The Fig-Tree Gospel

“The gardener said, ‘Let’s give it another year.  I’ll dig around it and fertilize, and maybe it will produce next year; if it doesn’t, then chop it down’” (Luke 13: 8-9).

Did you know a fig-tree usually takes three years to reach maturity? If it is not fruiting by that time, it is not likely to fruit at all.  But the fig-tree, in this parable, was given another chance!

It is always Jesus’ way to give a person chance after chance. And I should know; I can’t begin to count the number of opportunities I’ve received in life.  God is infinitely kind to the person who falls and rises again.  God is the God of second chances.  Thanks be to God!

As I reflect on this gospel of second chances, I remember an experience I had as a young pastor, just out of seminary, that profoundly impacted my life and ministry …

She loved her dad very much, and she knew that he loved her.  But what was she to do now?  What would he say when he found out?  She had made some bad decisions in her life, and he had always stood with her no matter the issue.  But now, what about now?  She was a college student, unmarried, and pregnant.  Her greatest fear was that this would be the final straw, and he would say enough is enough and wash his hands of her.  She wouldn’t blame him if he did.  The good news is that he didn’t; he still loved his daughter very much.

Without going into a lot of detail, I was a young pastor, and she came into my office and shared her situation with me.  After a great deal of listening and praying together, she agreed to a meeting with her dad.  At her request, I would be present to help facilitate the conversation and offer support.

I witness something unexpected.  I saw a dad listen to a wayward daughter.  There was no scolding, no anger – just a broken heart for his struggling and fearful daughter.  He assured her that both her mother and he would stand with her.  He was disappointed, to be sure, but his love for his daughter was unconditional.  Nothing would ever change that!  I don’t know who was crying more, them or me.  It was an incredible moment for them, to be sure, but also for me.  I saw at that moment a portrait of God’s unconditional love.

She went on to have the child, and with the help of her parents, she finished college. And today, she is happily married and has two children she adores and loves unconditionally. God’s love is unwavering.  God never gives up on us. We are loved, and that’s a fact!

Lord, your love for me is beyond measure. Your love is a love not rooted in performance.  It is who you are.  Fill me, Lord, with your love so I too may love as you love.

You’re So Much More

I got a new smartwatch the other day. It really is a fantastic thing. Just listen to what it can do. It tracks my sleeping patterns, as well as my heart rate and my blood pressure. It monitors my oxygen levels. It scans my body temperature. And get this, I can simply press a button, and it performs an ECG! It tracks my activity level and alerts me if I am stationary too long. That’s one function I’m not very fond of, but the watch is impressive, and yes, it gives me the date and time of day.

The list of information this watch gathers and reveals concerning my health is extensive. It even tells me how fatigued I am and how strong my immune system is. Wow, what a watch! But, the one function this watch is incapable of measuring is my spiritual condition.

We spend billions of dollars every year in this country on health-related products and equipment and gym memberships. That’s not a bad thing necessarily. But how much time and energy do we expend regarding our spiritual health? What good is it to spend so much time, energy, and resources on our physical health and in the end die, lost and bound for Hell?

Hey, I know this is a bit strong and maybe even negative, but the point I’m seeking to make is, we are more than mere flesh and bone. We are also spirit beings with a consciousness that is eternal and will exist long after our earthly bodies have expired.

May I suggest that as we work at staying physically healthy, that we also give attention to our spiritual condition. You may be asking, where do I start, and what do I do to improve my spiritual condition? Well, I want to share, over the next five days, what I have called “The Five Minute Plan.” That’s right, just five minutes!

So, stay tuned, and remember you’re more, so much more than flesh and bone!

The Whole World, A Garden

How is your eyesight? I’m not asking about your physical vision. I’m referring to your ability to really see the world as it was meant to be seen.

Not long ago. I was walking through the mall and, while walking, saw a woman sitting in a chair. On the one hand, she held a white cane, a device used by people who are blind or visually impaired, while on the other hand, she held a book. I watched for a moment or two and then continued walking.

