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My eight-year-old daughter, Hallie, still can’t wrap her arms even halfway around the giant oak in our yard. Our little farmhouse was built in 1930—the first in this square mile—many, many moons ago. She looks like a pint-sized ant standing by the tree’s trunk, peering up into the branches that triple the height of our home. “How did it grow so big?” she asks with a blend of curiosity and wonder. “Well. It happened a little bit at a time, every single day,” I answer. “We can plant an acorn and water it and make sure it’s positioned for sunlight, but it’s God who makes it grow.”

Growth happens a little bit at a time, every single day.

My five-year-old son, Jack, stands next to his daddy and looks up at his towering stature with a proud grin. He measures the top of his head to the middle of Dad’s ribcage and questions, “How can I grow like you?” Derek lifts Jack up on his shoulder and tosses him on the couch like a throw pillow. “A little bit at a time,” he tells him, “every single day.” “We can eat healthy food and make sure our bodies get lots of exercise, but it’s God who makes you grow.”

“It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building.” (1 Corinthians 3:7-9)

Even now—today—we’re all staring down the barrel at some kind of task: starting a project, remodeling a house, potty-training a toddler, teaching a classroom, learning the ways of God, leading an organization, breaking down walls in a less-than-ideal relationship. And we find ourselves asking, “How can this grow?” The truth is: progress happens a little bit at a time, every single day. Contrary to popular opinion, there’s no quick fix or speedy drive-thru window. We can bring our best and implement different strategies and never give up, but it’s God who makes it grow.

We can bring our best and implement different strategies and never give up, but it’s God who makes it grow.

Sometimes we stand back and look at the heroes of our faith like Abraham and Moses, John and Paul—maybe even a parent, teacher, or mentor. And we wonder, “How can I grow to be spiritually mature, like them?” You know the answer by now: Growth happens a little bit at a time, every single day. But rarely does anything happen overnight (or by itself). Instead, our lives are built moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day—by planting, watering, and allowing God to do the deep, mysterious work. God’s plan all along was for us to be coheirs and coworkers with Jesus in the Kingdom of God.

Our lives are built moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day—by planting, watering, and allowing God to do the deep, mysterious work.

Jesus told many stories about the value of investing our time, talents, and treasures wisely. He didn’t create us as robots, but as living and breathing people with divine responsibility—not to earn our salvation (he already won that battle), but to continuously bring glory to His name.

God will do His part, I promise. But let’s not forget to do ours.

 

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I was picking weeds yesterday—knees in the dirt, earth under my fingernails. Grumbling to myself, I muttered something like, “Didn’t I just do this?”

Honestly, this isn’t an uncommon thought running wild through my brain. More like a broken record serenading my everyday life…

Didn’t I just scrub the dishes? Didn’t I just pay that bill? Didn’t I just correct my child? Didn’t I just meet a deadline? Didn’t I just workout? Didn’t I just return the forms/folders/emails/phone calls? Didn’t I just fill up with gas? Didn’t I just buy a fridge-worth of groceries? Didn’t I just charge my phone? Didn’t I just finish my to-do list? Didn’t I just meal-plan? Didn’t I just shave my legs? Didn’t I just pick up 4,000 Legos off the floor?

Didn’t I just…?

“Again” is the Daily Grind’s favorite song-on-repeat and, frankly, this annoys me. I don’t want to do it again. I want to do something ONE TIME and be good for all of eternity—or at least a solid week.

We the People love to create and to cultivate; make progress and make headlines.

 

It’s fun to start and fulfilling to finish. But maintenance? Checkups? Soul-keeping? Managing the unseen? Protecting what’s already there? Pulling weeds, cleaning out closets, digging through emotional/spiritual junk drawers that need to be dealt with and sorted into somewhat organized bins?

BLAH, BLAH, BLAH (plugs ears with index fingers). No thanks.

Let’s do something NEW and EXCITING and PRODUCTIVE and POSTWORTHY instead! Yes, let’s do that… and not the other thing.

Back in the day (the sixth to be exact), God gave Adam two commands about the garden that was his very world: (1) “Work it,” and (2) “Keep it.”

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15)

We often lump this phrase into one solitary instruction, which typically falls into the category of “do something awesome!” But there are actually TWO independent responsibilities laid out in this verse. God made a stark distinction between both verbs with one little conjunction: and. Work it and keep it. Create and maintain. Cultivate and protect. Working is not the same as keeping, nor the other way around.

The Hebrew word for work is Abad: to work, serve, till, cultivate, labour. 

The Hebrew word for keep is Shamar: to keep, guard, preserve, maintain, care for.

Work it baby, but don’t forget to keep it too.

Let’s get real here… Maintenance isn’t sparkly or glamourous. It’s changing the oil in your car, unloading/reloading the dishwasher a thousand times, and updating your computer with the latest software. It’s making space for date night, reading another bedtime story, and having that hard conversation. It’s cracking open the timeless Word of God, realigning your heart with His, and continuously shifting your perspective and position toward the things above.

Maintenance can feel boring and unsexy, but it’s vital nonetheless.

The majority of our lives are spent on maintenance—on “keeping it.” However, most of us, if we’re honest, would rather skip the upkeep and hurry on to moving and shaking and leaving our mark on the world. God knew we’d get prideful and cocky though, arrogantly assuming we could do it all on our own. So He devised a plan…

God built maintenance into His purposely-engineered and perfectly-executed design.

 

We were created to need God over and over again. Our utter desperation for the basics—to eat again, drink again, sleep again, breathe again—reminds us that we are not self-sufficient. We are not the kings and queens of our own fairyland. We need something (or Someone) outside of ourselves in order to survive.

Cue the reminders…

Remember when Jesus prayed, “Give us this day our daily bread”? Key word: daily. Not weekly or monthly or yearly. DAILY. Because we constantly need refilled in order to sustain the hard and important work of pouring ourselves out again. (See Matthew 6)

Remember when the Israelites were wandering around in the desert and God gave them unexpected miracle food called manna? He did not bless them with gobs of excess to put in storage and use as needed. In fact, if they gathered more than a day’s worth it would rot and stink. (See Exodus 16)

Why did He do this? Why did He make them depend on His faithfulness every day? Why didn’t He just give them a giant supply so they’d stay out of His hair for a while? (I mean, come on, they were clearly an exhausting bunch.) Why in the world did He design our bodies to hunger and thirst for food and water every few hours of every day?

Maybe it was to remind us that:

(1) We are helpless on our own.

(2) He is our source, provider, sustainer, and the heartbeat of our very existence.

 

What if God designed us to find Him in the ordinary—in the “keeping it”? What if He intended for us to feel our way to Him through the mundane, repetitive tasks that makeup the pieces of our lives?

You don’t just plant a tree; you water it too. You don’t just get married; you nurture that relationship. You don’t just start a career; you make it happen every day. You don’t just birth a baby; you love it and take care of it. You don’t just believe in Jesus; you follow Him day by day and step by step.

Working and keeping—a compatible dance. Similar to the one where we work hard on our ordinary days and also keep the Sabbath.

“Keeping it” is essential for anything to flourish. “Keeping it” is the sacred act of guarding, protecting, and preserving the precious treasure that has been entrusted to our very souls. “Keeping it” is the utmost level of endurance, perseverance, and long-term faithfulness. Not because of what we’ve done, but because of who He is.

So, work it baby. Do your thing. Move as many mountains as He allows.

But don’t forget to keep it too.

 

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I ran into a parked car today.

Well, it wasn’t quite as bad as that sounds. I accidentally tagged an SUV (hello white Lexus) while pulling into a parking spot at the gym this morning. Oops. 

I felt an unusual tug of resistance scrape against my car—triggering immediate cringe reflexes and the impulse to sink low into my seat. My heart froze as I glanced through the passenger window to see if there was any visible damage.

I’m embarrassed to say that I was instantaneously tempted to grab my purse, unbuckle Jack from his car seat, and walk nonchalantly into the gym without so much as a second glance at our cars. Ignorance is bliss, right? But, instead, I grew some you-know-whats and took the walk of shame around our cars, revealing a few obvious scratches on both vehicles.

I hate how my sinful nature just sits there—waiting for an unlocked door. And I was reminded how we usually do one of three things (often all three) when faced with our own moral compass:

We hide.

We blame.

We justify.

Back in the garden, after Adam and Eve disobeyed God, the first thing they did was hide. Then he blamed her and she blamed the serpent and it all started spinning out of control. “It was the woman you gave me,” Adam reminded God. “But that slimy snake lied to me,” Eve explained.

It’s easy to think we would’ve behaved better, because we’d never do that—right? But we often forget that our sin carried Jesus to the cross just as much as theirs did. And our thoughts are sometimes more telling than our actions.

Maybe I’ll just head into the gym without leaving a note. They probably won’t even notice. (hide)

Their driver’s side rear-end was on the line anyway. They should park straight if they don’t want to get hit. (blame)

It’s not like I meant to snip their car. I’ve never done anything like this in the past. (justify)

In the end, I left a note on the windshield—apologizing, explaining what happened, and leaving my information. I was prepared to face the music. But you know what? I got the sweetest little grace-filled text from a complete stranger just a second ago.

“Hi, I just saw your note on my windshield! Bless my heart for driving home not seeing it. LOL. My car looks just fine, I’ve got scratches all over so no worries at all. You are just awesome for leaving a note though. I appreciate your character. Have a great day!”  

Are you kidding me? Not only did she overlook my wrong, but breathed grace and encouragement into my life as well. (She didn’t know that my character was touch and go for a good ten minutes, but I’ll take what I can get.)

If you happen to be staring at some kind of wreck today, there’s good news. You don’t have to hide, blame, or justify—even if that’s what your flesh wants to do. Instead, search for higher ground. And don’t wait, or the waves might pull you under. Be honest instead of hiding, take ownership instead of blaming, and call it like it is instead of justifying what went wrong.

You never know. God might just use it as an opportunity to remind you of His grace.

And if you’re reading this, Mrs. White Lexus, thank you.

 

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Imagine yourself in a dark and empty room with nothing but a deafening silence.

There’s no breeze.

No movement.

No tick of a clock.

Even the breath in your own lungs seems paralyzed.

You can’t see anything but the pitch-black mass that’s enveloped around you. You can’t hear anything except your own hushed thoughts about the bleak surroundings. There’s nothing to smell, nothing to taste, nothing to feel.

Just—nothing.

This is how it was in the beginning (without so much as the imagined room in our hypothetical scenario). But then something happened…

The heavens and earth were exhaled into existence. And after that? God zoomed in on our tiny-yet-special portion of the universe and spoke four glorious words: “Let there be light!”

He started contrasting right away, separating light beams from shadows. But here’s where it gets interesting: God made light on Day 1. But he didn’t get around to making the sun, moon, and stars until Day 4.

Yep, you read that right. Light flooded into the darkness on the first day, but it wasn’t until the fourth that he hung two great beacons in the sky to govern our days and nights. You can read it all right here.

On an equally fascinating note: God will eventually do away with the same sun, moon, and stars. But there will be a source who outshines them all.

“On that day the sources of light will no longer shine, yet there will be a continuous day! Only the Lord knows how this could happen. There will be no normal day and night, for at evening time it will still be light.” (Zechariah 14:6-7) “No longer will you need the sun to shine by day, nor the moon to give its light by night, for the Lord your God will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.” (Isaiah 60:19)

“No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him. And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 22:3-5)

Can we push pause for a second?

I realize this sounds like crazy talk in light of the here and now in which we live, because the sun is obviously an essential element for life on this planet as we know it. And though it falls into the category of “things I just won’t understand until heaven,” it still happens to be one of my favorite mysteries.

Somehow, God illuminated the ancient world—just as Christ will illuminate the future world—in a way that’s completely over our heads.

I love how Zechariah says, “Only the Lord knows how this could happen.”

Do I understand all of this wildness? Of course not. And, man, I really want to understand it. But it’s also strangely comforting. Because guess what? There’s plenty that our beloved scientists don’t have a clue about. In fact, even the best of our man-made telescopes can only see a small portion of the observable universe (not counting the massive percentage that’s actually invisible—dark matter and dark energy that’s beyond our explorations and understanding).

I like that I have a God who knows way more than I do. Some things just won’t make sense until He allows the fogginess to become clear. Until then, we can marvel at His awesomeness, knowing He was light before setting his giant lanterns into place.

He was, is, and will always be the original source.

We already know there are many types of light—some that aren’t visible to our human eyes. Infrared light, ultraviolet light, radio waves, x-rays, and gamma rays are just a few of them. Even certain animals have extra rods and cones in their visual receptors that allow them to see a spectrum of radiance and color that we simply cannot envision! How cool is that?

So we shouldn’t be surprised to learn there’s more than what our eyes can see.   

God was light before He made light. And His blaze will remain long after the sun has faded away. But even more than that? He’s called us—purposed us—to be light too.

“Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, ‘I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you have the light that leads to life.’” (John 8:12) “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14) “For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.” (Ephesians 5:8-9)

Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, my situation is dark and miserable and hopeless.” Or maybe it’s not that dark—just bland and boring and stale. Maybe you feel like whatever light was there has flickered or faded or fallen off its stand. BUT THERE’S GOOD NEWS: God makes light where there is no light, and shines that self-sustained brilliance smack into the darkness.

As we swim out of summer and cozy into fall. As we pack lunches and send our kids off to start another school year. As we tackle new projects and jobs and adventures. As we nurse babies and sit through practices and dream dreams and set goals. As we love our people and occasionally stumble. As we take out the trash and drive-thru Chick-fil-A and wheel shopping carts through our hometown grocery stores…

May we be light where there is no light—only because we’re plugged into the source. May we bust open the murkiness with something bigger than the twinkling objects stuck in space. May we not solely depend on ourselves, but trust the One who’s outside of time and limitation. Who loves us and planned us and uniquely designed us and put us here on earth at this exact time in history for a specific calling—to know Him and to make Him known, in a way that only we can.

WE ARE PEOPLE OF LIGHT.

Let us never, ever forget.

“O Lord, you are my lamp. The Lord lights up my darkness.” (2 Samuel 22:29)

 

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