Restoring the Garden: Better than good

Our family was driving back from Topeka, Kansas a few weeks ago and we passed one of the most ingenious inventions I have ever seen-

a greenhouse shed.

It was a little shed you put in your backyard, but with greenhouse walls. Ta-da!

Maybe not genius, but I thought it was pretty darn smart.

I wanted one. I want to grow my own stuff year-round. I want to eat so local it resides in my backyard. I want red peppers at my fingertips, a lemon tree in a pot, and zucchinis to zoodle to my heart’s content.

I had big dreams looking at that shed.

However, my earthly reality is that it takes all my energy to keep my kids and dogs alive, so growing anything else sounds fun, but plants would likely go unattended.

But that pull is there. We all have a pull to the garden…or at least the farmer’s market. 😉

We have a pull to fresh stuff, better stuff for us, even when we cave to the 9pm giant bowl of ice cream calling our name from the freezer in the basement.

Doritos are fine when you’re 15, but then you turn 24 and realize that fresh has something processed never could offer. We have the pull to something good, not just something there.

Galatians 6:6-10 affirms this natural pull to desiring good, even when we’re fully aware of the imperfect:

Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

There is a natural reaping and sowing of good in life. God designed actions to matter. Karma isn’t a thing, but reaping and sowing is. Sin will have consequences. God is not mocked. He is the author of this whole universe, so He knows best how it’s supposed to roll.

The problem is that good doesn’t always prevail in the now. The good we are drawn to, doesn’t always work out. Sowing and reaping happen, but there’s a whole realm of goings on that we do not see. Good intentions ruined by darkness. Sin soiling the purest of hearts – good discombobulated outside the garden of paradise God created for us so long ago.

Paul isn’t making an argument for karma with sowing and reaping-

Do good, good comes

Do bad, bad comes

If life worked like that, you’d think we’d all have it figured out a long time ago.

Instead, he’s concerned with where we put our trust. Where we hope to find good to begin with.

Look at Galatians 6:8 again:

For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

A little bit better is doing good, so that good comes to you.
Freedom is Hope…knowing God is good and that Good lives in us in the Spirit.

The Circumcision Party, the Judaizers, the Freedom Stealers – whatever you want to call them, of Paul’s day – they wanted the Galatians to reap and sow of the flesh, to reap and sow in this kind of Christian karma…

“I do what I’m supposed to (get circumcised). God will love me enough to give me Jesus.”

Paul pleads with the Galatians not to accept this corrupted version of Truth…

We sow and reap the Holy Spirit. End of story. Freedom in Christ. Reap away, because in Christ, it always looks like the Spirit at work –

Love becomes greater love in Christ

Darkness becomes light in Christ

Sin becomes forgiveness in Christ

Does it look like karma-style fair?

No, and that’s what trips us up every time. Shouldn’t we have to do something, answer for something, be rewarded for something?

Paul’s answer –

Freedom to take the opportunity to do good.

Good is better, yes. I love good and I’m sure Paul loved good. Be kind to a neighbor, say nicer things in traffic, help a widow, all that and more. You would never find Paul shutting down opportunities for good. Evil is just that, evil. It’s ugly and we want to turn away from it. So, we teach and we learn and we grow (Galatians 6:6). But all of that only happens by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the Word of Life.

Good has nothing on the Holy Spirit.

With hope in the Spirit we’re more than a little better, we’re at the ready, we’re hopeful, we’re faithful, because He is at the ready, hopeful, and faithful.

Freedom, it’s so much better than good.

Hearts wide for Him, reaping and sowing, and stretching our hearts. Freedom in Christ.

Discussion questions:

What is your favorite thing to grow yourself or to find at the farmer’s market or the produce aisle?

When have you heard the concept of karma used in everyday life? What appeal is there for do good, receive good back, do bad, receive bad back?

What ways do we actually begin to let the Spirit do its work in us? In what ways does the Spirit well up to bring good from us to our neighbor?

The Truth about Mental Health: For you and for your children


I would like to proclaim a truth about mental health:

It just is.

Mental health is something we all have. I know we’d like to relegate it to people with some diagnosable illness, someone far different from ourselves, or some distant cousin that no one talks about, but you have it. I have it. We all have it.

Mental health is part of all of us. It’s made up of our neurons and hormones and synapses. It’s made up of our emotions, our sensory system, our experiences, our heredity, and our relationships.

We have this gigantic part of us that we are ignoring, wishing, hoping-for-the-best that it stays on the up-and-up.

Let’s proclaim a new truth together: Mental Health is.

We all have it. It’s a part of us. Sometimes it’s happy and doing well. Sometimes it’s struggling. Some of us struggle with it more, others of us less. Sometimes it needs treatment, medications, and more support than we’d like, but it’s better that way; peaceful, functioning well with some help. But it’s important to understand that it’s a thing inside each of us, not relegated to someone less than, outcast, or disconnected. It may look different in each of us, more dramatic perhaps in some of us, mostly happy in others of us, but it’s always there, a part of us, woven and knit in us by our Creator, messed with by a world full of sin.

