Strawberries and Cream: Finding Simple Delights in Common Places

One of the things that I love most about living in Kearney, NE is my morning commute across town. Before I moved into my current apartment, which is within biking distance of my office, I lived on the opposite end of town and would have to drive 10-15 minutes to get to work. Since moving though, I am now only able to enjoy this commute once a week when I regularly meet with a friend at our favorite coffee shop on the far north end of town every Tuesday morning.

While this commute might seem inconvenient at times, I’ve come to really cherish the opportunity because it means that around 7:45am every Tuesday morning I get to drive south towards the highest point in Kearney and take in the wide-open horizon illuminated by the rising sun that lingers ahead of me; a delight like no other.

strawberries and cream

In his book In Search of the Common Good: Christian Fidelity in a Fractured World, Lincolnite Jake Meador makes a lovely connection between the Christian life and the lives of two brave Hobbits found in the beloved writings of J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Lord of the Rings.

In the final pages of his great epic, J.R.R. Tolkien writes of his heroes, Sam and Frodo, and their desperate attempt to reach Mount Doom and cast the Ring of Power…into the fires and destroy it. As they came closer to the mountain, their situation grew more desperate. They were wasting away physically, Frodo’s spirit was failing, and their quest seemed hopeless. In a key moment, Sam attempts to encourage Frodo by asking him if he remembers the taste of strawberries and cream…

Jake Meador

Meador uses Sam and Frodo’s dire situation and Sam’s simple, yet wise remembrance of small delights to cheer Frodo’s heart as instructive for Christian living. Delight in the simple things and faithful fidelity to small places are nourishment for our daily lives.

In search of this kind of nourishment though, I often find myself desperate for a getaway or a chance to break out of the normal routines of life and be refreshed by something new. My husband and I had the opportunity to take such a getaway a couple of weeks ago, and believe me, it was very refreshing. The weather cooperated and we were able to spend much of our time outside, which is rare for this time of year in Nebraska.

However, though we came back refreshed, it only took a couple of hours for us to unwillingly settle back into the routines of work, responsibilities, and household chores. I felt let down, unsatisfied with how the effects of our little getaway appeared to be very short lived.

As with everything in this fallen and broken world though, the temporary sense of refreshment that I felt from our spontaneous trip is not how God intends for us to be nourished spiritually, as I think we often hope for or expect. It is, in fact, quite the opposite.

Nourishment that stimulates hope and courage was never intended to be a shot in the arm, but more like a vitamin that we purposefully take every morning with our OJ and cereal. It is absorbed into our hearts and minds through daily discipline and routine, fidelity, and simple delight in the small things.

ordinary delights

As Meador’s emphasis on delighting in the simple things and practicing fidelity to small places continues to challenge my thinking, I’ve tried to orient myself more to the simple delights of God’s creation; to the ‘strawberries and cream’ of daily life that can nourish weary hearts back to health.

I felt clumsy at first, noticing something and then getting distracted, only to feel bad about not enjoying it later. But I’ve come to discover that once you start disciplining your mind to look for the small delights in daily routines and simple places, it subtly forces you to slow down, to get off your phone, and to look up.

So, as I looked up from my dashboard on my regular Tuesday morning commute from the coffee shop to my office, my heart was nourished and refreshed by the golden-gray haze that covered the southern horizon, which lingered just ahead of me before my car started to descend down the hill. The haze was illuminated by the rising sun, which was itself beautifully framed by my driver’s side window.

Because of countless moments like this before and because I had grown to anticipate this moment in my week, I was able to behold the delight of God’s creation for as long as possible. And what I found is that when we become more aware of the simple beauties and delights in our daily routines and places, we begin to orient our hearts and minds around God Himself, His beautiful character, and His saving grace manifest on the cross.

When we become more aware of the simple beauties and delights in our daily routines and places, we begin to orient our hearts and minds around God Himself, His beautiful character, and His saving grace manifest on the cross.

