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.

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