Guest Post for Jean Fleming: Two Aromas

I used to think being a sweet fragrance for Christ meant directing that fragrance to others—living so that people will like me, even if that meant conforming my personality to theirs.

But in my thinking, the direction of the aroma was all wrong. Being a sweet aroma does not mean being a people-pleaser. We are a fragrance of Christ to God …

aroma2

***

I’m delighted and honored to be a guest writer for Jean Fleming: Live the Mystery. Click through to read the entire article, Two Aromas (and get a peek into my Bible-reading journal, including some drawings and doodles like the ones I wrote about in Behold the Beauty, chapter 4).

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Fishing Tip

(For Tweetspeak Poetry’s August theme: “Gone Fishing.” Submit your own poem, or submit your photo for the photography prompt!)

fish2

Don’t look
for the trout itself
camouflaged from above.
Look instead for the shadow it casts,
a silhouette imprinted
on the sand,
luring fishermen with
the evidence
of its presence.

———-

Do you know anyone who has had a powerful influence on others, yet is low-visibility himself or herself? I play on the worship team at church. Musicians are high-visibility and often (even weekly) receive thanks from others in the congregation. In contrast, children’s Sunday school teachers minister powerfully to the children, yet no one sees them. For example, many people, even church leaders, are not even aware that my husband was a Sunday school teacher. In our church, children’s teachers serve in basement classrooms, low-visibility yet strong in influence. Find a low-profile servant of Christ, and thank him or her.

fish1

(Not) Demanding Pomegranates

Untitled

(Originally posted on March 15, 2012, but I’m posting it again because “fruitfulness” is one of our topics in today’s Bloom Book Club video on Jean Fleming’s Pursue the Intentional Life, chapters 16-19.)

———-

On a typical Friday morning I started boiling water for oatmeal while Charles and our seven-year-old finished their Bible time by practicing memory verses. They do it out loud, so while I watched the water begin to bubble, I could hear them.

And why have you made us come up out of Egypt
to bring us to this evil place?
It is no place for grain
or figs
or vines
or pomegranates…
(Numbers 20:5)

When they practice memory verses, they say it over and over, so I heard it like a refrain. They say the words in a kind of cadence…

“It is no place for grain
or figs
or vines
or pomegranates…”

… and as I heard, I noticed. The list in this complaint was so specific. Grain, figs, vines, pomegranates. They questioned God and His goodness and faithfulness because they weren’t in a place that looked the way they wanted it to look. They were trying to dictate life. Could that be what made it an evil place?

How I have done the same when I complained to God that I was not bearing any fruit! I have tried to dictate what my fruitfulness is supposed to look like. Lord, what good am I doing for you?! I’m not discipling anyone [grain], people don’t pursue friendship with me [figs], I’m not leading any Bible studies [vines], and we haven’t been on a family short-term mission trip [pomegranates]!

Instead of demanding that God would make my life look a certain way, should I not instead look at my life the way God has made it? Shouldn’t I look for His purposes, for the way He wants to do things?

So I am not in a land good for pomegranates. But what is this land good for? Can God not bring purpose and beauty in cactus, in sage, in dust and tumbleweeds?

Father, I trust in your unfailing love and believe in your perfect plans. Help me not to make demands of you but instead to trust what you are doing, which is always better than what I can dream or imagine. May I have vision to see what You have given and respond accordingly.

———-

Photo credit: lyn, via Flickr Creative Commons

Dried Grapevine

vine-tendril

Solitary dried vine tendril,
plucked of its fruit, rests
at the bottom of the bowl
where orbs of stains show
where grapes used to be.
Just outside the bowl—
a mango.

vine-tendril-with-mango

This week’s topic at The High Calling: Burnout. Visit The High Calling throughout the week for articles on burnout. Here’s an excerpt from today’s article by Kimberly Coyle: “Seek rest if you must. Regroup and realign your measurement of success with that of a God who wrote its true definition.”

