Transplanting Cactus

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I recently planted three gorgeous little cacti for my bathroom windowsill. They came in tiny yellow plastic pots and I presumed it would take all of five minutes to transplant them to their new homes. My goal was the finished product you see on the left. Simple, eh? Some nice healthy soil, the perfectly sized pot, a sun-filled window ledge. For $10 each including the black ceramic, I was proud of myself for coming up with a cute, inexpensive, low maintenance idea.

What I didn’t anticipate was how hard it would be to get my fat fingers around the edges of the pots in order to pull out the cactus and remove it. As I tried to reach for the little plant, I kept pricking my fingers. It seemed so fragile and small yet every time I tried to grab it, I would pull away in pain. I knew what was best for this little fellow: my cute K-Mart black pot. Not this ugly Bunnings temporary home. img_9965Yet, as the plant drew my blood, I almost ripped the little sucker straight from its roots trying to detach it from its former dwelling.

As a Pastor and leader, I often think about the environment, the soil if you will, of LIFT Church, where people are being planted. Jesus has a whole parable about the quality of soil and how something can flourish or die depending on the environment in which it’s planted.I feel a great responsibility to ensure our “soil” is full of nutrients, giving every opportunity for people to thrive.

However, planting these little cacti made me think more about the plant than the soil.

Each of us has a great personal responsibility to ensure we are not so prickly on the outside that God cannot guide us into the place where our roots can run deep.

I’ve witnessed hurting people hurt others unintentionally because of fear or insecurity. Some people stagnantly wilt in their current circumstances even though healthy soil awaits them only a few steps away. An unwillingness to allow God to grab hold of us causes us to die a slow spiritual death. People are as supple as succulents; and, I know my cacti could have lived quite some time in their flimsy yellow pots. That doesn’t mean it was the best choice for them, however. Just because you and I can survive despite ordinary, mediocre circumstances, doesn’t mean we should.

Our God wants us to have an abundant life.

img_9966Sadly, I’ve watched someone with outward beauty actually push people away, inhibiting her future growth. Soft and beautiful on the outside like like this little succulent on the left, but if anyone gets close enough to see past the gauzy exterior, ouch! We may not physically harm someone in order to keep them out, but harsh words or negativity drive others away. A defensive nature puts distance between us.

God can never wrap his loving arms around us if we rebuff him with our thorns. We might not even realise the repellent we have become because we have learnt to hide behind our brilliant bristles.

I believe God has a wonderful place for each of us to flourish if we allow him to move us. When we let Jesus soften our rough edges, he can grab hold of us completely. I don’t want God to have to pull away because my spurs have pushed him out. I don’t want to inhibit what he wants to do with me because my own personal pain manifests in spikes.

Let’s remind ourselves today of God’s beautiful promise in Psalm 92 and never allow the status quo to forbid our fruitful planting. Allowing God to gently move us, will only bring forth the beauty he has in store.

“Good people will prosper like palm trees, Grow tall like Lebanon cedars; transplanted to God’s courtyard, They’ll grow tall in the presence of God, lithe and green, virile still in old age” (Psalm 92:14 MSG).

Embracing the Grit

cleaningI hate cleaning; not solely because of the time it takes or just because I’m afraid of cancer-causing chemicals. Cleaning toilets with three boys in my house means finding wee in places it doesn’t belong; however, I hate cleaning mostly because once I start, I find out just how dirty things really are. I’ll be dusting the window ledge and then I see that the frames have little tiny black spots of mould on them. Or, I vacuum the carpet and find so many dust bunnies under the couch that I’m afraid a real rabbit might jump out of one of them! Or, what about the bathroom drawers? I am wiping the outside while finding toothpaste and hair covering the inside.

It’s just so much easier to throw in the towel than to keep cleaning. I mean, I didn’t even think about the inside of the drawers until I started cleaning the outside. Maybe I should just leave it all and live in squalor?

My Christian journey is a lot like this: I start out all gung-ho when I first experienced the presence of God. Like putting on a new pair of cleaning gloves and pulling out all the supplies, there’s excitement for what’s to come. How great will my house smell this afternoon? How shiny will the mirrors be? How exciting to dream about God giving me the desires of my heart and multiplying my blessings!

Then, I look closer at the mirror and I see that there’s actually a layer of dust all around the edges. I reach those “up-high” edges and now I glance at the top of the vanity. Uh-oh… I’ve never even seen up there and it’s covered with dust too. I clean that and then decide to look the cabinet and find a dead roach. EEW!

What was supposed to take 2 minutes has now taken 10 and I’m utterly discouraged.

Everyone at my new church was SO FRIENDLY when I first came. I wondered if these people were for real. They seemed so genuine and so kind. Then, I looked closer and realised there were some cliques. The lady who greeted me those first few weeks doesn’t even remember my name. And, the Pastor didn’t talk to me this week.

Now, that feel-good endorphin that was released when my “floral scents all-purpose cleaner” made its way across the kitchen is suddenly overridden by my disappointment that this journey with God requires some work.

