Jun 6, 2011

lesson of the scotch broom

I was sitting in a clinic today in Centralia chatting with a medical student and an MD when one remarked on the pretty yellow flowers outside in a nearby field. After trying to google "pretty yellow flower" unsuccesfully, a nurse walked in and we asked her. "Oh, that's scotch broom ... The most noxious plant there is. Very annoying and spreads like crazy." Wait a second, how could something that seemed [to us foreigners of Centralia] so pretty, in fact be "noxious" and "annoying"? I dutifully returned to my faithful Google page and typed it in. The first website I found literally called it a "noxious plant". Apparently, this foreign, pioneering plant from England invaded the Northwest and has reeked havoc by crowding out native plants and destroying wildlife habitat, not to mention costing thousands upon thousands of dollars in losses for loggers. Now, bear with me. I'm not going to ask you to sign a petition or wear a Save-The-Wildlife shirt. I promise. Instead, I want to draw a metaphor from this invasive weed that we can apply to our daily life.

As I drove back to Seattle from Centralia today, I kept a look-out for scotch broom. I didn't have to look hard; scotch broom was rampant the whole 80 miles home. I never paid too much attention to the plants along the freeway other than thinking they were pretty. But it got me thinking: What is the "scotch-broom" living in my own heart? What have I allowed to invade as a "foreigner" and pioneer itself directly into my heart and mind? And then it hit me.
The list goes on and on. All of these act like invasive weeds, pushing out what is good, and replacing it with a counterfeit, pretty-looking, but costly alternative. Truth be told, these things all look good on the outside, just as us three originally thought the scotch broom looked so bright and pretty. Sin looks good. It has to, or else who would be drawn to it? Bitterness? It feels good to not want to get over someone's wrongdoing against you. You have the right to hold a grudge. And self-pity? I would be lying if I denied that it feels great to feel like the victim. Poor me. Unthankfulness? Well, no one thanked me, so why should I thank them? And then we have greed. Now don't even try to tell me it's bad to want stuff ... and by stuff I mean everything. Right? Wrong.

I am not posting this to point any fingers, because truthfully, the pointed finger should be directly at me. I once allowed these unwelcomed weeds to enter my heart, take residence, and proliferate. But just as enviornmentalists can't put a gate around scotch broom and keep it from spreading, these spiritual weeds begin sprouting in our whole being. They plant themselves in our heart and end up taking hold of every part of us. Our actions. Our speech. Our service to others. Our relationships. All affected by these weeds that suffocate anything good and pure in us.

Countless scripture cite the heart as the starting place for all sorts of sin [Matt. 5:19, Mark 7:21, Luke 6:45]. That's why we are instructed above all else, to "guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life" [Proverbs 4:23]. If we allow bitterness, lies, self-pity, and other ruthless weeds to enter our hearts, it is like a pollutant to our "wellspring" of life. Think of it. Physically, our heart is actually a "wellspring". It is the organ at the center of our body and all veins lead to it, while all arteries flow away from it. No part of the body is left untouched by the effects of this "wellspring". If it does, you get necrosis -- death to a body tissue. Basically, science is reaffirming what the Bible has already stated before anatomy and physiology classes exist: The heart is pivotal to the workings of the body. If you have problems with your heart, you end up having problems with every other body system because life flows from the heart. So, why do we allow such filth to enter our hearts? Why do we allow thoughts of bitterness that lead to a spirit of unforgiveness for others, yet invite super-forgiveness for our self-pitied selves?

I believe that the main culprit here is the weed of Bitterness. All of the rest of the aforementioned "weeds" are results of bitterness. Start with someone wronging you and you become bitter. Let yourself brew over how wronged you were, and you've stepped into the wasteland of self-pity. Sit there for awhile and you'll see mile marker Unforgiveness nearby. Walk around a bit and you'll encounter the need for greed. They all go hand-in-hand, eager to take your hand and lead you to a endless circle of misery.

