Roots

In recent months, a potted tree in my garden had grown really large. While it had formerly been taking it’s time to grow, it seemed that overnight, it had grown very fast and the canopy had gotten enormous. Upon further inspection, I came to realize that though potted, the tree root had found it’s way through the pot drain hole, then rooted into the ground itself. Though the increased canopy size caused the tree to begin leaning, the root was so secure, the tree remained upright. Kind of how our ability to remain upright is also influenced by how we are rooted.

Colossians 2:6 tells us that once we accept Christ Jesus as our Lord, we are to let our roots grown down into Him and to build our lives on Him. It is from Jesus that we gain our strength for life, whatever may come. This is the source I have drawn from many times when faced with adversity or heartbreak. It is from this source that many are able to demonstrate incredible peace and grace in some of the most horrific circumstances.

The more I grow in my faith, and deepen my relationship with God, the more that the superficiality that often accompanies faith grieves me. Why? One reason is that the world sees it. We can proclaim to be Christians, but when our behavior does not reflect the identity of Christ — He who Christians are to model our lives after — it causes others to disregard His beauty because they attribute our ugly behavior to Christ. My heart breaks when this can describe me.

So many people who proclaim to be Christians approach faith like a box to be checked every Sunday, then live their lives as everyone else does during the week. I know…I used to be one of them.

But I have learned there is so much beauty in the authentic depths of faith. The more I have truly yielded my life, not just my Sundays, to Christ, the more I have experienced the greater depths of who God really is. And He is remarkable! I have been a born-again believer since 1995. That term — born again — used to really sound freaky to me. But Jesus himself actually used these words to describe a spiritual rebirth:

John 3:3: “Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

Rebirth to something new is the whole point. Authenticity starts when we recognize that we cannot try to live like Jesus, who demonstrates strength, grace, mercy, peace and so many other amazing things, if we do not start with a spiritual rebirth and go deep with Him. We must choose for ourselves who we will follow. Then, we must learn about who He really is and what He says by studying the Word, allowing him into all the dark places we try to hide. It just won’t work if we are not authentic. It is not meant to.

The inauthenticity of trying to live like this is usually pretty obvious. People play their role, say all the right things, demonstrate the motions, yet their lives do not reflect an authentic reflection of the Savior. Here too, I speak from experience having been like this before. What about this demonstration of faith would cause someone to want to know more about Jesus? What indeed.

Sadly, when we try to “do” faith, not only are we not good representatives of the beauty of God, but we also cheat ourselves out of the most beautiful, life-altering relationship we would have if we chose to live an authentic life of faith. 2 Corinthians 5:17 describes this so beautifully:

“Therefore if any person is [ingrafted] in Christ (the Messiah) he is a new creation (a new creature altogether); the old [previous moral and spiritual condition] has passed away. Behold, the fresh and new has come!”

It just doesn’t get better than that.

So back to that tree for a moment. Because I knew that leaving it where it was would become problematic, I had it transplanted. While it seemed secure, this morning when I was out in the garden, I realized that it had completely fallen over. Why? Because the tree roots were no longer deep, rather, they were shallow. At first glance, it looked strong and beautiful. But it had no depth to keep it upright. And so it can be with us.

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Kindness

Kindness. One simple action, capable of such significant impact. I wonder if like me, when recalling the last time someone showed you unexpected kindness, you remember being caught by surprise. Sadly, it seems that people simply being kind because they choose to be has become the exception and not the norm in our busy, self-focused world.

Maybe this is why when hearing positive human interest stories, we’re often so touched by them. They offer encouragement that the human race is still more decent than it often seems to be. Many people are familiar with the Scripture that speaks of how we are to treat others:

Luke 6:31 “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Treat others as we want to be treated. That verse really sums it up quite simply. But do we regularly do this when our only motive is to be kind?

The good news is that every day, we encounter at least one opportunity — likely many more — for intentional kindness. Recently, I saw a wonderful example of someone who truly went out of their way to be kind.

