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This is a perfect sunflower.
Even if a few of the ray petals have been nibbled, the next one is still perfect.
And this ragged, windblown flower, eaten by root worm beetles?
The beautiful, golden ray petals are gone. The leaves have shriveled in hot, dry winds.
This sunflower head is frostbitten, not a trace of green leaf or sunny yellow left.
It is absolutely perfect!
Not your idea of perfection? It depends on what language you’re speaking. We English speakers most often think of this definition of the word “perfect:”
entirely without any flaws, defects, or shortcomings; correct in every detail
Some of us have carried over this idea of flawlessness to our Christian walk, thinking a character and life without defects was required of us. We have heard bits of verses taken out of the whole of Scripture, and they made living the Christian life seem like a Herculean task.
For every honest heart knows they are bug-eaten, wind-blown, and drought-stunted. There are days the hard freezes of life stop us in our tracks, and we feel like dried-out husks without a tinge of green life left in us. We make the choices and say the words and think the thoughts that take us a universe away from perfection.
There is good news, friends! We need to reclaim the older meanings of the word “perfect.” The old Latin word from which our English comes is
“perfectus:” to finish, bring to completion.
In the Greek of the New Testament is the word for “perfect” (teleios) which speaks of
a thing meeting its intended, end purpose.
What is the designed, end purpose of the sunflower? In general, all of creation testifies to God’s glory and His character.
Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. Romans 1:20 RSV
However, what can the sunflower do that nothing else can? It produces sunflower seeds–enough seeds to ensure reproduction and to feed birds and other animals.
We live in a broken world , but the good news is “the Good News.” Jesus provided a way for us to be forgiven, and now we can live out our intended end purpose. Jesus taught that the first and second greatest commandments were to love God and love our neighbor as our self.
We can love and glorify God. We can love our neighbors by sharing the gospel seeds with a world that is spiritually (and literally) hungry. Be a perfect sunflower–face the warm sun and “go to seed.”
They are artists with a shutter for a brush and use lenses as extensions of their own eyes. These three women from my church frame hearts and souls and bits of creation and then snap them into sermons of pixels. I’ve been privileged to see the photos that Barb, Rachel, and Shannon birth, pictures that make me say “Ah, yes, that’s the essence of that child” or “Lord, what a world you’ve made!” I confess that I’m envious of their talent. I wish for their “eye” that sees the end product before the lens cap is removed.
I’ve recently upgraded my camera, so I am learning. I still leave the lens cap on, take pictures of my fingers, use inappropriate settings, or focus on the wrong place. My instruction book is getting dog-eared. Technical details about the self timer can be ironed out with a quick turn to page 67, but figuring out the correct “point of view” is proving more difficult. What place should I shoot from, at what angle, and where should the focus be? To get the photos my photographer friends take, I need to walk where they walk and see the world from their perspective.
In the same way that I’ve been learning from these three, I learn from those who are ahead of me on the path we walk as Christians. What do they stop and gaze at? What is their focus and point of view? How much of the “instruction book” is embedded in their minds? I had the opportunity last weekend to learn from others at a women’s retreat our church held, using Ann Voskamp’s 1000 Gifts DVD Study.
We immersed ourselves in a new/old point of view–we ate and slept and prayed gratitude. We were reminded that God’s grace shines on us, and we learned to see through the lens of gratitude, and to witness the final photos of joy in our lives. We were prompted to change our perspective, to stand where God stands.
The joy is there, even when showers come, as it did one afternoon of the retreat.
Remember what happens when the light shines from behind you through the raindrops? Look up, and you might see
You need the right point of view.
It was so small, I nearly missed it.
A white aster, less than an inch across, struggled to survive in the parched, crunchy lawn. If not for the habit of watching where I placed each footstep, scanning for bees , I wouldn’t have seen it.
Normally, this wildflower would be over two feet tall, full of daisy-like blooms and alive with butterflies.
Not this plant–it was drought-stricken, stepped on, mowed off.
A corn root worm beetle crawled across the face of the single blossom.
Isn’t that how life is for us some days?
We struggle. We feel small, alone, inadequate,
convinced we have nothing to offer.
In the story of Elisha it was so small, I nearly missed it.
The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.” Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?”
“Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.”
Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.”
She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.”
But he replied, “There is not a jar left.” Then the oil stopped flowing.
She went and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.”
2 Kings 4:1-7 NIV
The neighbors. I’d never considered their part in the miracle before. Elisha asked the widow to go to all her neighbors for empty jars.
What if the neighbors had said “No”? But they didn’t. Instead, they were able to participate in the “big” miracle that we’re still reading about and amazed by today. The neighbors’ jars may seem insignificant, but the miracle that day depended on them saying “Yes.”
We can say “Yes” to God, even when we feel we have nothing to contribute, when we feel small.
Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love. (Mother Theresa)
It was so small, I nearly missed it.
The still, small voice that says we are enough, that we are adequate, that we have something to offer.
Our jars are not empty after all. Given in faith, given with love, they’re big enough to hold a miracle.
If you haven’t read Leslie Leyland Fields yet, then you’re missing out on some wonderful stories, beautifully told:
life in Alaska as a commercial salmon-fishing family,
the trip from one island to another surrounded by a pod of fin whales,
the Baptist church pew on the boat dock,
and the problems at the intersection of Kodiak bears and garbage containers.
