Sunday, May 1, 2016

Desert Lessons

I grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, lived many other places, and have, again, called the U.P. “home” for the past 12 years.  Because of the abundance of lakes and trees, it seems as though a love for woods and water is almost part of my DNA

The past two years we have been blessed with opportunities to visit family and friends in AZ.  Their home is surrounded by desert with all of the uniqueness of that environment.  I love how new experiences can open up fresh perspectives on life.  Our hosts did a wonderful job of sharing their knowledge of the area and it was amazing how God’s creation, once again, did not disappoint.

The saguaro cacti intrigued me as I sat on the deck and looked out over miles of desert land.  One day I focused on one particular saguaro cactus that I learned was old; the clue was the “arms” it had grown.  Apparently it takes many years to grow an “arm” (up to 50?) and it struck me that those arms looked like they were reaching for the sky.  Occasionally I would observe an arm that had fallen over but usually the arms reached upward.

I could almost imagine this cactus lifting its “arms” in worship.  In Luke 19, when Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem on what we refer to as “Palm Sunday”, the people are singing His praises.  The local religious folks are offended by this worship of Jesus and tell Him to shut his disciples down.  Luke 19: 40 says, “He (Jesus) answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.’”

You see, All of creation was made to worship King Jesus.  Why not the cacti?

As I focused on this lovely plant, pointing toward the heavens, my first thought was, it looked rather lonely.  The saguaro cacti did not seem to grow in close groupings, per my observation.  But when I lifted my eyes for a wider view, they were standing at attention everywhere.  There was a virtual “congregation” of worshipping cacti across the horizon!

As a Christian living in a world that often feels like a spiritual desert, I sometimes feel alone.  It is so much more comfortable to surround myself with other Christians, people who see the world as I do.  But we know God wants us to be “salt” (Matthew 5:13; Colossians 4:6) when we walk among those who do not know Jesus.  Those times can seem lonely.  That is why I loved the picture of those tall, strong cacti plants, reaching for the sky, sprinkled across the desert.  God used that picture to bring encouragement to my heart.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about the cholla cacti.  They are very deceptive looking. From a distance they look soft and fuzzy, almost like they have teddy bear arms. But up close, when it’s almost too late to protect oneself, the danger of the plant threatens anyone who comes near. 

There is actually a type called “Jumping Cholla”; the name describes how the little silvery spines on the plant seem to “jump” out and stick to your leg, clothes, or anything that comes close to the plant.  I was happy to have that plant pointed out to me as we were driving past it!

Sometimes life can present us with deceptive temptations, much like the cholla cactus.  The Bible warns us often about not being deceived by something just because it looks good.  And many of God’s good gifts can actually be used for evil in our lives. For example, He provides us with life sustaining food and yet we can abuse food.    

I once had a friend illustrate this “deception” issue in a fun, but succinct way.  She said who wouldn’t be tempted by a plate of warm, chocolate brownies when offered?  Until…..we learn there is just a tiny bit of dog poop that somehow got into the batter!  Yes, gross!  But I dare say, I don’t know anyone who would want to eat those brownies, no matter how little “dp” made its way into the batter.  Friends, we need to watch out for the things in our lives that look appealing but don’t match up perfectly with God’s perfect plan.

As you can see, the desert taught me much!  Praise God for the beauty of His creation and how God spoke to me in the midst of it all!

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