Category Archives: Christian Living

If Only Forever

Katy (Image source: Vincent Dixon/Mimi Foundation)

Katy (Image source: Vincent Dixon/Mimi Foundation)

What if you could see yourself in a perfect glorified body, free from the miseries and heaviness of life? What if you could catch a glimpse of what it might be like to have no sickness, crying, or pain, and even more than that, freedom from sin? I could not help but think of the future glory of all those who are in Christ as I read a story and watched a short clip of a project called “If Only for a Second,” put together by the Mimi Foundation. The concept for the project is simple: give cancer patients a moment when they can forget their disease, if only for a second, and capture that moment in a photograph.

I must admit that I did not have great expectations for what I was about to witness. The cynic in me was about to write it off as a novel approach to capitalize on suffering. I have since tabled that notion. Have I forgotten that the world suffers and is desperate to find relief, if just for a single moment? As I watched, I was reminded of the universal suffering we all share, and how so many will never be free from it. As I saw the faces of those people light up in astonishment and joy, I couldn’t help but sink into sadness. I have watched my share of cancer victims slip into eternity without any assurance of being free from their suffering. Then my mind quickly ran to the hope that possesses me. I think of the moment when believers will finally be perfected and glorified with new resurrected bodies (1 Cor 15), when we see Jesus face-to-face, and He wipes away all our tears (Rev 21:4). This is the Blessed Hope of every believer.

If only we would live like we really believed it. If only we could catch a glimpse of our future condition as well as others. In The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis challenges us to reflect on the future glory that awaits believers

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…”

I applaud what the Mimi Foundation is doing. I wouldn’t want them to do any less, but as Christians, we have more to offer. Let’s live in light of our future glory holding out hope to those who are dying.

10 Reasons Why I Have a Garden

I have a garden. It is not the best garden, but it is mine. Contrary to the belief of my neighbors, I am not actually striving to have the biggest and best garden in the world, just a good one. My garden is not just for growing food. Whenever I dedicate time, money, and effort to anything in my life, I need to justify it. I don’t have much time, and I have even less money. So how can I justify dedicating my entire front yard to a garden? I believe I have ten legitimate reasons for my garden lifestyle.

1. To glorify God – Glorifying God is my chief end (WSC Q. 1). “Whether we eat or we drink, we do it all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31). The first context God placed man in was a garden. I will resist a full sermon on that, but simply to say that it is quite natural and fitting for man to be in a garden. There is no direct command in Scripture requiring each person to have a garden, but I believe there are many benefits to being part of the process of cultivating food from the ground. First, we get to witness, participate in and marvel at a God-designed process of life. If you ever wanted to be a part of something “cultural,” cultivating land and food is the oldest cultural experience. Exercise your dominion! Secondly, we see first hand how our daily bread really does come from the Lord in the natural world he created. Supermarkets and food courts have blocked our vision of where food comes from. I knew a 10-yr-old boy who thought the ears of corn were pulled from the ground like carrots. Thirdly, having a garden helps us hear Jesus’ parables with better clarity. Rather than having a preacher explain to us the various horticultural and agricultural particulars, we could simply know what Jesus meant like His initial audience. We would know first-hand the particulars of the Parable of the Good Soil. Perhaps we would reflect on that parable and others while we were pulling our weeds and pruning our grapevines.

2. To grow food – Currently my garden does not produce enough food for my family to live on, but I am working on it. With hard work and dedication, we can produce tons of food per year on a quarter-acre lot. I invite to you check out the Dervaes family to see what they do with less than than a quarter acre. I am not particularly concerned about GMO’s (genetically modified O’s), but I prefer to eat food that is cultivated for taste rather than visual appeal for grocery store display. I have eaten one-too-many tasteless (and sour) plum-sized grapes. I also prefer not to eat food that was sprayed with poison. The FDA and I disagree with the definition of “safe.” Who likes pealing of the little sticker of an apple anyway?