“For Christians,” Meador explains, “an ordinary delight in the created gifts of God should nourish our piety and our daily lives – the look of clouds on a stormy spring day; the delight of a good glass of red wine; the feel of wind blowing against our cheek as we walk in the created world spoken into being by God. It also means delighting in the ordinary means of grace that God offers to us – the preached Word of God and the blessed sacrament given to us by a generous God who accommodates Himself to our limitations.”

Nourishment for the hopeless

Perhaps today you feel like Sam and Frodo did on the final leg of their journey; physically broken by illness or disease; spiritually spent by sleepless nights and wordless prayers; or to put it simply – hopeless.

Or perhaps things are good right now, in which case I would strongly encourage you to utilize your strength of body and spirit to train your heart and mind to dwell on the riches of God’s glory and grace to sustain you through the good and bad times of life to come.

Either way, consider the ‘strawberries and cream’ of your life and think about what they tell you about God; about His character and about His love for you. For me, it’s my weekly view of the sunrise, a good piece of instrumental composition, or a fresh bouquet of flowers. These are the things that delight my discontent spirit and cause me to stop and be still.

Consider the ‘strawberries and cream’ of your life and think about what they tell you about God; about His character and about His love for you.

These are the things that take my breath away.

The sunrise reminds me of God’s faithfulness; a good piece of instrumental composition reminds me of God’s delight in intellect and His interwoven beauty in the practiced and diligent skill of man, as well as the sovereignty of God in knowing and directing the complexities of life; and a fresh bouquet of colorful flowers reminds me of God’s delight in beauty and that if He cares for and dresses the flowers of the field as such, then He certainly cares for and preserves my life with His righteous right hand.

As your heart becomes more sensitive to the beauty of the little things and is quick to praise God for the simple delights that are all around you, every day will be a new day filled with hope for tomorrow, because not a day will go by without a sight, sound, smell, touch, or taste of heaven.

Photo by Valeria Bold on Unsplash

And the Wind Died Down

Only when we come to recognize and embrace the sweetness of Christ’s grace in the hard times are we able to rejoice in the richness and depth of His grace in the good times.

As the title of my website might suggest, the story of Peter walking on water in Matthew 14 is my favorite story in the Bible. I have realized over the last couple of years how rich this story is with meaning; with truths of grace and mercy and hope in every word.

We can read a story such as this so many times, year after year, and yet, in a single moment, we can read it again and find new meaning and new significance.

When I first started writing, it was like my ‘walking on water’ moment; the moment I knew God was telling me to step out of my comfort zone and walk in faith; to trust Him with the story that He had given me and surrender all that I had gone through and was learning to the purposes of His good and perfect will.

For it is in Him that we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

Unfortunately, as we human beings often do, I got distracted. I started writing for my own purposes; desiring the approval of those around me more than God’s approval, seeking to write and encourage in ways that I saw best, and following the advice of others rather than trusting in God’s perfect wisdom.

This wandering was not just in my writing though, but in my relationships with others, my walk with the Lord, and in my pursuit of joy and peace.

The words of Robert Robinson’s hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing rang so true in my life at that time – prone to wander, Lord I feel it // prone to leave the God I love.

So with eyes averted and devotion divided, when the wind and waves came, I became afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30)

grace upon grace

In perfect wisdom and love, God used Peter’s failure and mine alike to loudly proclaim His infinite grace. As author C.S. Lewis puts it –

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

And so it was in those moments when I felt way in over my head; drowning in a storm of my own making filled with lies of disappointment, fear, and failure that God spoke the loudest; where grace became the only solid ground on which I could stand.

I cherish those seasons of pain and uncertainty in my life the most though because it is in those moments that leave us stunned and without words that the Lord speaks the loudest.

It is in the moments when we have no where left to turn that His open arms become a sweet refuge.

It is when we are broken that He mends us and makes us whole.

