Consider the Lilies of the Field

Saksa Daylily Farm, Photo by Bob Trube, all rights reserved.

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,  yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:28b-33, English Standard Version)

I spent last Saturday morning “considering the lilies of the field.” My wife and I are part of a plein air painting group. Many Saturdays will find us loading our easels and paints into the Outback and trekking off to a park or farm or small town (or even urban Columbus). This past Saturday, we painted at the Saksa Daylily Farm located outside Centerburg, Ohio, about 40 minutes from our home (by the way, Centerburg gets its name from being located at the geographic center of Ohio).

What a gorgeous place! Lilies of every variety as far as the eye could see. There were so many different varieties, and walking through the rows felt like walking through an art gallery, each variety a masterpiece. In the end, I focused on a single flower, and hardly did justice even to that. This is that flower:

“Lily,” Bob Trube, all rights reserved.

The starburst of yellow against the magenta petals, the stamens reaching up to the sun, the delicate veins and curling edges all caught my eye. Little wonder Jesus said that “Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these!” Jesus invites us to stop and consider the lilies of the fields and, in earlier words, the birds of the air and how God cares for them, and how much more God would care for us.

The field of lilies was a peaceful place, kissed by the sun and refreshing breezes. Such a contrast to the anxious life we often live. My own anxieties are less about food and clothing and more about what life in our senior years will look like. How long will we be able to remain in our home? What can we do to stay healthy as long as possible? What will the coming years bring? And often our thoughts are as much or more about our son and daughter-in-law as ourselves. We could not ask for better, but you never stop being a parent.

The verses above have been something of a watchword throughout my life. They were etched into my memory as a college student on a spring break outreach in Fort Lauderdale. A gifted jazz pianist, James Ward joined us in evening coffeehouse performances in an outdoor venue on the strip opposite the beaches. One of his songs was “Seek First the Kingdom (Consider the Lilies)” the first verse and chorus of which said:

Consider the lilies, how they grow,
Your heavenly Father takes control,
Are you not much more important than they?
What can your worrying do anyway?

Seek first the kingdom.
Keep the righteousness of God in view.
Seek first the kingdom.
He said all of these things will be added to you.

--James Ward, 1974

Ward’s song made sense out of my experience getting to Fort Lauderdale. I didn’t have either the money or a car to get there. People gave me money without knowing what for, and a friend lent us a car. It taught me that if I sought God’s will in God’s way, life wouldn’t always be easy, but God would take care of us. Over the years, we continued to live into the promise of this passage in moving to a new city and buying a house in a recession. Trusting God for a couple hundred dollars turned into trusting God for hundreds of thousands of dollars for the team God gave us to engage in ministry among students and faculty. We were sustained by God and his people through my wife’s two cancer diagnoses and a stubborn foot infection I faced. I could go on. We’ve been blessed to share forty-three years together.

The lilies at the lily farm reminded me of the promise we’ve lived into all of these years. The things that might cause us anxiety may be different from earlier years. The promise hasn’t changed. Most of all, the God who has proven faithful over the years as we’ve oriented our lives toward him hasn’t changed.

The lilies also recalled the song. I could not find the acoustic piano version I still have on vinyl, but I came across this jazzier version on YouTube. I like the version on my vinyl better, but this gives you a taste. It just might become a watchword for you.

Seek First the Kingdom (Consider the Lilies), James Ward

Light in the Darkness

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“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
    the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
    Galilee of the Gentiles—
 the people living in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned.”
–Matthew 4:15-16

I’ve been meditating of late how Jesus of Nazareth is truly the Savior from the margins. He was from an oppressed nation under Roman domination. Nazareth was in the remote north, far from the religious center of Jerusalem. He was likely of darker complexion. From a human point of view, his conception seemed questionable. The circumstances of his birth were “lowly.” The first to pay him homage were shepherds, people who lived on society’s margins. His early years were as a refugee, his parents fleeing to Egypt to save his life. His was in the building trades, working as a carpenter. 

I’ve read a number of books by people on the margins this year–people of color, women who have been abused, even in the church, climate refugees, the poor. It strikes me Jesus would have much in common with these people, and it was for such as them, those living on the margins in the land of Galilee that he came, light into the darkness.

In one sense, I’m one of those, apart from our shared humanity, with whom Jesus had the least in common. The wonder of it all is that he came even for me. The truth is I am no more deserving and perhaps less than these. What has become increasingly clear is that I don’t get to remake him into a middle class, educated, American, white guy. This reminds me of a book of poems from my Jesus movement days, “Good Old Plastic Jesus” by Ernest Larsen, which is about all the ways we try to re-make Jesus. Instead, he came to those in darkness and dying to remake them, to bring light. So I find myself, especially in this tumultuous year of protests and pandemic, asking, “how would Jesus come and remake me?”

For much of my life I’ve been taught that those on the margins are “them,” the “other,” and to be feared and guarded against. I like to think of Jesus as with me. What a shattering thought that Jesus may likely be with “them,” that he is the “other.” One thing I’ve noticed about Jesus though. He doesn’t exclude. Sinners, tax collectors, women of questionable reputation are all at his table. Pharisees and religious leaders are as well, when they choose to be, and outside when they choose that. Usually they are outside to distance themselves from “them.” When I distance myself from others, I distance myself from Jesus. Then who is in the light of Jesus, and who in the darkness?

At the end of this year of protests, politics, and pandemics, I am weary of those who would separate us and them and make me choose. I want to choose to be where Jesus is, bringing light into darkness rather than cursing it. And I need Jesus to come and shine his light into all the hidden, dark places in me, the places where I still divide the world into us and them, the enlightened and the benighted.

Come, Lord Jesus and bring light into our darkness!

Recovery: Week Four


Cast number two. You can even see my straightened big toe as well as the wheel chair and walker that are my constant companions!


As a number of you know, I’ve been sidelined with foot surgery to address a foot infection and orthopedic problems in my right foot. The surgery took place four weeks ago today. Since then I’ve had my foot in a cast, actually now two casts, have been on an intravenous antibiotic, and not allowed to put weight on the right foot except on the heel as I transfer from one seat to another. Thought I’d share some random musings that describe something of how I’m doing:

  • As far as I can tell, everything seems to be coming along fine physically.  The swelling as gone down a good deal on my big toe and the bottom of my foot.
  • I’m tolerating the antibiotic (the only med I’m on) and we’ve gotten the routine down of doing daily infusions. Fifteen more to go. Eating two yogurts a day helps with the digestive side effects–a holding action at best. It has affected blood counts, which they watch through weekly blood draws.
  • I’ve described this as a process of going slow to heal faster. I do have a few exercises the physical therapist has given me to keep muscles in my right leg from atrophying, but aside from these, it is a matter of keeping my foot up and waiting. That gets tougher as the weeks go by, but all that I’ve heard says that trying to rush things only prolongs them. My motto has been, “one and done.”
  • I’ve thought about a verse that I read today at various times, Psalm 46:10 that says, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” I’ve needed this word at various points in my life as I’ve taken too much upon myself and trusted God too little. This may be one of those seasons. It is certainly a time for stillness, and I have had to trust God’s presence and work in situations where I cannot be physically present. I need to think about what this means as well for when I am back on my feet.
  • I’ve been sitting and watching beautiful autumn days, clear blue skies, and falling leaves from my front window. I love being out and working in the yard in this kind of weather but have had to leave this to my wife, and a wonderful high school student who is our next door neighbor. That’s been one of the toughest things.
  • There has been a lot of time to read–right now I’m reading biographies of J.C. Ryle and J.R.R. Tolkien, an account of Roger Williams and the idea of freedom of conscience, and as I wrote about recently, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. The latter is a fascinating study of temptation, of the voices tangible and in our heads warning “you could destroy all you hold dear” and the allure of the forbidden when married love has grown prosaic. And 180 pages in and Levin and Kitty still haven’t gotten together!
  • I’ve been practicing the choral parts in Part One of “Messiah” along with my friends in Capriccio. Not sure I will get to join them on a December 11 performance of this work but I want to be ready if I am able, and if not to sing choruses like “For Unto Us a Child is Born” is wonderful preparation of my heart for Advent and Christmas to follow.
  • I’ve been looking for words that don’t just add to the competing “echo chambers” of discussion around the election. Mostly I’ve decided at this point to refrain and listen and pray, something that does not seem to be happening much. I’m grieved that protests have sometimes turned violent although I have many friends who have been part of peaceful ones. I’m disturbed at attacks on ethnic minorities, immigrants, and LGBTQ persons. It feels to me a bit like the turmoil of the late sixties or the spring of 1970 around the time of the Kent State shootings.
  • Rather than safety pins or Facebook statements, I’ve begun to reach out personally to friends who voice fear and anger. It is not explanations or arguments that are needed but simply to convey, “I care.” I’m also wrestling with the deeper question of what will I do if their safety really is in jeopardy and a Facebook post or march is not enough. I struggle for some, such as those friends who are ethnic minorities for whom this is already an issue whenever they encounter law enforcement.
  • I’m working from home. We’ve been having people come to me, as our whole team did a couple weeks ago for meetings. We had a full house but got some good work done. I’ve been on hours of video-conferences, including a very exciting symposium this past Saturday where Christian graduate students and faculty from eight campuses met online to talk about how we may have better conversations about faith and academic life.

I see my doc on Tuesday for a follow up, and if all goes well, I have two more weeks off my feet. Then I can begin putting weight on my right foot. Not sure what the re-hab process will be like from there–one of the things I’ll talk with the doc about this week.

I’ve been blessed most of all by a wife who has taken great care of me. If you remember, pray for her, because all this has meant an extra load on her. The friends from church and others who have brought meals have been a blessing and it is all good! A son, daughter-in-law, and pastor who have helped with groceries, transport, and getting to doctor visits have been such a help. Thanks for the thoughts and prayers a number of you, even those I don’t know personally, have sent my way. They mean more than you can know.