Garden Friends

This last weekend I had an opportunity to attend a convention where I heard Tiger McLuen speak about handling the storms of life.  It was an excellent presentation with good biblical insights and practical application.  One concept, however, has struck in my mind and given me pause for contemplation and consideration.  Mr. McLuen referred to the story of Jesus and disciples in Gethsemane.  These moments in the garden are an example of the “perfect storm.”  Our human finite minds cannot begin to comprehend the struggle Jesus was enduring in His spirit as He dealt with the temptation to forego the cross and escape the shame and suffering of the crucifixion.  For this suffering would not only include physical torture of an extent we cannot imagine, but it would also be emotionally devastating as his closest friends all fled or denied him.  Even more brutal than the physical and emotional suffering would be the spiritual abandonment as Jesus’ Father had to turn His back on His Son when Jesus bore the sins of humanity.  It has occurred to me that perhaps, these moments of intense suffering are holy spaces in which we can encounter God in a profound, life-changing way.  Into this painful, holy space Jesus invites what Mr. McLuen calls His “garden friends.”  Let me explain what he meant by that.

In John 14:32-33a we read, “They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him….”   He invited his “garden friends” to join Him in His most trying hour.  True, the disciples weren’t the help they could have been, but let’s not focus on that now.  Let’s focus on Jesus’ example of inviting those few close, trusted friends into the holiness of our deepest suffering.  We were created to be in community.  Just as the Father, Son, and Spirit are one “community,” we are to be connected to them and to each other.  We were never meant to try to deal with our pain alone.  Nor were we meant to share it with those who may do more harm to our vulnerable, tender spirits.  We need “garden friends.”  Friends who can be trusted with our fragile hearts and emotions.  Friends who neither judge nor condemn.  Friends who will empathize and give value to our feelings (no matter how irrational they seem).  Friends who won’t try to fix it, but will point us (and perhaps carry us) to the cross of Jesus Christ who can make all things new and work all things together for our good and His glory.  Friends who validate our worth and value.  Friends who cry when we cry and rejoice when we rejoice.  Friends who will have the patience to walk through those dark valleys as we process our grief and try to adjust to our new reality.  These “garden friends” are a priceless gift from God and a huge blessing.  We need to be intentional about cultivating and appreciating these type of friends who are a true gift of grace.

The storms you and I face will never compare in magnitude to what Jesus endured, but Jesus reminded us in John 16:33b that we will all face storms of some intensity:  “In this world you will have trouble…”   So when the storms of trouble assail us, we need to humble ourselves and invite our “garden friends” to walk with us.  Let’s open our arms wide to receive the comfort, hope, and strength we can receive from faithful friends.  Who are your “garden friends?”  If you are blessed to have such people in your life, take time right now to express your appreciation for the blessing they are to you and be intentional about not taking those precious friendships for granted.  If you don’t have people in your life who you feel you can trust to enter into the holy moment of your suffering, ask God to raise up people who will earn the right to be trusted in your hour of deepest need.  Boldly ask God to give you “garden friends.”

Even if you don’t have “garden friends” you are never alone in your time of trials.  There is one more companion Jesus had in his garden of suffering – His Heavenly Father!  While our friends are profoundly important, nothing is as important as making God our number one source of comfort, hope and strength.  He is the only one who will never let us down.  He is the one who will always understand.  He is the one who has the power to bring light to the darkest places.  He is also our Father!  His love for each of us is far beyond our understanding.  He longs for us to run to him as a toddler runs to their daddy knowing there is safety and refuge in daddy’s arms.  Let’s commit to not only having the faith of a child, but also the trust of a child and run into our Daddy’s arms and pour out our pain, confusion, depression, lament, disappointment, and all the other painful emotions that take us into the garden of suffering.  In His arms we will rediscover who we are – beloved, precious children of the most High King.  We will be assured that we have great value in His sight, that He has a significant role for us to play in building the kingdom, and that we will always belong to Him because He will never leave us or forsake us.