After I had gotten what I had come for, I started back through the mall toward my truck. As I walked, I again saw this woman sitting in the same chair. This time she was reading the book. Showing my ignorance, I thought, “She’s blind, how is she reading a book?” Then I thought, “brail stupid, she’s reading brail.”

I realize staring is a common practice, but I found myself captivated by the whole scene. So, I went and sat down in a vacant chair across from the woman as she read. I must have sat there for 30 minutes watching her read. As I began o leave, this woman looked up from the book, and with the most beautiful smile, said, “Have a nice day.” It really caught me off guard. How did she know I was there? Remember, she was blind. I responded with a quick, “Thank you, and you have a nice day as well.” “Oh, I am,” she said. “It’s such a beautiful day.” I then asked her what she was reading. She said, “I’m reading a wonderful children’s novel by Frances Burnett, titled, The Secret Garden. I responded, “I’ve never read it, but I love the title.” She then said, “Listen to this.” She placed her finger on the page and read the following, “If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.” She then said, “You know I’ve been sitting here for over an hour enjoying my garden.” I didn’t really get what she was trying to say. I told her, “that sounds great! You have a nice day,” and with that, I was gone.

I would later reflect upon my encounter with the blind lady at the mall, and her quote from, The Secret Garden, “If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”

I’m convinced she’s right! But, I would add that the beauty of our garden is mostly dependent on our willingness to tend it. A beautiful garden doesn’t just happen, it must be cared for by planting, fertilizing, watering, and weeding.

IF THE WORLD IS TO BE A GARDEN, WE HAD BEST GET TO TENDING IT!

He Held My Hand

Yesterday, while sitting in church, a beautiful thing happened. My seventeen-year-old son, Aaron (A. J.), held my hand. He held my hand without any prompting from his mother or sister. “What’s the big deal, you ask? So what, he held your hand.”

I hear you, maybe it’s not a big deal to you, but it is for me because it speaks to the measure of the man my young son is becoming. This simple act of taking me by the hand revealed the sensitive and discerning nature of my son.

I had forgotten to take my medication, and as a result, my hands began to shake. A. J. saw it and simply reached over and took me by the hand and held it throughout the service, only letting go so I might take communion. No words were spoken, and yet I heard his declaration loudly, “I’m here, dad!”

As I reflect on this simple act of love and caring, by my son, I’m struck by the power of simplicity. It is in the small, simple actions we take that others hear the shouts of our true selves.

“Come on, Sam, it’s not that big a deal, so he held your hand.” Yeah! he held my shanking hand and, without a word spoken, said, “Hey Dad, I’m here, and I care about you and the challenges you are facing.”

Thank you, son, for holding my hand, I needed to hear your unspoken words of encouragement!

So, today, I will remember that it is in the whisper of simple acts that others hear the resounding chorus of encouragement and find the strength to move forward.

Stinking’ Thinkin’

I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, but yesterday, I found myself in, what is commonly referred to as “A funk.” You know, the inability to move in a positive direction, your thoughts in negative “overdrive.”

It seems that when I get this way, the harder I try to break free of the negative mindset, the greater control negative thinking has over my life. The late Zig Ziglar referred to this kind of thinking as “Stinking’ Thinkin’.” I guess because Stinking’ Thinkin’ always leads to rotten results!

The question for me is, “How does one control negative thinking?” I like what Dan Millman says about controlling one’s thinking. He states, “you don’t have to control your thoughts, you just have to stop letting them control you.” But, again, “How does one keep negative thoughts from controlling him or her?”

The Apostle Paul writes, in Romans 12: 2, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

Now the question becomes, “How do I renew my mind?” Ritu Ghatourey, a writer from India, gives some insight; she states, “Our mind is a garden, our thoughts are the seeds, you can grow flowers, or you can grow weeds.” The writer of Proverbs states in Proverbs 23: 7, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”

The final question is, “What am I allowing to enter my heart?” Do I intentionally seek an environment in which God is honored, or do I permit those things that dishonor God to become a natural part of my usual pattern of living?”

