Freedom and Blueberries

My husband and I went blueberry picking earlier this week. The local blueberries are at the peak of their freshness and flavor. Our friends have a farm, complete with a blueberry patch, where you can buy farm fresh blueberries by the box, or you can pick your own and pay by the pound. We went early in the morning, while the dew was still on the berries. The day promised to be hot and muggy, but not until we had finished our labors among the bushes. We saw butterflies and heard the happy chirping of birds nearby; otherwise, it was quiet and we focused on gently rolling dark, sweet berries into our hands and dropping them into our buckets. We picked a little over 12 pounds of berries (enough for several pies!) in a little over an hour–a good harvest at a leisurely pace.

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I love visiting the blueberry patch. It brings back wonderful memories of visits with my mom and grandma, my sister, my husband, and even my oldest nephews. I love the feel of the berries as I gently pull them off the bush and as they roll into the bucket. I love the feel of the bucket pulling as it fills with fruit. I love measuring out the berries for pies or cobbler or just making sure we have several quarts frozen for later use.

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I’ve been picking blueberries for years. I’ve picked from several different farms in several different locations all around the area. Some years, the berries are huge. Other years, they are small and tend toward sour (still good for pies and baked goods, but not as tasty to eat by the handfull!) In all those years, I took for granted the wonderful freedom of being able to enjoy this activity. This year was different.

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There were two reasons for the difference. First, this was the year after COVID kept many people from enjoying “normal” activities– even outdoors–throughout most of the world. Even the ability to pick berries was limited by social distancing mandates and fears of catching COVID from other pickers or from touching the same bucket or being in the same weighing area as someone else. This year, I knew what it was NOT to be able to do something I considered to routine.

Secondly, we’ve been talking about freedom lately at church– the freedom we enjoy as citizens of America, but more importantly, the Freedom we enjoy as citizens of God’s Kingdom. As citizens of this country, our friends have the freedom to own their farm and grow whatever crops they choose. They also have the freedom and the opportunity to sell their produce as they see fit– commercially to stores or privately at a farm stand, or as U-Pick. They have the freedom to set their own prices and hours. And we have the freedom to choose from many such farms to purchase delicious, fresh fruit–and even to select the fruit ourselves! I had always accepted this as a “given.” But many people have never had this incredible opportunity, and I am so thankful for the many years I have enjoyed it!

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That’s an amazing thing– and I have spent a lifetime taking it for granted. But even more amazing is the Freedom I have through Christ. I am free to choose my attitude and behavior each day. I am empowered by the Holy Spirit to make the kind of choices I would not make in my own selfish mindset. I am free to live without the painful load of guilt and regret over the past– not because it didn’t happen or doesn’t have consequences, but because it no longer defines who I am or who I can be. Just like picking the plump, juicy blueberries from the bush, I can harvest the Fruit of the Spirit; I can have a life filled with Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-control! (Galatians 5:22-23) Just like being able to store up delicious fruit for the coming months, I can do what is required to please God– to act justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly with (my) God (Micah 6:8 paraphrased). Just like choosing which farm I will visit, I can seek out opportunities to reach out to people near and far with the incredible Gospel of Christ– in word AND in action.

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Who knew blueberries could be so powerful and so liberating! Thank you, Father, for blueberries. And thank you for the blessing of Freedom through Jesus Christ!

What’s Next?

As I write this, votes are being counted in our Presidential/General Election. I don’t know what the final outcome will be, but it looks like the election will be close; it may even be contested for days or weeks to come.

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There are consequences to this election– consequences for our legal rights and freedoms– consequences for churches and Christians businesses and services, and the individual free exercise of speech and religion. And the consequences reach beyond just my city or state or even the U.S. This election may impact how (or if) I can continue to write about prayer and Christian living. It may impact how my local church continues to operate. It will impact how mission organizations and religious services continue.

But there are several things that will not change as a result of any election: God is still sovereign; the Bible is still true; I will still be a follower of Christ– committed to living for Him and sharing His Gospel.