It is when we are empty that He fills us.

And it is only after we have been through a storm that we are able to look back and recognize His saving grace.

and the wind died down

As I look back on 2018, I see beautiful moments of friendship, growth, joy, and hope, as well as tough seasons of anxiety, fear, and doubt. However, more than all of these, I see the unparalleled grace, mercy, and patience of the Lord.

I see my Savior; my Redeemer; the Rescuer of my soul, who despite my moments of resentment and unfaithfulness, never left my side.

When I was broken, He made me whole again.

When I was empty, He fulfilled my every need.

When I felt alone, He comforted me.

When the silence seemed overwhelming, His voice rang loud and clear.

And now, as I look back on the good and bad of 2018 and embrace the Lord’s goodness in the toil and joys alike, I feel the wind dying down around me and grace and peace in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus my Lord (2 Peter 1:2).

It is important though to remember that these seasons of turmoil and rest; of raging storms and quiet waters, all point to a greater reality.

In the storms of life, God loudly proclaims to our bruised and broken spirits that this is not all that there is; that though these sorrows may be painful, they are light and momentary nonetheless.

Storms remind us that we have the hope of eternal and perfect peace in Christ Jesus still waiting for us.

And in the same way, when we are granted seasons of rest and the storms of life die down around us, we are reminded that the good things in this world are but murmurs of the greater weight of glory that is yet to come.

And it is when we recognize this and embrace it in every season of life that we are truly able to rejoice in Christ Jesus; thanking Him with joy and thanksgiving for His good and perfect gifts and sitting back, beaten and bruised by the storms of life to worship Him still.

One of my favorite quotes by John Owen says that ‘beholding the glory of Christ in this life is preparation—small “dawnings of eternal glory”—for the joys of heaven, where we will see Christ in His glory fully.’

This life will be filled with good and bad; with joys and toil, happiness and sorrow. This is simply the reality of our human condition. However, as we learn to recognize and embrace the sweetness of God’s grace in our joys and sorrows on earth, we are preparing our hearts for the day of rejoicing when we will fully behold His glory; when the dawning turns to day, the storm [sin] is silenced forever, and we enter into ‘the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. We will come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. We will come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel’ (Hebrews 12:22-24).

We will be Home, where joys abound and the wind is no more.

All Things New – Part I

Earlier this month I was able to attend the ONE Conference at Cornerstone Berean Church in Ames, IA. I hadn’t been to a women’s conference in quite a while, so I was excited for some time to get away, learn, and worship.

Now, after all is said and done, I feel challenged to share with you everything that I took away from this conference. The entirety of this weekend away was exceptionally transformational to my walk with God, and I am excited to share that with you.

session one, October 5

And He who was seated on the throne said “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5).

From the first creation account in Genesis 1 to the final redemption account in the book of Revelation, the Bible consistently and shamelessly speaks of the glory and majesty of Christ; of His beauty and holiness in all of creation; His limitless nature, and His perfect wisdom and love.

We know this, but often I find myself (and I can imagine that you might too) reading the Bible as if it were a book about me – designed to tell me what to do, how to do it, and when to do it (be sure to stay tuned for part three of this series for more on that particular topic 🙂 ). However, if everything in all of Scripture points to the glory of Christ; speaks of the glory of Christ; and testifies to the glory of Christ, then we might just want to start reading it that way.

All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…(2 Timothy 3:16).

This doesn’t just mean the New Testament or the Gospels or the Psalms. This verse literally means that every word of Scripture is the voice of God and should be treated as such.

While I have always believed 2 Timothy 3:16 to be true, the manner in which I’ve approached certain portions of the Bible has not always submitted to such belief. For example, I have always read the creation account in Genesis 1 as strictly historical and nothing else.

However, as we rediscover the creation account through the lens of 2 Timothy 3:16, we  realize that the pattern and shape in which this account was written very intentionally speaks of the greater glory of Christ; foretelling the divine purposes of God Almighty for His church.

