Be Prepared

PB was a Boy Scout. He can still recite the Oath and the twelve points of the Boy Scout Law. More importantly, he continues to live by the Boy Scout Motto: Be Prepared.

My man isn’t a full-on prepper, but he has a little stash of canned food, water, and toilet paper. He keeps extra fuel on hand and has plenty of wood cut. It’s comforting to know we will be okay for a while if there’s a blizzard, or a food shortage, or a complete collapse of the American economy.

This is the season of holiday prep —
the yearly push to get the decorations up, purchase the gifts, send out the cards, etc.

This is the season of Advent —
a more essential aspect of these days as we prepare our hearts to welcome Him.

In 1719, English minister Isaac Watts wrote the poem “Joy to the World” after reading Psalm 98, which is a raucous celebration full of singing and shouting and jubilation. Even though we consider the hymn to be a Christmas carol, Watts didn’t have the birth of Jesus in mind as he wrote those inspired words. He was thinking about the second coming of Christ, complete with trumpet blasts and shouts of joy. Watts anticipated the sound of trees and mountains singing, rivers clapping their hands, seas resounding in praise. He relished the thought of God’s glorious righteousness breaking the curse of sin.

Jesus came the first time in meekness —
quietly, incognito, as a human infant.
Heaven sang,
but earth didn’t pay much attention.

Jesus is coming again in power —
loudly, indisputably, as Mighty God and Prince of Peace.
Earth will receive her King,
as both heaven and nature sings.

What a day that will be!

In the meantime,
we wait.
We anticipate.
We prepare.
This Advent,
let every heart prepare Him room.

Tree of Life

Trees are a big deal in the Bible. In fact, apart from God and humans, trees are the most frequently mentioned living thing in the Holy Scriptures. You can hardly read one page without running into a tree of some kind. They are sneaky, though. If you aren’t looking for them, they are easy to miss.

Trees were the first gift given to the freshly created man and woman. “Then God said, ‘I give you every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.'” (Gen. 1:29) How kind of God to welcome them to the neighborhood with some fresh fruit.

Not only were the trees good for food, but they were also “pleasing to the eye.” (Gen. 2:9) Beauty was as important to the Creator as the bounty.

One of the most famous trees in the Bible is introduced in the beginning pages of the Word — the Tree of Life, planted by God Himself in the middle of Eden. It shows up again in the final pages of Revelation, as the central focus of the New Jerusalem. We are told this amazing tree will yield a crop of fruit every month and its leaves will heal the nations.

We could use some of that right now.

Until that great and glorious day, the closest thing we have to the biblical Tree of Life might be found in Bahrain, a small island nation off the northeast coast of Saudi Arabia. Out in the middle of an arid desert stands a 32 foot mesquite tree that flowers twice a year and has green leaves all year round. Scientists have been baffled for centuries by the aptly named “Tree of Life”, as it keeps growing despite any visible source of water. This mysterious tree is the only green plant for miles around.

Some believe this is the sight of the original Garden of Eden. At least, that’s how Bahrain’s tourism department is promoting their one and only attraction. Over 50,000 tourists visit the site each year. There are no vendors selling T-shirts that say, “I went to the Tree of Life and all I got was this lousy T-shirt”. But there are public restrooms and a security guard posted around the clock. You won’t find interactive videos or tour guides with a spiel, however there are rumors that an ice-cream truck might show up on weekends.

Due to vandalism in 2007, an iron fence now surrounds the tree. It’s too bad God didn’t put one of those up around that other tree in the Garden.

Travel blogger Anthony Middleton wrote succinctly about the sight of this lush tree in the Arabian Desert:

“It’s just you,
a tree,
and your imagination.”

In case a sight-seeing trip to Bahrain is not in your future,
another Tree of Life is right here in America.
At Disney World.
It’s a fake.
I think you can get T-shirts there.

Undergrowth

Before God made the sun, moon and stars, He made trees.

Before God made birds and fish, He made trees.

Before God made livestock, wild animals and people, He made trees.

Trees were the first living things on the newly created earth.

We can learn a lot from our elders.

PB and I have a small square of woods — ash trees, pines, oaks and maples. We love walking in the woods, especially on beautiful fall days. We have to stick to the path, though, because the woods haven’t had much attention for a long while. There are dead trees that have fallen over, there are broken branches that hang precariously, but mostly there is undergrowth — brambles and thickets and stickers and thorns. It’s hard to walk through it without getting scratched and poked.

PB decided to do something about this problem. He hired a guy with a big tree-eating machine to clean up our little square of woods. In a matter of hours, all the brush was gobbled up. The transformation was remarkable.

Early the next morning, a doe and her twin fawns came through, looking bewildered. PB and I watched from the porch as the fawns suddenly kicked up their heels in a morning sunrise dance. They seemed to celebrate the wide open space, running without fear of thorns and prickers. I almost went out there and joined them in their new-found freedom.