Also linking with Laura Boggess:

Lava Rock

lavarock400wide

How can it be that magma heat
loses its liquid burn? How
can fiery froth turn cold,
molten bubbles no longer
bursting in a rolling boil?
Your zealous glow has cooled, aloof now
and indifferent, your white-hot hue
frozen into dull darkness, igneous and basaltic,
your dynamic flow turned
static, all the little holes
hardened into airy rock, not much
weight, negligible influence on
any scale. Burn again.
Burn.

Because you have this faith, I now remind you to stir up that inner fire which God gave you.

– 2 Timothy 1:6 (Phillips)

(for this poetry prompt at tweetspeakpoetry.com)

Snowball Fights, Fruitfulness, and Overcoming Sin

(This Wednesday Ann Voskamp hosts a community of those who share about “The Practice of Resurrection.” Below I share an idea that may help resurrect a dead motivation to follow God, resurrect a dead excitement for being fruitful, or resurrect a dead hope of overcoming sin. Click on the Holy Experience badge to read more posts on “The Practice of Resurrection”!)

What do snowball fights, knowing God, and 2 Peter 1:8 have in common?

I live with four family members, and all of them are male.* I still don’t get why snowball fights are fun. Why do they love being pelted with icy globs? To me, it’s like being hunted.

But they have their great fun packing snowballs while I watch (from inside) and take pictures with the window between me and them. I heat water in the kettle and take out the marshmallows so that the hot cocoa will be ready when they come in, red-cheeked and happy.

That’s in winter. In the summer I work with my sons on the simple skills of catching and throwing a baseball. I tell them how to position the mitt. I remind them not to shut their eyes when the ball is coming at them. I show them that if they throw the ball with the right hand, they should step with the left foot (not the right, as they were doing).

Sometimes the progress seems slow. At the beginning of one summer, though, I went to the backyard for one of the first throwing and catching practices of the year. They were much better than I remembered; their skill level was even better than it was end of the previous summer!

Wondering what happened, I told my husband about it. “They got so much better at throwing all of a sudden! I haven’t even been working on it that long!”

Charles’s explanation came immediately. “It’s because of the snowball fights.”

Of course.

Maybe the way to get better at throwing is not so much to “work on” throwing skills. Maybe we should just have snowball fights, and the throwing will improve automatically, almost without thinking about it. Plus, it’s fun.

The Snowball Fight of 2 Peter 1:5-8

For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(2 Peter 1:8)

What?! If something will guarantee my usefulness and fruitfulness, then I want to know what it is!

What, then, are “these qualities”? What is the snowball fight?

Now for this reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.
(2 Peter 1:5-7)

Instead of fretting over or “working on” being fruitful, I should focus on “these qualities,” things like

faith,
moral excellence,
knowledge,
self-control,
godliness,
kindness.

Then (God help me!), the fruitfulness will follow.

The Snowball Fight of Knowing God

Avoiding sin is the throw-and-catch practice. Knowing God is the snowball fight. Maybe the way to get better at conquering sin is not so much to work on avoiding that sin, gritting my teeth and saying, “I won’t sin, I won’t sin, I won’t sin!” Maybe I should just know God better and better, and overcoming the sin will follow as a natural consequence, almost without thinking about it.

And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him…

No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.
(1 John 2:3-4 and 3:6)

I think it’s worth a try. Plus, knowing God better is fun.

*Note: If you’ve read my previous post for a book club on writing, you will have noticed that a large part of this post is identical. But the thoughts above on knowing God and 2 Peter 1:8 came before the thoughts on writing. I suppose, if I consider what Laura Boggess said: “Good writing requires living well,” then it’s not surprising that the snowball-fight insights would apply in multiple areas!

Satisfaction Guaranteed

It seems too simple.
Could this be—
that my every craving
will be satisfied
if I go after
the right hunger?

Craving righteousness guarantees
satisfaction.
Craving sin guarantees …
not.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
(Matthew 5:6)

… their desire for sin is never satisfied.
(2 Peter 2:14)

——
Related: Who Fills In the Blanks?