The bottom line is, I have a free-will, and I decide what I will read, watch, listen to, and relate to in life. The battle of the mind is won, not in the heat of the struggle, but rather in the preparation that happens in the minutes, hours, days, and years before the battle begins.

So, today, as an act of my free-will, I will decide to read, watch, listen to, and relate to all that honors God. because GOD IS GOOD. AND GOOD IS POSITIVE!

Keep Pedaling

This morning I lost my balance and fell while trying to get out of the bed. I wasn’t hurt physically, but I did find myself thinking, “Damn, I’m tired of this!” I’m tired of stiff muscles and shanking hands. I’m tired of forgetting things, and I’m tired of …”

After lying there for a moment, I slowly pulled myself up and went to the restroom. I then lay back down in the bed and tried to go back to sleep but couldn’t. So, I got up, this time very carefully, and went to my “Man Cave” and sat down at my desk.

I was still frustrated and anxious about – well, about everything. I reached for my cell phone, and you guessed it. I dropped it, “Damn it!” When I picked it up and look at it, I saw I had a message. The message read, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” (Albert Einstein). I didn’t recognize the phone number, and there was no name.

I made a cup of coffee, and, as I drank my morning coffee, I began to reflect on the message that had appeared on my phone and my attitude.

The result of my morning reflection isn’t profound, but it’s what I needed to hear, and maybe you do as well. “Sam, most everybody will lose their balance at some point in their life, what makes the difference is, does the fall keep them from getting back on the bike and continue moving forward? Sam, just keep moving, and you might be surprised where life will take you!”

I’m reminded of a quote by E. E. Cummings, “The most wasted of days is one without laughter.” So, today, I will get back on the bike and pedal forward and laugh a bit along the way.

I ENCOURAGE YOU TO DO THE SAME!

The Value of Self Examination

“You learn in life,” states Katharine Hepburn, “that the only person you can really correct and change is yourself.” I agree, yet many of us are guilty of trying to change others while making little effort to change ourselves.

Why? Why do we spend so much energy and time seeking to change others when our own lives are not as they ought to be? It was Socrates who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” There is great value in the practice of self-examination, yet many of us never cash in. We continue to live our lives out of place. Like the prodigal son in the parable found in the fifteenth chapter of the gospel of Luke, our lives are not at all what they could be while we have yet to come to our senses. It was only when the young prodigal took stock of his condition that he took the necessary steps to change his life and, by doing so, claimed his true self.

I realize it is more comfortable to examine the lives of others than to dare to be honest concerning ourselves. But, there is very little value in judging others while we continue to make our home among the pigs.

The question is, “How is it that we come to our senses when we have developed the habit of ignoring our own false while magnifying the shortcomings of others?” Well, St. Ignatius of Loyola, gives an efficient method of self-examination in his five-point process of “Spiritual Exercise” which he engaged in each day as a part of his devotional life. First, he thanked God for all the benefits he received. Second, St. Ignatius asked God for grace to know and correct his faults. Third, he reviewed the hours of his day, noting what transgressions he had committed in deed, word, thought, or omission. Fourth, there was the asking for forgiveness. Finally, he committed himself to change what needed to change based upon the Christian ethic.

Lao Tzu said, “He who knows others is learned: He who knows himself is wise.” There is great value in self-examination. The question is, “DO YOU AND I HAVE THE COURAGE TO CASH IN?

I’m Fine, Really

I’m fine, is my too often refrain to a question by those who care enough to ask, “How are you doing? How have you been?” I’ve gotten so used to saying the phrase that it has become commonplace.

Some will accept my response, but there are those in my life who refuse to simply move on. They look and see that everything is not okay. They will dare to press deeper and ask, “No, how are you really doing?” I must admit I’m often irritated by their persistent inquiry, but at the same time grateful that they care enough to see beneath the surface into that which dwells beneath.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who takes great care to clothe themselves with the garment of “All is Well.” I’m sure others say, “I’m fine” when they are not.

I want to be like those who care enough to look beyond the surface and press deeper, seeing the pain and struggle of those who take great care to clothe themselves in the garment of “I’m fine.”

