Through cold, snowy winters, the hope of spring sustains those of us who live in Michigan. May is the month when that hope is rewarded. The transformation is remarkable. Limbs that look lifeless on May 1 turn into branches that wave green leafy greetings by month's end. Although the change each day is imperceptible, by the end of the month the woods in my yard have changed from gray to green.
God has built into creation a cycle of rest and renewal. What looks like death to us is rest to God. And just as rest is preparation for renewal, death is preparation for resurrection.
I love watching the woods awaken every spring, for it reminds me that death is a temporary condition and that its purpose is to prepare for new life, a new beginning, for something even better. “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24).
While pollen is a springtime nuisance when it coats my furniture and makes people sneeze, it reminds me that God is in the business of keeping things alive. And after the pain of death, He promises a glorious resurrection for those who believe in His Son.
When the tomb of Egyptian King Tutankhamen was discovered in 1922, it was filled with things ancient Egyptians thought were needed in the afterlife. Among items such as golden shrines, jewelry, clothing, furniture, and weapons was a pot filled with honey—still edible after 3,200 years!
Today we think of honey primarily as a sweetener, but in the ancient world it had many other uses. Honey is one of the only foods known to have all the nutrients needed to sustain life, so it was eaten for nutrition. In addition, honey has medicinal value. It is one of the oldest known wound dressings because it has properties that prevent infection.
When God rescued the children of Israel from Egyptian captivity, He promised to lead them to a “land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8, 17), a metaphor for abundance. When their journey was prolonged due to sin, God fed them bread (manna) that tasted like honey (16:31). The Israelites grumbled about having to eat the same food for so long, but it’s likely that God was kindly reminding them of what they would enjoy in the Promised Land.
God still uses honey to remind us that His ways and words are sweeter than the honeycomb (Ps. 19:10). So then the words we speak should also be like the honey we eat—both sweet and healing.
I know better, but I still keep trying. The instructions on the label are clear: “Needs full sun.” Our yard has mostly shade. It is not suitable for plants that need full sun. But I like the plant. I like its color, the shape of the leaves, the size, the scent. So I buy it, bring it home, plant it, and take really good care of it. But the plant is not happy at my house. My care and attention are not enough. It needs sunlight, which I cannot provide. I thought I could make up for lack of light by giving the plant some other kind of attention. But it doesn’t work that way. Plants need what they need.
And so do people. Although we can survive for a while in less-than-ideal conditions, we can’t thrive. In addition to our basic physical needs, we also have spiritual needs that can’t be met by any substitute.
Scripture says that believers are children of light. This means that we need to live in the full light of God’s presence to thrive (Ps. 89:15). If we try to live in darkness, we will produce nothing but “fruitless deeds” (see Eph. 5:3-4, 11). But if we are living in the light of Jesus, the Light of the world, we will produce the fruit of His light, which is good, faithful, and true.
When I clean my house for a special event, I become discouraged because I think that guests won’t notice what I clean, only what I don't clean. This brings to mind a larger philosophical and spiritual question: Why do humans more quickly see what's wrong than what's right? We are more likely to remember rudeness than kindness. Crimes seem to receive more attention than acts of generosity. And disasters grab our attention more quickly than the profound beauty all around us.
But then I realize I am the same way with God. I tend to focus on what He hasn't done rather than on what He has, on what I don't have rather than on what I have, on the situations that He has not yet resolved rather than on the many He has.
When I read the book of Job, I am reminded that the Lord doesn't like this any more than I do. After years of experiencing prosperity, Job suffered a series of disasters. Suddenly those became the focus of his life and conversations. Finally, God intervened and asked Job some hard questions, reminding him of His sovereignty and of everything Job didn't know and hadn't seen (Job 38–40).
Whenever I start focusing on the negative, I hope I remember to stop, consider the life of Job, and take notice of all the wonders God has done and continues to do.
The world-class botanical garden across the street from our church was the setting for an all-church community gathering. As I walked around the gardens greeting people I have known for years, catching up with those I hadn’t seen recently, and enjoying the beautiful surroundings cared for by people who know and love plants, I realized that the evening was rich with symbols of how the church is supposed to function—a little hint of heaven on earth.
A garden is a place where each plant is placed in an environment in which it will thrive. Gardeners prepare the soil, protect the plants from pests, and make sure each one receives the food, water, and sunlight it needs. The result is a beautiful, colorful, and fragrant place for people to enjoy.
