Recently, my daughter Emily has discovered one of my favourite childhood books, The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It’s a beautiful story about a long forgotten garden, and the lives of the characters who discover it, gradually being restored.
In the following extract, the main character, Mary, (with the help of a friendly Robin) finally gets into the the secret garden, which has been locked up for ten years.
Mary’s heart began to thump and her hands to shake a little in her delight and excitement. The robin kept singing and twittering away and tilting his head on one side, as if he were as excited as she was. What was this under her hands which was square and made of iron which her fingers found a hole in? It was the lock of the door that had been closed ten years, and she put her hand in her pocket, drew out the key, and found it fitted the keyhole. She put the key in and turned it. It took two hands to do it, but it did turn.
And then she took a long breath and looked behind her up the long walk to see if anyone was coming. No one was coming. No one ever did come, it seemed, and she took another long breath, because she could not help it, and she held back the swinging curtain of ivy and pushed back the door, which opened slowly – slowly.
Then she slipped through it, and shut it behind her, and stood with her back against it, looking about her and breathing quite fast with excitement, and wonder, and delight.
She was standing inside the secret garden.
The Robin Who Showed the Way, Chapter 8 – The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
A Place of Delight
Right at the start God placed mankind in a garden. Have you ever wondered why?
The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight, and good for food.
Whether or not you like gardening, I’m sure everyone of us would agree that spending time in a well-tended garden can have an extremely restorative effect on the soul.
From the above verse, we learn that God not only planted trees and greenery to give us nourishing food, but also as a visual feast for the eye to behold! Scientists have discovered that green is the most restful colour for the human eye to gaze upon. And God made an abundance of it! What an amazingly kind and generous Father!
Many biblical scholars talk about Eden being a place where Adam and Eve walked and talked with the Lord, in perfect intimacy and without any shame. The name Eden itself, means delight!
We all know of course, the sad story of the fall. Of how this amazing openness and trust between God and man was stolen by Satan, the father of lies.
We hear about how God drove Adam and Eve out of the garden, and placed the cherubim and the flaming sword to guard the way back to garden.
We also know, that right at the start, in midst of the garden, stood the tree of life! The good news is, that even before the foundation of the world, even before mankind sinned, Jesus, the lamb of God, was slain on the tree to restore us to right relationship with the Father!
Open the gates – The King of Glory is Coming In!
When you become a Christian and surrender your life to Jesus, it’s a bit like giving Him the keys to a locked-up garden! The King of glory comes to take up residence within us! In comes the Master Gardener to do His incredible, transformative, work in the garden of our hearts.
I have a very small garden – it’s about 55 feet long. When we moved into our house, ten years ago, it was literally a terraced lawn, flanked by two small strips of sun-baked earth. It had not plant, nor flower, nor anything remotely beautiful about it. The only thing it did have, was a ton of weeds, and a ton of potential!
My mum has always had a love for gardening – I learned from watching her over the years, that if you want to sit in a nice garden, you’ve got to roll up your sleeves and get digging! And so I began…
Turning over the soil was hard graft. Removing all the stones and stubborn weeds was painstakingly laborious. The groundwork was probably 80-90 percent of the job. And it’s an ongoing task!
Ten years later, after much trial and error, weeding and digging, procrastinating and persevering, I now have a place where I can sit on a warm summer’s evening and enjoy the colour that each season brings, plus the occasional visit from a robin or a blue-tit. It is my delight. Not because it is yet perfect, but because it’s come on such a long way!
When you go and visit a beautiful garden, it’s so easy to miss the hours of work that have gone into it. What we don’t see, are the unseen hands and feet that have spent hours and hours digging and weeding and pruning and mowing. The garden, in many ways, is just the outward display. But it’s the unseen effort, that has taken place, perhaps whilst the garden was closed, probably in the early hours of the morning, when nobody was watching that has made all the difference.
Aren’t our lives a bit like this?
Much of the fruit that we display in our lives, is formed
and fashioned in the secret place. It’s
the times when we’re alone with Jesus, often in the early hours, when nobody is
watching, when God’s handiwork is really done.
The Secret Place
“But when you pray, go into your room and close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Today, I believe God is calling us afresh, through the rusty gate, down the path, and into the garden – to the secret place. He longs to meet with each one of us on a daily basis. To walk and talk with us in the cool of the day. Today, if you listen carefully, I believe that you might just hear Him calling you.
