Rejoice Always

It seems fitting that the season outside my window reflects the season in my heart. As the leaves turn color and trees go dormant, the rest until spring begins. The world rests, and waits. It’s an active rest, roots still take up moisture and move nutrients. Slowly. I too find myself in a season of active rest and waiting. Life would seem so much easier if I just knew what the next step looked like. But I don’t. No matter how hard we desire skip winter and move in to spring, it’s necessary. And rather than push ahead, we can choose to enjoy the season, and wait.

Waiting is hard. It’s uncomfortable.

Oh, I could take a step. But would it be in-line with the direction where God is working, where he wants me to join him? Would it be God’s will? Who knows. But I do know, if your lost it’s best to not go wandering off. That’s a good time to stop, get your bearings, and perhaps wait for help to arrive.

When I stumbled upon 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 last week, it felt like receiving actionable steps for the waiting. “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (CSB)

When the specific will of God seems to be foggy, this much is clear – rejoice, pray, and give thanks. Always, constantly, and in everything.

For me, it’s hard to picture what always rejoicing might look like, especially if your personality tends to be calm and quiet. Now some of my friends – they walk around with outward rejoicing all the time! Me, it just comes out different. Typically, I imagine rejoicing to be boisterous, outward exultation with a lot of seen emotion attached. But how can I possibly rejoice always? The truth is, rejoicing comes out differently in all of us, and in various situations.

Rejoice always – chairō pantŏtĕ in Greek. I so appreciate the Greek definition because it seems feasible to me. Rejoice, chairō, is to be calmly happy; be well, be glad, rejoice.[i] I also appreciate Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message translation, “Be cheerful no matter what.”[ii] Joy and cheer always, in all circumstances. It’s not a joy that goes where the winds blow, it’s eternal.

As a way to posture our hearts and attune our spiritual focus, let’s work on always rejoicing these next few days. And if the “calmly” thing isn’t your style, by all means let that exultation bubble over! Maybe you’ll splash that rejoicing on me or the person next to you. Wouldn’t that be fun?!

Next week we’ll look at the second part of those three directives in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – pray constantly.

Would you mind sharing your experience of rejoicing always here? I’d love to know how you are experiencing God through rejoicing.

With love and gratitude,

Amy

 

Rejoice always

 

[i] A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Vol. 1, p. 77). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[ii]  Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (1 Th 5:16). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

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Bearing Fruit and Growing

Everyone likes to bear fruit, and be the recipient of fruit produced in season. There’s nothing better than a fresh picked peach in the height of summer or crisp apple when the cool fall arrives. Our berry farm is meant to bear fruit throughout the heat of summer. And just like fruit born in appropriate seasons, our lives are meant to do the same. That being said, it can be hard to not strive to produce the whole fruit bowl at once.

Spiritually speaking, we are told that we will bear fruit and we are called to do so. I believe there’s more to simply being focused on bearing fruit. Take a look at Paul’s words in Colossians. “…so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God…” Colossians 1:10 (ESV, emphasis mine)

Paul was specifically talking to the church in Colossae about the gospel’s effect in their lives, and his words are easily applicable to us today. Walk in a manner pleasing to the Lord, bearing fruit and growing. I appreciate the order in which Paul presents these things, bear fruit and continue in growth. We can have a tendency to want to bear fruit, but perhaps forget to continue growing once fruit has been born. In order to continue bearing fruit, there must be continued growth. We aren’t called to be corn plants, growing rapidly to produce a crop for harvest and then die. I believe that as eternal beings, we are called to continue bearing fruit for harvest and grow – a perpetual process.

Familiarity with the Word may bring to mind what kind of fruit we are to limitlessly produce. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)

How then shall we grow it? According to our verse in Colossians, we are to grow in the knowledge of God. The Greek word being used here for knowledge is ĕpignōsis, it denotes the idea of recognition, acknowledgment, full discernment, and to become fully acquainted with.[i] We aren’t being asked to become know-it-alls, knowing everything the Creator of heaven and earth knows, but rather to fully know Him. Recognize Him, acknowledge His ways, movements, and characteristics.