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Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep…(Genesis 1:2).

We were formless and empty; void of any righteousness or light. Apart from Christ, we were consumed with darkness; with sin and wretchedness from birth. Yet just as God did not leave the world void and formless; taking chaos a bringing order with His Word, He does not leave us as we are. He takes our chaotic brokenness and makes us whole once again. Indeed, in Him all things are being made new…

Light (Gen. 1:3) – God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Just as God shed light into a dark world, He revealed His light into our dark souls through His Son Jesus Christ. As John 8:12 says, “I am [Jesus] the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Separation (Gen. 1:4, 6, 9, 14) – God separated the light from the dark; the earth from the sky; the sea from the land; and the day from the night. And so He separates us, His children of light from the darkness of sin and death. He sets us apart from the world, inviting us to “be holy, because He is holy” (1 Peter 1:16).

Fruitfulness (Gen. 1:22) – Just as God instructed the animals of the earth to “be fruitful and increase in number…” so too does He instruct us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything He has commanded us” (Matthew 28:19-20). We are called, first and foremost, to be fruitful in our faith; increasing in number as we share the good news of the Gospel; making disciples of every nation, tribe, and tongue.

Image Bearing (Gen. 1:26-27) – “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” As image-bearing works of creation, we have the inherent responsibility and great pleasure of bearing forth the image of Christ. And as we are reminded in Revelation 21:5, He is making all things new, giving us the hope of future restoration into the fullest, clearest, image of Christ Jesus for all of eternity. Until then, God’s will for our lives is to bear forth His image for all the world to see.

Dominion (Gen. 1:28) – God gave mankind dominion over the earth; to rule over it and take care of it. In the same way, Christ has established for us dominion over sin. “For sin shall no longer be our master, because we are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). We have been saved from the penalty of sin by the cross; we are being saved from the power of sin through sanctification; and we will one day be delivered from the presence of sin once and for all in final glorification.

Rest (Gen. 2:2-3) – A day of rest concludes the creation account, which foretells of a greater rest for our souls in Christ Jesus. When all of creation was complete, rest was ushered in. Similarly, when the entirety of Jesus’ work on the cross was finished, ultimate rest for the souls of mankind was made known (John 19:30).

*          *          *

This may be an entirely new ‘creation account’ for some of you. I know it certainly was for me, as I had never considered how the creation of the world foretold of life and renewal and eternal hope in Christ Jesus.

From beginning to end, God is showing us Himself through His Word. Even from the first accounts of the Bible, the greater work of Christ Jesus is being glorified; pointing us to His ultimate act of creation on the cross, that through His sacrifice he was reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19) and making all things new.

 

All Things New – Part II – We all have an old name; something that identifies us with our sin-filled past. However, He who is sitting on the throne has said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And therefore, we have been given a new name in Christ and are called to bear forth that image to the rest of the world.

The Dawning of Heaven – Our Great Privilege as Believers

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3, NIV)

This is my favorite time of year.

I love the ushering in of sweater season; of boots and scarves and pumpkins to carve. I love the changing of the leaves, the crisp air, and the fact that the earth is tilted at juuuust the right angle for me to watch the rising sun each morning from my usual table at the coffee shop.

This morning’s sunrise was particularly beautiful. Light bounced off the countertops and wooden floors, gracing the area around me with reminders of new morning mercies that are even more faithful than the rising of the sun.

The window panes framed the dawning sun perfectly, as if to capture each moment of its rising glory and committing it to memory.

As I watched the sun go from one pane to the other, I was captivated by its splendor. Even as I returned to my writing, I could hardly focus because the intensity of the sun left impressions of its bright glory on the pages in front of me.

My gaze returned, surprised and somewhat saddened at how fast the sun had moved in such a short amount of time. I wished it could stay framed in the window forever, but by this point it was already playing with the edges of the frame, bidding its final farewell but promising to return.

