Tasty

Marjoram (1)

by Christine Berglund

The chartreuse pop of color that my marjoram displays is a nice contrast to the plainer green in the herb bed. As a matter of fact, that might be the only reason that it’s there. The plant is an ornamental variety, and not as flavorful as its standard, less flashy cousin.

That’s too bad. I like to make herb vinegar in the fall, and rarely does the marjoram earn a place in the herb mix.

So it is with so many things that look attractive on the surface. They just don’t measure up.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good. How happy is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:8, HCSB)

Here is one realm where tasting is believing! God does not disappoint those who trust in him.

Unfortunately, too many will not “taste.” There are many who remain on the outside looking in, so to speak, with the church. They look at the menu of what they perceive to be Christianity, but don’t really delve into what the truth is and what the Bible teaches.

When they see something they think they won’t like, they act like petulant children, and won’t take a bite. Maybe they perceive a legalistic attitude, maybe it’s an illogical emotionalism, maybe something else. It’s important for us to reflect Christianity in a palatable way, but it’s also each person’s responsibility to check things out for himself.

One sweet lady I know is turned off by what she perceives as unnecessary violence in the times of the exodus from Egypt and the conquest of the promised land.

We have not had a chance to really discuss it yet, but so far she has been open to the idea of learning new ideas. It’s my personal opinion that she will see why there was so much violence in the Old Testament, once she digs in and gets a taste of the Bible as a whole.

Isn’t it just like baking a cake? The flour may not be good all by itself, nor the cocoa powder, nor the other ingredients; but put together, a chocolate cake is pretty yummy! The flavors blend and come together in a way that makes sense.

I do have to admit that the ornamental marjoram might be a good ingredient in some more mild dishes. It’s possible that I haven’t done enough tasting for myself. In the meantime, it holds a place in my garden for its visual appeal. I’m glad I tried it out!

Maybe you have been struggling with questions about the church, or about the Bible. What is necessary here is to “taste.” Get into the word of God, and find out how delicious Christianity is!

Same old same old

Cleomes (1)

by Christine Berglund

The Cleome flowers growing along the fence look identical to what they looked like a month ago-–at least at first glance. The flower heads look the same, and they have spidery seed pods sticking out underneath each flower.

This is what gives the plant the nickname “Spider Lily.” To the untrained observer, it appears that the flower does not die off, but stays in bloom throughout the season.

What really happens on this plant is that the flowers just keep coming on at the end of the stem. Although they look like a well-formed ball, they are actually individual flower stems that take on a spherical appearance because the new mini-flowers are smaller, and the older ones droop slightly, thus giving it a curved shape.

That round mass of frilly, spikey, pink and purple puffball seems to get pushed further and further on ever-lengthening stems, sporting the spidery seed pods among the short leaves along each slender stalk.

As a gardener that watches her plants carefully, I know it is time to cut these plants down, because the thickening woody stem will prove too weak to hold up the continually growing stems. The result will be that these “Spider Lilies” will flop beyond the borders of my flower beds in a messy, tired heap.

These plants, among others, show signs of age. As the garden creator, I know their end is coming soon. The cleomes don’t know this, and they just keep putting on more and more flowers. Aren’t we humans the same?

We act as if we have all the time in the world. We even look around and say “I don’t see anything different.” The ancients fell into this same delusion.

“… I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’” (2 Peter 3:1-4, ESV).

By design, there is no warning or hype leading up to the coming of the Lord. This makes it easy to dismiss the reality that there will be a day of judgment. There is nothing different happening that would show that Jesus might be coming.

“For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-6).

As I clip and gather the fading Cleomes to toss into the firepit, I am reminded of the transient nature of our existence on earth.

Since I’m only a garden creator and not the Creator of the world, I won’t even take a guess at whether we are living in the last days. But I know the promise of his coming is true, and I intend to be ready! How about you?

Think souls

Onion sprouting

by Christine Berglund

My father used to say:

“The onion is the only vegetable with a soul. It can get downright rotten, but inside there is something that will live and grow again.”

As with many of Daddy’s philosophical statements, this one rings true but is actually part of a larger truth. All seeds and bulbs have parts that rot in the ground. Jesus illustrates this concept in a grain of wheat.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24, NASB).