One of the most powerful and active ways we can grow in knowledge of the Lord is having an active encounter with His living Word on daily basis. God begins revealing His character in the first line of scripture, and he doesn’t let up until the last.

We have the free will to choose a relationship with God through His Word. Those Spirit-inspired words can be the water, fertilizer, and Son-shine the seed of the gospel message needs to grow in our heart and mind. We are called to both bear fruit and grow. If we are stunted spiritually, after a while the fruit will no longer come forth.

Let’s have some dialogue on how God is revealing his character, so that together we may grow in knowledge and understanding of Him. What characteristic of God has been most real to you this week?

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Photo by Katherine Chase on Unsplash

[i] Strong, J. (2009). A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Vol. 1, p. 31). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Rooted In Faith

There are several trees in our yard, some we planted and some inherited with the house. One particular tree was inherited  – a scraggly little oak. It was pitiful. The deer had used it as a buck rub for multiple seasons, several branches mangled and torn. It wouldn’t seem to grow, staying the same size for six or seven years. At one point, I seriously considered taking my little hand saw to it; put it out of its misery.

Then one year, it started to grow.

This little, scraggly oak tree has grown to become one of the nicest trees in our yard. It’s gotten rather large, and now holds a lovely shape. Gabe and I frequently stand in awe of its growth and maturity, in what seems like such a short period of time. Grateful that I never took that saw to its trunk, it serves as a reminder of possibility and the importance of a sure foundation.

For years, I didn’t see any growth; but it was there. Hidden deep in the earth, this awkward little oak had been growing what was necessary to sustain outward fruit and vegetation. The fruit is pretty great, and well worth the wait. We don’t get juicy peaches from its branches but acorns for critters, strong limbs for climbing kiddos, and cool shade for picnics. Now, this oak easily withstands heavy winds and rain because it is deeply rooted with a sure foundation.

For me, this tree has displayed what is necessary for each of us – to grow first in the secret. Our roots in faith are there to anchor and hold, creating that firm foundation so that we aren’t driven and tossed about by the wind. Those faith roots are vital for taking up the necessary nutrients for spiritual growth, maturity, and fruit production.

It is known that for most trees, what you can visually see in size and mass above ground is mimicked below ground in the root system. In our fast-paced and immediacy driven society, we often want to produce fruit immediately. That can easily be a desire of our flesh. The sweetest fruit often takes time, God’s time. God’s timing is not our own; His can happen in the blink of an eye or take decades in our human understanding. We desire that fruit of the Spirit, which is a good and noble desire. In that desire, we must first also desire and be willing to allow our roots to go deep in Christ, taking the necessary time.

It’s easy to accept Jesus in faith, and stop there. But I firmly believe our Creator is one of growth and expansion. We are not meant to sit stagnant and unchanged, like the homely oak tree in our backyard seemed to have done for so many years.

Take a look at Paul’s words in Colossians. “So then, just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, being rooted and built up in him and established in faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with gratitude.” Colossians 2:6-7 (CSB)

Those deep roots are developed in the secret with Christ through the Holy Spirit and God’s Word. It’s imperative that we not settle for stagnant. Even when I don’t feel closeness and growth with the Lord, I can know He is near and always active. And that knowing only comes from spending time in the secret with my Creator, in His Word. It’s where we grow our roots down deep in the truth of Jesus. For that, I am grateful.

How are you continuing to be rooted and built up in the faith of Christ Jesus? Fruit will come – that’s a promise.

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“So then, just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, being rooted and built up in him and established in faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with gratitude.” Colossians 2:6-7 (CSB)

 

 

 

 

Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition is not just a position. In fact, it’s like having multiple positions all at one time but in their polarity, everything fits together.