I can’t help but think about how the Gospel is a lot like the rising sun; how Christ’s descent into mortality was our first glimpse at divinity; the dawning of heaven.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6, NIV)

It is in the face of Jesus Christ that we are able to behold the glory of God; to dwell in the light of the knowledge of God’s glory.

Let that sink in for just a moment.

Just as the different window panes captured each moment of the sun’s ascent, we have the very words of God; the first hand accounts of the Bible that capture each glorious moment of Christ’s life, work, and mission here on earth; all of which display the beauty and glory and goodness of our Heavenly Father.

Do we see or understand this like we should?

Probably not, if we’re to be truly honest with ourselves.

With the rising popularity of the ‘Instagram Bible’ and a growing propensity toward second hand knowledge of God rather than deep, personal Biblical understanding, our desire to behold Christ’s glory has diminished severely.

We forget our great privilege as believers to behold that which ‘angels long to look into’ (1 Peter 1:12, NIV); something that Isaiah and the minor prophets only got a glimpse of through the Old Testament writings, and something that Abraham went to his grave clinging to but never actually being able to lay eyes upon.

We forget our great privilege as believers to behold Jesus Christ incarnate; the Son of the Living God personified.

We forget that we can actually look into the face of Jesus Christ through the Holy Word and see the glory of God and the grace of our Savior.

With veiled faces, we read the Bible, failing to understand the grandeur of what is being said; of the stories being told and the great eternal implications that they possess.

How could something so marvelous be so easily dismissed?

Prior to the display of absolute grace and mercy in the coming of Christ, the minds of believers were dull; shielded from the glory of God, because only in Christ is the veil removed from our eyes (2 Corinthians 3:14-15, NIV). To be quite honest, we wouldn’t want to behold the glory of God without the lens of Christ’s mercy and grace. Without grace, God’s glory would be utterly terrifying.

But because we know and reside in the grace of Christ’s sacrifice through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we have the great privilege to behold the glory of God. ‘Whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away and we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 3:16-18, NIV).

There is a beautiful, breathtaking mystery in the person and lordship of Jesus Christ. ‘In him there are two distinct natures, the one, eternal, infinite, immense, almighty, the form and essence of God; the other having a beginning in time, finite, limited, confined to a certain place, which is our nature.’ (The Glory of Christ, 1994)

‘This is the glory of our religion, the glory of the church, the only rock on which it was built, the only source of present grace and future glory.’ (The Glory of Christ, 1994)

Think about it…the angels have no need for grace; the prophets only foretold of such grace; and Abraham could only imagine this kind of grace. We have the privilege of knowing it!

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9, NIV)

Oh the staggering magnificence and glory of knowing such grace of the One who’s face shines bright with the radiance of God’s glory; the dawning of heaven, and knowing that with the emergence of divinity comes a day when we will all be able to fully bask in the glory of God for ourselves.

We see little murmurs of this glory in creation; in the work of His hands, but we have been granted even more than that. We have been granted the privilege of beholding God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ! And it is this glory that stimulates in our hearts a yearning to see His beauty and majesty firsthand; a deep longing for eternity.

It is the glory of Christ that draws our attention; that captivates our gaze and helps us to be eternally focused on Him rather than presently preoccupied by the things of this world, good and bad.

So as I continue returning to the coffee shop every morning, I anticipate many more gorgeous sunrises, just as I anticipate even more beautiful mercies, grace, and loving kindness from my Lord.

In the same way, we keep coming back; we continue returning to the Word of God because we know what an invaluable privilege it is to behold such priceless glory right here, right now.

We keep looking into the face of Jesus through His Word to learn more and more of God’s glory, realizing that one day we will be able to behold this glory for all of eternity when this dawning of heaven ushers in the day of ‘consuming fire’ that is our God. (Deuteronomy 4:24, NIV)