Our lives, like the onion, can get really nasty and foul. Mankind was corrupt and rancid when Jesus came and redeemed us from the rottenness of sin. He saw the part that will live on, and valued it immeasurably!

The world can be a rotten place, with seemingly rotten people. We naturally recoil from the sin, just as I will surely wear garden gloves when planting my decaying onions.

But we must never forget the great value of that soul inside. In the course of our lives, we will come in contact with people who have turned their lives into a putrid mess. Yet, there is always that immortal life within.

The most reprobate of humankind are valuable souls. Whether they will have a chance to turn their earthly lives around is irrelevant.

That non-slimy part on the inside is still going to live after death. Whether they live in sin-caused disease or even in prison for a few decades, what does it matter in light of eternity? All is made new in the new heaven and the new earth, where righteousness dwells.

The scriptures give examples of some degenerates who were “washed” and “sanctified.”

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

My onion will live through the spring and probably have two bulbs to harvest in the late summer. Our family can enjoy one in a batch of chili, and the other one can be planted, or stay in the ground to reproduce further.

My other dead-looking seeds are even more valuable as I plan to harvest and then to propagate more plants from their seeds. Similarly, we won’t know how many souls will be reached for God until we hold our noses and reach out with the gospel to those rotten ones.

It is always astounding when I hear from that bratty boy in second-grade Bible class who is now a faithful gospel preacher. I marvel at God’s wisdom when I think of the alcoholic who was confronted by my husband at the local bar, and sobered up and became a church leader.

Some have even found their former way of life a motivation toward greater works in the kingdom; in the same way that the squishy, useless part of the onion will then feed the developing plant.

Hardcore gardeners plant and cultivate our decaying vegetables, because we see the life within. Daddy might have seen it as “Thinking Souls.”

Road rage

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by Paula Harrington

I’m always amazed at the stories of road rage that make the news and how furious some people become while driving. Honestly, I’ve been aggravated at times, but never have I been so absolutely livid that I’ve wanted to hurt another person because of their lack of driving abilities.

I don’t really get it, and I think the truth of the matter is that people are already angry before they get behind the wheel because let’s face it, life is hard. It doesn’t matter where you are in your journey; you’re either going through a difficult time or just coming out of one.

Matthew 7 has a great story where Jesus explains that storms come upon all of us. Rain, wind, and floods wreck havoc in all our lives regardless of wealth or status.

The part I love about this narrative is that Jesus, as usual, not only tells us how life is, he tells us how to live it. He gives us the key to weathering those trials.

Build your home on the rock. Peace and joy aren’t based on your physical situation but on your spiritual location. Is your entire life focused in, on, and around the Christ?

Do you begin and end your day with Jesus? If so, you’re good. If not, no wonder you honk, cuss, and rage at the people around you. When you don’t know Jesus, you’re speeding down the wrong lane in the dark without any headlights.

Sometimes we need to do more than change lanes to get right with God; sometimes we need to change roads altogether.

If we want hope, then the road we’re racing down better be the one that leads to Heaven. If we want peace, then Jesus better do all the driving.

Move over and let Jesus take control. He won’t always keep you off the rough roads, but he’ll get you where you’re going.

As the Twig is Bent

Corkscrew Willow11

by Christine Berglund

My lovely Weeping Corkscrew Willows, Salix Matsudana Tortuosa, have always been bent and twisted. It’s a defining feature of the tree, and it adds texture to the garden as the curly branches twist and twine their way toward the ground in zig-zag waterfalls.

We have named the pair “George” and “Gracie.” George is a bit older, and I wasn’t very diligent in trimming off the new, contorted sprouts as they grew off the four main trunks. (Yes, four trunks; another gardening mistake of mine).

Consequently, a few of them crossed each other and got intertwined, and now are growing as one mangled branch. That distorted branch isn’t going in the direction that it should have, and I could have prevented the disfigured mess if I had pruned it while it was younger.

“As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.” We use this old adage when we speak of raising children. The principle is also true at any age. Adults can allow themselves to be easily impressed, or “bent,” into exhibiting certain characteristics.