In today’s podcast I present more on this truth. I pray it helps lighten the shame associated with mental health, for us and for our children.

Sometimes, we think we need to “keep it together.” We need to be at the top of our mental health game and so does everyone in our households.

When we read Proverbs 22:6:

Train up a child in the way he should go;
    even when he is old he will not depart from it.

we think “training them up right” means that we just need to teach them the Word, good values, good morals, good character, and then they’ll be able to “keep it together.”

Truth: It doesn’t work like that.

Training them up means sharing hope and sharing the struggle. It means gathering around the Word so that when the hard times come we know where to turn and so do our children. It means helping them learn that there is no shame in sharing the burden, getting help from experts, and being honest about brain chemistry, individual needs, and when mental health goes awry.

Our children won’t be perfect. We won’t be perfect. Often mental health is out of our control, out of their control; but it is never out of God’s control. He is in the realm of synapses and emotions and struggle too. He is God of even this- when it’s good, when it’s bad, and when it’s ugly.

Truth: We all have mental health.

Let’s normalize that. Let’s rejoice in the gift of one another for support and encouragement when we each need it. Let’s thank the Lord for the creation of medicines, for doctors and nurses and therapists who are in the know, for hope in a God who values our tears when we’re hurting and holds our arms up in the triumph…for us, and for our children.

 

I Love My Shepherd Podcast, Episode 17: The Truth about Mental Health

The Good Gift of We

This photo is from the pexels.com image library. Thank you, pexels!


I can hardly believe that we are on week five of six in our study of James! Way to power through some tough Law, some meaty Gospel, and some wrestling in integrating the two.

This week we’ll focus on relationship, one of my very favorite topics.

We were made for relationship and I think you’ll see that this is something James knew and understood well. More than that, he valued relationship. He saw the church as a life lived in community, hearing and doing the Word together, reaching out to pray with one another, intentionally using words that cared for the soul, as well as the mind, and sharpening one another through all kinds of storms – illness, poverty, abundance, trial, suffering, you name it.

James talks relationship with Eternity in mind. I think he would second the thoughts of the Apostle John, found in 1 John 4:19 –

We love because he first loved us.

Let’s look at the theme verse of our study again to see the connection. James 1:16-18 –

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

“Beloved brothers…”

What a beautiful phrase! James centers that phrase around a good, good Father. Our relationship as brothers isn’t just as people living next to one another, attending church next to one another, or even sitting in struggle next to one another. Our relationship is firmly planted in the simple but full fact that we are children of the same Father. Human kind was made and Created by a Father who loves. We are children of His love. In the church, this is doubly so- we are adopted children, a family held together by His love (Galatians 4:7-9, Romans 8:15, 1 John 3:1-2). We are…

Brothers once through creation.
Brothers twice through our adoption as sons in Christ Jesus.

James took “beloved brothers” seriously. His genuineness comes through when you look throughout the book and discover the sheer quantity of times he refers to his listener as brother.

Here’s a fun challenge – read through the book of James as one coherent letter. Note every time he uses the term brother, either on a separate piece of paper, or by underlining/highlighting. I’ll highlight a few passages here.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger – James 1:19 

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? – James 2:5

Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. – James 3:12

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. – James 4:11

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. – James 5:19-20

Those are just a few examples, and you might have noted that there is at least one for every chapter. James knows a secret of communicating the message of hope –

if we want to be heard, the relationship matters.

This isn’t manipulative; this is aware. I think it just flowed out of James’s pen as an honest statement of unity. Notice how he couples the term with the endearment beloved. These are people he knows, not obscure people he’s addressing in a speech. By calling them brothers, he reminds them of the covenant relationship they hold under their relationship with God. Beloved speaks of life and love, of holding one another’s hand in the storm, of “in it together” rather than shame and pointing fingers.

In Paul’s writings you will find similar language. Slide on over to biblegateway.com and input the term brothers in the search field at the top. Now scroll down and identify how often brothers is used in Scripture as a whole. How many times do you see it in the Paul’s letters – Romans, Corinthians, Thessalonians, Philippians, etc.? Wow! That’s a lot of brotherly affection.

We are in this together, brothers and sisters. James knew it. Paul knew it. We know it. How are we living it? What does life together look like?

Partly, it just is. We can’t change our relationship. We are affected by one another, by our words, our actions, our choices, because it’s how God made us. But I think part of what Jesus refers to as the abundant life, what He came to give us (John 10:10), is the knowledge of just how beautiful life as brothers can be.

Unity isn’t perfection of communication and thoughts synced. It’s love. It’s noticing. It’s life lived together instead of ships passing in the night.

Lord, use us, in the power of Your Spirit, to be true brothers and sisters to those around us. Give us strength in the drama and the mess, to invite others in, to seek, give care, and affection. You, Lord, are our brother. We hold fast to that Word of truth in all we say and do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Discussion:

Meditate on Psalm 133. It’s short and sweet.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
    when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
    running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
    life forevermore.

Consider – who do you dwell with in life together? Who is in your circle of brothers and sisters in creation and through Christ? Let’s lift them up together in prayer.