now, as I stroll through my ferny kingdom, I’ll think more about the condition of my heart than about the condition of the woods.  And, when I see the briars straining to retake their former plot, I’ll search my heart for reemerging sin that threatens to lay hold of new growth.  Then, when God pulls out the pruning shears and the Round-Up, I’ll be thankful that He continues to complete that which He has begun in me:  a cleared lot, a prepared plot, a productive spot.