So as you enter into seasons of life that take you into a garden of suffering, I encourage you to invite your “garden friends” to join you as you run into the arms of your Abba.  And know that this Jesus who suffered so much in the garden went on to overcome the world.  Let your suffering be a holy place where you can be molded and made into a clearer image of the Overcomer and then commit to helping others to be overcomers, too.

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Worthy is the Lamb

The longer I live the more I come to appreciate the spiritual practices of observing the seasons of advent, epiphany, and lent. They cause me to pause and meditate on different aspects of Christ’s life. I find it so enriching that each year, I discover a life-altering truth, a new insight, a deeper understanding, or a new awareness of two things: my great need for a savior and what Jesus endured so that could happen. This Lenten season I encountered God’s overwhelming grace in Revelation 5. As I studied it I was once again moved to my knees in worship with tears of repentance, gratitude, and joy streaming down my face.

I have read this portion of scripture many times, but this time…oh this time, I was overcome first by a profound sense of sadness, hopelessness, and despair. Listen to these words of indictment against humanity and creation, “And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?’ But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.” Did you catch it? No one – no one in all creation was worthy to open the scroll. Even as I type these words a sense of desolation, dread, fear, and anguish wash over me. In all of created history no one was found worthy. What a hopeless, bleak, desolate position humanity and creation finds itself. Overcome by similar feelings John begins to weep and weep with a grief that encompasses his whole body. Praise God that the words of scripture do not stop there!

The elder encourages John, “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” I can just imagine John looking for a strong, powerful lion like Aslan, but instead what he records is this, “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain…” I wonder if John was puzzled. Not only was this a helpless, innocent lamb, but it was a lamb looking as if it had been sacrificed. How could a mortally injured lamb be found worthy? Where was the Lion of Judah? But then all becomes clear. I’ve tried to imagine John’s amazement as the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down in worship and began playing their harps, singing the new song:

“You are worthy to take the scroll

   and to open its seals,

because you were slain,

   and with your blood you purchased for God

   persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.

You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,

   and they will reign on the earth.”

And if that wasn’t enough to astound John, suddenly he heard additional voices, the voices of hundreds of thousands of angels and together they sang more songs of praise: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” But the praise fest didn’t stop there. Scripture records that suddenly “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’” What glory, beauty, love, hope, splendor, and majesty are captured in that moment!!

My heart trembles within and I am left breathless, filled with awestruck wonder as I read these words of highest praise. I can just imagine John’s heart suddenly filled with joy beyond description, hope beyond belief, and gratitude beyond human words. Someone was found worthy – the Lamb of God: Our Lord, Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten son, the first born from the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth…..the one who was slain for our sins and punished for our iniquities, who redeemed our lives from the pit. HE is worthy!!! Glory! Glory to God most High!!!

Oh, praise you, Lamb of God. You are worthy of our thanksgiving! You are worthy of our worship! You are worthy of our love! You are worthy of our praise! You are worthy of our commitment! You are worthy of our trust! You are worthy of receiving all we are and all we do. So with great humility, profound gratitude, and hearts filled with love we bow down before you, offering ourselves as living sacrifices. May be we be holy and pleasing in your sight as we offer this spiritual act of worship.

In invite you to listen to the “Revelation Song” on YouTube and then slowly read through Revelation 5. Allow yourself to enter into the scene. Let yourself experience the emotions and glory of the moment. Succumb to the heart-felt desire to worship the Lamb who is worthy. Worship the Lamb who was slain.

Worthy is the Lamb

The longer I live the more I come to appreciate the spiritual practices of observing the seasons of advent, epiphany, and lent. They cause me to pause and meditate on different aspects of Christ’s life. I find it so enriching that each year, I discover a life-altering truth, a new insight, a deeper understanding, or a new awareness of two things: my great need for a savior and what Jesus endured so that could happen. This Lenten season I encountered God’s overwhelming grace in Revelation 5. As I studied it I was once again moved to my knees in worship with tears of repentance, gratitude, and joy streaming down my face.

