Anything and Everything
by Shawn McEvoy, crosswalk.com
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?Romans 8:32
When my children were but ages five and three, they already knew my weakness.
They recognized that it’s not ice cream, baseball, or their mom’s chili… or even a hug or puppy-dog eyes from them.
See, none of the above make me cry (although the chili almost did once). Yes, my children have seen their father cry. It’s not something I wanted, or intended. I’m a man, after all. I go to work, show my strength. I coach, help, show, point, and guide. I communicate, discipline, and lead. I pray. I do not cry.
…Except when I read Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, that is.
And like I said, my children, who are older now, have known this from early on. And oh, have they twisted that knife. We must own a couple hundred children’s books, but if it’s a night where Daddy is doing the bedtime reading rather than Mommy, what have they invariangly picked through the years? The Giving Tree of course!
I’ve been reading this book, first published in 1964, since I myself was a child, and no matter how many times I do, I am unable to de-sensitize. I mean, when I watch the movie Field of Dreams and Ray has a catch with his ghost-dad, that gets me. But if I see the scene over and over within a certain time frame? Nah. No sweat, no tears. But this blasted children’s book… well… what’s going on here?
First of all, you’re probably wondering that very thing if you aren’t familiar with the story. A tree and a boy are the best of friends during an idyllic childhood for the young man where he eats apples from the tree, climbs her trunk, swings from her branches, and rests in her shade. Then things change, as things do, and we see the boy approach the tree at all the various stages of his life, caught up – understandably, even – more in wanting and needing than in just being. Every time he has a “need,” the tree obliges… and is happy for having done so. She doesn’t have much, but gives all she has until eventually, she is nothing but a stump. At the end of all things, however, it turns out a stump is just what the old man needs – a quiet place to sit down and rest and reflect. “And the tree was happy. The end.”
And I am undone… again.
Is it because I am reading the story to my children, and I know our stories will be very much like that of the tree and the boy, where they are my delight but eventually I must simply become provider as they go out into the world? Yes and no.
Is it because our family copy of the book – the one I read to the kids – carries an inscription from my wife on our first Christmas that says, “With God’s help, may I love you like this”? Yes and no.
Is it because as my father lay dying I told him of the story (he wasn’t familiar with it), and how he had been that tree for me? That’s definitely part of it. My mother, I remember, commented that she didn’t recall it being a “Christian” book. I didn’t really have an answer to that, only to what I saw in it. Which is…
Complete love to the point of emptying. Unquestioning sacrifice, even for someone who isn’t appreciating or understanding what they’ve been given. A desire only to have communion. An entering into final rest. In other words, a perfect example of the immensity of what Jesus did for me, desired from me, provides for me, and will carry me to.
That is why I always cry.
So every time I finish the story, eyes full of tears, my kids look at me wondering if I’m okay. My youngest used to ask, “Why you cry, Dad?” And every time I’ve explained, I think she has understood just the tiniest bit more. These are tears of being overwhelmed by the enormity of the Giver and the immensity of a gift to a person consumed with self-interest who has forgotten innocence. A short time ago these children opened their hearts to receive that gift. Now I pray that they won’t miss the other lesson from the book: all our Giver really wants in return is our time, for us to come to Him as we did as children.
Choosing Honor When I Feel Dishonored
“Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you.” Hosea 10:12 (NIV)
I remember one day when I got an email that started, “Shame on you.”
And of course, it came on the same day I had some technical issues messing with my workday along with a little attitude situation involving a family member.
But instead of firing off the initial email response my flesh wanted to send, I stopped and lifted up a simple and honest prayer: What is the deal, Jesus? Why do I always seem to have little pieces of brokenness in my life every day? It’s so frustrating. I need Your perspective on the brokenness, or I need a break from it. There was no answer. No instant verse. Nothing.
Until the next morning. With a tired heart, I sat once again at my farm table and opened up my tattered and worn Truth Book. And there, in the book of Hosea, God had wisdom my heart desperately needed. Wisdom I want us to break down together today:
“Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you” (Hosea 10:12).
Sow righteousness for yourselves …
In other words, we must sow righteousness into our lives — right choices that honor God. We must make these choices. Choose to honor Him in the midst of it all. Even when we are dishonored, honor Him still.
