Friday, June 16, 2017

because He wants our first fruits

Alongside of our circle drive, in the perfect location for me to accidentally back into them on those early morning school runs when the sun has not quite yet sent it's rays down upon us, sits a large patch of blueberry bushes.  While their age, to us anyway, is unknown, they have been planted long enough to tower over seven feet and have enough strength for their blossoms to withstand this years early Spring freeze that demolished every azalea in the county.


Going on three summers we have watched and waited as the little round green nubs grew and changed colors until the bushes are full of dark bluish purple berries ready to be picked and either popped directly into your mouth if you are my children or turned into delicious muffins, cakes, and cobblers if you follow my line of thinking.

Those first fruits that come off the tree never cease to bring a feeling of awe to my heart.  They are a testament to the process started by a seed that continues to cycle around for almost no other reason than God created it to happen in that way, at that time.  A physical, tangible reminder of how He sets things into motion and cares for them until the fruit is borne.  Whether through frost and drought, or the perfect growing season, we, and the occasional bird and deer, are blessed to take from the branches.

There was a time when the giving of the first fruits of your harvest was required by law, with reverence and a holy fear, these items were offered up and only after were the rest able to be taken and used either for use or profit.  This first fruits offering found its fulfillment in Jesus, as "He is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Cor 15:20) 

Because of Christ, we do not have to earn favor from God as we are each His favorite if we are hidden in Christ, the Spirit inside calls us and guides us to desire to give our own first fruits to Him.  There is nothing we can do to make God love us less, and likewise, there is nothing we can do to make God love us more. But, to both glorify His name and as an outlet for the overwhelming thankfulness that builds up when you seek to learn and understand how much He has, is, and will do, our Spirit longs to offer our own personal first fruits to Him.

In this scenario, minds may jump first to money, giving back some of that which the world counts as most valuable in our society.  Some may think of giving their time and service, helping their brother in need, coming alongside their neighbor, sacrificing to walk with another and bear another's burden.  Each of these have their place of importance in the Kingdom we are called to live in, however, if the first fruits of your heart are not set aside and offered up, than any act done comes before Christ and not with Him.  He wants us first, and we need Him first.

While reading through Life Together, some wonderful ladies and I struggled through Bonhoeffer's suggestions of how a day for a believer should look.  When you get a group of moms together there will inevitably be talk of how there is not enough time in any day to feel as if you are caught up on anything.  And while Dr. John Trainer--though it's often credited to C.S. Lewis--does say "Children are not a distraction from more important work.  They are the most important work." there is still a great desire to feel accomplished and productive outside of that realm.  When your list of what you consider are needs and desires is constantly growing, it is most difficult to be told that your day needs to include even more.

Excuses were made that this book was written so long ago that obviously we can not assume that it is applicable to our day and age, but we each knew there were Truths set forward that were more than just good advice, but items necessary for our hearts to be set in order.  Just as God does not often work on all parts of our hearts at the same time, neither do we need to try to overwhelm ourselves with incorporating all the things we see simultaneously either.  For me, this was where the thought of first fruits began to grow.

Taken from Psalm 57:7-8, Bonhoeffer says, "For Christians the beginning of the day should NOT [emphasis mine] be burdened and oppressed with besetting concerns for the day's work...let the first thought and the first word of the day belong to him to whom our whole life belongs."

Our thoughts and words, the first fruits of our day, given to Him.  An act of praise and thankfulness with the first conscious moments of a new day full of new mercies so graciously given again and again.

In the last few months there has been special attention placed upon those first thoughts and first words of mine after turning off the alarm but before my feet touch the floor.  There have also been wondrous closeness felt with my creator and savior because of it.  He is faithful when we are faithful.  But praise Him even more, He is faithful when we are faithless (2 Tim 2:13)

Because, lest you think I now am living the utmost holiest of lives uttering nothing but praises as soon as the sunrises, think again.  Just as you encounter in your life, I know all to well the constant pull of countless items that fight for your attention.  Some, such as the caretaking of your children, home, profession, friendships, family, church community, living community and the like are noble and necessary.  Others, like the temptation to peruse various social media venues, desires to fulfill dream like scenarios, and the occasional or not so occasional desire to hide and distract from real life through a countless list of activities can be given no noble title, yet are succumbed to much more than any other thing.

But when there are so many things clawing at you, demanding that you look at them first, it can be difficult to distinguish in that moment which direction to give your focus.

When in high school, if I was confronted with a difficult or dangerous situation that needed to be avoided but could cause embarassment or uncomfortableness from my peers, my parents would tell me to just blame them.  Let them be the reason.

God has given us the answer of where our focus goes first.  He has given our 'need to make everyone happy hearts', an 'out' so to speak.

He, and He alone, gets our First Fruits.  Period.

To be able to give those first fruits in our first moments, that will inevitably train our hearts to give him our first fruits in every moment, our minds and hearts need to first feel thankfulness for those moments to begin with.

This comes through three things...

          1.  Abiding in Christ.  When you are seeking him, hiding in his word and being, your inner dispositions
               change.  It is an involuntary action.  As your inner dispositions change, you begin to see how your
               Spirit longs for more of Him, more of Him in those first moments and in every moment after.