 I have read this portion of scripture many times, but this time…oh this time, I was overcome first by a profound sense of sadness, hopelessness, and despair. Listen to these words of indictment against humanity and creation, “And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?’ But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.” Did you catch it? No one – no one in all creation was worthy to open the scroll. Even as I type these words a sense of desolation, dread, fear, and anguish wash over me. In all of created history no one was found worthy. What a hopeless, bleak, desolate position humanity and creation finds itself. Overcome by similar feelings John begins to weep and weep with a grief that encompasses his whole body. Praise God that the words of scripture do not stop there!

 The elder encourages John, “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” I can just imagine John looking for a strong, powerful lion like Aslan, but instead what he records is this, “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain…” I wonder if John was puzzled. Not only was this a helpless, innocent lamb, but it was a lamb looking as if it had been sacrificed. How could a mortally injured lamb be found worthy? Where was the Lion of Judah? But then all becomes clear. I’ve tried to imagine John’s amazement as the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down in worship and began playing their harps, singing the new song:

“You are worthy to take the scroll

   and to open its seals,

because you were slain,

   and with your blood you purchased for God

   persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.

You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,

   and they will reign on the earth.”

And if that wasn’t enough to astound John, suddenly he heard additional voices, the voices of hundreds of thousands of angels and together they sang more songs of praise: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” But the praise fest didn’t stop there. Scripture records that suddenly “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’” What glory, beauty, love, hope, splendor, and majesty are captured in that moment!!

 My heart trembles within and I am left breathless, filled with awestruck wonder as I read these words of highest praise. I can just imagine John’s heart suddenly filled with joy beyond description, hope beyond belief, and gratitude beyond human words. Someone was found worthy – the Lamb of God: Our Lord, Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten son, the first born from the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth…..the one who was slain for our sins and punished for our iniquities, who redeemed our lives from the pit. HE is worthy!!! Glory! Glory to God most High!!!

 Oh, praise you, Lamb of God. You are worthy of our thanksgiving! You are worthy of our worship! You are worthy of our love! You are worthy of our praise! You are worthy of our commitment! You are worthy of our trust! You are worthy of receiving all we are and all we do. So with great humility, profound gratitude, and hearts filled with love we bow down before you, offering ourselves as living sacrifices. May be we be holy and pleasing in your sight as we offer this spiritual act of worship.

 In invite you to listen to the “Revelation Song” on YouTube and then slowly read through Revelation 5. Allow yourself to enter into the scene. Let yourself experience the emotions and glory of the moment. Succumb to the heart-felt desire to worship the Lamb who is worthy. Worship the Lamb who was slain.

“No Matter Whatness of God”

The narthex of the church was full of noisy, excited teenagers eager for the week-long service project to begin.  Even among the crowd, he stood out.  He was shorter than average, slight of frame with an obvious “you can’t touch me” attitude and a hard shell of protection.  I was immediately drawn to him and to the challenge his demeanor communicated.  I made it a point to get to know him and slowly he let me discover his delightful sense of humor and revealed his amazing artistic ability.   However, the hurt and sadness hung on him like a shroud.  As the days went by, he began to give me the precious gift of his trust and one night after my talk he asked if he could speak with me privately.  As we talked, his stories broke my heart.  His life had been a series of rejections and messages that he had no significance and wasn’t worth anything.   He was especially wounded by the confusion he felt about why his parents struggled to love him.  He felt he could never measure up, that he was a constant disappointment and embarrassment.   I prayed with him and told him about the ultimate Father who would never reject him or stop loving him.  I was blessed to tell him how he could know this Father if he accepted His Son Jesus as his savior. After we prayed, I asked if I could give him a hug and as I did, I said, “If you were my son, I would cherish you.”  That sweet child broke down sobbing uncontrollably.  All he wanted was for someone to love and cherish him – just as he was.  That next day this precious child accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and found a Father who would love him more than he would ever understand.  Glory to God!