A man in an electric wheel chair was crossing the street and when he was only part way across, his chair completely stopped working. Here he was, clearly disabled, and the chair would not budge. He had to climb out, on two very crooked and precarious legs, to push the chair across the crosswalk. I imagined he felt so vulnerable and embarrassed. It broke my heart to witness it unfolding. Even more so that I was not in the right place to help.

The good thing is that there were many cars stopped at the light. I just prayed out loud “somebody help him!” Thankfully, a woman ran up and helped him push the chair to the other side. I was so proud of her and so grateful! I honked and waved, mouthing “thank you” to her when I passed. She smiled back.

Clearly when more obvious opportunities like this come to us, most people I know would rush to help. But what about all of the other less than obvious times we have to extend intentional kindness, every day?

These opportunities present themselves in small, seemingly unimportant ways. For example, greeting service clerks warmly, allowing other cars to merge, saying please and thank you and truly meaning it, or smiling as we actually make eye contact. It may not seem like much. But to the recipient, it may make all the difference between a good day and a bad day; feeling seen or unseen…maybe even the decision to choose life for someone who felt invisible before you came along and offered them encouragement. Sound dramatic? The impact of simple kindness can be.

Even though extending kindness should be done without any expectations of receiving in return, the truth is that the giver is often left feeling great and sometimes, even benefits tangibly too.

A personal example of this is with my 80 year old neighbor, Bob. I love to garden and a few years back, I was out in the early morning planting flowers and saw that his little flower bed in front of his house was sorely in need of some freshening up. So I walked over and planted flowers there for him. To me, it was simple and I loved doing it. To him, this was a big deal…he was so touched and so happy. That alone made me feel great. But guess who now takes my trash cans to the curb every week. Yep, Bob. He walks with a cane and can only see with one eye. But every weekend, he insists on doing this for me. Kindness…multiplied.

Beyond being kind to others because it is the right thing to do, Hebrews 13:2 tells us “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Maybe even angels in wheel chairs and 80 year old neighbors.

Words

Today while I was out and about, I witnessed a moment that started out so sweet, yet became something altogether different. A woman was pushing an adorable little girl, appearing to be about two, in a stroller. The woman was having fun making the stroller swerve back and forth while making playful noises. All the while, the little girl was squealing with delight. Her joy made me smile.

Just before they were out of earshot, I heard the woman say to the little girl “you’re such a chubby legged little girl.” Cringe.

Words. Such power to bless yet also to do harm. I’m certain that in this case, the woman didn’t say this to her out of unkindness. In fact, she may even have meant these as words of affection. I know I am probably being hyper-sensitive here. But for me and so many I know, the sting of words like these, regardless of the spirit in which they were said, have left lingering marks on our souls. Even words spoken to us long, long ago.

As I wandered away from the woman and the little girl, I said softly to myself, “please don’t say things like that to her.”

We can be so casual with our remarks to others. At times, we’re clueless to the pain or discomfort they create. This is often the case with “nicknames” or feeling like we have the freedom to make comments to someone about their appearance. We’re not.

This may be why there are Scriptures that mention the power that words can have, for good or for bad. A beautiful demonstration of the good is Proverbs 15:14: “A gentle tongue is a tree of life.” Or Proverbs 16:24: “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” What a beautiful summation of the positive impact that our word choices can have on others. What a gift we can give to someone. These “words of life” are the words we should freely express.

Examples of the destruction from negative words can also be found in scripture. In fact, verses about such harm are plentiful! Check out just one from Proverbs 12:18  “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts.” Sword thrusts…wow. The definition of rash is “displaying or proceeding from a lack of careful consideration of the possible consequences of an action.” In this case, the power of our words can create a negative consequence. 

So my plea is that we are simply much more careful with our words. Naturally, this applies to those we speak in anger. But also to those we make casually. Because even if we mean no harm from what we say as just a nickname or even a truthful observation, take it from me and so many others who have been word-wounded by others, words have real power. When not used for good, that destructive power can plant seeds of insecurity and self-doubt; can wound like a sword…sometimes for life.  

I pray that we will instead take follow the advice of another verse, Ephesians 4:29 “Let no corrupting talk come out of (y)our mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Said another way, if we can’t say anything nice, we should not say anything at all.