Reap the fruit of unfailing love …
There will be fruit in the midst of every choice that honors God. It will be the fruit of God’s unfailing love. Remember, Romans 8 teaches us that nothing shall separate us from the love of God. Yet, that is Satan’s great tactic — to get us entangled in things that make us forget or doubt God’s unfailing love.
We resist the enemy’s distracting entanglements by honoring God with the choices we face right now.
Break up your unplowed ground …
Pain and heartbreak are hard. But I’m learning we must not resist the blessing of brokenness that tills the ground of our hearts. Breaking up the unplowed ground of our hearts makes them ready for new life, new growth and new maturity that can’t be found any other way.
For it is time to seek the Lord …
We must seek God like never before. And part of seeking Him is allowing for grace space in our lives — granting God’s grace a space in our minds, our hearts, our lives. When circumstances of life leak us dry, we can see this emptiness as an opportunity. Instead of reacting out of emptiness, we can choose to see that this emptiness is the perfect spot for a space of grace in life.
And as we give grace to those who don’t deserve it, the mercy jars of heaven will lavish it back on us.
The showers …
I love this part. This is where we see growth. We begin making more right choices that honor Him. We start looking at life, people and annoying circumstances differently. And we even dare to whisper, “Thank You,” when the need for grace spaces comes again and again.
I don’t know what kind of frustrations or heartbreak you face today, sweet friend. But let’s decide right now we’ll give our hearts permission to grow in fertile soil by making right choices that honor God. Let’s make space for grace. And then let’s watch God work in our hearts and lives in ways we never would have dared to ask.
Father God, help me trust Your love for me enough to choose to act contrary to my feelings and simply walk in Your Truth. I know living according to Your ways yields a harvest of blessings. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Streams in the Desert – January 21
Times have changed, but life’s hard times haven’t
None of these things move me (Acts 20:24).
We read in the book of Samuel that the moment that David was crowned at Hebron, “All the Philistines came up to seek David.” And the moment we get anything from the Lord worth contending for, then the devil comes to seek us.
When the enemy meets us at the threshold of any great work for God, let us accept it as “a token of salvation,” and claim double blessing, victory, and power. Power is developed by resistance. The cannon carries twice as far because the exploding power has to find its way through resistance. The way electricity is produced in the powerhouse yonder is by the sharp friction of the revolving wheels. And so we shall find some day that even Satan has been one of God’s agencies of blessing.
–Days of Heaven upon Earth
A hero is not fed on sweets,
Daily his own heart he eats;
Chambers of the great are jails,
And head winds right for royal sails.
Tribulation is the way to triumph. The valley-way opens into the highway. Tribulation’s imprint is on all great things. Crowns are cast in crucibles. Chains of character that wind about the feet of God are forged in earthly flames. No man is greatest victor till he has trodden the winepress of woe. With seams of anguish deep in His brow, the “Man of Sorrows” said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation”–but after this sob comes the psalm of promise, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
The footprints are traceable everywhere. Bloodmarks stain the steps that lead to thrones. Sears are the price of scepters. Our crowns will be wrested from the giants we conquer. Grief has always been the lot of greatness. It is an open secret.
The mark of rank in nature.
Is capacity for pain;
And the anguish of the singer
Makes the sweetest of the strain.
Tribulation has always marked the trail of the true reformer. It is the story of Paul, Luther, Savonarola, Knox, Wesley, and all the rest of the mighty army. They came through great tribulation to their place of power.
Every great book has been written with the author’s blood. “These are they that have come out of great tribulation.” Who was the peerless poet of the Greeks? Homer. But that illustrious singer was blind. Who wrote the fadeless dream of “Pilgrim’s Progress”? A prince in royal purple upon a couch of ease? Nay! The trailing splendor of that vision gilded the dingy walls of old Bedford jail while John Bunyan, a princely prisoner, a glorious genius, made a faithful transcript of the scene.
Great is the facile conqueror;
Yet haply, he, who, wounded sore,
Breathless, all covered o’er with blood and sweat,
Sinks fainting, but fighting evermore
Is greater yet.