Aren’t we all like that young man?  Isn’t there a little boy or girl inside each of us that is unsure if we could really be loved and accepted no matter what we’ve done, no matter other people think or say?  I believe it is part of being human – this insecurity and doubt of our worth and significance.  The evil one knows our weakness so he uses it to his advantage.  It is where he often attacks us to draw us away for the very one we long for, to keep us from resting in the assurance we yearn.  Knowing we are totally and completely loved and accepted just as we are is a powerful force in the human experience.  Father Gregory Boyle is a Jesuit priest who lives and ministers in the worst gang-infested area of Los Angeles.  In his book “Tatoos on the Heart” he talks about the powerful transforming message of what he calls the “no matter whatness” of God.  He has seen this powerful spiritual truth transform the most hardened gang member.

I would guess that most of us reading this blog aren’t hardened gang members, but we do deal with shame, disgrace, brokenness, insecurity, lies of the evil one, doubt, feelings of worthlessness as well as our old sinful natures that seem to cling so tenaciously.  We need to be assured of the “no matter whatness” of God, too.  We need to believe we are cherished and loved – just as we are – with all our imperfections.  When I am feeling in need of assurance of the “no matter whatness” of God, I go to Zephaniah 3:17, “The Lord your God is with you.  He is mighty enough to save you.  He will take great delight in you.  The quietness of his love will calm you down.  He will sing with joy because of you.”  There I find assurance of my worth and God’s unconditional love.  I am comforted, encouraged and strengthened.  But this week our Pastor, Peter Jonker added another depth of meaning to this verse that has brought me to my knees in worship and filled my heart with humble gratitude.  Since he is far more eloquent than I will ever be, I have his permission to share part of his sermon:

“But the second fulfillment, the deeper fulfillment comes when Jesus, the warrior, chooses to let himself become the one who deals with sin and receives the punishment on Good Friday. And that means that, from our New Testament perspective, when we look at verse 17, when we see the warrior take off his sword, pick up the daughter of Zion and rejoice over her, we can see that it’s not just the daughter of Zion who is scarred from the struggle, the warrior is wounded, too. His hands and feet are shattered; he’s lived through all the fear and confusion and loneliness. When we look at verse 17 from a New Testament perspective we can hear that the joyful song the warrior is sung by a man of sorrows who is acquainted with grief, and it is sung at great cost……He rejoices over us when we look like the daughter of Zion. Jesus sings over not when our skin is smooth and clean and we are beautiful. Jesus sings over us when we are a mess; when we are beat up by our sin and worn out by life, when we are limp and dirty, when we are people with a past. Because that’s what sanctification looks like. Jesus doesn’t walk the path of sunshine sweetness; he goes down into the sin and grit and struggle. He doesn’t float about the struggle on gossamer wings; he goes into the dust and dirt and dies. And as his followers, that’s the path sanctification follows for us. We expect to bleed. We expect to have to kill off parts of ourselves. On this journey we will face doubt and be called to keep going. We will face betrayal and be called upon to forgive. We will face death, either our own or the death of people we love, and we will be called to travel through the cold river. It’s a long road and the way is hard, but as we go, the song of salvation, the song that God sings over his people is always sounding over us and around us. And even though we are tired and perplexed sometimes, as we walk we join in the song. And there’s a joy in that kind of song; a deeper joy, a richer joy.”

Dear friend, embrace the “no matter whatness” of God and live in the reality that you are cherished – just as you are by the one who suffered for you, delights in you, and will never stop loving you!  Praise be to God!!

In His Presence, Joy Comes

For the last few weeks I have been doing a lot of thinking about joy, happiness, and sadness.  A godly wise friend reminded me that, “Happy and sad are emotions. Christian joy is a state of being, or a source of our feelings.”  Jesus said in John 15:11, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”  To know Jesus is to know joy and that joy gives us hope.  But sadness is also a fact of life and happiness is fleeting.  Things happen that are out of our control and sadness can sneak up on us and temporarily mask our joy.  In a little over a week I will experience the two year anniversary of my husband’s death.  I tend to be a pretty joyful person, but both last year and this year, as the date of David’s death draws near, a deep sadness settles on me.  Consequently, I have been thinking and praying about the two powerful emotions of sadness and happiness and how they relate to the underlying joy of being in Christ.  Permit me to share with you some of my thoughts about joy, happiness, and sadness.

I have come to appreciate that there are many different kinds of sadness.  I have been calling them “shades of sadness” because each type has its own unique characteristics.  There is the deep, overwhelming, numbing sadness of a great loss; the sharp, stinging sadness of unkind words or rejection; the empty, aching sadness of loneliness, the stoic, accepting sadness when you realize reality is forever changed, or what I call the “blanket” of sadness that seems to settle on you and have no clear cause.  Sadness at its worst can cause us to withdraw from the very things we need most.  It can essentially paralyze us into inaction and begin a descending spiral into hopelessness and depression.  As followers of Christ we have access to “tools” that can help us deal effectively with sadness, overcome it, and find joy again – even in the midst of the sadness.

So how do we handle sadness?  How do we rediscover joy?  There is no one answer that fits all situations and people.  The subject is complex and profound.  I firmly believe that being sad does not mean that our faith isn’t strong enough or that we are failing as Christians.  It means we are human and we are dealing with a difficult part of our life’s journey.  Sometimes the sadness is so overwhelming we need outside professional help (pastors, counselors, etc.).  I see those professionals as gifts from God to give us encouragement, support, and a “road map” to help us find joy again.  It takes work to overcome sadness and the journey is sometimes long and hard.  I have been blessed with loving friends willing to walk alongside me and I thank God for them.  In addition to the help of professionals and good friends, I have discovered one place to go where I can rediscover joy.  That one place is the presence of God which I access through two approaches.  This is the place I need to go to again and again because even though the sadness does lift, it has a way of finding me again and happiness is elusive.

First, I choose to come to the foot of the cross and pour out my heartache.  The cross is where I experience God’s greatest expression of love and grace.  It is where I am free to lament the loss, the rejection, the loneliness, the new reality, the confusion, and despair.  Here in His presence I am neither judged nor rejected.  Here I find The One who truly understands, who cares deeply, and who loves me more than I will ever understand.   To be honest, it is not pleasant to allow myself to experience the full impact of the sadness.  It would be so much easier to try to ignore or bury it, but then I would not find the healing and freedom He wants to give me.  It is in His presence that I am able to claim this beautiful promise from Psalm 30:5b, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (NRSV)  Joy comes when I am in His presence!

The King James Version of Psalm 22:3 is the guiding principle of the second choice I make.  It says, “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.”  As I thought about that verse, I came to the conclusion that if God is found enthroned on the praises of His people; I will encounter Him and spend time in His presence if I choose to praise.  So that is what I do.  When I am feeling sad, I immediately begin praising God.  It is not always easy.  In fact, often the tears are still pouring down my face as my mouth is praising Him.  I praise Him for who He is, for what He has done through Jesus Christ, for His providential care, and His unending love.  I praise Him for the big and little things in my life from people to possessions.  I praise Him for opportunities to serve others and to grow in His likeness.  I even praise Him for the difficult times because they bring me into His presence.  No matter how sad I feel I continue to praise and you know what?  Joy comes!  Not necessarily happiness, but joy – true, deep, abiding, soul-nourishing joy.  And hope is restored.

I invite you to come.  Join me in choosing to come into His presence.  Come to the cross and lay down your sadness at His feet.  Pour out your heart and let Him fill it with His love, hope, and grace.  Come and experience His presence through praise and thanksgiving.  Of one thing you can be sure:  In His presence, joy comes!!