         2.  Practice.  Wake up tomorrow morning and thank Him for the new day.  Ask Him to help you be a                 blessing to someone.  Ask Him to help you see His hand throughout the days events.  Ask Him to
              help you wake up the next morning and thank Him again.  The words do not matter as much as the
              heart behind them.

         3.  Give yourself grace when you fail.  I promise He will.  You will wake up one morning and check
              facebook instead.  You will get halfway through your day and suddenly remember you were
              anything but thankful.  You already are forgiven and you will be loved anyway.  You fail daily.  He
              has promised to love you for eternity.


This is an ongoing challenge for myself that I am now extending to you dear friend.  Give Him your first thoughts, your first words, your first fruits of the day.  It can take no more than a moment but that moment can carry you, because it's Him carrying you, for much longer than you can imagine.  

I'm praying for your first fruits to be for Him, pray for me.

Friday, June 2, 2017

for when you need courage to take the next step


When on a vacation with your extended family which includes 12 adults and just as many kids all of which are under the age of 10 and more than half of which are 5 years old and younger, peace and quiet is not something you count on achieving.  Though fun and energy are most definitely daily tasks that are being checked off, when your soul leans more to the introverted side and thoughts do not tend to come to fruition until quiet moments are found, a writer's heart, such as mine, assumes that another week will go by where that part of herself needs to be placed to the side so that the energy needed for creativity and pondering can be funneled instead to being in the moment and enjoying it to the fullest.  Are there those in the world who do not have to voluntarily transfer their mental energy on the daily? If you are one such soul, be thankful my friend.

However, my doubt was overcome by His promise yet again and on a morning with a cup of tea in hand I sat on the front steps in Florida air mixed with humidity, a faint breeze, and the mottled noises of a houseful of folks beginning their day and came away with one thought that has continued to grow since, "It's time to keep going forward, I promise I'll tell you if you need to stop."


He speaks friends.  When you listen, you hear.

One of my children not only needs step by step instruction, but he needs it clearly written and sequential in order to complete everything needed.  If instructions are spoken instead, he requires the time to complete one, maybe two at a time, before adding to the list.  If given too much at one time, all is forgotten and nothing will get accomplished.

I simultaneously love and get frustrated with this quality of his.  The love comes from my own inner need for order and lists and wanting to make sure everything is done that is needed to get done.  The frustration comes from not understanding how, even when it's the same routine over and over, there is not an immediate and habitual moving on to the next thing.  What is keeping that little mind from using past experiences and context clues to just keep going?

Can you see where I'm heading with this?  The dawn of understanding pieces of yourself often comes through observation of others.  This is not judgement, in its negative sense, it is the judging that brings understanding, wisdom earned through situational discernment with a good dose of humility on the side.

The Christian life is full of unknowns, not for our Creator of course as He wrote our stories before the beginning of time, but for us and our minds personally.  Situations that have not yet come to past, experiences that have not yet been lived through, and wisdom that has not yet been gained are all dotted along our paths to be.  Sitting there for their planned time and place.

However, like my precious boy, we can find ourselves waiting, hesitant to take the next step because of the uncertainty of what will happen when we do.  Whether we admit it or not--and I have a feeling most of us would admit it freely--there is a great desire for a list of steps.  A sure, written in stone, sign that says go and do this exact thing.  Forgotten are the Words left with us and the example of those gone before us.  Distrusting are we to the people placed in our lives presently that mentor and guide.  Even ourselves we doubt.  What if we did not really hear what we thought we heard?

So instead of using our own context clues from the information given, instead of allowing our habit of walking in the Spirit propel us forward, instead of living in Faith and taking our own "leap from the lion's head" we sit, and wait, and look for a 100% no fail guarantee.  Both instances, the childhood chores and our spiritual stalling, stem from immaturity.  Both do not just improve with age, but with practice as well.

There are times we are called to wait.  Where there is a deeply felt need to stop trying to constantly take control and to sit and be still instead.  I have experienced a season of wait myself.  Never is a true wait on the Lord wasted, because not only is the wait required for building up those lovely qualities of patience and contentment, within it is also a process of preparation.  Whether God is preparing your heart, mind, soul and strength for the next step or preparing other people and places for your arrival, there is work in the wait. Says Oswald Chambers, "To wait upon God is the perfection of activity.  We are told to rest in the lord, not to rust."

Some can sit, wait, and look for a lifetime.

"It never works to wait for God to do what he has clearly called you to do."  ~Paul David Tripp

For myself, there are three things possible on the horizon, three things firmly planted in my heart, and for almost a year I have been trying to discern which one was supposed to be first.  Agonizing over taking a secure step forward and instead circling around trying to pick the right path.

I do not know what has been placed in your heart, but I do know that if you have prayed about it, sought the counsel of another about it, and it is still firmly planted--assuming whatever it is is not completely heretical of course--that it's time to leap, it's time to keep moving forward trusting that He will tell you when to stop.

He promises to make those paths straight, not smooth or easy or quick, but straight to where He's guiding.

The end results might matter and they might not, what changes your heart the most is the walking forward when you do not know the way but ever Trusting that God does. So go, and in the words of the ever wise Will Ferrell, "Enjoy the process of your search without succumbing to the pressure of the results."

 I will be praying for you as you discern and take those next steps in Faith, pray for me.