It’s really all about how we learn bad habits and make them our own by repeating them. Using coarse language, adopting a negative mindset, or a general feeling of entitlement might be a beginning of even worse behavior.

Or perhaps the first drag on a cigarette, viewing porn, or cheating others for dishonest gain might be an outgrowth of earlier, smaller directional choices. Twisted thoughts beget twisted actions. Before long, sin entangles us.

“But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:20-24, NASB).

Thankfully we don’t have to stay “bent out of shape” when we “learn Christ.” While it is impossible to straighten out the contorted branches and twigs of my trees after the wood becomes hardened, with God nothing is impossible!

Bad habits and even personality characteristics can be changed through being “renewed in the spirit of your mind.”

The word “repentance” literally means to turn around and go the other direction. My curly willow trees sometimes have branches that have doubled back on themselves; it’s really quite interesting to see!

As a gardener might judiciously prune the branches to make them more visually appealing, we can cut out the bad habits and turn around to go in the right direction. This process is much easier before the habits become a way of life.

Now that I am more familiar with these Corkscrew Willows, I find that it is a good idea once in a while to untangle those wayward, curly branches. That way the effect will be a neater, more flowing appearance.

We would do well to untangle our lives and habits, too.

Quicksand

bible_studyWoman1

by Paula Harrington

I was talking to a group of friends recently about certain verses that have helped us during particular times of our lives. It’s hard to narrow the entire Bible down to one or two encouraging verses, but the ones that seem to pop into my mind more than others are found in James 4.

Too often, I repeat those familiar words:

“Submit to God. Resist the devil. Draw near to God and He will draw near to me” (James 4:7).

Why after all these years do I need to continually remind myself to draw near to the Creator of my soul? If I’m going to be honest with you, then this is where I would admit to being a bit stubborn.

My first instinct isn’t to give God control of my situations. I’m more likely to try to work them out on my own first. Can you relate?

Life is difficult, and it’s not meant to be lived alone. As children of the Heavenly Father, we need him to survive and thrive. Life can often be like quicksand.

Frustrations, doubt, schedules, bad attitudes, and every other kind of fear are weighing us down, but Jesus is standing nearby quietly whispering, “Take my hand and you’ll be ok.”

However, sometimes, we’re quick to reply, “I’ve got this. I can work it out on my own.” And there he stands; waiting for us to realize that we don’t and we can’t.

As we try to wrap our minds around our struggles, Jesus offers to take them off our hands. Even when we take his hand and firmly grasp to the only hope we have, he doesn’t always pull us out of that quicksand.

Sometimes he just holds us tightly assuring us that we will not be overtaken.

Life can hurt. Take that nail scarred hand and find the peace and comfort that is so readily available. Hear the one who quieted the storm say, “I won’t let you fall” and believe him.

Find happiness in the certainty that you are not alone regardless of what you face. And remember, joy begins where fear ends.

Numbering our Days

Calendar989

by Christine Berglund

There are now seventy-one days left until the first expected frost, for most of Middle Tennessee, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. This might leave time for another crop of beans, but in my area that could be risky.

The big topic for discussion lately is how many days there are until school starts. In many cases it has already begun. My daughter has exactly eight days left at home before going back to college.

If you’ve ever been close to a young child waiting for a birthday or holiday, you will be constantly reminded about the days remaining until the big event!

It is human nature to keep track of our time and our days. We maintain an abundance of watches and calendars. We do this because it helps us plan, whether it is for a garden, first day of school, or a birthday party.

In the garden, we can avoid failure (such as my frozen tomato seedlings this spring) by watching and numbering the days, and being aware of the correct time and season.

My failure to harvest an unfamiliar variety of tomato last year reminded me of the necessity to “number my days” right. Their greenish color tricked me into thinking they were not ripe, when I should have been aware of the proper number of days from planting to harvest.

I am growing another green tomato variety this year, and now I am experienced enough to pay attention to the expected ripening date.

Do we learn appropriate timing with the mundane tasks of our lives, but not our spiritual needs?

“So teach us to number our days,
That we may present to You a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12, NASB).