Like a garden, church is meant to be a place where everyone works together for the glory of God and the good of all; a place where everyone flourishes because we are living in a safe environment; a place where people are cared for according to their needs; where each of us does work we love—work that benefits others (1 Cor. 14:26).
Like well-cared-for plants, people growing in a healthy environment have a sweet fragrance that draws people to God by displaying the beauty of His love. The church is not perfect, but it really is a hint of heaven.
“Everybody's doing it” seemed like a winning argument when I was young. But my parents never gave in to such pleas no matter how desperate I was to get permission to do something they believed was unsafe or unwise.
As we get older we add excuses and rationalizations to our repertoire of arguments for having our own way: “No one will get hurt.” “It's not illegal.” “He did it to me first.” “She won't find out.” Behind each argument is the belief that what we want is more important than anything else.
Eventually, this faulty way of thinking becomes the basis for our beliefs about God. One of the lies we sometimes choose to believe is that we, not God, are the center of the universe. We think we will be carefree and happy only when we reorder the world according to our desires. This lie is convincing because it promises an easier, speedier way to get what we want. It argues, “God is love, so He wants me to do whatever will make me happy.” But this way of thinking leads to heartache, not happiness.
Jesus told those who believed in Him that the truth would make them truly free (John 8:31-32). But He also warned, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (v. 34).
The best kind of happiness comes from the freedom we find when we accept the truth that Jesus is the way to a full and satisfying life.
Christmas is the time of year when the pressure to be perfect intensifies. We imagine the perfect celebration and then put forth our best effort to make it happen. We shop for the perfect gifts. We plan the perfect Christmas Day meal. We choose the perfect greeting cards or write the perfect family letter. But our striving leads to discouragement and disappointment when our ability to imagine perfection exceeds our ability to implement it. The carefully chosen gift receives only a halfhearted thank you. Part of the meal is overcooked. We find a typo in our Christmas greeting after we’ve mailed the cards. Children fight over toys. Adults resurrect old arguments.
Instead of being discouraged, however, we can use our disappointment to remind ourselves of the reason Christmas is so important. We need Christmas because none of us is or can be all that we want to be—not for a month, a week, or even a day.
How much more meaningful our celebrations of Christ’s birth would be if we would give up our faulty concept of perfection, then focus instead on the perfection of our Savior, in whom we are made righteous (Rom. 3:22).
If your Christmas celebration this year is less than ideal, relax and let it be a reminder that the only way to be “made perfect forever” (Heb. 10:14) is to live by faith in the righteousness of Christ.
Every year our local botanical garden hosts a celebration of Christmas around the world. My favorite display is a French nativity. Instead of the traditional scene showing shepherds and wise men with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh gathered around the manger, it shows French villagers bringing their gifts to baby Jesus. They bring bread, wine, cheese, flowers, and other items that God has given them the ability to produce. This reminds me of the Old Testament command to bring the firstfruits of our labor to the house of the Lord (Ex. 23:16-19). This depiction of the nativity illustrates that everything we have comes from God, so the only thing we have to give is something that God has given us.
When Paul instructed the Romans to present themselves as a living sacrifice, he was telling them to give back to God what God had given them—their own selves (Rom. 12:1). This includes the gifts He gave them, even their ability to earn a living. We know that God gives people special abilities. Some, like David, were skilled in music (1 Sam. 16:18). Some, like Bezalel and Oholiab, were skilled in artistic works (Ex. 35:30-35). Others have skill in writing, teaching, gardening, and many other things.
When we give back to God what He has first given to us, we give Him the perfect gift—ourselves.
Long ago, before the invention of mirrors or polished surfaces, people rarely saw themselves. Puddles of water, streams, and rivers were one of the few ways they could see their own reflection. But mirrors changed that. And the invention of cameras took fascination with our looks to a whole new level. We now have lasting images of ourselves from any given time throughout our entire life. This is good for making scrapbooks and keeping family histories, but it can be detrimental to our spiritual well-being. The fun of seeing ourselves on camera can keep us focused on outward appearance and leave us with little interest in examining our inner selves.
Self-examination is crucial for a healthy spiritual life. God wants us to see ourselves so that we can be spared the consequences of sinful choices. This is so important that Scripture says we are not to participate in the Lord’s Supper without first examining ourselves (1 Cor. 11:28). The point of this self-examination is not only to make things right with God but also to make sure we are right with one another. The Lord’s Supper is a remembrance of Christ’s body, and we can’t celebrate it properly if we’re not living in harmony with other believers.
Seeing and confessing our sin promotes unity with others and a healthy relationship with God.