3. To send a message to the food companies, governments, and anyone else who wants to limit my right to enjoy God’s green earth and feed my family – My thoughts on our current food industry are as vast as the current food industry, but for now, let me affirm that I am a capitalist who believes that everyone should have food. I believe in making food for money and selling at whatever rate you want. But something bad happens when the food companies are in bed with the government, creating an over-regulated industry in which smaller farmers cannot compete. For more on all of that check out Joel Salatin’s book Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal. Capitalistic farming is good, but after you inject it with the dual hormone of American grown greed and pragmatism supplemented with government regulations that altogether create immunity against small farmers, you end up with a monstrous and dangerous food industry that is nearly impossible to reform.

I am not an alarmist, but it makes no sense that people have no food in tough economic times (or any other times), when all you need is right under your feet as soon as you step out of your front door. We have been groomed to think that food must come from somewhere else requiring big machines and generations of farming experience. Let’s think outside the frozen food box.

Just to be sure, I don’t think it is a moral imperative that everyone should have a garden. I understand that many people are free to choose to invest their time doing other things. Enjoy. Just don’t complain if there is no food in the fridge as you watch TV. “But I live in an apartment,” some will say, “I don’t have a yard.” Then resort to using pots or find or create a community garden. Perhaps condo and apartment developers will start incorporating garden space next to the community pool if there was a demand for it. If you live in one of those prefabricated developed neighborhood with an HOA, your options are severely limited. Either work on revising the covenant laws or work on moving.

4. To get rid of my lawn –
I have never enjoyed mowing a yard. Maybe you do. I don’t. How much money do we spend on them? How much time and money wasted going to the gas station, buying the weed and seed stuff, yanking on that pull-chord on the lawn mower, for what? An over-sized welcome mat? A green monster that gobbles up my time and money? You can have it. I’ll keep my green monster in left field at Fenway. Go Boston!

5. To get the kids outside – To get the kids outside!

6. To get mom and dad outside –
There are mental/emotional and physical benefits to being outside working a garden. Mental benefits are immediately felt after a drive home in rush hour traffic after a long day at work. Killing garden pests never felt so rewarding. The physical benefits are obvious. You get your daily source of vitamin D from the sun; your get some exercise from moving around, bending down, picking up, and pulling weeds, not to mention eating healthy food is always good for you. Would it be a stretch to say that taking time early in the morning and praying while in the garden has spiritual benefits? Jesus prayed in the garden. Enough said.

7. To create family unity – Working on a garden with each family member taking responsibility for a particular task demands team work. For instance, my daughter has rabbits in the back yard. Since she will not allow me to eat them, those bunnies must produce something for me in order to justify their existence. Their rent is offered in the form of little round morsels of fertilizer. My daughter’s job is to make sure those offerings are taken from the back yard and placed in the garden in the front yard. Currently we are working on a new fence. Each member of the family has a hand in the construction of it. Building the fence ourselves saved money rather than buying it prefabricated from one of the home improvement stores. I found a local lumber yard, and we used the first cuts of cypress logs (I know, there are conservation issues concerning cypress trees). Rather than have the pros install it for us, we did it ourselves reinforcing our dependence on each other as we work as a team.

Ryan making fence

Ryan measuring out the pickets

Tabitha making fence

Tabitha staging the pickets

Uriah making fence

Uriah securing a recycled post from an old dock

Unity is again reinforced when we sit down to eat at dinner time eating the fruit of our labors. Each cucumber and green bean has a memory of us working together behind it.

8. To save money – It pains me to buy zucchini in the store (not matter how inexpensive) knowing that it could have grown in my yard. I will admit that it takes money to buy the tools, seeds, garden bed material, and fencing, etc. But in the end, real money could be saved by growing your own food. But even IF I could never get to that point, the first seven reasons are enough to justify spending the time and money. Buying tomatoes in the store doesn’t help my children understand important life principles. Buying green beans at the corner fruit stand never would have provided me the opportunity to teach my children how to build a fence.

9. To help me understand life and ministry – Jesus used agricultural knowledge to springboard into His parables. The reason He did that is quite simple. The Lord of all creation has built-in principles that apply to the natural order of things as well as the spiritual realm. When I survey the progress of my garden, I try to take those observations and apply them to my life in general and my various ministerial responsibilities at church. When I see a suffering plant not bearing fruit, I assess that it is suffering from poor soil, not enough water or sunlight. I take that observation and ask questions about areas of my own life. Are there areas in my own life that need more fortification? Am I spending too much time and energy on something that is taking me away from other things, e.g., should I be preparing for my Hebrew exegesis paper right now or writing a blog about my gardening fascination? Was something planted too early before proper structures were in place to bear the fruit? Do I, personally, have time to water it all by hand or is there some sort of irrigation system that can be delegated to handle the task?

These are my nine reasons to justify my garden. I will let you think of the tenth. One more thing since some folks have asked… Why devote the entire front yard to a garden? The answer is not too complicated – just three reasons. As I mentioned above, I don’t care for lawns; get ride of the grass – all of it. Also, the front yard is where the sun is. I have a pretty shady back yard. The size is the other question. Why so big? My garden is approximately 30′ x 40′ with another section on the other side of the driveway, which is 10′ x 30′. Small hobby gardens take time and the payout is not worth it to me. I have resolved that if we are going to do a garden, then let’s do a garden. I am not interested in a little token patch of space for a few maters and cukes. I can’t put all my hopes for fruit into a few plants that may not produce. I need to reap a harvest, not just grow some stuff for fun.

Santa Claus, Jesus, and the Easter Bunny

Don’t forget
When was the last time you were admonished to remember the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus? “Don’t forget Peter Cottontail!” What I can recall is being reminded that Jesus is the “reason for the season” and that we should put “Christ back in Christmas.”Actually, come to think of it, I don’t recall any admonishments to remember Jesus during Easter.

Everything is better with chocolate
Why do we go to such great lengths to distract our children from the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead for our justification? Isn’t the fact that Jesus came out of a grave alive amazing enough to fill their hearts with wonder and awe? How long will we have our children scavenge around for hard-boiled chicken eggs in the back yard or church grounds? Why are we trying to convince them that an imaginary bunny brings them baskets of goodies? Do these things actually supplement the resurrection message? I thought we lived by faith alone in the Son of God. Can we add anything to improve on such a wonderful story–and a true one at that?

What do we believe, again?
Why do we as parents dilute and pollute our celebrations of two of the greatest events in human history with silly fairy tales and expect our children to stand in awe of Jesus? I am reluctant to call them fairy tales. I was never led to truly believe in Mother Goose or Peter Pan. Aren’t the crowning miracles of Jesus’ birth and resurrection in the Bible enough to keep their attention? Do we think we are robbing our children of something by not giving into these cheap worldly gimmicks? I think we are actually robbing them by distracting them from the Lord of Life with cheap momentary delights. It saddens me to see those bumper stickers reminding us to not forget Jesus during the holidays. It saddens me because those messages of “Put Christ back in Christmas” and “Jesus the Reason for the Season” seem to be rebukes to a lost world who has already rebuked us. I remember a comedian years ago say, “Once I found out that Santa and the Easter Bunny weren’t real, God and Jesus didn’t stand a chance.”

Do not try this at home…
Imagine a husband telling his wife, “Honey, in order that the children will have something to look forward to on your birthday, let’s incorporate a fun character to celebrate the day you were born. His name will be Jimmy the Purple Roller-Skating Giraffe. We will have a really fun little jingle to sing and all kinds of games. Then we will give gifts to the kids in the name of Jimmy the Giraffe. So every year as your birthday approaches, they will have something to look forward to, and I will be sure to remind them to think of you. I really think this will cause the children to appreciate you more as a mother.”
How many wives and mothers will buy into that? If she doesn’t like the birthday idea, try Mother’s Day.

New Tradition
Here’s a novel idea: Let’s just leave Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny out of it, then we wouldn’t have a hard time remembering Jesus. Keep your fun and games and celebrate them on a different day. Get an early start on it. Do Santa Day on December 1st. Hunt for eggs and eat chocolate two weeks before Easter. Call the day our Lord rose from the dead Resurrection Sunday. I don’t need a history lesson of how we derived the name Easter and the supposed good intentions of well-meaning Christians centuries ago. If we are true Reformers, then let’s reform poor labels and traditions during our holy days. Whatever we do, if we are going to set aside a day to celebrate Jesus, then let’s not share His glory with another. Let’s recognize His Lordship over those days and everyday in between.

So Walk in Him

Just recently my lovely wife of sixteen years told me that I walk “funny.” Funny? Since when do I walk funny? Granted, at that particular time I was a little tired, and in my defense, I was wearing a pair of Crocs, which cause me to drag my feet just a bit. My pride was deeply hurt, but after a brief moment of reprieve, I collected myself, straightened up my act, fixed my gate, and picked up my pace.

How self-conscious we are about the way we walk. We could spend a fair amount of time discussing all the psychological factors that contribute to how we carry ourselves in the watching world, but as a simple matter of fact, walking is a form of non-verbal communication. The real question to explore is, what are we communicating?

In Colossians 2:6, Paul gives implores his readers:

6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:4-8, ESV)

Notice the clause “so walk in him.” For some, it may be easy to miss in a passage so rich with apologetic import (2:4,8) and deep Christological significance in the following passage (2:9-15). But upon second glance, this phrase has everything to do with apologetics and Christology, and among other things such as our sanctification.

Scriptures uses the metaphor of walking to describe how we live. In a general sense, it communicates how we live our lives in light of our convictions (or lack of them) (Ps 1:1), but in a more specific way as it applies to Christians, it connotes our life with the Lord (Gen 5:25). If the idea of “walking with Christ” were not profound enough, Paul takes us to a whole new dimension of our relationship with Christ. We are to “walk in Christ.”

Being “In Christ” is a dominating theme in this epistle (1:14,16,19,2:3,6,7,9,10,11,12,15, 3:20,4:7,17). Walking with someone is a concept we could grasp based on our own experiences, which we could conceptually transpose to our relationship with Jesus, but “walking in Christ” is something that has no parallel in any human relationship. There is no diagram or Sunday school flannel board that is able to show us this union we have with Christ. It cannot be measured or recognized by our human senses, hence the theological designation of “mystical union” with Christ.

Our being in Him is sovereignly wrought by the Holy Spirit, but our response to that amazing reality does not leave us passive. Paul calls us to consciously walk in Him, which is to live our lives as a testament of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the apologetic value. Every step of our walk is to be intentionally subjected to His Lordship that the world may know that Jesus has all authority. And we walk in confidence. Abraham Kuyper said it best, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!'”1 But this news is not received well by those who refuse His Lordship. Expect conflict.

Like it or not, we are in a war. Don’t let anyone tell you any different. But our war is not fought like any other worldly conflict. One of the things that makes it so radically different is that we must love our enemies (Matt 5:44). This radically counter-intuitive directive would alone seem to guarantee failure. How foolish! Could anything be more against our primal instincts? No, but that is what our Warrior King Jesus commanded us to do. Gospel proclamation is not about destroying people; it is about destroying falsehood with truth. Let us never cease to be amazed at the tactics God has given us for the spiritual warfare we are in. Consider Paul’s words to the Corinthians:

3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Co 10:3–6)

Notice the theme of walking again, as well as another theme: captivity (v. 5, cf. Col 2:8). Either we take “every thought captive,” or we are taken captive by “philosophy and empty deceit.” Lest we underestimate the dangers of not being “rooted and built up in him,” I once knew a young professing Christian who spent too much time in online debates at skeptic forums. Hoping to fulfill 2 Corinthians 10:5, he got to the point where he became overtaken with doubt. Among other issues in his life, backed into a philosophical corner and unable to scale the Kantian wall, he thought the only way to settle the question of God’s existence was to hope for grace and end his own life. The critic may think that religion was his problem, but quite the opposite. He understood full well the bankruptcy and utter meaningless of existence if atheism were true. The idea of God in the world was not his problem; it was the the idea of a world where God didn’t exist that sent him to his watery grave. Yes, we are in a war.

How then shall we walk? What does your walk look like? Is it a natural outflow of your mystical union Christ? Are you intentionally being rooted and built up in Him by spending time in His word and the other means of grace He has provided? Does the watching world recognize the authority of Christ manifested in your walk? More importantly, does Christ recognize the sound of His footfall in your gate? He has already given us all we need to win the battles before us, therefore, just as we have received the Lord, so let us walk in Him.

1 James D. Bratt, ed., Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 488.

*All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).