What a wonderful thing to present back to our Creator — wisdom! On the other hand, what if we haven’t planned on meeting him when it’s time, and we are not ready? Totally unwise.

Life will advance minute by minute, day by day, year after year whether it is spent serving the God of creation or our own tiny selfish wants and needs.

What about presenting to God a heart of wisdom? That will only happen, as the Psalmist said, if we allow the Father to teach us to number our days.

Knowing that this journey that we call life is a “limited engagement” should ultimately cause us to choose more wisely how we spend that short time. It is this realization, that time is so limited, that makes it precious to us. We then use it with much better discernment.

Does it bother you as much as it bothers me when you hear someone speak of “killing time?” To me, that’s simply murder!

There are several ways we can make the most of our time:

  1. Put God first, the rest should fall into place.
  2. Make memories; cherish the moments before, during and after those especially precious times. Before, by good planning; during, by being there — REALLY there –- not with your thoughts elsewhere; after, by remembering and focusing on the good.
  3. Know the reason you were put here on earth (Ephesians 2:10).
  4. Stay aware of eternity (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

Time will pass one way or another; whether we fritter it away with life’s little cares, or whether we really energetically dig into life with all our being!

“Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories” (Ray Bradbury).

After its kind

Black Krim

by Christine Berglund

When the good Lord made the earth, he set in motion the laws of Nature. Plants reproduce after their kind (Genesis 1:11, 12).

He put the DNA material in them to allow hybridizers to develop different varieties, but in general, plants grown from good seeds will precisely replicate the parent plant.

It is with this confidence that I planted the seeds last February for the delectable Black Krim heirloom tomatoes that I had discovered last season. We decided that we would be happy if all tomatoes tasted this good, even though they were as ugly as tomatoes can get.

We borrowed a large grow-light setup from a good friend, and carefully planted the little plastic cells with the seeds ordered online. Every day I would use a spray bottle to keep the potting medium moist, but not so wet that the seeds would rot. We put the grow lights on a timer, so that they would be sure to get enough light to get that head start that they needed to give us early tomatoes.

Two of them were tenderly planted in the cold frame, to keep the late frosts from freezing them while they got used to being outside. The rest were repotted into larger containers, and spent most of the mild days outside near our back walk. They were taken in to the garage on frosty nights. Well, almost all the frosty nights.

Good thing I still had seeds, right? A new planting was made in late March, and the same care was taken to ensure that we would have these tasty, purple-green tomatoes for summer harvest.

Here it is August, and we finally get to reap the harvest of the careful seed-starting and growing. Our first plant, saved from that fateful frost and planted in April, produced in June. We thought it was odd that the tomatoes were pink and oddly shaped and deeply ribbed.

By the time the second one started producing a few weeks ago, this time a dusty red color without the telltale green shoulders of the Black Krim, we knew there was a problem. Not only had the seeds been mislabeled, but they were not even all the same!

Finally, this week, a third plant started bearing fruit. At last, it had the green on top and the purplish-red on the underside that we recognized from last year’s favorite tomato.

It didn’t quite taste as good as we remembered, but that’s a subjective judgment, and we will have to settle for what we have, in any case.

I am reminded that the Bible is compared to seeds. It reproduces precisely, unlike my poor tomatoes.

The fruit? Christians! Not different kinds, not the “wrong” kind, just Christians; the same as it produced in the first century (See Acts 2:22-42). If the seed is pure, the fruit will be true.

When we taint the pure words of God with those of so-called modern “prophets” or spiritual leaders or church councils, or a governing body of any kind, it will produce contaminated fruit. Preaching and teaching are necessary and useful,  but the final authority is the Bible, and nothing else.

Just as 2000-year-old date palm pits found at Masada were successfully sprouted in 2005, spiritual seed produces after its kind.

One of the most amazing and wonderful things about the true church of Christ is that it can be reproduced anywhere and at any time, by reading and following the scriptures.

“The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11b, NASB). Use good seed, and get a good harvest.

The dangers of being church people

TurtlePatience11

by Paula Harrington

The church bus rolled up to a neighborhood full of kids recently. Before I even saw the children I heard one of them yell, “The church people are here!”