(Not) Demanding Pomegranates

On a typical Friday morning I started boiling water for oatmeal while Charles and our seven-year-old finished their Bible time by practicing memory verses. They do it out loud, so while I watched the water begin to bubble, I could hear them.

And why have you made us come up out of Egypt
to bring us to this evil place?
It is no place for grain
or figs
or vines
or pomegranates…
(Numbers 20:5)

When they practice memory verses, they say it over and over, so I heard it like a refrain. They say the words in a kind of cadence…

“It is no place for grain
or figs
or vines
or pomegranates…”

… and as I heard, I noticed. The list in this complaint was so specific. Grain, figs, vines, pomegranates. They questioned God and His goodness and faithfulness because they weren’t in a place that looked the way they wanted it to look. They were trying to dictate life. Could that be what made it an evil place?

How I have done the same when I complained to God that I was not bearing any fruit! I have tried to dictate what my fruitfulness is supposed to look like. Lord, what good am I doing for you?! I’m not discipling anyone [grain], people don’t pursue friendship with me [figs], I’m not leading any Bible studies [vines], and we haven’t been on a family short-term mission trip [pomegranates]!

Instead of demanding that God would make my life look a certain way, should I not instead look at my life the way God has made it? Shouldn’t I look for His purposes, for the way He wants to do things?

So I am not in a land good for pomegranates. But what is this land good for? Can God not bring purpose and beauty in cactus, in sage, in dust and tumbleweeds?

Father, I trust in your unfailing love and believe in your perfect plans. Help me not to make demands of you but instead to trust what you are doing, which is always better than what I can dream or imagine. May I have vision to see what You have given and respond accordingly.

—-

This week Bonnie Gray hosts a community of those who share about the topic: “Fearless.” Click on the FaithBarista badge below to read more posts on Fearless!

Fruitfulness—Guaranteed

I could stand in front of the mirror with arms outstretched, elbows and wrists and all joints bent at fractal-like angles to simulate tree branches, but no mangoes or oranges or bananas hang from my arms. A branch abiding in Christ WILL bear fruit, he said, but this is not the kind of fruit I can slice and artistically arrange on a platter. It’s not fruit I can sink my teeth into or cut up and serve to my children at breakfast.

So, I wonder and I question: Am I fruitful?

A good tree is supposed to bear good fruit. Am I really doing any good during my life on earth? Am I bearing any fruit at all? Then the questions turn into an odd, whining prayer: … ’cause if You’re going to leave me down here, Lord, then you might as well make me fruitful. And if I’m not doing any good here, Lord, then You might as well take me Home (yadda yadda whaa whaa).

It was time for Bible study with my son, so I printed out Matthew 7 and marked it up, as is my habit. Jesus was talking about fruit again:

“So then, you will know them by their fruits.”
(Matthew 7:20)

… and the old questions came nagging back. Am I fruitful? What is the fruit in my life? Am I of any use at all? When my eyes are off Jesus, confusion creeps in, and the meaning of fruitfulness eludes, evades, and becomes vague to my mind that wants all the answers in advance and in detail. What is this fruitfulness? Sure, I can sweep through the Scriptures and figure out something about hundred-fold harvests and love and patience and self-control, but I know that after that study, I will wonder again.

Lord, am I being fruitful for You?

And then, in the very next verse …

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”
(Matthew 7:21)

He who does the will of My Father, Jesus said. You will know them by their fruits. Obedience.

Obedience, all by itself, without regard to any result or consequence, IS fruit. To do God’s will is to ensure fruitfulness. No need to question. No need to wonder.

It would make a great tagline, wouldn’t it?
Obedience. It’s fruitfulness—GUARANTEED.

Father, I do desire to bear fruit for You, and I often don’t know what that looks like in my life. So I thank You for Jesus’ words which give me solid assurance that, at least in obedience, I know I am fruitful. Help me walk by the Holy Spirit, abiding in You and bearing much fruit.