Lord, give me the courage to look beyond my pain and see the need of those around me. Help me to not be satisfied with the phrase, “I’m fine.” Help me care enough today to take the time to really see beneath the familiar refrain and hear the cry that lies within.

I ENCOURAGE YOU TO DO THE SAME.

The Little Prophet

I was at the doctor’s office a few days ago. While there, I witnessed the most inspiring and, at the same time, most chastising events. The waiting area was full, oh there were a lot of open seats, but most of them had a sign on them that read, “Don’t Sit Here.” Due to social distancing, seating was limited.

As I sat waiting, an elderly couple walked into the waiting room. All of the available seating was taken. So, the woman stood while the gentleman went to the window to check-in.

It was then I witnessed one of the most inspiring moments I’ve experienced in a long time. I watched as a young boy, maybe eight or nine years old, turn to a gentleman I assume was his dad. He tapped his dad on the shoulder. His dad looked over at the elderly woman, and they stood. The young boy then walked over to the elderly woman, spoke to her while pointing to the now empty chairs. He took her by the hand and walked her to the vacant chairs. She sat down. As she sat, the young boy reached into his pocket, pulled out a little packet, and opened it. He then handed her the small pack, and she took it and, with shaking hands, removed a sanitized wipe. She wiped her hands, and then the young boy took the wipe and throw it away in a wastebasket.

By now, the older gentleman had returned and sat down next to his wife, separated only by an empty chair. The boy looked first at the elderly couple, both of whom smiled, and nodded at the boy and mouthed the words thank you. He then looked at his dad, who stood against the wall. His dad stood tall, grinning from ear to ear and mouthed the words, “Well Done!”

I was inspired by the actions of this young boy, but at the same time, chastised by the fact I hadn’t even thought to get up and offer my chair to a much older person.

Wow, thank you, Lord, for the “little prophet” used by you to both inspire and chastise me to be more compassionate. Take a moment and read Isaiah 11: 6, reflect, and be open to all that God has to say to you today!

The Abstract Beauty of Community

I had a dream last night. The fact that I had a dream is not unusual. In fact I dream very vivid dreams most nights, that is when I’m able to sleep. Some of these dreams are dark and nightmarish, others are quite delightful.

I finally fell asleep around 3:00am and was awakened by my alarm at 6:00am. I tried to go back to sleep to re-enter my dream and see its ending, but I was unable to do so. I’m left now with the task of trying to understand the message within the dream. I believe God often speaks to us through dreams and visions.

In my dream, I’m standing in an art gallery staring at a painting that, to me, appears to be nothing more than a variety of different colors, randomly thrown upon the canvas. The title of the picture is called Life. As I stare at the painting and read its title, I think to myself – Wow, if that represents Life, then Life is a mess.

In the dream, I continue to stand, staring at the canvas of colors. As I do, something amazing begins to take place. What I had perceived as chaotic and disconnected suddenly began to merge together, and the beauty of the uniquely different colors seemed to reveal a message, a message of “collective individualism,” joined together as a real community. What? I know I seem to be rambling, but there is a message I’m sensing in my spirit. It is a message for the Church.

This painting, for me, as I reflect on it speaks a strong message that I believe to be from the heart of God regarding His Kingdom. His Kingdom is made up of uniquely different colors (people) that seemingly don’t fit together. Still, by His presence, the colors that seem so different and disconnected are brought together into a strangely beautiful community.

God has never demanded that we all look alike. There must be, however, a willingness, to recognize the beauty and value of each individual and connect to the other, by yielding to His wisdom, as the artist.

There is a beautiful quote by Danny Kaye, “Life is a great canvas, and you should throw all the paint on it you can.”

So, start slinging your paint on the canvas of your day and watch what God will create as others throw there paint upon the art of our “collective individualism.” I have a strange feeling that what seems chaotic and disconnected will become a beautiful painting of His Kingdom. Lord, give us eyes to see; and a heart to join with those who seem to be out of place on our canvas and, by so doing, reveal the beauty of an “abstract community.”