Not all growth is good growth.

The wild, thorny undergrowth crept in and we barely noticed. Then one day, we took a walk with a three year old and she was entangled in briars and thistles. It was no fun. There were tears. We couldn’t dance.

That’s when we knew it was time to clear away the undergrowth.

Lord, I haven’t given my spirit enough attention. There are dead areas that need to be hauled out. There is my old enemy, pride, dangling precariously overhead. And there is undergrowth — bristly words that poke and hurt. Send Your Spirit through my heart and mow down all “that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1)

It’s time to dance.

Low Battery

PB and I have been listening to Lectio 365 for the past 2 years. It is a free devotional resource that helps us pray the Bible every day. It is written by the leaders of the 24-7 Prayer Movement and we highly recommend it. (https://www.24-7prayer.com/resource/lectio-365/)

One morning we did our usual thing. PB made coffee while I turned on the little bluetooth speaker and opened up the Lectio365 app on my phone. We went out to the back porch with our steaming cups and started listening. That morning the devotion was a reflection on one of the names of God in the Old Testament: El Olam, the Everlasting God. We settled in.

“I choose to rejoice in God’s consistency today…”
The soothing voice was rudely interrupted with a harsh robotic sound coming from the speaker.

“BATTERY LOW.”

The irony caught our attention.

“Everlasting God, You are the same, yesterday, today and forever. In the midst of life’s fragility and changeability, I cling to Your name and Your unchangeable nature….”

“BATTERY LOW.”

The contrast was arresting.

“The Scriptures go on to describe a God of everlasting strength, everlasting kindness, everlasting love….”

“SHUTTING DOWN.”

The lesson was obvious.

My speaker was drained of energy and needed recharging.
That happens to me sometimes.

When I don’t consistently plug in my devices, they stop working.
Oh, me too. Me too.

But God is different.
He doesn’t need plugging in.
He doesn’t need recharging.
He never shuts down.
He never takes a day off.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,
the beginning and end of all things,
who is, and who was, and who is to come.”
Rev.1:8


The Lineup

This is my lineup.

This is not a police lineup.
Although they are so cute, it’s criminal.

This is not a team lineup.
Although they would be a formidable squad on the gridiron.

This is not a network TV show lineup.
Although they are tirelessly entertaining.

This is the lovely, lively line that has my heart eleven times over.

Children are a gift from the Lord.
Psalm 127:3

Scarlet

After my last post, a good friend astutely pointed something out to me that I totally missed. My friend had been studying Rahab in the book of Joshua and connected the scarlet cord that Rahab hung in her window to my red dye story.

Of course! Rahab’s cord was scarlet (coccus ilicis, a.k.a. kermes vermilio, a.k.a. scarlet worm). It wasn’t blue or orange or green. Rahab’s salvation was ensured by a string dyed red, thanks to a bug that gave its life on a tree.

Rahab’s crimson cord
is part of a
thread
that is woven
throughout the Bible.

A quick word search revealed that all the curtains in the tabernacle were indeed a tapestry woven of blue, purple and scarlet yarn.

Same word. Same bug.

The tri-colored curtains that hung in the doorway of the tabernacle served as a visual reminder of the blood that would one day be shed on a tree for the salvation of the world. God is in the details. How like Him to use something as insignificant as a bug to foreshadow the gospel.

This scarlet color even makes the jump into the New Testament.

“They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him,
and then wove a crown of thorns and set it on his head.”
Matthew 27:28-29

Of course it was a scarlet robe! It wasn’t blue or orange or green. (Although Mark and John call it a purple robe, so maybe a deep-purplish-red?) Matthew, in writing for a Jewish audience, made a choice to use the word that would bring the Hebrew readers back to Isaiah 1:18.

God tells the redemption story even through His colorful creation.

To-Die-For Red Dye

What would you do if you wanted to dye something red?
You’d buy one of these, I suppose.

What would you do if you lived in Israel in 700 B.C.
and you wanted to dye something red?
You’d go look for some bugs.

Let me tell you about the coccus ilicis,
a.k.a. kermes vermilio,
a.k.a. scarlet worm.

  • When the momma bug gets ready to give birth to her young, she finds an oak tree, climbs it and willingly attaches herself to it permanently.
  • Then she deposits her eggs and they are kept safe under her body. As the eggs grow into larvae, they suck the life out of their mother and she dies.
  • For three days after her death, scarlet fluid drips down the tree, staining the wood. She has to die to produce dye. (This fluid from the dead bug is what was used in ancient times to create crimson dye.)
  • On the fourth day after her death, the bug’s head and tail come together forming a heart shape and her color transforms from red to white.

What a compelling picture.