Will you trust me? Will you yield to Me and allow Me to have My way in your life? Will you allow Me to root out the stubborn sins that spoil and choke growth? Will you seek after me with all your heart, and spend time with Me in the secret place when nobody is watching.
I know exactly what kind of garden I want you to be. I have a unique design and plan for each one of you. I want your life to reflect My beauty and My glory. I want you to carry My fragrance and to become a place that others can come to for rest and refreshment.
Today I stand at the door and knock – will you open the door of your heart?
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Last week, Nathan and I shared Holy Communion with two others during our church service.
Our dear friend, Matt, brought a fairly conservative chunk of bread over to serve us and carefully broke it into pieces. One of the pieces that lay on the plate was somewhat larger than the rest. When offered the bread, our awkward Englishness seemed to take over, and each one of us avoided taking it – I mean, that would just seem rude and greedy, right?
As we bowed our heads to pray, it began to dawn on us – this bread represents the Lord’s body, broken for us. When we eat of the bread, it’s in remembrance of Jesus’ death on the cross in our place. Why wouldn’t we want the largest piece?!
Nathan began to pray: “Lord, I thank you that you don’t give us little pieces of yourself! When you died on the cross, you gave it ALL! You gave up everything, and gave your entire self to us! And You said: “It is finished!” You paid the price in full!”
It was a real moment of clarity – Jesus didn’t somehow share Himself out, giving each believer a little chunk of Himself. No! He gave to each one of us His all. A real sense of holy joy came over us.
Then Matt, reaching for the wine, accidentally knocked over the communion plate, which somehow slipped through the gap in the chairs and smashed. Rather embarrassed, Matt started to collect up the broken pieces…all but one…which I will come to later….
The sharp crack of the breaking plate, instantly reminded me of the veil in the temple being torn in two. Was God saying something here?
My ears were drawn to the song that the worship leader was quietly strumming in the background…it was something to do with bringing our broken pieces to Jesus! This was a God moment.
Nathan reached down to retrieve the last piece of broken china. For some reason, rather than just gathering the broken pieces into a pile, which is what I would have done, Matt and Nathan attempted to put them back together on an empty chair. And when the last piece of china was set in its place, we were completely and utterly staggered by what we saw:
“For He was wounded for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes, we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:5
“Priceless gems have often been found in unlikely places. Many a choice flower has been found blooming in a rocky crevice. Rainbow artistries have suddenly lit up the drabbest skies. Beauty spots have charmed the traveller at surprise turns on the least promising road It is even so with this superbly beautiful little idyl, the book of Ruth”
Sidlow Baxter, Explore The Book (Bible Commentary)
Imagine my delight, when I checked the Sunday School Rota a few weeks back, and discovered that I had to deliver a lesson on the book of Ruth!
My thoughts whirred – how on earth was I going to explain, to a group of 3-4 year olds, what a ‘Kinsman Redeemer’ is! It had been years since I’d read the book of Ruth, but I vaguely remembered something about sheaves of barley…and wasn’t there that part when Ruth laid down at the feet of Boaz, asking him to cover her with his cloak? Hmmm. There was no doubt about it…Ruth was a book full of strange old customs.
Despite my initial reservations, things went really well! I even managed to find a beautiful sheaf of dried wheat on Amazon, which the kids were fascinated by.
With the Sunday Class behind me, I began to sense that there are absolutely no coincidences. God was drawing me into the book of Ruth. There were delightful hidden treasures within the story that He wanted me to discover.
If you’re unfamiliar with the book, here is the basic backdrop of the story:
The story begins when a Judean woman called Naomi, who has spent the last ten years residing in Moab to escape a famine in her homeland, is left destitute when her husband and two sons die.
Her two sons had been married to Moabite women – one called Orpah, and one called Ruth. (This was an ungodly alliance, and was forbidden in Levitical law).
Naomi decides to return to her people, where she fairs the best chance of survival.
She means to set out alone, and urges her two daughters-in-law to remain in Moab, and go back to their childhood families. Naomi has no other sons to be given in marriage to Orpah or Ruth. Their best bet is to remain in Moab, where they have the best chance of finding new husbands.