Nothing is Wasted

I just love getting a surprise gift – especially if it comes on a non-designated gift-giving occasion.  And I’m not just talking about receiving “things.”  I don’t mind receiving tangible gifts, but what I love most are gifts that can’t be bought or wrapped.  I appreciate the gift of words – words of encouragement, a word of wisdom, or an introduction to a new idea.  I enjoy receiving the gift of laughter when friends share funny stories with me.  I treasure the gift of time when people let me enjoy their company.  I am especially honored and blessed when people give me the gift of their trust, something I dearly cherish.  These are the kinds of gifts I love the most.  God has graciously surrounded me with thoughtful, loving people who fill my life with so many precious gifts and I am profoundly grateful.

Today a dear friend gave me a beautiful gift of recommending a song by Jason Gray called “Nothing is Wasted.”  That song had a profound effect on me.  I have not been able to stop thinking about it so I decided to write about it.  All the credit for this blog goes to Mr. Gray whose words captured an important spiritual truth that brought me great hope and comfort.  As the chorus of the song says, “Nothing is wasted.  Nothing is wasted.  In the hands of our Redeemer, nothing is wasted.”

Take a moment and think about that statement.  Let it roll around in your mind.  Let it sink into your heart.  Let it encourage your spirit.  There are so many circumstances, situations, and emotions that we would rather not endure.  They are hurtful and difficult.  We often wonder why our loving God would allow us to go through such pain and suffering.  These words remind us that our God is bigger than we can fathom.  When going through trials it is too easy to lose sight of how vast and extensive His power, love and grace are.  Satan may mean things for evil, but our God is in the redeeming business.  He sent His Son and we are redeemed.  Our lives are redeemed.  Our situations are redeemed.  Our emotions are redeemed.  All of life is redeemed through the powerful atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Everything that is placed in the hands of the Savior is redeemed – everything!  What difficult situations or emotions need redeeming in your life?

  • Personally, I find rejection to be one of the most difficult situations and emotions to handle.  It undermines any sense of self-worth.   But in the hands of our Redeemer, the rejection from others can be used by Him to draw us closer to the heart of God where we will find complete acceptance, love, and assurance of our inestimable worth.
  • Loneliness and alienation build walls that separate us and make us vulnerable to attacks from the evil one.  But in the hands of our Redeemer, the emptiness of loneliness can be filled to complete fullness through a more intimate relationship with Father, Son, and Spirit.  We belong to God and He will never, ever leave us alone.
  • Insecurity and doubts can become burdens that keep us from living fully for Christ.  But in the hands of our Redeemer, these feelings can lead us to true humility and reliance on the Spirit’s power within so that we become even more effective disciples than we thought we could be.
  • No one likes to fail, but we all do.  The feeling of failure robs us of one of the great needs of humanity – the need for significance.  We wonder if our life has a purpose or is making a difference.  But in the hands of our Redeemer, those failures can be learning experiences that make us stronger and more reliant on God.
  • Sorrow is an emotion our culture does not handle well.  We try to medicate it away, make ourselves too busy to feel, or fill our lives with “things” to compensate for the loss.  But in the hands of our Redeemer, we realize that our grief is precious to Him.  He understands deep sorrow.  Isaiah 53:3 reminds us He was a man of sorrows.  He has walked the road before us and will walk with us to comfort, strengthen and guide.

No, none of us wants to spend time with deep pain in our heart or tears streaming down our faces.  But even our tears are not wasted.  I love Psalm 56:8 in the New King James version that says, “You number my wanderings; put my tears into your bottle; are they not in your book?”  God cares about the tears we shed, the pain we bear, and the struggles we face.  He not only cares, but He also makes sure nothing is wasted and is constantly redeeming all things (good and bad) for our good and His glory – if we let Him.  You know all too well what needs redeeming in your life.  Put it in the hands of the Redeemer and hold onto this important truth:  “nothing is wasted in the hands of our Redeemer.”