  • Jesus willingly went to the cross. “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” John 10:18
  • Jesus died so we could live. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
  • Jesus bled on the tree. “In him we have redemption through his blood.” Ephesians 1:7
  • Jesus’ blood cleanses us. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be as wool.” Isaiah 1:18

Do you have goosebumps yet?
There’s more.

When Jesus was on the cross, he quoted Psalm 22:1: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” In Jewish tradition, if someone quoted the first verse of a psalm, it was understood that he was referencing the whole thing. Because most of the psalms were memorized, the listeners knew what came next. It would be similar to us singing the first line of a song, like “God bless America, land that I love…” and everyone knowing exactly what those lyrics go on to say.

Psalm 22 foreshadows the crucifixion of Jesus in many ways:

“I am poured out like water…
my heart has melted within me…
my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth…
they divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment…”

But I’ve never noticed this before:
“I am a worm and not a man, scorned and despised by the people.” (v. 6)

The word for worm is coccus ilicis,
a.k.a. kermes vermilio,
a.k.a. scarlet worm.

And there you have it-
the gospel
portrayed
in the life
of a bug.

Heaven and nature sings!
Whoever has ears, let them hear!

The Helmet

“Where’s my helmet?”
Those are the first words this little guy says when he comes to our house.

He wears it for walks in the woods.

He wears it while watching TV with Opa.

He wears it while riding in the boat with his sissy.

It’s a good idea to wear a helmet these days.

Lord,
protect the minds of our little ones.
Help them to seek truth and goodness and beauty.
Help them to walk in Your ways and think Your thoughts.
Guard them from hollow and deceptive philosophy.
May the helmet of salvation keep them safe.
Amen.

“Put on the full armor of God.
Take the helmet of salvation.”
Ephesians 6

Timeline

I’m a sucker for timelines.

Back in our homeschooling days, I made a timeline that wrapped around our dining room and continued up and down the hallway. There were yards and yards of ancient history, decades condensed into mere inches, all the way to the year 2000. That’s where the line of time stopped, as we were out of wall space.

(Not much happened in the 1200s.)

Contributions to our homemade timeline were made every year: Katie’s favorite books and authors, Sam’s sports facts, Anna’s musicians and Jacob’s inventors. We began to see the sweep of time come to life before our eyes. Events happened around the world that we never would have connected before.

  • Mozart was composing sonatas at the same time Daniel Boone was blazing the Wilderness Road.
  • Abner Doubleday came up with a game called baseball as Dickens was writing “A Christmas Carol”.
  • Chocolate chip cookies were accidentally invented while Hitler was marching into Austria.

When we moved away, the timeline came along and encircled our new basement. Eventually, the kids entered public school and the timeline came down. It was the year 2000. I had come to the end of my time as a homeschool teacher. Twelve years of our family’s educational history was rolled up and placed in a box, along with a few tears.

I’m thinking about this as a school year begins. Nothing thrills my heart more than a fresh start and the wide open possibility of learning new things. I’m diving into Joshua this fall, so of course, I made a timeline.

As Moses ran away to the desert after killing an Egyptian,
Joshua was born to Israelite slaves.
Forty years later, Moses returned to lead those slaves out of Egypt,
and Joshua became his right hand man.
You just never know what might happen down the line.
But something is always happening.
Even when we can’t see it,
He’s working.

“My times are in Your hand.”
Psalm 31:15

Fruitless

The grape vines have grapes.
The raspberry bushes have raspberries.
But, alas, the apple trees have no apples.

PB planted a few apple trees in our backyard seven years ago. They have not blossomed once, so we went back to the place we bought them to get some advice. The plant lady listened to our sad story, nodding her head as if she had heard it all before.

“Here’s what you do: get a baseball bat and give the trunk a beating. That tree is lazy and you need to wake it up.”

After an awkward pause, PB said, “So…whack the tree with a baseball bat?”

“Or a two by four,” she said.

Reluctantly, one night after dark, my man went outside, baseball bat in hand. I couldn’t watch. After the dirty deed was done, he came back in looking guilty. We didn’t talk about it.

Since that notorious night, the old apple tree has clearly perked up, growing several feet and branching out. There are no apples yet, but make no mistake: that tree knows we mean business.

I understand that tree. It has a comfortable plot of ground that feeds it nutrients daily. The roots are down just deep enough to keep it from toppling over in a wind storm. It has a pole next to it, propping it up and keeping it from having to work too hard to stand up straight. There are friendly butterflies and bees and other plants to keep it company. Life is good. But there’s no fruit.

Here is my question:
Is an apple tree truly an apple tree if it never produces apples?

Lord, wake us up from our complacency
and help us bear fruit like true disciples.

“The fruit of the Spirit is
love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness,
gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.”
Galatians 5:22