The two young women have an agonising decision to make. They have come to love Naomi, yet if they go with her, they will have to live in Judah as sojourners in a foreign land – this is a huge risk to take.
Justifiably, with much weeping, Orpah decides to stay in Moab, but Ruth ‘clings to her Mother-in-Law’, refusing to be parted with her.
“Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you, for where you go, I go, and where you lodge, I lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.”
So what becomes of the lovely, loyal Ruth?
Well, it just so happens that the two women arrive in Bethlehem at the beginning of the Barley Harvest. Their arrival does not go unnoticed. Everyone is curious. What has become of Naomi? Where is Elimelech, her husband? And what of her two sons? And who is this strange Moabite woman at her side? I bet tongues were wagging!
One of Naomi’s relatives, a wealthy, upright man named Boaz, owns several Barley fields and employs teams of servants to harvest the barley.
The key to Ruth and Naomi’s survival can be found in a strange harvesting custom, found in Leviticus 19:9
“Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger, I am the Lord Your God.”
Wow! Isn’t that just like our God? Always making provision for the needy and the stranger?
So Ruth becomes a “gleaner” in the fields of Boaz. She follows behind the team of harvesters, gathering up the scraps that they accidentally drop. She has to keep her distance. Moab was known at the time as the ‘washbasin of Israel’ – basically, a foot- basin for washing feet! She is totally vulnerable, putting herself at the mercy of others, and showing herself to be utterly destitute. She is therefore open to any kind of mistreatment.
But Boaz notices Ruth. He makes enquiries about her. And it seems he is deeply impressed by her loyalty to Naomi. He speaks to Ruth, showing kindness to her in three ways:
He instructs her to glean only in his field;
He commands his servants not to touch her;
He invites her to drink from the water that his servants draw if she gets thirsty.
It must have been fairly unusual for a foreigner to be treated with such kindness, as Ruth falls on her face, bowing down to the ground, saying: “Why have I found such favour in your sight, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”
And here is Boaz’s response:
“All that you have done for your Mother-in-law, after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your Father and your Mother and the land of your birth and came to a people that you previously did not know. May the Lord reward your work and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.”
Someone once said that you can find Jesus in every book of the bible. Like a golden thread woven through the whole tapestry of scripture, is the overarching theme of Redemption. Every now and then, if we examine the tapestry in the right light, we catch a glimmer of this glinting gold. The book of Ruth is no different! Boaz is a type of Christ. And here we begin to get the first glimpses of a man that possesses amazing integrity, kindness and generosity.
It also may be worth noting here that godly men are drawn to godly character. They are not merely impressed by the outward appearance, but by the inner qualities a woman displays by her conduct. Boaz was deeply struck by Ruth’s courage and commitment. He also recognised the evidence of her new found faith – By cleaving to Naomi, Ruth had ultimately chosen to put her faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
God never turns away any that would seek Him. The time of salvation for the Gentile had not yet come. Yet God seems unable to resist showing compassion, grace and kindness towards this young, courageous Moabite woman, who has so selflessly thrown herself upon His mercy.
As the story unfolds, we get to see how sweetly Boaz and Ruth become increasingly drawn to one another. And we begin to see more of God’s wonderful, extravagant heart towards the Gentile.
“Mum, did you remember to pay for my school trip?”
“Did you remember there’s a meeting this evening?”
“Don’t forget your P.E. Kit!”
“I must remember to take those library books back on Tuesday.”
“Don’t forget your packed lunch bag!”
Just last week, I fell prey to absent-mindedness on a number of occasions! On Monday I filled in some important forms for my daughter’s new school. I put them by the front door so that I wouldn’t forget them the next day…and then on Tuesday, I managed to leave the house without them! On Wednesday, I popped into the shop and bought a few groceries…but came home without the milk. On Friday, I took my car into the garage, walked all the way back home, only to discover that I’d forgotten to take my door key off the car key-ring.
You know that old saying: “You’d forget your head if it wasn’t screwed on”…well, that pretty much sums me up!