Merriam-Webster defines juxtaposition asthe act or an instance of placing two or more things side by side often to compare or contrast or to create an interesting effect[i]

During my Jesus time one morning, I read Acts 9:31 where two opposite emotions of comfort and fear were held together – creating the effect of growth in the church. “And walking in the fear of the Lord and comfort of the Holy Spirit, it (the church) multiplied.” (Acts 9:31b, ESV, emphasis mine)

Fear of the Lord and comfort from the Holy Spirit, two emotions held together, allowed the church to grow and multiply. The contrast between the two is quite possibly where stretching and growth occur, and probably not without a bit of discomfort. I’m certain the early churches’ fear of the Lord was a healthy fear, established from experiencing God’s overwhelming authority in love.

Just like that early church, we can hold a healthy fear in the Lord and comfort from the Holy Spirit in the same open hand. In that juxtaposed and safe space, our faith can experience a healthy growth in the Lord. Our Creator is about growth and expansion; we are a reflection of Him, thus meant for growth and expansion. Based on Matthew 17:14-21 with Jesus’ words of “faith like a grain of mustard seed” – I’m convinced that faith is meant to grow!

I’ve often found my faith grows most when I’m stretched between the comfort of standing on the promises and steadfast character of God, and stepping out into the unknown. How about you?

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“And walking in the fear of the Lord and comfort of the Holy Spirit, it (the church) multiplied.” (Acts 9:31b, ESV, emphasis mine)  Photo by Luis Tosta on Unsplash

[i] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/juxtaposition

All The Fruit

Our family’s berry farm has been in full swing over the past month (or more). Long, hot days equal extra laundry, a messy house, frequent power naps to keep going, BLT’s, and sweet corn. This season can be exhausting, but it’s what we prepare for all year. One season leads to another, which prepares you for the next. The season of hard work we put in throughout the year is reflected in the fruit we both give and receive during another.

So often we want all the fruit. It’s easy to get focused on and desire the fruit, in a very romantic way. It seems dreamy and fulfilling from the outside. Yet, how often are we willing to put in the hard work and prepare for it, on the inside?

You may have guessed that I’m interchanging physical fruit, like blueberries, with spiritual fruit. It’s all relatable though. How we prune and fertilize our blackberries now, helps to determine how much fruit we get next year. One season always prepare us for the next. What we are willing to cut out and pour into life today, will be reflected in our relationships tomorrow and years to come. A lot of our hard work in the field is never seen, it’s messy and laborious, but there is evidence. Likewise, hard heart-work is rarely fun, it requires us to be vulnerable and honest. But the results are visible over time.

It’s the hidden and secret places where we must be willing to persist and dig deep, because they always manifest fruit of some kind. The roots of our blueberries are unseen, but we have an accurate picture of soil and root health based on what we see above ground in foliage, flower, and fruit. Not being well rooted is certain death. It took time for our blueberry bushes to get rooted and established, that didn’t happen haphazardly. Intentionally cultivating the soil and being mindful of each addition both in preparation and along the way has been key to producing sweet fruit. This and lots of prayer.

It would be fun to have fresh blueberries year-round, but they are only meant for a season. That’s partly what makes them so sweet. We don’t experience fruit year-round, and that’s ok. Therefore, we shall be all the more grateful and joyous when we do.

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My cutie pie, picking sweet fruit for market! 

Mint & Stongholds

Mint. I have a love-hate relationship with it. Spearmint – I love the smell, taste, texture, and hardiness; and, I hate its aggressive hardiness. Thus, my conundrum.

I enjoy doing some personal gardening as a part-time job. Arriving on the job one morning, I began in the front yard. After pulling weeds, digging up unwanted iris, pruning and fertilizing, I moved around to the shaded cutting garden around back. My friend had added some new plants to the area, so I walked about checking things out before getting started. Roudning the last corner of the raised bed, my eyes bugged out. Mint. Without thinking, and without regard for the planter, I reacted and yanked the entire thing out. “Nooooooooo!”

A split second of regret popped into my heart; I had clearly undone what someone else had planted with care. My regret didn’t last long. You see, mint has a way of completely taking over a garden space. We had diligently been working to create a space for a cutting and vegetable garden. Mint would have taken over and undone all of our hard work over the past couple of years. Had the mint stayed and taken root, the only thing stopping it would be concrete or multiple applications of herbicide.