Leslie allows us a glimpse into a life and a landscape that few of us will every experience. Whether we are surrounded by suburbia, corn fields, or Alaskan mountains, we share the same faith in God–in his love and his workings in our wild hearts.
Her memoir Surviving the Island of Grace: A Life on the Wild Edge of America is available as an e-book today and tomorrow (Oct. 8 & 9) for 99 cents.
I’m on chapter two. I recommend it.
Diamond sprinkles of stars sparkled overhead in between the masses of unseen trees. The lane to the campfire in the clearing ahead was clothed in warm, black velvet of a late summer night. We had never been to this park, to this site before and had no idea of the terrain between the parking spot and the campfire area. We switched on our flashlights and hoped the batteries would last, as we pointed one at our feet where the next step would be placed, hoping to avoid holes and outcroppings of rocks. We pointed the other beam just ahead to see if the pathway climbed or turned to skirt unknown brambles, and we continued walking with increasing confidence as our eyes adjusted to the dark.
Our journey through life is like that, as if we’re walking in the dark.
So much of the path ahead is unknown. (It is God’s grace that we don’t have to know all of tomorrow’s sorrows.)
There are potholes to fall into,
rocks to trip over,
mud to suck off your boots,
and prickly branches that can grab and pull you aside.
But there is also great beauty:
constellations spinning overhead,
crunch of leaves underfoot,
and fresh incense of pine needles quietly crushed
sweet smoke tickling your nose,
wafted by the warm caress of a breeze.
We’re given enough light to make the journey a step at a time–to avoid some of the pitfalls and to see some of the glory around us.
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. NIV Psalm 119:105
God’s words in Scripture and the God himself are our lamp and our light.
For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, Proverbs 6:23 NIV
You, Lord, are my lamp 2 Samuel 22:29 NIV
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, . . . John 1:1,4,5 NIV
It takes faith to step into the dark, to put one foot in front of the other when you can’t see more than a few feet ahead;
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1 NIV
faith that the lamp won’t go out and that there will be enough light for the next step;
faith that, even if the way ahead seems blocked, that a way will open;
faith that detours are for a good reason, because God sees what we cannot.
The garden path in this photo leads, eventually, to the house of a lovely, Christian woman whose sweet spirit and faithfulness I admire. I would walk up these steps into the darkness because I trust who she is and her care for my well-being.
We trust in the one who lights our footsteps, the one who doesn’t want us to stumble over rocks or become mired in mud, the one who has seen the end of the journey. We all, each day step into darkness, but it’s all right because we trust the one who takes the journey with us.
. . . you’ve got my feet on the life path,
all radiant from the shining of your face.
Ever since you took my hand,
I’m on the right way. Psalm 16:11 The Message
night sky photo by freedigitalphotos.net
Preparing for the delivery of a new refrigerator, I removed all the magnets and photos from the old model before its scheduled removal. I carefully placed photographs of children, grandchildren, nieces & nephews in a cardboard box and dropped the variety of magnets beside the photos:
plain round magnets,
wooden hearts painted in long-past VBS crafts session,
and a lone “F,” all that remained from a set of magnetic letters given away years ago.
After the side of the new refrigerator was redecorated with magnetic smiles and frozen-in-time moments, the “F” remained on the front.
It became, however, less a child’s educational toy and more a graded evaluation of a time in my life, “F” for failure:
I hadn’t thought of “Sandy” in years, but one day a sudden flood of memories of my cruel words drowned me in remorse. I’d been happily chatting a moment before, but blue skies had turned to emotional storm clouds in a moment. I wished I had never hurt her, and I wished I could forget this long-ago, confessed sin the way God had.
For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.
Hebrews 8:12 (NIV)
I don’t know whether it is a gift of God or a product of a middle-aged memory, but as I write today, I can’t recall my cold-hearted offense toward “Sandy.” I have removed the “F” magnet from my refrigerator and placed this photo there instead to remind me of God’s abounding love.
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
Psalm 103:8-12 (NIV)
I am grateful that God’s love is so great that he can remove and forget my sins. He does not write red-inked and large across the papers of my life: “F” for failing. Like my gifted magnetic letters, God’s alphabet now has no “F.”
Photos by Barb Briggs
As I wash the copper-bottomed saucepan in the warm, soapy water in the kitchen sink, I gaze out the window at the apple trees in the back yard. The branches are bent low, nine-months-pregnant heavy, full of crimson fruit. I sigh, thinking of all the work I’m facing with those bushels of apples, the need to find ways to use or preserve them.
As the dishes are drying, I search cookbooks, with worn spines and splattered pages;
Apple pie, baked apples, apple juice, apple dumplings,
faded, dog-eared, recipes on 3″ x 5″ index cards;
apple cake, apple roll, apple bread, dried apples, apple bars, pickled apples,
apple sauce, apple jam, apple jelly, apple butter
and recipes, only a click away on the internet.
apple cider, caramel apples, apple fritters
I sigh again, wondering if I should freeze or can or dry or bake . . . There are so many apples.
What I should do is be content and thankful for the bounty God has provided. Usually I am discontented when I lack something, but today I am complaining about abundance. Paul had experienced these extremes, too.
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
Philippians 4:12 NIV
I sigh again, this time with a whisper of “Thank you.”
I know what it is to have plenty.
I’ll have my apple pie with a scoop of contentment, please.