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In that sense, “what’s next” is exactly the same today as it was yesterday or last year– I am to trust in God’s plan; God’s provision; God’s timing. And I am to obey His word. I am to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God” (see Micah 6:8); I am to “love the Lord my God with all my heart, mind, and soul, and my neighbor as myself” (see Matthew 22:37-39).

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Yesterday, I did my civic duty; I voted my conscience. Today and going forward, I will do my civic duties– I will pay taxes, I will obey laws and guidelines that do not contradict God’s commands. And I will work to make a positive difference in my community and my country. I may have to make changes and adjustments in the way I serve and work and interact with other people. But “what’s next” in my Christian walk doesn’t depend on what happened yesterday, or what will happen tomorrow. My eyes have to be focused, not on any political race, or its immediate consequences, but on the race described by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians:

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus...17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

–Philippians 3:12-14; 17-21 (NIV via biblegateway.com)

Of course, I hope that outcome of this election will honor God and preserve the freedoms I hold dear. But God’s purposes and plans may involve hardship, persecution, and judgment on this nation. I must still run my race, and rejoice in my Heavenly citizenship– one that doesn’t change with election cycles or depend on politicians.

Walk Humbly with Your God

I’ve been looking at the prophet Micah’s words on how to please God. “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 NKJV)

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Today, I want to focus on the last of these three “requirements:” to walk humbly with your God. As with the first two, this last requirement may seem simple and straightforward, but it is much easier said than done.

Let’s break it down to its component parts:

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  • WALK– this is another action word. “Being” humble, even acting humble will look good and may even impress others. But God requires that we walk in humility–daily, consistently, and deliberately act in accordance with our status vis-a-vis both God and our fellow human beings.
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  • HUMBLY–not in pride, but also not in fale humility or in humiliation and self-loathing. The late, great apologist, Ravi Zacharias, used to quote another great Christian apologist, Edward Musgrave Blaiklock: “God alone knows how to humble us without humiliating us and how to exalt us without flattering us.” We cannot walk humbly in our own power or insight or will. We cannot allow others’ opinions to determine the worth that God alone has given us. And we cannot allow our opinions to judge another’s worth in God’s eyes.
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  • WITH–we will never walk where God cannot go, or will not find us. But we can choose to walk apart from God; to ignore justice and mercy, or redefine God’s commands, or reject God’s grace and wisdom in favor of our own “moral compass.”
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  • YOUR GOD– we can believe ourselves to be walking humbly and justly in our own eyes; we can follow counselors or gurus, or “religious” leaders; we can make a practice of doing “righteous” actions, and still be practicing idolatry. We cannot please God if we don’t even know Him; we cannot walk with Him if he is merely an idea we aspire to worship. God does not want adulation from afar; He created us for intimacy with Himself and with each other. It pleases Him to be our Father– not our adversary.

Love Mercy

The prophet Micah gave us three “requirements” to please God– to act justly (do justice), love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8) I looked at the first of these more closely last time. I want to look at the second requirement today– Love Mercy.

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Just like “do justice,” this statement seems simple and self-evident on the surface. We know God is merciful; we know that He delights to show mercy. In fact, throughout Psalm 136, the refrain is repeated, “His Mercy endures forever!” We also know that God is loving and faithful. It is reasonable to assume that God wants us to show mercy to others, and rejoice in His mercy toward us.

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But unlike the first “requirement” of “do justice,” this is not primarily an action statement. I believe God is still pleased when we practice mercy, but the “requirement” is that we love mercy. That we embrace mercy; welcome it, and cherish it. And this is not always easy or straightforward.

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I am to love mercy when it is shown to me. I am not to cheapen it by trying to pay it back or “earn” it, or disparage or refuse it. I am to love mercy as I show it to others. I am not to give it grudgingly, or keep a ledger. And I am to love mercy when it is shown to others who don’t “deserve” it.

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This is difficult. I want to love justice and do mercy; not the other way around. I don’t want to see others experience mercy when I think they’ve done wrong to me. I don’t always want to rejoice with those whose sins have been forgiven. But until I can do all of this, and learn to love mercy, I cannot fully please God. My grudging show of mercy does not earn God’s approval. My arrogance in deciding who “deserves” mercy does not endear me to my Maker and Judge.

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Lord, have mercy on me for begrudging mercy to others. Help me to show mercy freely and joyfully. Help me to love mercy as You do–to rejoice in Your faithfulness, forgiveness, and love.

Do Justice

Sometimes, we pray for God to “show us the way,” to help us know how best to please Him. We are faced with choices that seem right or good, but other choices seem equally good. In fact, sometimes, “God’s ways–” His laws and commands– seem awkward, outdated, harsh, even “wrong” in light of circumstances.

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But the prophet Micah points out the God has shown us how to please Him. He even spells out three things God requires of us: to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8) Later, Jesus confirmed that the two greatest commandments are to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:36-40) I want to explore this in greater detail, beginning with Micah’s first requirement– Do Justice.

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On its surface, this seems sensible and self-evident– Justice is good; injustice is bad, and a good God would always want us to be on the side of justice. But this is not a statement of thought or sentiment. God’s requirement is not that we prefer justice, or agree that justice is a good thing, or even denounce injustice. Instead, it is an action statement– DO justice (some versions use the phrase “act justly”). Those of us nodding our heads, or pointing our fingers, or arguing about past injustices miss the requirement entirely. We are to love mercy (more about this in another post), but to do justice– act justly–behave in accordance with justice.

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DO. JUSTICE. Tell the truth; honor commitments; pay debts; actively share with the needy around us; actively defend our neighbors against threats; actively confront and seek punishment for those who are doing harm; honor and respect those in authority over us; accept the limits and limitations of our circumstances; obey the law, even when others don’t. There is nothing easy or self-evident about doing justice in a fallen and unjust world.

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This is not a “social justice” or social media activity; not a matter of “being on the right side of history” about a specific political agenda, or a moral crusade. It is a personal matter– personal choices to take action toward individuals for the sake of justice. It may involve personal sacrifice of time or money. It may involve confronting family members or close friends who are lying, cheating, or breaking the law, rather than turning a blind eye or excusing their actions. It may mean saying “no” to an opportunity that involves sketchy practices.

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We like to think of JUSTICE–in big letters, stretching across decades–as an ideal to which we aspire. We don’t like to see it as a discipline that imposes on us a set of actions and reactions.

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Our current political situation in America is a great example of this. As a Christian– someone who wants to follow Christ’s example and please God in every area of my life– I’ve had to confess to being very unjust in my words and attitudes toward political candidates, media personalities, even neighbors and family members. I am constantly bombarded with photos, news stories, FB posts, memes, and more expressing criticism, sarcasm, innuendo, half-truths, exaggerations, and out-right lies. When I pass them on, comment on them, rejoice in (or proudly dismiss) their messages, am I acting justly? Am I doing justice to the people involved when I pass instant judgment or give instant approval? When I impute motives before I even know the full extent of actions taken? When I ignore uncomfortable truths, or insist on “my” truth? Can I do justice if I refuse to seek the truth, refuse to get involved or be inconvenienced?

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It is easy to point out hypocrisy in others, but if I want to please God– to do justice– I have to begin with me. I have to begin with the small acts I do every day. Am I doing justice to my spouse if I complain about her/his habits? Am I doing justice to my boss if I “call in sick” to go shopping or go to the beach? Am I doing justice when I keep the extra change because the cashier made a mistake at the store? Am I doing justice when I pretend that my stances on abortion or marriage or the minimum wage give me the right to silence, or harass, or destroy my neighbor?

I have to stop just talking about justice, or demanding justice for past wrongs, or making an idol of “Justice”– I need to pray for the wisdom and strength to act justly.

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Lord, help me to seek justice. But even more, give me the wisdom to discern what is just, and the power to do it whenever and wherever I have the opportunity. For the glory of Your Name. Amen.

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