But there is a way out because there is One who is the Way. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The "wellspring of life" I mentioned? It originated because of His spoken word. When we give all of our hurt and pain to Him, He is more than faithful to heal our broken, marred hearts. The same God that is a Potter molding cracked vessels and creating us anew, is like a Gardener who uproots all the weeds that have taken over our hearts and minds. Isn't it a bit ironic that after Jesus' body was missing from the tomb, Mary confused the resurrected Jesus with a gardner who took Jesus' body away? In reality, Jesus is like a gardner. When we allow Him to remove the noxious, foreign weeds and replace them with His love, His forgiveness, His grace, we have a garden of Eden in our hearts, hand-crafted by the Creator! Because, really, who else can you trust to make your heart a garden other than the original Gardener of the actual Garden of Eden? :)

The Bible instructs us how to start removing all these harmful weeds:
  • Don't even go there:  Ask God to set a guard over the doorway of your heart, that the mere thought of bitterness may not even lay a foot in your heart. A huge "Do Not Enter" sign needs to be posted. Just as Proverbs 4:23 instructed, guard your heart!
  • Keep on the right path: "Be wise and keep your heart on the right path" [Prov. 23:19]. Read the Word to know the right path. Ask a trustworthy friend to be an accountability partner and ask how you're doing with that area, talk to a church elder or someone you trust and confess any areas that you're struggling with. Think of what is pleasing to the Lord: Whatever is true, noble, right, worthy or praise, admirable, lovely [Phil.4:8].
  • Watch yo' self: "Be careful and watch yourselves closely so you do not forget..." [Deut. 4:9]. Daily ask God for a discerning spirit to convict you when you're allowing bitterness, self-pity, and other weeds to start sprouting again. Ask God to show you what areas you need to work on. Ask Him for forgiveness and the strength to live differently... and then live life as a forgiven child of the Almighty!
I know I learned a lesson from the scotch broom today.  I pray that any weeds in my heart will be uprooted and removed so that I can be a "tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither" [Psalms 1:3].


Jun 4, 2011

Song of a Bird in a Winter Storm



The sun is shining bright outside, so I should not be thinking about winter storms, but this poem is so beautiful, I had to post it. Even amidst the beauty of the much-awaited rays of sunshine, many are in a personal winter storm of the spirit. Discouraged. Feeling lost and beaten by the merciless winds. But thankfully, the same Loving Creater who provides the sunshine and birds to sing joyful songs is also the Creator who takes care of us when the song is gone and the tears flow. May this bring encouragement of God's faithfullness in those times when we feel like a bird cought in an angry winter storm.

Song of a Bird in a Winter Storm
[ Based on Habakkuk 3:17-19]

Though the rain may fall and the wind be blowing,
   And cold and chill is in the wintry blast,
Though the cloudy sky is still cloudier growing,
   And the dead leaves tell the summer has passed,
My face I hold to the stormy heaven,
   My heart is as calm as the summer sea,
Glad to recieve what my God has given,
   What e'er it be.

When I feel the cold I can say, "He sends it,"
   And His wind blows blessing I surely know,
For I've never a want but that He attends it,
   And my heart beats warm, though the winds may blow
The soft sweet summer was warm and glowing;
   Bright were the blossoms on every bough;
I trusted Him when the roses were blowing,
   I trust Him now.

Small were my faith should it weakly falter,
   Now that the roses have ceased to blow;
Frail were the trust that now should alter,
   Doubting His love when when storm clouds grow.
If I trust Him once, I mist trust Him ever,
   And His way is best, though I stand or fall;
Through wind and storm He leave me never,
   He sends it all.

Why should my heart be faint and fearing?
   Mighty He rules above the storm,
Even the wintry blast is cheering,
   Showing His power to keep me warm.
Never a care on my heart is pressing,
   Never a fear can disturb my breast,
Everything that He sends is a blessing,
   For He knows best.
[- R.N.T.]

And here is Habakkuk 3:17-19, quite possibly my favorite verses in the Bible. They have lifted me up during some hard days these last four years:

17Though the fig tree should not blossom,
   nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
   and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
   and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
    He makes my feet like the deer’s;
   He makes me tread on my high places.