It wasn’t the first time I have heard the designation. However, I have to admit that it bothers me only because it comes with a huge responsibility. And if we’re being honest, one that we’re not always that great at.

Church people should begin and end with love. They’ve made a commitment to their Savior out of love and strive to take that unending love into the world.

They feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned, take the Gospel into uncomfortable situations and unchartered territories. They’re not bashful about sharing it, and they’re unafraid to risk their lives for it.

Church people should have an interminable joy and not because they are a stranger to problems. They know grief well.

They’ve walked down broken roads, but they also have a happiness that comes from having a hope greater than the trials of this life. These kinds of people have been known to sing in prison & encourage others as they face their own executions.

Church people should be people of peace who refuse to give into drama. They should be so confident that their citizenship resides in Heaven that they’re not burdened down with the problems of our government, nor do they bow to treacherous leaders out of fear.

They boldly stand on the truth while honoring the rulers of their day, however malicious they may be.

Church people should know patience well. Their entire lives are filled with waiting for the promise of their returning King. Their peaceful spirits influence those with whom they work, live and worship.

Church people should be so kind that their little corners of the world are better because of them. They never miss an opportunity to treat others well and because of this attitude have been accused of turning their parts of the world upside down.

Church people are great at stirring up good works. They are bridge builders who are gentle in their actions and words.

When I heard those sweet kids use the term church people, I cringed because I thought of those shoes that I have a responsibility to fill and how many times I have failed.

I thought of the moments when I have been a stumbling block to a world searching for the truth. Moreover, there are the times when I have tried to deal with people and their messy lives on my own instead of taking them straight to the one who died for them.

And honestly, I don’t want to be known for a church regardless of how much I love her, I want to be known for a King who has risen and reigns. His reputation is in our hands. That isn’t a burden but a blessing that should definitely get our attention.

When people see you, who do they see? Is it a building on a corner or a city on a hill?

Are we there yet?

topiary11

by Christine Berglund

Changes, changes, changes. The second herb garden is now a daylily bed with very few herbs in it. They have been moved farther north to get more sun.

Originally the herbs were in the front corner bed by the garage, but it proved too wet there, and besides, it was taken over by chocolate mint.

Don’t be alarmed, the mint is now contained in a ceramic pot near the patio. Oh, and the patio is rather new, it was a bare spot near the back porch a few years ago. We now have a nice place to sit and look over the new yellow bed in front of the willows. That spot used to be home to tomatoes and corn.

When it comes down to it, the whole backyard was completely bare when we bought the place. Friends keep telling me how much we have done with the yard in the last few weeks, or months, or years.

Once in a while, someone will ask me if I now have the yard arranged as I wanted it. It elicits the same reaction as do children in the back seat of a car asking the age-old question, “Are we there yet?”

Is the landscape, done on a tight budget mostly with bartered plants, the way we want it to remain? Well, even if it were, there would be natural changes that would occur.

Trees and shrubs don’t stay small. When they do mature, they don’t live indefinitely or stay healthy and attractive. (Oh, boy! I know how that works!) The prudent homeowner would be forced to replace old vegetation with something new as time goes by anyway.

The fact is that I am always learning about new types of plants that would be fun to grow. I might discover a plant that would do well in a problem area, or find a new heuchera that perfectly matches my ninebark. So, no, we are not there yet. We never will be!

In our Christian walk we must know that we will never “arrive.” We may get Bible degrees from a university or a school of preaching, or we may have read the Bible through a hundred times. But we will never in this life reach a complete knowledge or maturity.

In fact, the more we mature, the more we realize this!

We can improve dramatically, just as my herb garden has drastically changed for the better and provides me with plenty of rosemary, oregano, and thyme. It even looks much better than it did in the old corner garden.

But as we change and grow and improve, we are more acutely aware of other aspects that need spiritual attention.

Our associations with good Christian people make us see even more possibilities; just as visiting a new garden gives us more ideas for improvement of our own. Good people continue to inspire us. Reading and studying God’s word will always bring new light to corners of our lives that we may have neglected.

Even the apostle Paul stated that he had not attained perfection.

“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-13, NASB).