The Creeping Spurge Near Our Hearts

Check out the Myrtle spurge beautifying an Easter dinner napkin

It looked harmless enough. In fact, if truth be told, it was beautifying. Sitting ever so delicately on our Easter lunch place mats were little flowers from a Myrtle spurge.

Myrtle spurge doesn’t sound so bad. But try “creeping spurge” or “donkey tail”. When you find out the real names of these flowers, you probably wouldn’t invite them to your celebration of Jesus’ resurrection either. But that’s exactly what we did–and we soon learned a valuable lesson.

A few days after Easter, our daughter Julia toddled into the garden bed near our house and slathered her legs in the Myrtle spurge’s milky sap. It wasn’t long before we were headed to the doctor’s office to figure out what caused a rash outbreak all over her legs. The doctors assured us she would be fine and said it was probably some plant she was allergic to. But Julia’s legs weren’t nearly as dismissive.

My wife Janel played her hunch on which plant she thought wreaked all this havoc, taking a piece of it down to our local county extension office to find out the truth. And she was right: Myrtle spurge was the culprit. (She then elicited a few guffaws from the county extension agents when she revealed she used the plant for her Easter decorations.)

Upon deeper reflection, I wonder how much “Myrtle spurge” is surrounding my heart, just waiting for a moment to get inside and begin to undo me. These noxious weeds of the soul weave their way in through pretty lies–and I fall prey to their beauty. I want to believe what they’re peddling, even though I know it to be in contrast to God’s Word. And then before I know it, I’ve got an infection–a nasty rash that is breaking out and causing severe pain.

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.  Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. – James 1:13-16 (NIV)

We must always remain on guard against such temptations veiled in beauty. Sin always looks luscious for a moment but it won’t be long before it’s rotting you from the inside out.

It’s called temptation for a reason–it’s tempting. I’m easily tempted by a plate of piping hot brownies; not so much by day-old refrigerated egg plant casserole. If we recognized sin for what it truly was–a nasty plate of rottenness–we could easily turn it down. That’s why Jesus was able to withstanding temptation from the enemy: He knew what was beneath the surface and what it would do to Him.

Let us walk in that knowledge today, refusing to see how things appear in the flesh and taking the time to ponder an important question: Is this temptation a creeping spurge of sin about to derail me from God’s best for my life? When we analyze things in such light, it’s easier to stay focused on the path God has laid out for us.

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Legacy or Relationship?

Over the past few weeks, several pop culture icons in America have died, inciting hours upon hours of endless news coverage about every minute detail about their lives with Michael Jackson being the most notable. Due to Michael Jackson’s controversial lifestyle, many public debates have ensued over his legacy–and who knows if Michael Jackson was really that concerned about what people think about him now that he’s gone. However, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote an illuminating piece on Michael Jackson’s inner soul entitled, “Master of an Empty Kingdom”, that may shed some light on what he thought about his legacy.

While most of us will probably never reach Michael Jackson’s iconic status, we do wonder about what’s going to be said about us at the end of our lives. But sometimes, that can distract us from what our focus should be. Continue reading

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The Need to Stunt Our Faith

Nearing age three, my daughter Faith’s inquisitive nature makes for an incessant stream of “What’s that, Daddy?” It is equal parts endearing and tedious. When I have time, it’s endearing; when I don’t … well, you get the picture.

One recent afternoon I could see the question beginning to form in Faith’s mind as her eyes fell fixated on the pens atop the desk in my newly organized office. And I knew what she was thinking: “Neon pink and yellow pens? I want them!” As the question began rolling off her tongue, I was reaching for them and showing her what a highlighter was. She proceeded to ignore my explanation about how they mark important things and expressed herself as artistically as any toddler can. Continue reading

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Ready to Throw the Towel in?

Whenever I see those Staples commercials where everything in the office is chaotic and some worker pressing the “easy” button and everything is solved, I anxiously await a 1-800 number to appear on the screen so I can order one. (In fact, someone in my office has one—but it doesn’t work like they do in the commercial. Instead it’s just an mp3 recording of a man saying, “Buy more paper” or “Do you need more pens?”)

If only life were that easy to fix. The truth of the matter is that we make life complicated through our choices—or life becomes complicated due to the choices (and oftentimes dysfunction) of others. Sometimes, I feel like Annie and just want to throw in the towel. But like Annie, I can’t just check out. Continue reading

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Making God in My Image

In our society of discontent, we often hear (and sometimes say ourselves), “If I were president …” We presume that we have the solutions for a dire problem that seems to simple to us, but in reality is complex and nuanced.

This spirit of discontent sometimes boils over into my faith, resulting in me uttering this harrowing phrase: “If I were God …” Thank God, I am not. I tend to lean more heavily on the rod of discipline than on the garland of grace. Continue reading

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Is Being Human an Excuse?

Being human means that we get to experience life in extraordinary ways. From the joy we feel to the pain we suffer, the human experience is robust. However, “being human” is more than a two-word moniker for life as a homo sapien. It also isn’t an excuse for living a selfish life.

When it comes to abdicating responsibility, there is one phrase that makes my skin crawl: “I’m only human.” I just think, Oh, well, in that case, why should I ever expect anything extraordinary out of you. Obviously, being human to you means being ordinary and living with the expectation of failure. Continue reading

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Are Rules Cramping Your Style?

Rules can be wonderful things. I often hear people complain about rules as if they are cramping their style. At the same time, I’ve never heard a person complain that the whole red light-green light traffic system is too constricting. When applied properly, rules help us set up parameters from within to operate as well as give us a framework to notate our compliance.

But rules do not replace relationship. Continue reading

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