Like the blinds on our windows, I find a collection of grit just under the surface. I liked that part of the Bible that told me how much I was loved and forgiven, but I’m not so sure I want to see it from the angle of “sanctification.” I like spraying the counter top and giving it a quick wipe, but don’t make me move the toaster, kettle, and canisters out of the way.

I have bad habits I need to break but I’m not even sure I want to. I hold onto anger and resentment like it’s a high school boyfriend I can’t afford to lose. I have always done it and I’m not sure who I am anymore if I stop. I’m happy to sweep or vacuum, but please don’t ask me to move the furniture or clean behind the toilet.

I’m afraid of what I might find.

I hate looking closer at myself and picking at old wounds that have scarred and crusted on my heart, covering it like soap scum covers my shower door. I like not being able to see inside myself. What I see causes me to feel vulnerable. It causes me to take responsibility for my own actions and feelings. It forces me to have grace for others and I’ve always been able to judge others and point the finger.

I must embrace the grit to experience the gloss.

Only when I put elbow grease into something can I erase what once stood in my way. No one can do it for me. Just like no one is going to come and inspect my house with a white glove and then offer to clean for me, no one is going to inspect my heart and remove the callouses. I’m the only one who can keep my eyes clear enough to see the beauty of Christ and all that he offers me. I must choose each day to not let the sediment fall on my heart, drying it up and losing all tenderness.

Becoming more like Christ is a never-ending journey. Just when I think I’ve have mastered one area, I find myself seeing three more that need work. Kind of like getting all caught up on the washing only to find some dirty PJ’s shoved under my 5 year old’s bed…

The good news is that I have the Holy Spirit on my side, empowering me and cheering me on in my daily detox. And, unlike house chores, there’s actually an inheritance awaiting me when I allow God to purify my life.

But John intervened: “I’m baptizing you here in the river. The main character in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.” (Luke 3:16-17, MSG)

Plucked or Planted?

treeMy community is strewn with uprooted trees and fallen branches after massive cyclonic storms ravaged our region last week. Trees have crushed cars, houses and power lines. I have been shocked to see massive gums lying sideways on the ground with their entire root balls exposed like this one in the photo I took at the end of my street. It’s like the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk came around and pulled up the trees like you and I would pull up a weed.

I couldn’t help but think of some of the beautiful tree imagery found in God’s word as my Facebook feed was bombarded with photos like mine. The Lord promises to make us “oaks of righteousness, displaying his splendour.” The righteous are also told we will flourish like a “palm tree” and a “cedar of Lebanon” bearing much fruit, even in old age.

I don’t know of any scriptures that refer to our beloved Australian Eucalyptus trees or of any reference to 3 metre trees being unstable and easily moved. So, I set out to do some research intending to make a correlation between trees with strong roots versus weak ones and how they might relate to us spiritually.

Much to my creative dismay, I found out all of these trees have amazingly strong roots. I mean, some go down as deep as the tree is tall. Some hardwoods have tap roots digging metres into the ground. Roots can extend sideways as far out as the canopy of leaves above the ground.

Oak trees need little water or fertiliser once their roots are established. Gum trees thrive in wet areas as their roots rest in the upper layers of the soil. Palm trees have roots that regenerate and continually jut out from all angles acting as anchors and feeders for the trees.

The roots of trees are so strong they can crack foundations of houses, lift up concrete walkways, and kill off every other living thing nearby as they take nutrients and water from the soil. No wonder God uses them as similes all throughout the Word as he paints a picture of our strength and glory in his eyes!

So, my question remains – how did these massive Eucalyptus trees in the Hunter fall over with their roots and soil in tact as if I personally transplanted them from a pot and laid them down to await their next home?

The ground around the tree became totally saturated with rainfall, making the tree vulnerable. Then, winds upwards of 100km/hr blew, ripping them out of the ground as easily as you or I could pick a daisy in our back yard. (I’m no arborist so please excuse my simplistic explanation for the sake of your personal growth and inspiration!).

I want to remain firmly planted when the storms of life rage against me, never allowing them to uproot my faith or my view of God and his steadfast care for me.

Unlike a giant gum tree who has no preference or say in where he is planted, we have the privilege of choosing in which soil we place ourselves, how much we are watered and fertilised as well as how much input we receive from the SON (pun intended).

Psalm 92:13 says those who are planted “IN THE HOUSE OF THE LORD” will FLOURISH.

I’m a church planter, so it goes without saying I’m passionate about the church. It’s what Jesus says he’s coming back for, his bride; it’s to whom most of the New Testament was written; it’s the hope of the world to bring communities together and to care for those in need; it’s where we teach and instruct; it’s a house of prayer and a place of worship to our God.

Not being PLANTED in good healthy soil as a believer is like telling that gum tree to grow on the sandy shores of Redhead Beach. Or, expecting it to flourish in a car park with concrete all around, poor drainage, and pipes cutting into the roots underneath. No one would think that’s sane! We must find the nutrient rich soil of a local church and stick ourselves in it if we want to flourish.

We must care for the soil and keep it watered by serving and building relationships. Let us never over saturate with self-doubt, fear or judgement of those around us who are doing their best to thrive too. We must stand tall in the face of trials, sending out our roots for Living Water that nourishes and protects. We have to find comfort in the canopy of other believers, knowing there is protection when we aren’t isolated and exposed.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lordwhose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-9

2015 Fasting Devotion, Day TWENTY-ONE

As our Lift Church corporate fasting draws to a close for 2015, I leave you with the Apostle Paul’s words to Timothy:

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:12-19)

Dear Lord, thank you for speaking to me and answering my prayers over the course of the last several weeks. I ask that you help me to continue the good fight of faith and that you give me strength to withstand whatever trials may come my way. I put all my hope in you and commit to walking with you everyday. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

2015 Fasting Devotion, Day TWENTY

Read 2 Corinthians 5:17-21

Everyone loves the smell of a new car, the feeling of stepping out in a spiffy new pair of shoes, having a fresh haircut, or a embarking on a new opportunity! What joy we experience when we gaze at a precious baby, the miracle of brand-new life so tangible.

We can easily appreciate what’s unblemished in the world around us, but we forget that being born again as Christ followers is actually better than anything money can buy.

We, in all our messy mistakes and silly shortcomings, are considered NEW CREATIONS in Christ! Everything we ever did to fall short of perfection no longer has a grasp on us because of the finished work of Jesus on the cross. The blood of Jesus has washed us white as snow.

Unfortunately, the world we live in taints us and this newness can wear off if we aren’t careful. Our salvation might be secure, but the pressures of the world can cause us to drift. The Apostle Paul is imploring us to be reconciled to God, meaning we must continually come back to Him.

God, I am so very thankful for the gift of salvation and the fact that I’m a new creation in Christ. As our time of prayer and fasting is coming to an end, I’m totally committed to reconciling myself to you each and everyday. Help me to never lose sight of the miracle of my salvation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

2015 Fasting Devotion, Day NINETEEN

Read 1 Timothy 4

As parents, we know we have a responsibility to teach and train our kids in certain areas. We train them to eat with cutlery and use a toilet when they are little. We teach them how to obey and respect adults. We make them go to school for their education and often put them in extra-curricular activities like sport and music to develop other skills in their lives.

As Christian parents, we must not forget to invest in and train our kids spiritually. In order to do this effectively, our kids must see us training ourselves. That’s why daily time in the word, prayer, and even disciplines like fasting as a family are invaluable. The Apostle Paul is reminding his young follower, Timothy, that exercise is valuable, but a disciplined life in God makes us fit for today and forever.

Whether we have children under our roof or we are just influencing those around us, it’s our life that speaks volumes – through our words, actions, love, faith and integrity. We must cultivate and immerse ourselves in these matters, placing higher value on them than physical exercise or secular education.

Practically, you can ask your kids to read a scripture with you and discuss it. When you correct and discipline, bring it back to a Godly principle and pray for forgiveness, asking God for help going forward. Have daily times when you thank God for your many blessings and train your kids to have a grateful spirit. Pray with them before school and before big moments in their lives, teaching them to lean on God in every situation.

Dear Lord Jesus, thank you for reminding me of the importance ongoing spiritual education is in my life and the lives of the young ones in my care. Help me to make it a high priority each day. I pray that the fruit of my investment would be plentiful. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

2015 Fasting Devotion, Day EIGHTEEN

Read Matthew 6:25-34 (MSG)

A new year causes us to both reflect on last years wins/losses as well as plan for the year to come. How can we get ahead? Earn more money. Ensure our kids have a good year in school. Lose weight. Pay off debt. Buy a house. Grow our church! Stay on top of schedules, school work, housework! Cook healthier meals. Keep closets organised. Make new friends. And the list goes on…

We must not turn all this planning and forward thinking into WORRY. Jesus reminds us to focus on today and encourages us to look around at how well he takes care of the birds and flowers. Don’t we matter much more?

When we spend all our time preoccupied with “getting,” we miss out on God’s amazing “giving.” The more we get to know God and the way he works, the less we should worry about the future. God is at work in our TODAY. Beauty and blessing all around. Learning to BE in the moment with our families brings honour to God. Finding rest in our crazy lives means trusting Him with our tomorrow. Turning our focus outward instead of on ourselves and our problems shines the light of Christ in a dark world. God is doing his best for us, working on our behalf. Let’s allow this to be enough for today.

Jesus, you bring great perspective and wisdom to my situations and worries. Thank you for reminding me that you’re in control of my life and that you WILL provide everything I need. As I set goals and look toward the future, help me to trust YOU ultimately and receive what you’re giving each day with gladness. You’re the giver of all good things and for that I am grateful. In Your Name I pray, Amen.