And here we are again, heading towards November – the month of remembrance. Soon we’ll be buying red poppies and taking part in two minute silences. Lest we forget…
A few days ago, I stumbled across an interesting verse in the book of Judges:
“The sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of God, and forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth.” (Judges 3: 7)
Hang on a minute…back up the truck….I thought doing evil in the sight of God would entail murder or betrayal or deepest, darkest deception. What did the sons of Israel do that was so offensive to God? They forgot Him.
God has always wanted a people who will love Him and serve Him with wholehearted devotion. And the truth is, He’s worthy of nothing less.
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind…”
But the Sons of Israel ‘forgot’ Him. They forgot the God who had brought them up out of Egypt. Split open the Red Sea so they could walk though on dry land. Provided Manna from heaven and water from a rock. Who knows what distractions may have lured their affections away? But I would hazard a guess that it was a gradual slide. Perhaps they gradually stopped talking about Him quite so often – stopped remembering the miracles. Perhaps they stopped being thankful. Perhaps they got too busy trying to pay the bills. But somehow, their hearts drifted away from their first love. And it wasn’t long before they were serving Baal and Asheroth – worshipping idols. How tragic.
The word ‘remember’ comes from the Latin root ‘mem’, which means ‘call to mind’ or ‘be mindful of’. So many words that we use in our everyday language stem from this root: Memento, memoir, memorandum, memorabilia. All of these things are designed to prompt our memory. They remind us of important things, or preserve special memories. But what can we do to remind ourselves of the One who is more important than any other treasure?
David had the right idea – In Psalm 103, we see an example of him “calling to mind” the goodness of the Lord:
“Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits,
Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with loving-kindness and compassion,
Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.”
It seems to me that remembering the Lord is not some hit and miss thing, like it so often is with things like milk and car keys. We must choose to remember. We need to keep calling to mind the goodness of our God. We need to constantly remind ourselves of His past mercies and all of His faithfulness. It’s a deliberate thing.
Jesus made this clear to us on the night before he died.
And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them saying: “this is my body which is given for you, do this in remembrance of Me.” (Luke 22:19).
If there’s only one truth that we choose to remember in this lifetime, surely it should be this one: That Jesus Christ, the Son of the Most High God, laid down His life, so that we might live. Let’s never forget.
It’s amazing how three little words can say so much. Take these three phrases for instance:
I love you.
I am sorry.
I forgive you.
All of these phrases are small – but they can change an awful lot can’t they?
But never, in all of history, were three words as meaningful as the last phrase uttered by a dying man, over two thousand years ago. They were three small words that changed my life forever. And they can change yours too.
They were the words of Jesus as He hung upon a cross, dying.
“It is finished!”
When Jesus uttered those words moments before He died, it wasn’t a cry of relief that His suffering was about to come to an end. He didn’t merely mean: “Thank goodness this ordeal is over!”
It meant so much more.
Jesus’ death was not just an unfortunate end to a good man’s life. There was something far deeper going on. The bible tells us that Jesus gave His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
He chose to go to the cross.
A ransom is a sum of money demanded for the release of a prisoner.
So who was the prisoner?
Okay, so let me just clear things up – I’ve never been to jail. This is a metaphoric image.
Before Jesus rescued me, the bible tells me that I was like a prisoner on death row, a slave, chained and bound by my sin. No matter how hard I tried to become a better person, I couldn’t get free.
So Jesus did the unthinkable. He paid my ransom. It meant that He had to die in my place. It meant that He had to take all of the sin off my back and bear it on His own. It meant that He had to be punished, beaten, bloodied and bruised instead of me.
And that’s exactly what was going on when Jesus hung on the cross.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, bore the sins of the whole world upon His shoulders, on a cross, on a hill called Calvary, on a day that changed History forever.
Which brings me back to those three words: “It is finished!”
The same phrase has been found on bits of ancient papyri, written across tax receipts. It really means: “PAID IN FULL”. Wow!
The price for our redemption, our ransom, was PAID IN FULL by Jesus’ death on the cross.
Perhaps you are familiar with the words from an old hymn: I pray they have new meaning for you today:
“Long my imprisoned Spirit lay, fast-bound in sin, and nature’s night,
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray, I woke the dungeon flamed with light!
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose went forth and followed Thee!”
All I had to do was say three little words in return. “I am sorry”.
And as Jesus arms were outstretched, nailed to that splintered cross beam, His answer was plain to see: