Let’s Get With The Program

Photo by Jill Wellington on Pixabay

I don’t seem to have much luck getting birds to cooperate with me.

Years ago, I bought a Victorian-style birdhouse, and painted it light blue with white trim. I nailed it to a tree where I could see it when sitting at my kitchen table. I imagined the delight I’d have watching birds move in and raise their young there. I couldn’t wait for my new feathered neighbours!

But the birds refused to move in.

Year after year, the pretty birdhouse sat empty. I was so disappointed. What ingrates those birds were! And after all the trouble I’d gone to for them!

The problem was, I’d put the birdhouse where I wanted it, with no thought to their needs.

The birdhouse was pretty, certainly, but its placement didn’t suit the birds one bit. Being nailed to a tree made it too accessible to predators like squirrels or raccoons. The birds didn’t feel safe nesting there.

I thought the problem was with the birds, but it was with me. I’d done it all on my terms and expected them to get with the program.

Don’t we sometimes do the same with God?

We want to do things on our terms, in our own way, and expect God to get with our program. I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way.

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Give It Time

Handkerchief Tree photo from Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Do you get the feeling that society is becoming too impatient?

We seem to expect instant results these days: immediate responses to our texts or emails, same-day delivery for things we order, instantaneous loading of videos or web pages. In fact, a study showed that a YouTube video that loads slowly will start losing viewers after two seconds.

The problem is that sometimes our impatience with technology gets applied to people, too. We expect people to change quickly, and if they don’t, we lose patience with them and give up on them.

This reminds me of the tale of the handkerchief tree.

Called the dove tree in its native China, it became known to Western visitors in the late 1800s, who were entranced by it. The handkerchief tree features stunning white bracts surrounding its flowers, which resemble doves, ghosts or fluttering handkerchiefs, hence its name in the West.

European botanists in China collected the seeds and brought them back home, keen to grow such a gorgeous tree. One gardener planted the seeds, but was disappointed to find after a year that they hadn’t sprouted into seedlings. Figuring that the seeds must be no good, he discarded them by dumping them onto his compost pile, then forgot about them.

To his surprise, two years later he saw a bunch of seedlings on the compost pile. They were from the handkerchief tree. They had sprouted after all!

What he didn’t know was that seeds of the handkerchief tree have what’s called a “double dormancy”: they require two years to germinate, unlike most seeds which will sprout within the first year.

He had written them off too soon.

Don’t we do the same with people sometimes?

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Does The Bible Really Say That?

Darth Vader photo by Steven Miller on Flickr CC BY-2.0

Sometimes we can get a bit fuzzy about what the Scriptures say, can’t we? We hear a commonly used phrase and think it sounds a bit “Bible-ish,” so we assume it’s in God’s Word. But we may be mistaken.

Let’s try a little quiz. Which of these sayings is in the Bible?

  1. “God helps those who help themselves.”
  2. “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”
  3. “Just follow your heart and believe, and you can do anything.”

Actually, NONE of them can be found in the Scriptures. The first was popularized by Ben Franklin, the second by John Wesley, and the third is from a Disney song!

Let’s try again. How about this one:

  1. “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

Who said that? It must have been Jesus, right? That totally sounds like something He would say, probably to His disciples.

Actually, that immortal phrase was uttered by Darth Vader in the original Star Wars movie!

We can really get thrown off track when we don’t know Scripture for ourselves. When we mistakenly think certain phrases are in the Bible, we can even believe things that are contrary to what God says.

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Consider the Lilies

Pink Tiger Lily photo from Pxfuel

Many of us fret about our clothes. We worry that they aren’t stylish enough, or that they make us look fat, or that they’re last year’s (or even last millennium’s) fashions.

Some of us even worry that we won’t have enough money to buy the basic clothes we need.

But we shouldn’t be anxious that God won’t provide for us. After all, look how He’s clothed the flowers.

Have you ever marvelled at the rich “vestments” some flowers are clad in?

Look at the iris attired in silky frills, the peony robed in ruffles, or the delicate tracery of Queen Anne’s lace. The sumptuous, constantly unfurling petals of the rose boast the finest tailoring. Some flowers are decked out in speckles, mimicking the polka-dots on a dress; others are costumed in stripes, like a crocus. Even the common petunia can have petals that resemble luxurious velvet.

Red Rose photo by AliceKeyStudio on Pixabay

God hasn’t stinted on giving flowers rich colours, either. What about the intense blue of lobelia, suitable for any royal robe? Or the bright yellows of daffodils, the vivid oranges of marigolds, or the saturated reds of poppies? On the paler end of the spectrum are the shy blues of the forget-me-nots and the delicate ballet-pinks of some tulips.

Some flowers even have names which relate to clothing: bachelor’s buttons, lady’s slipper, Texas bluebonnet, foxglove, lady’s mantle, and monk’s hood.

And how about those lilies? In fact, I seem to remember a Bible verse which talks about the beautiful garments lilies wear:

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Got Baggage? Jesus Understands

Image by Scott O’Donnell on Flickr CC BY-2.0

Do you ever feel like you have too much “baggage” to ever be accepted by people, let alone by God?

Do you need a sense of hope that you could be loved despite the burdens you’re carrying from your background? Then read on…

A few weeks ago, we explored the moving account of Ruth and Boaz in the Old Testament. It’s a favourite of many people, because it’s one of the few outright love stories in the Bible. But we sometimes get so caught up in the romance of the story that we miss how startling their pairing actually was.

Boaz was a wealthy landowner living in ancient Israel. He was successful and respected, a descendent of Abraham himself. One would have expected him to marry a woman of his own people, someone from an equally illustrious family.

But Boaz ended up marrying Ruth, a woman with three strikes against her: she was poor, a widow and a foreigner. She had nothing and was a nobody in the eyes of the Israelites. In fact, she was worse than that: she was a Moabite, a group hated by the Israelites. No doubt Ruth was looked down on by many in the community.

So why would Boaz agree to marry her? We know that Boaz respected Ruth for how she’d cared for her mother-in-law. And certainly, God’s hand was on their meeting and their union. But why was Boaz so accepting of the idea of marrying someone like Ruth? Why was he not put off by her “baggage”?

I believe an answer lies in Boaz’ background. Turns out he had some baggage of his own.

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In Dependence Day

Image by Linnaea Mallette, Publicdomainpictures.net

This weekend, my neighbours south of the border celebrate their nation’s birthday.

July 4th is known as Independence Day for our American friends. There is much to admire about their yearning for freedom and their hard-won independence.

On the whole, independence is a good thing. We try to foster independence in our children, and rejoice when they’re finally able to do tasks for themselves, such as tying their own shoelaces or making their own beds (although some teenagers never seem to master this one).

But as Christians, we have a slightly different take on independence. We’re called to live “in dependence” on God, not independent of Him.

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This Is Who We Are

Canadian Flag Photo from PickPik

In a few days, Canada will be celebrating its birthday. July 1st is Canada Day, a holiday on which we have parties, set off fireworks, and wave the flag.

We’re all attached to our national flags, aren’t we? Each is beautiful in its own way. Some flags have blocks of colour, some feature significant symbols, others have patterns of stars and stripes. A handful of countries depict plants or trees on their flags, mine among them.

Canada’s flag has a maple leaf at its centre. In fact, the nickname for our flag is the Maple Leaf. As a nature lover, I’m proud to have a symbol of a plant on my national flag, and especially pleased that it’s a leaf from one of my favourite trees.

Growing up, I loved maple trees: I climbed them, enjoyed the sugar and fudge made from their sap, collected their red and orange leaves in autumn to press and even jumped into raked-up piles of them.

I’d venture to say that all Canadians love maple trees. The trees themselves are beautiful and stately; the wood harvested from them is so strong it can be used as the flooring for bowling alleys; we harvest precious sap from them to make sought-after products; and the leaves turn gorgeous colours in the autumn.

The maple leaf is the emblem of Canada. It symbolizes who we are as a people: hardy, strong, nature-loving northerners.

Just as the maple tree is important to Canadians, there’s another tree which is very important to a certain group of people:

It’s the tree Christ was crucified on.

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Don’t Just Sit There…

Spaniel Photo from Pxfuel

I received an alarming notice in my mailbox from my neighbourhood association recently.

It informed me that there was an infestation of “dog-strangling vine” in the area. Dog-strangling vine is an unwanted, invasive plant that can choke out native species. The leaflet told me what steps to take if I saw this plant in my yard, and who to report its presence to.

Inexplicably missing from the notice, however, was the answer to a crucial question:

Will the dog-strangling vine actually strangle my dog?

I’ve conducted some research on this vital issue for readers of The Faith Cafe and can assure you that this crafty vine likely won’t strangle your canine. Unless, of course, he sits next to the vine and keeps perfectly still for several weeks. But if your dog isn’t in the habit of sitting motionless next to murderous flora, he’s probably safe from this vicious plant.

I’m being facetious, of course, but perhaps there’s a lesson here for us when it comes to sin:

If we just sit there and take no action to avoid the temptation, we’ll get into trouble.

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What’s in a Name?

Photo by Jill Wellington on Pixabay

As a gardener, I must admit that I prefer using the common or folk names for flowers. These sometimes-ancient names are often whimsical and enchanting, like “Miss Willmott’s Ghost,” whose origins we explored last week.

Who wouldn’t love calling flowers by such names as cherry pie plant, lady’s slipper, love-in-a-mist, baby blue eyes, bachelor’s button, quaker ladies, whirling butterflies, johnny-jump-up, busy lizzie, or candytuft? It makes the heart sing to use endearing names like these.

The scientific or botanical names for flowers, on the other hand, can seem daunting. They’re usually derived from Latin, and while they can give a more accurate description of what a plant’s nature is, they can sound a bit intimidating to my ears.

In fact, some botanical names actually sound like a disease:

“Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve got Scabiosa again.”

“That’s nothing! You should see my sister’s Myosotis: it’s rampant.”

“You don’t say! But did you hear about Kelly? She’s got Nepeta nervosa.”

“No! Is she seeing a psychiatrist for that?”

(In case you’re wondering, Scabiosa is the botanical name for the pincushion flower; you might know Myosotis better as the little blue forget-me-not; and Nepeta nervosa is a type of catmint.)

I’m so glad that we have the opportunity to use informal names for the flowers we cherish.

In the same way, believers have been given the great privilege of using a remarkably intimate name for God: “Abba Father.”

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Miss Willmott’s Ghost

Giant Sea Holly: Photo by Matthew Richardson on Flickr CC BY-NC-ND-2.0

I saw Miss Willmott’s Ghost this week.

No, I don’t know anyone by that name, and I haven’t seen any actual ghosts lately.

I’m referring to the giant sea holly, a plant whose nickname is “Miss Willmott’s Ghost.” I happened to see it on a visit to my city’s botanical gardens recently.

The giant sea holly was given this whimsical moniker in honour of the equally eccentric Ellen Willmott, an English gardener who lived in Victorian times.

Apparently, Miss Willmott so loved this plant that she carried its seeds with her at all times in hopes of helping it proliferate. On a regular basis, she would secretly scatter the seeds in other people’s gardens when visiting them. Later, this silvery thistle-like plant would mysteriously appear, no doubt causing the garden’s owners to do a double-take and wonder how it got there.

Perhaps we as believers in God should take a page from Miss Willmott’s book. Not to engage in any guerrilla gardening necessarily, but to follow her example of planting “seeds” wherever we go.

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