I am encouraged and comforted by the words of   Romans 8:28-29, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.”  Nothing is wasted because God is lovingly, faithfully, and patiently conforming us into the image of Jesus Christ.

Two Gardens

I can’t believe I’m writing a blog about gardens because I am the absolute worst gardener – ever.  I’ve never been able to get anything to grow except weeds.  And speaking of weeds, I don’t even know how to weed well because I don’t know a flower from a weed.  I have probably single-handedly killed more healthy flowers in the name of weeding than any other person alive.  I think a good part of my aversion to gardening stems from the fact that whenever I was naughty as a child (and that happened all too often), my discipline was to go weed the garden.  Consequently I connect gardening with punishment and the nagging feeling that I should feel repentant about something.

As much as I dislike the act of gardening, I genuinely appreciate the beauty that others are able to cultivate and share with the rest of us.  I have a deep appreciation for a number of gardeners whose homes I pass on the way to church.  Their front yards are filled with what I call English gardens.  The profusion of color, the varieties of shapes and sizes, and the sheer beauty of it all fills my heart with joy.  That is what a good gardener does – they give the rest of us the gift of enjoyment and beauty.  Some gardens are filled with delicious fruits and vegetables that nourish us.  Other gardens like flower gardens can be almost magical places where one can sit in quiet reflection, enjoy the company of a loved one, or find a refuge when one’s heart is broken.  Gardens can be places of nurture and renewal.

What prompted me to write about gardens; however, are not gardens I’ve seen, but two gardens from long ago that I have heard and read about:  the Garden of Eden and the Garden of Gethsemane.  One garden was filled with the glorious beauty and diversity of creation at it very best.  God had declared it to be very good.  The Garden of Eden was not only a place nourishment and nurture, it was also a place of intimacy, love, and total acceptance.  In this garden two people walked hand in hand in the cool of the evening as they had face-to-face fellowship with God.  As I take my evening walks and feel the satiny caress of the cool evening air, I often wonder what it would be like to be able to actually walk and talk with God.  The pure glory of that overwhelms me.   Unfortunately, as we all know, this bliss-filled garden was all too soon filled with words of doubt, willful disobedience, guilt, and shame.  Instead of submitting to God’s will, those two human beings decided they wanted their own will to be done and chose to disobey God.  What began as everlasting life, intimacy, and splendor ended in banishment and death. But God immediately put a plan into effect to bring humanity back into intimate fellowship with Him.  That plan leads us to the second garden.

This second garden, the Garden of Gethsemane, is not as overwhelmingly beautiful as Eden.  Its beauty is encapsulated in the human form of Jesus Christ.  The intimacy and love are not just between humans and their Creator, but between Father and Son.  What poignant and intense moments those must have been.  Both Father and Son knew the suffering that lay ahead. I have often thought that Satan must have been doing all he could to discourage and distract Christ.  The temptation for disobedience had to be more than we can imagine.  After all, Jesus was divine.  He had the power not to go forward with God’s plan of redemption, but He chose to submit Himself to His Father’s will and He resolutely walked the road to the cross.  His choice to say, “Not my will, but your will be done,” brought life, hope, forgiveness, and redemption to an alienated and broken humanity.

As I think about those two gardens, I ask myself (and I ask you), “In which garden am I choosing to live?”  Am I in the garden of “my will be done” or have I chosen to fully submit to the garden of “your will be done.”  Am I able to totally relinquish my rights, hopes, dreams, agendas, doubts, insecurities, pain, fears, and sorrow?  Am I able to say, “Your will be done,” and actually live that out or do I take back parts of my life to handle myself?  As I think about the two gardens, I suspect there are times when I am in either one.  My heart-felt prayer for all of us is that as we grow spiritually, we will spend more and more time in the garden of “your will be done.”  May this prayer of King David be our heart-felt prayer, “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.”  Psalm 143:10