As my mind had the opportunity to process my feelings about this plant, yes I have feelings about plants, I began to equate mint to strongholds. One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions of stronghold describes a stronghold as a place dominated by a particular group or marked by a particular characteristic.[i] I tend to think of strongholds with a negative connotation, like an addiction or challenge in one’s life. A stronghold may be something I struggle with in life and find it hard to experience freedom from, such as unforgiveness, anger, insecurities, food, believing lies you tell yourself, a physical activity, etc.

Strongholds can be hard to root out. (Thus, our mint analogy.) Why don’t I react to personal strongholds the way I treated that mint, ripping it out without thought or question? Because it’s hard. It requires a deep, honest heart and mind work. It requires me to be really uncomfortable and intentionally practice self-control. Often, it’s hard to just acknowledge the stronghold, let alone root it out. Like the mint, we may have a love-hate relationship with it.

Personally, I feel that God has been revealing strongholds in my heart. They aren’t huge, obvious ones. But they are strongholds none-the-less. While taking complete responsibility, Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians are a good reminder in the process of doing some hard work.

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (ESV)

MintCan I encourage you to join me in asking the Lord to reveal the strongholds in our hearts? Our strongholds may not be “big,” but they can make deep roots – they are still strongholds. To me, this can be a scary prayer. But with a willing heart, we can do all things through Christ because He strengthens us. (Philippians 4:13) Let’s suite up with the armor of God – we’ve got this.

How can I pray for you?

 

[i] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stronghold

Roots

My daughter, Alex, received a bundle of flower and vegetable seeds for her birthday this past January. As spring arrived, we couldn’t seem to get ourselves together enough to start them early in the season, so Grandma (the gift-giver of said seeds) came over a few weeks ago to help out. Together, Alex and Grandma sowed hundreds of tiny seeds into pots. A few short days later, the fruit of their labor was evident as her birthday gift sprouted.

Watching these little seedlings has been fun. Growing plants is nothing new to me, but growing them with my daughter has brought a new element of joy. It’s caused me to step back, slow down, and really think about the what and why of growing plants – especially from seed. Answering questions and being patient when her interest wavers has offered ample opportunities to practice grace and enjoy a laugh or two.

As some of Alex’s seeds have grown, it came time to transplant a few into larger containers. We quickly figured out that she enjoyed filling the container with soil as I gingerly teased the seedlings apart. We quickly had nearly one hundred little pots filled with tiny new plants.

Sitting on the deck and untangling tiny roots, I found it fitting that the word ‘roots’ had been prevalent in recent weeks. Looking at those tiny, life-giving roots, it was amazing to me that these delicate things were so vital to their survival. In appearance, these roots weren’t pretty, they didn’t seem to have order, and it was hard to believe the significant role they held in each plant’s growth. Yet holding them in my hand, I was keenly aware that this was just the beginning. Treating these tiny treasures with care, we firmly pressed the soil of their new home around young and tender roots.

As our plants grow, the health of the roots, now hidden, will be evident through the foliage and fruit shown above. The hidden always manifests itself, somehow. Alex’s newly transplanted seedlings will bear purple flowers, given time. Roots anchoring them to the earth, they will take up water and nutrients, bearing new seeds for the next generation.

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“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8 (ESV)

What roots are you sending down? Where are you sending them down? I believe it’s important to be mindful of this. Sometimes we’re so focused on the outward, visible portion of our life that we forget to tend and care for that which keeps us anchored and fed. For me, it’s making time for prayer and God’s Word. I desire to bear fruit for the Lord, it will require deep roots that are planted firmly in Him.

We frequently want the fruit but are unwilling to take the time and energy towards developing a root system that provides what it takes. Growing deep roots takes time, and it’s dirty work. Its doesn’t look pretty and often the work goes unseen. Roots are delicate, but their quiet power has the ability to get through the toughest of soil and draw nutrients from places unseen.

What grows your roots deep?